Tag Archives: bugs

Note to Self

Note to self and others…

If you go out wandering around in the early spring…

And you find the skull of a year old buck with the antlers, some hair and meat still attached…

And you decide to take it home to salvage the antlers…

More than likely you’ll toss it in the trunk of your car to bring it home.

Then, you decide you’ll cut the antlers off the next day and you leave the skull in your trunk.

You don’t want to do that…

I guarantee you will not like what you find crawling around in your trunk 24 hours later…

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs, Carp!

I sat down with the intention of doing a nice little write up about bugs and carp and all kinds of stuff about fishing this time of year and deep down in my brain a little voice said…

“Don’t do it man, nobody really gives a shit. You don’t really give a shit. Get off your ass and go for a walk. Hell man, go stare at a spot on the wall, it will be time better spent.”

I always listen to the little voice in my head.

There are bugs, billions of bugs on the river and carp feeding on them.

Lots of both.

The bugs I can deal with.

I hate carp.

They’re in the way.

By the end of the month both will start to disappear.

September can’t come soon enough.

Catching just enough of these to keep things interesting. Catching carp is not interesting.

A few days earlier I had mentioned to Bob Long that I haven’t caught a drum on the Fox in years. Ask and ye shall receive.

From the Archives — June, 2008
Berry Picking

In the June issue of Heartland Outdoors Magazine, you can’t read it on line, it’s only in the print version, Gretchen Steele of Walkin’ With the Wild Woman wrote an article on mulberries.

In the article, Gretchen suggests that an efficient way to gather mulberries is to spread a tarp under the tree and shake the branches, letting the ripe berries fall to the tarp.

It reminded me that I had tried that four years ago with my daughters, along with some black raspberry picking, and I did a little write up about it back then.

The end result wasn’t quite that simple…

By the time we were done, my arms from my finger tips to my shoulders were tingling from the pain. It’s that kind of pain you get from sun burn. It doesn’t hurt in any one particular spot, it just hurts the same all over.

Dozens of blood oozing scratch marks created random hatched patterns up my arms. I could see a blurred drop of coagulated blood on the tip of my nose. My left eye was gushing tears that wouldn’t stop after the edge of a long leaf slashed across my eyeball, luckily missing my cornea. My back was tight and aching after leaning over for 3 hours.

Throw in mosquitoes, spiders of all kinds, grass hoppers, bees, wasps, hornets, giant horse flies and a wide variety of bugs that went unidentified. All were either biting us or annoying us, with my 13 year old daughter Leah faring the worse. She was bit by a big horse fly that left a welt the size of a half dollar on her shoulder.

And then there was the constant refrain…is that poison ivy?

After a while, all the green of the plants blur together and it got difficult to identify any one particular type. I seem to be immune to the rash inducing plant, but Leah seems to break out when she just looks at it. My 18 year old daughter Nina simply gave up. “If I get poison ivy, I guess I’ll just have to deal with it,” she said. The other agreed and they both dove in as well as they could.

It was the end of June, the first of the black raspberries were becoming ripe and this was the price you had to pay if you wanted to stock up on a few…quarts. They grow in thorny thickets, sometimes almost impenetrable. If you want black raspberries you have no choice but to dive in and get them. Some are quite easy to get to, but if you want quantity, you have to wade into the sometimes armpit deep thicket and plunge your arms in to reach the dark purple berries hidden at the bottom of the plant.

On Saturday, we had scouted the trails at Silver Springs State Park. We knew where the luscious berries grew, in those semi shady damp areas that make the bug infestations worse. We had seen them and tasted them the year before and just wanted to make sure that they were ready for picking. The berries were not only found in the familiar spots, we wandered far down a trail that paralleled the Fox River and found many more. Though we spotted quite a few to fill our bowls, there were far more that wouldn’t be ripe for another week at least. Along that trail we also found mulberry trees and decided to come back on Sunday to get as many berries of each type that we could. My wife promised a pie or two of mulberries and black raspberries mixed together, but that didn’t matter to the girls. As long as there was a constant supply of vanilla ice cream to dump berries on, they would be content.

You would think by now, with all the fishing and hiking I’ve put them through over the years, you would think by now that my daughters would know what it means when I tell them, dress for hiking and exploring.

So Sunday morning, dressed in tank tops, shorts and flip flops, my daughters gathered up the plastic bowls and drop cloths and we headed out. Our first stop and approach to the black raspberries resulted in ow, ow, ow, but remarkably no real complaining. They did have enough sense to not go into the brush too deep and would follow the tamped down path created by me, who had enough sense to wear shoes and pants. The refrain of “dad, you’re missing some,” followed behind me. They never did catch on to the fact that the ones I missed were buried deep into the tangles.

Had to give them a little pain with their pleasure.

After filling a couple of containers, washing off our purple stained hands in the nearby lake, and taking a well needed lemonade break, we headed to the other section where more black raspberries and the mulberries were to be found. There weren’t quite as many ripe black raspberries for the picking, so we spread the drop cloth out beneath a mulberry tree and began shaking the limbs. Within a couple of minutes the drop cloth was covered with a fair amount of berries. We picked up the ends of the drop cloth and funneled the berries into a quart container. The container was filled to overflowing. The girls were pleased at how easy this was going to be.

We gathered around our overstuffed container, anticipating staring at large ripe mulberries.

“They’re kind of small and mushy looking,” Nina pointed out.

We kept staring. The mound of berries began moving as bugs began writhing out from under the weight of all that purple pleasure. Leaf bugs, baby grass hoppers, spiders and a number of “what the heck is that?” bugs.

“I don’t care how Di cooks these,” Nina said with a tone of disgust in her voice, “I’m not going to eat it.”

We each went to a separate tree and began picking by hand. The tree I chose had a deer path leading to it and the tall grass all around the tree was matted down by the bedding deer. Why not sleep where your food is, I guess. Made my job much easier since the ripest berries fall off the tree if you so much as breathe on them. Picking them up off the ground became easier than constantly having my hands raised over my head.

At Nina’s tree, she announced that she was going back to shaking the limbs and sorting out the fallen fruit. This worked well and she quickly filled another container. The picking at Leah’s tree was oddly quiet. Then it started. Every couple of minutes Nina would yell, “Leah, quit eating everything.”

“I’m not,” would always be the answer. But even from a distance you could see the purple stained lips and teeth that said otherwise.

Leah was the first to call it quits. She claimed that no mater how fast she ran and no matter how much she waved her arms, the bugs were chasing and stalking her. By then we had filled a half dozen containers of the deep purple berries and we were sure there were more than enough for whatever concoction Di came up with. We went home to clean wounds and berries.

Later that day, we had a few minutes to kill before I had to take them home. We stopped at another one of our favorite spots, the Hoover Forest Preserve in Kendall County. We wanted to quickly drive the gravel road and check the edges of the woods for signs of black raspberries. The berries were everywhere. In a couple of weeks the girls would be back and they insisted on coming here for more picking. There were far more of the berries here than at Silver Springs State Park and we seem to always have this almost square mile forest preserve to ourselves. Of course I had to pull the car over so we could all jump out, pick and taste test a handful of berries before heading home.

Later that week I delivered to my girls a few pieces of the cobbler that Di had decided to make out of the mix of black raspberries and mulberries. A little strawberry Jello mix was added to the mess in order to add another level of flavor and I thought this was easily the best cobbler Di had made so far.

The girls of course had to taste test the cobbler right then and there, barely letting me get my foot out the car door before they were popping open the lid on the container and digging into the purple mess with their fingers.

“OH MY GOD! This is sooo good!!” was the critique as they voraciously sucked the remnants from each finger.

They quickly rattled off plans for their next visit…how many containers would be collected, what practical clothing they would be bringing and how Di should cook up the next concoction. And the final request, “can we have some on vanilla ice cream?”

If they were willing to put themselves through the pain of picking them, they could have them any way they wanted.

Speaking of Butterflies

I was out wandering the other day and stopped at a creek. The main goal was to see what kind of shape it was in after the recent rains. The other goal was to simply wander around a little.

There’s an old abandoned road near the creek. Each time I wander down it a little further. I know it’s trespassing, but it seems that landowners don’t mind gray beards with cameras wandering harmlessly on some parts of their property.

“Getting any good photos?”

I never know till I look at them later. You don’t mind do you?

“No, not at all. Feel free.”

And I do.

It was nice to be out with sky blue skies bringing out the intense greens of the rain soaked trees and grass. Luckily I was also watching where I was walking.

A large black and yellow object fluttered past my head. I knew it was a swallowtail butterfly and assumed it was a yellow swallowtail, but I noticed it was more black than yellow. It landed on a nearby tall blade of grass. I quickly shot a photo figuring it would quickly flutter off.

Since it didn’t move, I took a few more, always expecting it to fly off.

That never happened. It sat there, wings spread wide, soaking in the sun. I kept getting closer, pushing my luck.

It let me get within a few inches of it.

Then, apparently annoyed, it flew off.

As a kid I had a fascination with butterflies. I think it came from frequent visits to the Field Museum. I remember cases full of butterflies, pinned to backing with their wings spread wide like this one. I remember having a book about butterflies, loaded with pictures. That was 45 years ago or so and the memory of names and colors are long gone.

From what I looked up later, this one winds up being a Giant Swallowtail. And that it was, with a wingspan that was easily 5-6 inches. I found the pattern fascinating. It looks some what like a face, mouth open. I’ll assume it sits like this, wings spread, to intimidate predators. I never did find anything mentioned about that being a possibility.

I kind of like that idea though.

Attack of the Killer Gnats

Yes, I know they’re midges. If I would have used that word instead, everyone would think this had something to do with teenage girls from the early 60s named Midge that have run amok.

Everyone hates gnats though. My wife and her family call them pecker gnats.

I’ve never asked, nor do I want to know, why.

The gnats from hell started appearing about a week earlier, but for some reason they were only on the north side of the Fox River. Hovering over the fallow fields of corn and soybeans, drifting over the grasses of fields never sown, a day of warming had them appearing out of nowhere it seems.

It took a few more days for this to start happening on the south side of the Fox River. No clue why something like that would happen. The first day they appeared in the neighborhood was no big deal. They looked like puffs of smoke hovering over spots on a few lawns. The next day it was like a plague description right out of the bible. The things were everywhere. Huge swarms of them appeared to want to get into my house.

Luckily storm windows were still down and windows shut tight. It was bad enough to have to walk under them.

A walk around the neighborhood showed that they were everywhere. Breathing was difficult, they would get sucked in with every breath. I’m sure they weren’t burrowing into my skull, but my immediate reaction was to keep scratching my scalp. It was interesting to stop and watch them against the cloudless sky. Wave after wave were dancing in the wind.

The reaction to the gnats on all things social media was fascinating to read. Some residents of Yorkville were in panic mode. Apparently something easy to achieve when residents are clueless about the workings of nature.

Some wanted Yorkville to come out and spray them like they do for mosquitoes. Others were going to run to Menard’s to buy what they could to kill them off. Techniques for spraying around houses to protect themselves were described.

I believe my comment was pretty simple…this happens every year, they’ll be gone in a day or two.

And that they were. The next day they were all pretty much gone. There were a few stragglers floating around, but nothing like the waves of the previous day. A few days later you can see the occasional dozen drifting on the wind, but it’s rare.

The benefit of the hatching of all these gnats is that they brought a big influx of birds into the area. Saw the first robins of the year. Quite a few new songs being sung up in the trees and for some reason the hatch really got the woodpeckers going.

Now that the gnats have been gone for a couple of days I’m sure this bug hatch is pretty much forgotten by people. For some reason you don’t find their little bug bodies covering the ground. Next year the gnats will be back on the first warm days of the year and next year people will panic and freak out about all those horrible bugs.

I have a feeling it might be an even bigger event than this year.

I caught a couple of those hideous creatures already making plans.