Archive for February, 2015

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  • February 19th, 2015

They’re Back

By Joel M. Vance

In the movie Poltergeist, little Carol Anne happily announces to her horrified parents, “They’re BACK!” and things get worse because the things that are back aren’t anything you want in your house.
There are some who feel the same way about wildlife. Few would invite a timber wolf home for dinner but the reaction to wolf reintroduction reaction among many landowners is as if someone had proposed to stock man-eating tigers.
There’s a story about a Minnesota cow man who shot a radio-collared timber wolf, part of a reintroduction program, and buried it in his manure pile. He didn’t realize that the transmitter continued to broadcast the odiferous location of the defunct canid. When authorities showed up his protestations of innocence failed after they grimly dug through the dung and uncovered his crime.
Most people welcome most critters back from what was for many species the brink of extinction. Environment has been a popular avocation at least since the first Earth Day in 1970. “Ecology” has become a buzz word, even for those who equate it with environment (“Save the ecology!”). It’s like God and Motherhood, apple pie and 1955 Thunderbirds.
But the reality sometimes is not as easy to swallow. Critters often refuse to obey the hopeful vision of those who love nature in the abstract. They intrude on folks. They don’t read law books or learn religious values in Sunday school. They do what they do, according to their genetics, not according to scripted nature shows. It’s an axiom that no wild animal dies in bed. Sometimes animals are domestic, preyed upon by wild animals. Given wildlife depredation, species renaissance reveals a double-edged sword and sword-swallowing carries some risk.
No state has had as much success with wildlife restoration as has Missouri, my home. The Show-Me State is a poster child for wildlife success. In the 1930s, in common with the country, most Missouri wildlife teetered on the brink of extirpation. There were estimated no more than 500 deer and probably a couple thousand wild turkeys. River otters were basically gone, beavers and raccoons nearly so.
Now, Missouri is among the top few deer hunting states, tops in wild turkeys, has pioneered the restoration of Giant Canada geese and river otters and is working to regain its reputation as a top quail hunting state.
The proliferation of once-scarce wildlife has demonstrable economic benefits. According to David Thorne of the Conservation Department, “Hunters and anglers in Missouri spend more than $1.2 billion each year in retail sales, support 21,877 jobs, and generate $57 million in state sales tax. The total sales and income taxes generated is $77 million. The total economic impact each year from the retail sales is over $2.4 billion. That is $2.4 billion of economic impact.”
None of the economic impact is more apparent than that associated with deer and turkeys. Nearly half a million hunters take about a quarter of a million deer each year in Missouri. Each hunter spends more than a thousand dollars on average and the total is about $425 million for all hunting—more than $200 million for deer hunting alone.
About 165,000 hunters take 50,000 or more wild turkeys in the spring and more in the fall. Raccoons long have been the staple furbearer for trappers and river otters, the most recent of the specific restoration projects, have proliferated to become a target for fur trappers.
When citizen conservationists created the bipartisan Conservation Commission in 1936 by initiative petition and referendum, posters urged voters to “Bring ‘Em Back”. The “’Em” featured quail, deer, turkeys, raccoons, foxes and a leaping largemouth bass. Since, the “Em” has added Giant Canada geese and river otters, as well as prairie chickens, pheasants and probably a few critters I’ve forgotten.
Without specific programs to encourage them, Missouri also has seen a revival of black bears, mountain lions and at least one timber wolf. Elk have been introduced into the Department’s extensive Peck Ranch Conservation Area. As Dean Murphy, retired Wildlife Division chief once said, “One elk is a curiosity. Two elk are a problem.” Elk are grazers, like cows and each elk eats the rough equivalent of seven cows. Missouri is a cow state where an increase of hungry elk could be a problem.
Much of the reason for this proliferation is from professional wildlife management, coupled with better law enforcement (it was rare for poachers to suffer any consequences until judges realized the economic loss from poaching—and that realization wasn’t widespread until the 1960s). But also don’t discount the removal from the field of a generation of hunters during World War Two.
Coupled with small and relatively inefficient farming that left much waste grain and wildlife cover, the state’s (and nation’s) wildlife had fertile conditions to recover from the excesses of earlier generations.
Hunters returned in 1945 and they came armed with large machines that easily converted from weapons of war to weapons of agriculture. Teams of horses became behemoth tractors, capable of ripping great furrows. Pesticides and herbicides quickly revolutionized farming.
The family farm of 160 acres became, in some cases, a corporate farm of thousands of acres and if it did remain in a family, it was one that could farm intensively on many hundreds of acres.
Pioneers had no problem with a wildlife deficit—if it moved they shot it, usually for food, but often for sport. The decline and demise of the passenger pigeon is testimony to the kill-it-all attitude. Many other wildlife species suffered similar fate. Heath hens, Carolina parakeets and other species vanished completely and the bison came close to it.
John James Audubon, the patron saint of little old lady birdwatchers in tennis shoes, was an inveterate slayer of animals. Some was for artistic models, but much of it was simply because he liked to kill things.
Audubon explored up the Missouri River and stopped near the mouth of the Grand River, close to Dalton, the town where I grew up. He wrote in his diary, “I had had no exercise since St. Louis. As soon as breakfast was over we started with our guns and had quite a frolic of it, for we killed a good deal of game and lost some.”
But there were relatively few shooters in the mid 1800s and much game; as human population grew, the wild animal population dwindled, victim of Audubon style kill-fests and habitat loss.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that there was widespread recognition that wildlife was in deep trouble and that if Man didn’t mend his profligate ways, most wild creatures were doomed to the fate of the passenger pigeon.
The concept of trap-and-transplant really took hold after World War Two and has become the mainstay of modern wildlife reintroductions. Natural replenishment only goes so far—in many cases suitable habitat is surrounded by a relative moat of unsuitable habitat, making it an island without citizens. The only way to repopulate it is by trapping animals elsewhere and relocating them.
The cannon net is the most widespread weapon wildlifers use. Bait the target critters to the net and fire it over them. It has worked for both deer and turkeys, but also on geese (the animal it was developed to catch).
Tranquilizers and traps also are part of the arsenal. Missouri’s otters, as well as those of several other states, came from one accomplished Cajun trapper in Louisiana who caught river otters in leg hold traps and sold them to state wildlife agencies looking to reintroduce the animals. So effective has Missouri’s otter trap-and-transplant program been that the animals now range statewide and are accused by anglers of decimating the headwaters of smallmouth bass streams.
This is the other edge of that sword. Estimates are that, nationally, wildlife causes about $4.5 billion annually in crop damage and other studies indicate 80 percent or more of farmers suffer some crop damage, with more than half saying the damage is more than they can live with.
Nationally there are more than 200,000 deer-vehicle collisions reported and it’s estimated that at least that many go unreported. The average vehicle damage is at least $1,000.
Military airplanes collide with birds several thousand times a year, causing more than $100 million in damage. Scratch a landowner and you’ll likely find one that complains about coyote depredation on his pigs, chickens, sheep, etc. Mention timber wolves and you’ll see him get really red in the face.
Wildlife depredation involves two major questions: 1. Are landowners willing to co-exist with critters and suffer some loss; 2. Do the economic benefits to society outweigh the losses? The answer to the second question is a resounding “yes” but to the landowner who doesn’t hunt, doesn’t lease his land to hunters and whose altruism doesn’t extend to wildlife, the answer is “get your damn deer off my land or pay me for them.”
And that raises the specter of “takings” compensation, the idea that government intrusion on private property should be paid for, no matter how it happens. Wildlife is held to be property of the state, not of the individual landowner and the argument goes that if the state owns deer and those deer damage a farmer’s crop, the farmer should be given restitution for the damage.
The counter argument is that if government were forced to pay for the perceived adverse consequences of any regulation to individual landowners there isn’t enough money minted to take care of the claims.
Deer are the major culprits, but not the only ones. As a victim of raccoon depredation on my sweet corn patch, I can testify that they have an uncanny ability to strip the succulent ears the night before I plan to pick them. The estimate is that during the fall in row crop country corn makes up more than 60 percent of a raccoon’s diet.
Canada geese love to graze on newly-sprouted wheat and will pull the plants right out of the ground. Once thought extinct, the Branta Canadensis maxima, largest of at least 10 recognized sub-species of Canada goose, has burgeoned nationwide. The mid-America flock has grown to nearly 300,000 from a few remnant birds. It is the only one to regularly home-nest, rather than migrating to the far North. The lustiest top out about 15 pounds, far beefier than the usual migrants who weigh about eight pounds.
Once maximas nested on ledges far above the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark saw them and probably shot a couple for a roast goose treat for their jolly boatmen. The geese later served as live decoys for market hunters until they were outlawed in 1935.
Descendents of the live decoy flock served as seed for a restoration no one thought possible. Harold Hanson, biologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey first identified maximas and then pioneered the idea of restoring resident-nesting flocks of the big birds, beginning in the mid-1960s. The Mayo Brothers, famed doctors with a hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, had a flock of what proved to be maximas and those birds, trapped when they were molting and thus flightless, provided seed stock for other flocks.
Missouri’s Conservation Department decided in the late 1950s to outwit nest predators by encouraging a few maximas to use galvanized washtubs, fastened to the top of posts set into the water on the state’s numerous farm ponds. Pretty soon farm ponds all over the Show-Me State had sprouted the tubs like summer algae and baby geese were everywhere.
The Missouri experiment began at the Trimble Wildlife Area north of Kansas City with 24 geese which grew to a flock of 650 by 1969. Studies showed that predation loss to washtub geese was only two percent. Trimble itself became the victim of a Corps of Engineers lake project, but the geese have adapted to washtub nests in the lake itself.
Within a few years great big geese were fouling urban golf courses with droppings and nesting pairs were challenging joggers, pedestrians and homeowners. If anything, the maximas are smarter than other birds and most humans, and quickly learn where they are at risk from hunters and not at risk from urbanites. One pair nested for several years on a window ledge above a busy highway in a St. Louis suburb.
The baby geese, light as feathers, leaped from their lofty nests and fluttered to ground like so many autumn leaves, bounced and then followed their parents to the nearest water. In the St. Louis episode, that was two blocks to a park lake, through heavy traffic. Somehow they made it, testimony to the bird’s adaptability and survival skills.
Those same geese will grow to adults that are fond of grazing on golf courses and subsequently doing what geese legendarily do better than just about anything. Irate golfers, their cleats clogged with goose droppings, can’t even resort to the gun as a population trimming tool—you can’t hunt on a St. Louis country club course.
So we have come full circle with many wildlife species: from creatures so numerous they were given no consideration other than as targets, to creatures so threatened they got the full resources of concern and money to today’s proliferation of so many of those historic species.
Hunters, the major predator on wildlife today, especially deer, are dwindling in numbers as deer and turkeys burgeon. Habitat loss to intensive farming, urbanization and other human intrusions functions as a counterbalance, but despite the combination of conditions that limit wildlife, most species are thriving.
Deer and turkeys have proved they can co-exist in places that would have been thought impossible for them a half-century ago. Raccoons, squirrels and other small wildlife traditionally have lived quietly adjacent to (and sometimes in the attics of) humans. Even bears and mountain lions occasionally rub shoulders with folks—I saw a young black bear treed behind the local Target store, and a young male mountain lion that had been hit on the highway a few miles north of where I live.
While some species appear to be accelerating on the downslope toward extinction (think polar bears and many grassland birds), there is no problem with most others. Even the bald eagle has made a dramatic recovery from an estimated 450 pairs in the 1960s to 6,000 or more today.
Given that example of a non-hunted species making a dramatic recovery, and the example of deer and turkeys becoming near-pest animals, there is hope for most threatened or endangered species and maybe that’s the ultimate solution: throw our concern and money at the troubled wildlife species and shoot the rest.
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  • Blog
  • February 10th, 2015

The EasterEgg

By Joel M. Vance
This may come as a shock to the churchly, but Easter, the Easter egg and the Easter bunny all have their origins in pagan religion. Before there was a Christian Easter, the heathen Anglo-Saxons celebrated the vernal equinox, the coming of spring. According to the Venerable Bede (673-735 A.D.), the name of the goddess Eastre or Eostre or Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and the dawn, is the origin of the name of the holy day.
At least in English and German (Easter and Ostern respectively). Other European languages call Easter by the equivalent of “pasah,” the Hebrew word for pass over: Pascha in Latin, Pasqua in Italian, Paques in French, Paske in Danish and Norwegian, Pask in Swedish and Paske in Icelandic.
And the Easter bunny, that cute egg- laying lapid, was a sacrificial animal for those goddess-worshipping pagans. No happy Peter Cottontail, hoppin’ down the bunny trail–he was dead meat for one of those often ill-tempered Valhallans. Gene Autry, whose “Peter Cottontail” is one of the best- selling records of all time, probably didn’t know that he was chanting a pagan love song.
The sun crosses the equator twice each year and the length of day and night is equal everywhere. The vernal (spring) equinox happens (about March 21). According to legend, an egg will stand on its small end at that moment. Like most legends, eggs or not, the occasional egg probably will stand on its small end, during the equinox or any other time, but most won’t.
Even before the Anglo-Saxons practiced spring bunny bopping, almost to the dawn of time, various cultures celebrated the return of spring. All had an element of resurrection–usually a godlike human (Adonis is one, Persephone another) restored to life by a benevolent or maybe just playful god.
Eggs always have been a symbol of resurrection, even of the birth of the earth and life itself. Egyptians believed that their god Ptah created the egg out of the sun and moon and the Phoenicians thought that two halves of an egg separated to create the earth. The Hindus believed that a vast egg contained a spirit that would be born, die and be reborn–a resurrection.
The fabled phoenix was an immortal bird which would live for 500 years, then immolate itself on a combination funeral pyre and nest of spices and herbs. The bird would be consumed by the fire, but there would be an egg in the smoldering embers and from that egg would hatch another or the same phoenix.
The ancient Persians and Greeks exchanged eggs at their spring festivals. When pagans began to convert to Christianity, they carried the egg symbolism with them. Easter remained a celebration of spring, though now associated with Christ. Easter, as a Christian holy day, celebrates the Resurrection of Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. In the West, Christians celebrate it on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs either on or after the March 21 vernal equinox.
Egg exchange has many forms, ranging from religious to downright randy. Nuns give decorated eggs to the poor as gaudy food. But would-be lovers also give each other eggs to declare their affections. But in the Tyrol if a girl gives a guy two eggs, it means “Hit the road, Jack.”
The spurned lover is supposed to dash the eggs on the floor, thus symbolically shattering their bond (and also venting some spleen, no doubt).
Assuming a non-Tyrolian male has gotten some eggs for Easter, he can take those eggs to church and find witches. The eggs give him the power to see the witches for what they are–they’ll be holding pieces of pork instead of hymnals, and they’ll have milk buckets on their heads instead of bonnets.
One less-than-charming folk tale involves how a girl can find the man she will marry. She hard-boils an egg and fasts for a day. Then she discards the hard boiled yolk and fills the cavity with salt. She must plead her case to St. Agnes as she eats the entire egg, shell and all. She cannot have a drink before the next sunrise by which time, thanks to all that salt, she probably will be climbing the walls with thirst.
But if she does everything right, the next man the girl sees is the one she’s destined to marry (probably the milkman or paper boy just trying to get an early-morning job done). Wouldn’t it be easier to wear short skirts, low-cut blouses and lingerie from Victoria’s Secret?
The Easter Sunrise service (apparently the first recorded service was at Cadillac Mountain, Maine) has a mystical connotation–it once was believed that the sun danced on Easter morning and people got up to watch. There are no recorded instances of the sun dancing. Even the resurrection of Christ has a parallel and perhaps a precursor in pagan lore. Adonia, a legendary figure in Middle Eastern folklore, is said to have died and risen again. In several countries there is a resurrection festival dedicated to Adonia.
The Germanic peoples who celebrated their version of this holiday believed that rabbits were sacred on Easter and that on Easter Eve, the sacred hare would lay eggs for good children. Colored eggs symbolize the coming of spring flowers. They antedate Christ, probably to Babylon (some 2,000 years B.C.) and usually were red, a “color of life.” In Christian times, the red egg symbolized the blood of Christ.
Red eggs rolled through history and in the days of the Austrian Empire, a Tryolese girl got her man by giving him red eggs that had been boiled in dye on Good Friday over a fire that had been blessed by a priest.
Sounds like too much trouble when a sly wink and a seductive walk is quicker. However, some consider red eggs an aphrodisiac, so maybe it’s not such a silly superstition after all. But the French, who usually are fixated on love, seduction and aphrodisia, use a red egg offering as an inducement to crop health. Go figure.
One of the more bizarre red-egg customs is by Serbian gypsies who cut the head off a lamb, roasted as part of St. George’s Day celebrations, then push some gold coins into a red egg, left over from Easter and stuff that in the mouth of the lamb head.
One of the band, a good businessman, then ceremoniously buys the head, shells the egg and portions it out to each member of the band, then carves the head and shares the brains. This is supposed to make those who share the egg and the brains both wealthy and wise, not to mention vomitous.
Since Easter is a creation of myth, it’s not surprising that there still are myths associated with it in modern times. Ozarkers believe (or used to) that taking a bath before dawn on Easter morning will alleviate rheumatism. Generally speaking, the old Ozarkers who believed that would have benefited from a bath just about any time, so some good was done, whether for rheumatism or not. Easter bonnets and other new finery is a throwback to the belief that new clothes worn on Easter in honor of the dawn of spring will bring good luck. And Easter lilies became popular near the end of the 1800s as a symbol of purity.
Eating a hot cross bun on Good Friday is an American custom, but Anglo-Saxon pagans ate cakes as part of their spring frolics. In fact, Babylonians made cakes for the “queen of heaven,” according to Jeremiah, who said “they may provoke me to anger.” The cross was a pagan symbol long before Christ’s crucifixion. Two loaves with a cross on them were discovered in Herculaneum, a city destroyed by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. and they probably were not Christian in decoration.
Fond of Easter ham, a traditional dish? Apparently that custom arose from anti- Semitism: the English showed contempt for Jews (for having killed Christ) by eating pork, a food forbidden to Jews.
Besides coloring eggs, various cultures have played games with them. In England there was an Easter custom called “pace- egging.” The name comes from Pasch, which is a European name for Easter and derives from Pesach, the Hebrew Passover.
Pace-eggers go from house to house in costume or blackface, demanding colored eggs, coins or candy. It’s the springtime equivalent of Halloween. The pace-egger in blackface is called “The Old Tosspot.” He wears a straw tail full of pins and acts drunk, encouraging the unwary to grab the prickly tail.
In addition to eggs and money, people were encouraged to serve up a glass of beer, so the Old Tosspot often earned his nickname before the end of his cavort.
Medieval priests threw a hard-boiled egg to a choirboy who then flipped it to another and so on until the boy who had it when the clock struck 12 kept the egg.
Egg rolling, now a nearly-forgotten child’s game, actually is a relic of a fertility rite. The last child to break the egg will have good luck in the coming year (or, as another superstition has it, will marry first). But Dutch kids vie to see who can roll an egg the farthest, as they did in French and Slovakian egg-rolling. Several eastern European areas have a variation where kids roll eggs down an incline, either for distance or to see if they can break their opponent’s egg. This sounds like an ovoid version of the Pinewood Derby.
The egg roll was mentioned in print as far back as 1684 and doubtless dates father back than that. In the British Isles, children roll eggs downhill until only one remains unbroken, the winner. Much of Europe, including the British Isles, the Ukraine, Italy, France and Sweden all have long traditions of rolling eggs. Protestants believe that egg rolling symbolizes the rolling away of the stone that sealed Christ’s tomb.
An Egg At Easter by Venetia Newall (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1971) is crammed with facts and fables about eggs and their religious and folk tradition.
But where exhaustive research exists, the exhaustion can lead to error–for example: “A rolling ceremony has taken place on the White House lawn since 1877, when it was introduced by Dolley Madison…”
Dolley Madison died in 1849. She did, however, introduce the White House lawn egg rolling. Mrs. Madison, wife of James, our fourth President, is credited with the first White House egg roll in 1810. She had heard that Egyptian children rolled colored eggs at the Pyramids and apparently felt that what was good enough for Egyptians was good enough for Americans.
There have been annual egg rolls in the capital ever since. They were on the Capitol grounds until 1877 when Congressmen, the eternal Grinches, banned it because they were tired of stepping on egg residue. Another presidential wife rescued the ceremony.
Lucy Hayes, abetted by her husband, Rutherford, opened the White House grounds to the evicted egg rollers. Mrs. Hayes was called “Lemonade Lucy” because she wouldn’t serve liquor in the White House, but she still was a good egg, so to speak.
The annual egg roll has been on the White House grounds ever since except for the two World Wars, when it was moved variously to the National Zoo, Smithsonian and other locations. It always is on the Monday after Easter, on the South Lawn of the White House. The “eggs” now are not really chicken- produced–they’re wooden and each year have a different design. Each is signed by a celebrity, mostly visitors to the White House, but some with the signatures of the President and First Lady.
Today’s egg rolls are relatively sedate (Congressmen stay out of the picture, not wanting to sully their shoes), but they used to be rowdy affairs, according to one early description: “At first the children sit sedately in long rows; each has brought a basket of gay-colored hard-boiled eggs, and those on the upper terrace send them rolling to the line next below, and those pass on the ribbon-like streams to hundreds at the foot, who scramble for the hopping eggs and hurry panting to the top to start them down again. And as the sport warms, those on top who have rolled all the eggs they brought finally roll themselves, shrieking with laughter. Now comes a swirl of curls, ribbons and furbelows, somebody’s dainty maid indifferent to the bumps and grass stains. A set of boys who started in a line of six with joined hands are trying to come down in somersaults without breaking the chain…”
Besides strewing the grass with messes to plague finicky Congressmen, kids have played egg games for centuries. Other games include tossing and tapping. Tossing is an old picnic diversion, like sack races or arm wrestling. Partners, stand across from each other in two lines. The players toss their egg to their partner. Drop an egg, your team is disqualified. After each round of catch (or drop), the players take a step back, increasing the distance of the toss.
The last duo with an unbroken egg is the winner.
Egg tapping is a solo player game. You tap your unbroken egg against the unbroken egg of a competitor. When one egg breaks, that player is out. The last player with an unbroken egg wins.
Today’s Easter egg hunt is a tame affair, especially compared to the way the Germans once did it. They’d hide the eggs in thorny hells so the kids came out of the hunt looking as if they’d been jousting with bobcats. Possibly this is a form of Tough Love or perhaps they simply didn’t like their kids.
The most politically incorrect egg game occurred in Czechoslovakia where boys would decorate willow or birch branches and whip girls on the legs until the girls gave up their decorated eggs. For some reason that brings up an H. Allen Smith anecdote about old time newspaper reporting.
Reporters couldn’t use the word “rape” in print, rather had to write “assaulted” as a euphemism for rape. So they wrote items like “he broke her nose and one arm, knocked her to the ground, kicked her repeatedly, and then he assaulted her.”
Easter beatings aren’t just Czech in origin. According to Ms. Newall, in the 1400s in Upper Silesia, boys would whack their girl friends early in the morning, explaining to the parents, “Good day, Happy Easter. I’ve come to give your daughter her Easter beating.” The bruised girl was supposed to have good luck thereafter, though she obviously didn’t on Easter.
Ms. Newall speculates that such rough treatment was a carryover from spring rituals designed to stimulate plant life. It is true that bruising a fruit tree will stimulate more fruit production, but these days abrading your girl friend will stimulate some jail time.
Birds and eggs are part and parcel of Easter. Chickens, plovers, magpies, pelicans, robins, storks, sparrows and swallows all have legends associating them with Easter. The robin supposedly got its red breast from trying to remove the bloody crown of thorns from Christ’s head.
It may not have occurred to you (it never did to me), but an Easter egg can be a bacterial time bomb. Remember those 10,000 pores in the egg? They’re open gateways for bacteria to come screaming in.
Egg producers give their eggs a thin spray coating of mineral oil to close the pores so bacteria (salmonella is an eager one) from creeping in. But when you cook the egg, the coating is gone. Now you’re out, with your filthy paws, covered with every known pathogen, placing eggs for your innocent bairns in good hiding places–how about here, in the manure pile?
Or over there where the dog pissed?
Maybe where Chem Lawn sprayed for pest and weed control?
As far back as 1682, a German doctor, Georg Franck, lobbied against Easter rituals, including eggs, because he had several patients who had become ill after eating Easter eggs. One died.
You can buy pre-decorated Easter eggs that have a resin coating that protects you from an array of bacterial nightmares, but 99.9 percent of the fun of Easter eggs is in the decorating. Buying pre-decorated eggs is like a plastic Christmas tree. Why bother?
So you dip your eggs in various colors and do all the things that make them pretty and Daddy and Mommy stuff them here and there on the lawn and the kids joyously hunt and seek (our Brittanies found more than the kids and they ate them and none died).
Then you may or may not crack and eat them. This is a game of discovery, not of consumption, so the eating is secondary to the chase. According to legend, the child who finds an Easter egg that hatches into a chick with the head of a rabbit will have good luck.
Well, good luck in finding such an egg.
These are the guidelines for safe Easter egg handling:
If you won’t be coloring your eggs right after cooking them, store them in their cartons in the refrigerator. Refrigerate them again after they’ve been hidden and found.
Don’t eat cracked eggs or eggs that have been out of refrigeration for more than two hours. If you plan to use hard-cooked eggs as a centerpiece or other decoration, cook extra eggs for eating and discard the eggs that have been left out for many hours or days as a decoration.
Even though a hard-boiled egg is considered safe from bacterial contamination, the American Egg Board (AEB) recommends you refrigerate all hard cooked eggs, just to be on the safe side. Unless we become so health-conscious that we over react and institute a ban on Easter eggs, we’ll always have some form of them around. It’s just too much fun for little kids to cover eggs and themselves with dye and to scamper around looking for hidden eggs.
Why, the Easter egg hunt even has invaded the world of computers. There are numerous jokes, graphics and other hidden subroutines in Apple Computer software, put there apparently by gremlins (no one at the company will confess to doing it, but they keep cropping up). These are called Apple Easter Eggs because hunting for them has become a computer use all in itself.
The computer code jockeys at Apple take great pride in slipping something past the many reviews of new software and one in particular cost a couple of million dollars to fix–a graphic had a nearly-naked pop music star (Madonna?) on a poster in the background. The company had to pull the CDs and replace them.
It was an expensive Easter Egg hunt.

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  • Blog
  • February 2nd, 2015

What Was That!

By Joel M. Vance

Like all kids of my generation, I spent Saturdays at the local movie theater trying not to wet my britches as various ghostly apparitions loomed over me on the silver screen.
Were there real ghosts? You betcha! They lurked in the closet or in the basement and no one my age would dare go near a graveyard after dark. It was different by high school—the local graveyard was a favored place for parking with one’s sweetheart. It was quiet there and the only spirits were those in a half pint of Four Roses, acquired from a 16-year-old kid who looked to be 40 and had a fake ID.
I quit believing in ghosts except, but then there were those batteries that went dead.
That happened during a “psychic investigation” in a huge old antebellum mansion, abandoned and nearly gone to ruin. Over the decades one inhabitant had committed suicide in an upstairs bedroom. The place went through the trauma of the Civil War. There was reputed to be a slave burial ground near the house. Everything reeked of the supernatural. The dank, cavernous cellar was spooky enough to frighten Stephen King, even in the daytime, let alone at night.
If ever a place deserved to be haunted it was this one. So my wife Marty and I joined a pair of self-proclaimed psychics and another woman to spend as much of the night there as we could stand.
There was no electricity or heat and it was November, which meant it was cold and dark both inside and outside. Any of the famed “cold spots” that supposedly signal the presence of spirits would have been masked by the overall chill.
The psychics, who were about as strange as the phenomena they were pursuing, claimed to sense all sorts of ghostly presences. I felt cold, but nothing else. Oh, yes, bored too. The psychics took many digital photos which showed “orbs.”
Orbs are little balls of light that appear on film or a digital image and could be (and probably are) dust motes or flying insects or camera light leaks—all earthly phenomena, nothing supernatural or paranormal.
The only oddity was that one or two orbs remained in one spot, at a landing on the curved staircase. Dust floats and it was too cold for bugs. “I get the sensation there’s a little boy sitting there,” said one of the psychics. I got the sensation my toes were about to turn blue and fall off.
I had brought along two Marantz professional quality tape recorders, equipped with batteries fresh out of the package. They should have been good for several hours of recording “electronic voice phenomena,” those whispers from the Other Side that we don’t normally hear. I set one on an upstairs landing, near the bedroom where the suicide happened; the other halfway down the stairs. When I checked them an hour or so after I turned them on…they were dead, batteries drained.
According to the folks on the popular SyFy channel’s “Ghost Hunters” show, “entities” can drain energy from sources such as batteries to gain strength to manifest themselves, open or close doors, knock, rattle chains, whatever.
None of that happened—I just had dead batteries with no explanation. As much as I wanted to believe the resident spooks had stolen my juice, I couldn’t lay it to anything other than coincidence, cold weather, defective batteries or sheer bad luck.
The little boy orb? I’d have been more convinced if I’d seen a diaphanous little kid sitting on the stairs giving me a ghostly grin. The psychics were thrilled by all the activity which I didn’t share. I was haunted only by a vicious cold that I caught in the dank mansion.
Maybe I’m ghost-immune. Many friends have had paranormal experiences. For example a fellow instructor at a writing workshop in Vermont said she stayed in one of the college dorms alone one night and was visited by a benign ghost. “There was a feeling of peace,” she said. She also ran two white noise machines to get to sleep.
I stayed by myself in the same dorm, perhaps the same room, a couple of times and was visited by nothing, not even a mouse. But a niece, in another college dorm room, felt an invisible presence holding her down for a terrifying few moments. Dorm rooms seem to attract either spirits or stories about them. Perhaps I’m just not tuned into the specters of academia. The only presence I ever felt in my college dorm room was the astral projection of the housemother, looking for forbidden beer—but maybe that was my imagination.
Once my wife and I stayed at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, the Mother of All Haunted Houses. Or so horror writer Stephen King would have you believe. The Stanley was where he conceived the idea for “The Shining,” his story of a haunted resort hotel.
And now the Stanley, once on the brink of bankruptcy, is thriving on its ghost reputation. The “Ghost Hunters” have been there several times, each time turning up unexplainable paranormal incidents—doors that open and close by themselves, voices from the other side or whatever. A competing show, “Ghost Adventures,” was filming while we were there.
So I expected that if ever I was going to encounter a spook it would be at the Stanley. Our grandson Nickolas had been a ghost tour guide at the Stanley for several months and gave us the $15 tour for free. We hit all the hot spots and there are many.
Room 417 was where Ghost Hunter Jason Hawes filmed a closet door opening and closing with no one in the room but him. I willed the door to open but it remained resolutely shut. So I went in the closet and shut the door behind me. “Come on, ghosts, do your thing!” I challenged.
The only presence I felt was a musty odor from a ratty old bathrobe hanging there. After a couple of minutes I opened the door without any spectral help and we went looking for another paranormal whirlpool.
Allegedly the fourth floor hallway is rife with child ghosts running back and forth, giggling and acting like real kids. People even leave candy for them on the back of an old couch midway down the hall. We sat on the couch and I was tempted by a Tootsie Roll left for Casper or whoever, but decided I didn’t want to risk the wrath of wraiths.
Nick claimed to feel a cold spot in front of the couch and a digital photograph showed an orb which either was a very round child ghost or dust. Orbs are supposed to be psychic energy floating around like detached lightbulbs and cold spots allegedly are entities drawing energy from you.
The most prominent orb of the entire trip was directly over our other grandson’s head at The Rock, a local bar/restaurant which mostly is haunted by thirsty tourists.
It’s not that I lack the imagination to believe in ghosts. Not long ago Turner Classic Movies showed “The Uninvited” with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, a spooky 1940s ghost movie set on the foggy English moors. It had scared me to the brink of enuresis when I was 10 and as an aging skeptic, alone in my basement, I felt the hair rise on my neck and I went to bed and pulled the covers over my head.
Maybe I’m with ghosts like poet Gillette Burgess was with purple cows: “I never saw a purple cow/I never hope to see one….” Ditto ghosts for Joel Vance.
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