Prairie View

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sick Gerbils and Magic Powders

Geronimo the Gerbil is currently residing in a 10-gallon aquarium in a corner of our dining room. He's a very quiet pet, making tiny noises only when he cracks tough seed-coats or when he nibbles on the wrapping-paper, paper-towel, or toilet-paper tubes we occasionally give him.

For much of the past two and one-half school terms he has lived in my classroom at school. But he developed some distressing symptoms at school, so I decided to bring him home to work on improving his health by beefing up his nutritional program.

The problem he developed looked like a long cut on his pale underside. It was in the middle of his tummy--about an inch and half long and it looked bloody and sore. When my co-teacher inquired, I informed him delicately that I believed what we were seeing was an infection in his promiscuous parts (apologies to Rudyard Kipling). He had always had a tiny opening there--about one fourth of an inch long, but the size and bleeding were new features. I felt a little sick every time I looked at him but I had no idea how to treat a gerbil for anything, let alone put antibiotic ointment on a cut on his underside. This one had sunk his teeth firmly into the thumb of the last person who had tried to pick him up.

After I got him home, I changed his bedding first. Then I forged ahead with my nutrition plan in spite of my sons poking fun at the plan. I started sprinkling powdered food supplements onto his seed mix. I used just a pinch of dehydrated, powdered vegetables and a pinch of glyconutrients--expensive stuff, to be sure, but I reasoned that we'd never miss a pinch. Then I started offering him sprigs of fresh parsley and bits of carrots and apple cores. I also limited his access to sunflower seeds (He's had an obesity problem in the past), the part of the seed mix he always ate first, leaving much of the rest untouched until I had to dump it because it was stale or soiled. I offered him one large sunflower seed every day when I fed him. He ate it out of my hand. Then I gave him all he wanted of the rest of the seed mix, minus the sunflower seeds. The wild birds got those.

For a number of weeks, nothing changed. "What's his problem downstairs?" Joel asked when Geronimo once stood tall on his back legs with his belly facing toward the outside of the aquarium.

From an internet site I learned that the "promiscuous part" on Geronimo's underside was in reality a scent gland which secretes a fluid that is useful, in the wild, for marking territory. The scent fluid is colored a deep, nearly red, orange. In aging male gerbils, tumors often develop around or on the scent glands. While seldom malignant, they are abnormal.

I wasn't quite sure now whether Geronimo had ever had a health problem after all. Perhaps the nutritional cure was wasted.

On further reflection, I concluded that the "blood" I had seen was likely scent fluid that had stained his white fur. But, given the fact that Geronimo has already outlived the pet store owner's prediction by a year and a half, I think he very likely also has had tumors growing in the area of his scent gland. Tumors have been known to disappear completely when glyconutrients have been added to the diet.

At any rate, I'm sticking with the story that I do know a thing or two about nutrition, and those veggies and those glyconutrients can work miracles. Yessir!

Geronimo's stomach slit is back to being one fourth of an inch long, and it's as white and tidy-looking as ever. I'm pleased to report that he is lean and svelte and active.

I'm trying to decide whether it's safe to take him back to school. I'm just not sure I'm up to explaining what I'm doing if anyone sees me giving him a furtive pinch of mysterious magic powders.

Noises in the Night

At a recent Sunday dinner with only our immediate family present, Shane recounted an incident that had happened a number of months ago. Although all of our boys were involved, and it all happened right here at home, none of them thought to mention it at the time it took place.

Shane got a phone call at 1:30 A.M. from Grant, who was calling from his bedroom upstairs where he had been studying late in his room when he heard a vehicle revving its engine in the driveway. Shane wasn't too delighted with having been disturbed, but he dutifully roused himself enough to find his shotgun and creep outside to check things out. (I can't believe he was so non-nonresistant.) While slinking around outside, he came upon Grant, who was armed with a pistol (I know. I was disappointed too.). They were conferring quietly when Joel showed up, bearing one of the Japanese swords he keeps on a display rack in his room. (Still no nonresistance in evidence.) They soon determined that there was no stray vehicle in the driveway, so they all quietly slunk back to their room and bed. And they didn't tell their parents.

Here's a warning to anyone has ever contemplated revving their engine in our driveway at 1:30 A.M. Don't. Call ahead. Bang on the door. Call our names. Whatever. Just don't call forth any defensive mechanisms in our boys' psyche. They're dangerous.

We'll keep working on the nonresistance instruction.

You're Feeding Them Cat Food?

After a long absence of domestic cats around the house, we are blessed this year with seven almost-grown kittens that have taken up residence in the partially-open garage adjoining our house. They've taken lessons from their wild-as-a-bobcat mother and are very wary of being approached. But Hiromi is patiently wooing them and feeding them regularly and well. This has caused a surprising complication.

Our first brush with the unexpected developments happened one night when Grant carried the day's garbage to the compost pile. A possum had beat him to the scene and scurried away when Grant approached. Later the same evening Joel saw a possum eating from the cat dish in the garage right outside the basement stairway landing. Our ever-eager resident marksman (Grant) was notified, and he readied his ammunition and weapons and waited. Before long, from his bedroom down the hall and around the corner from the garage door, he heard noisy crackling chewing sounds in the garage. He crept out the front door, went around to the front of the garage, and sighted the possum through his rifle scope. That night he bagged his first possum. It was a half-grown one.

Every night after that, he "hunted" possums by listening for noisy chewing while allegedly doing homework in his room. Several nights when he was up late, we were awakened from deep sleep by a gun blazing away in the garage right outside our bedroom window. It was not a good way to wake up.

After the third one we started keeping count.

He shot big fat ones and more of the small, fairly young ones. He switched from going out the front door with his rifle (They heard him too often.) to bursting from the landing into the garage with a 22 caliber pistol. To do this he had to creep sock-footed down the three steps onto the landing, peer ever-so-slyly through a very small slit where the curtain panels met at the enter of the window, silently depress the catch on the storm door latch, and charge through the door into the garage , shooting fast enough to stop the feasting possum before he escaped outside under the garage wall about six feet away. He had to leave the landing light on because that was the only light by which he could see the possum, but this made every movement all-too-visible without taking careful precautions.

The next morning Grant would dispose of whatever possums he had "harvested" the night before.

One night when Grant stayed home from church he shot two possums while the rest of us were gone. He got one more later the same night. Several times he missed his shot or inadvertently scared them off before he had his weapon in hand. But the count grew. We began to think the supply must be nearly unlimited.

All told, Grant shot ten possums within about three weeks. Then either the population was totally decimated or the remaining ones returned to hibernation.

I like having only the intended recipients eat the cat food we buy and put out, but my frugal heart wishes for more. I think it would have been nice if Grant had been able to cash in on the $35.00 that nice possums sell for in Grenada where they are considered a culinary delight. It's a little hard to forget that somewhere out back on this property $350.00 has gone to waste. I'm trying to forget.

Now our cats, though no doubt slightly traumatized by all the noise and carnage they've witnessed, have the garage to themselves again, and Hiromi is back to making endearing noises and gestures as he feeds them.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Don't Try This at Home

My brother Ronald, who lives in Labette County, KS has a friend who, just before Christmas, had one of the most harrowing experiences I can imagine. I’ll call him Jim. He is a farmer with a day job as a part owner of a steel storage tank fabrication business.

One morning several weeks ago, before daybreak, he went to feed his cattle in a field down the road from his home. He drove there in his tractor, which he needed in order to maneuver a huge round hay bale into feeding position. On his way to the field, an apparent electrical problem caused the engine to die whenever he turned on the lights, so he crept toward the field down the sparsely traveled road, without his lights. At the field lane, he stopped the tractor, put it out of gear, and left it idling while he hopped off to open the gate. After he dismounted, the tractor lurched into gear spontaneously and Jim raced after it to bring the behemoth to a stop. His attempted leap onto the tractor steps leading to the cab ended when he fell and one huge tractor wheel passed over his leg, producing a compound fracture of his thigh bone.

The renegade tractor roared off. Jim could hear it, but because it was dark and the tractor had no lights, he could never be sure exactly where it was. He could hear it come very close repeatedly, but it never passed over any part of his body again. He drifted in and out of consciousness. . .

Meanwhile, the tractor was apparently lumbering through fields, diving in and out of the ditches beside the road, knocking down fences, and crossing the road–approximately seven times as later analysis revealed.

Finally the tractor butted up against a row of hay bales at the side of the field, and the engine died as its progress ground to a halt.

Jim decided to try to get into the tractor to try to drive himself home. His broken leg was uncooperative and kept jutting out at awkward angles, so he tied his bad leg to his good one with a piece of barbed wire he found nearby. With this makeshift splint, he managed to drag himself to the tractor and hoist and pull himself into the cab. He turned the key, and nothing happened. So he waited. He rued the fact that he had forgotten his cell phone at home.

While he was waiting, he took off his undershirt and made a flag of it by tying it to a rod. He planned to poke it out the window of the tractor cab if anyone should come by on the road. He saw his wife leave for her school bus route and his daughter leave for work. Neither one passed by the tractor or noticed anything unusual. Nor did anyone else. The only one left at home was a son, having arrived home from college the day before. Jim expected him to sleep late.

After about an hour and a half, a vehicle passed by–without stopping.

But joy, joy! The driver turned around and came back because he thought something didn’t look quite right. Only then did he notice the white flag and make his way to the tractor to talk to Jim. Apparently used to getting himself out of whatever scrapes he got himself into, Jim didn’t immediately burden emergency services with his dilemma. Instead, he instructed his benefactor to go to the house to wake his son (“Don’t knock; he’ll never hear you.”) and ask him to come get his father and take him to the hospital. The passerby followed instructions, the son arrived, and, after trying unsuccessfully to get Jim into the van for a trip to the hospital, they gave up and called 911 for help. Emergency workers transported him to the hospital.

The following day Ronald visited with him in his hospital room. The leg had been set during surgery, and Jim was expected to recover satisfactorily.

Oh yes, when others went to retrieve the tractor and feed the cattle, it started right up after they shifted it out of gear.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?