Mail Call: May-June 2008

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Many people remember Grit from their childhoods, when the newspaper was delivered door-to-door by newsboys. Conrad Russell, Plympton, Massachusetts, offers a sketch of how Grit might have been delivered, via wagon.

Living Happily with Coyotes

I was amused by your September/October coyote story (Wild GRIT, “Coexisting with Coyotes”). Here in southern Idaho, our populations of large carnivores – wolves, bears and cats – are increasing rapidly.

Gray wolves and grizzlies have done so well that federal managers are removing them from the endangered list. Black bears and cougars are often seen in Boise, Idaho’s capital, and coyotes (we say cay-yoot-ays) sing nightly in every community.

The big predators are thrilling to see, but coyotes symbolize the spirit of the West. Their personae of rugged individualism and indefatigability define the best of the cowboy spirit. Despite what civilization has thrown at them, coyotes thrive where other species are failing.

A hundred years ago, Western homesteaders removed the big carnivores. The new West with canals, roadways and hedge rows extended rodent and bird habitat. The adaptable coyote capitalized on these new niches and flourished.

Coyotes also do well on the sagebrush-covered deserts, but these desert dogs are dependent on the cyclic nature of their natural prey – jack rabbits.

On our ranch, we have two dens of the grey desert ghosts. They seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear as quickly. We seldom see them in the summer, as crops and weeds are easy avenues of escape.

Through the winter, they hunt mice nearly continuously in the harvested fields. It is comical to watch a mama coyote poke her nose into a mouse hole, snuff air into the tunnel, lift her head attentively to listen and then pounce.

The mouse thinks the coyote is in the tunnel and escapes, only to be caught by the coyote’s trick. I guess it isn’t comical for the mouse, but from a distance these hunters appear silly as they leap stiff-legged in their ancient mouse-hunting dance.

Rusty Tews
Shoshone, Idaho

More Help with Gamey Taste

Just now got around to reading my November/December issue, and with the recent USDA meat recall, it couldn’t be at a better time regarding K.C. Ellis’ question (Mail Call, “Help with Gamey Taste?”) about “gamey” taste complaints from his city folk customers.

Jack Nemec, your cattle consultant, gave some good points, but there are many more.

First and foremost, city folks get their beef from the meat counter of a grocery store or mega-box store. Grocery stores are usually chain stores with central distribution centers – so meat might be handled up to half a dozen times from the slaughter house to the consumer’s table. Most meat sold in these stores is now pre-packed with up to 20 percent added fluids, treated with carbon monoxide gas to retain “red” color longer, and may grade lower than USDA choice.

Ellis’ beef probably is a higher grade and flavorful, not “gamey.” The average consumer nowadays eats so much artificially colored, artificially flavored, prepackaged, processed food, he and she don’t know what real food tastes like. What a pity.

Therese Todd
Salisbury, Maryland

Too true. All the more reason to support your local farmers! – Editors

Following the Great Race

Thanks for doing the Iditarod article (GRIT Gazette, “The Rush of the Iditarod”) in the March/April GRIT. I was in Nome for a year and experienced the Iditarod from that end of the “Great Race.” It was one of the most unique experiences of my life. I’m always glad when the Lower 48 recognizes this wonderful event. Thanks again!

Brenda L. Kipp
Topeka, Kansas

For more from Alaska, check out the article about musk oxen in GRIT Gazette. – Editors

City Girl Tries Her Hand at Carpentry

As one of your urban GRIT readers, I must share my first home-building project – shelves for my plants. The plant-shelf project stemmed from two sources.

One, my husband and I have two inquisitive cats and one nosy dog, all of whom have an interest in either knocking over my plants and/or eating them, and two, I saw a rather expensive version in a gardening catalog, which didn’t look too complicated. A window ladder shelf was exactly what I needed, since most of my plants were in poorly lit places and had become rather sad specimens of botanic life. The design is simple, and since this was my first building project, I didn’t want to get too complicated. A quick trip to a local home supply store, with some friendly advice from an employee, netted my supplies: brackets, screws, two 1-by-6-by-10 boards, cut down to 9 feet, and one 1-by-10-by-8, cut into 32-inch sections. Working on the back porch of my apartment, with the help of my circular saw-wielding mother, we managed to cut and assemble the entire piece in about two hours. It was a little rickety, so the next morning I reinforced it with more screws through the supports into the shelves. I finished the wood with a thin layer of paste wax. My next project?

Bedside tables. Maybe this time I’ll work up the nerve to handle the circular saw myself.

Erin C. Midtlyng

We understand that your dad (Hank) sent you a nice circular saw for your birthday last March. Keep on building, but be careful with that thing. – Editors

Fresh Air without Blue Milk

Reading your article on blue milk (“Blue Milk,” March/April) brought to mind a story from my family. During the 1920s, when my aunt was growing up in Chester County, Pennsylvania, her family had a Fresh Air visitor from New York for the summer named Gladys. My aunt told me Gladys was nice, polite, helped with the chores, and ate everything that was served at meals, but she would not drink the milk because it was not blue. Gladys visited for four or five years and never did drink the milk. My aunt said they never figured it out, but after reading the article, I have a feeling that Gladys drank skim milk at home and to her, if the milk wasn’t blue, it wasn’t something she wanted to drink.

Sarah Vaughan
Waterville, Maine

Finish Fence Posts with Concrete

I have found that when setting corner and brace posts, the cost of a couple of bags of concrete mix per post is money well spent. If the ground is pretty moist, it’s not even necessary to add water. Just dump the sacks around the post, and the mix will draw enough moisture from the ground to set properly. If the ground is really dry, I pour a couple of gallons of water into the hole, then I add the mix and a little more water.

When setting slick, de-barked, treated posts, if you’re not using concrete mix, it will pay to spike a couple of 8-to-12-inch-long treated 2-by-4s to the post near the bottom. This will prevent the post from heaving out of the ground.

Alan Easly
Columbia, Missouri

Those are great post-setting tips, Alan, thanks. – Hank

Seeking Duckweed Remedy

How can I get rid of duckweed in fish ponds? Are there any safe sprays to use, and where would I find them? Years ago I tried a strong, white, thick liquid mixed by the spoonful, and it killed duckweed in all six small ponds of mine, without killing the fish. But that was many years ago, and I cannot recall the name. Can you or any GRIT readers help?

Robert L. Carr
Waller, Texas

If anyone has an answer for Robert, just send it along to our office. We’ll share it in a future issue. – Editors

Mincemeat Recipe?

I enjoy GRIT very much, and I was just reading the March/April issue. I love to cook and have prepared meals for some very famous people. I noticed that Diane Middleton wrote that she made her own mincemeat (Mail Call, “Having Cake”). I would love to have her recipe if she would be so kind as to share it.

Joy Alford
Carthage, Tennessee

Getting Rid of Voles?

Thanks, GRIT, for suggesting Liquid Fence. Our front yard and driveway support about 50 percent of Oregon’s vole population. Attempts using One Bite, Deconn, motor exhaust and flooding failed to remove the several kinds of wild mice. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, their honeycomb mounds can destroy complete crops. Should our voles prove to be immune to Liquid Fence, do readers have any other recommendations?

Cecil C. Smith
Rogue River, Oregon

Please let us know how the Liquid Fence works Cecil, and we’ll see what else our readers recommend. – Editors

Skunk Heaven

I read the article on how Norbert Nathanson captured a skunk (“I Fought the Skunk and I Won,” September/October).

On my farm, I have captured 91 skunks and civet cats in a plastic-covered wire cage using cat food as bait. Eighty-five of them were easy to transport down to the river where I let them loose. The others weren’t as well behaved, but with the plastic covering on the cage, no harm was done.

I also removed 195 raccoons and 85 possums in the same way – over the course of four years.

Dale Barkima
Clear Lake, Iowa

That sounds like a lot of varmints to trap, Dale. Do you think any that you trapped moved back in? – Editors

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