(This 770th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on January 1, 2006.)
Last year's letters, e-mails and phone calls from readers proved an embarrassment of riches. It has taken me days to review them all in order to write this column. I try to respond to all when I receive them, but I surely miss a few. To those correspondents I apologize. Here I will be able to highlight only a few.
The column that brought the most response was the one about Intelligent Design and the teaching of evolution. Those messages spilled over onto the News' Opinion page. My informal count found a near equal number of those for and against ID. In this regard I urge everyone to read the Dover, Pennsylvania decision of Judge Jones. It is posted on many websites including that of MSNBC.
Several of the many responses to my column about hammock camping were from World War II servicemen who had slept in hammocks, but not by choice. Joe Woleslagel of Dunkirk wrote, "Your article brought back bittersweet memories of January 1944, when I was with the 1st Marine Division on New Britain Island in the South Pacific. That was our intro to the hammock. The canvas fly was excellent except when the rain came sideways and then you found yourself trying to sleep in several inches of water. Then there was Condition Red in the middle of the night. What fun it was to struggle out and run to sit in a foxhole with water up to your chest. We had no trouble finding trees to tie up to. The only problem was, several fell over in the night and we lost good men when that occurred."
Evidently other readers have had experiences with animal visitors and my opossum column brought responses not only about them but also about neighborly skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, rats, bats and even bears. Here are two about possums. Joan MacDiarmid wrote: "Australian possums are much prettier than ours, smaller in general, with less elongate faces, and furry prehensile tails with rings in some cases. My Australian friend has told tales of his daughter raising a baby possum, which had fallen out of a tree into her hair while she was riding her bike. It was an affectionate pet, but they had to release it because it could not be housebroken. Unfortunately, an Australian possum species was accidentally introduced to New Zealand, which has an even stranger ecology than Australia's. It has become a major pest there. New Zealand's original fauna included only insects, birds (many flightless) and a few lizards, so introduced mammals or marsupials wreak havoc."
Closer to home, Joan Ladd wrote succinctly about my suggestion that adult possums are cat-sized, "Obviously, you have wimpo possums. The babies around my house are the size of cats."
Readers also reported beavers and otters in Ellicott Creek.
When I wrote about Perseid meteors, I complained about those yellow lamps that give us too much light at night. This brought a response from Bonnie Bowen: "I am very rural and the only light is at least a half mile away. I did have some city folks who had the place across the road as a camp. They put up a light in the yard that lit up the whole area. I told them about the interference they caused with viewing celestial events. The light stayed. I finally sent them a Christmas card telling them what I wanted most for Christmas was to have the light taken out. It worked!"
A reader's Wild Turkey
Many readers sent pictures. Among them were Ann Fourtner's albino chickadee; Virginia Grabiner's blond sparrow; and an unidentified reader's Carolina wren, pileated woodpecker and wild turkey. Speaking of turkeys, Wayne Dussault wrote about a pair marching across Niagara Falls Boulevard and Karl Schroeder found others in Lincoln Park.
Many reported a dearth of feeder birds, a concern that I am continuing to study but as yet have no satisfactory answers.
To the many who continue to write about John Sillick I report that a Royalton-Hartland School library section is to be dedicated in his honor on January 12.
Thank you all for writing. You've brightened many days. Please continue to do so in 2006.
Happy New Year!-- Gerry Rising