Birds into ‘Anting’ – Herald Democrat


By Becky Emerson Carlberg For The Shawnee News-Star Weekender

Some families have doctors, other lawyers and those that enter into law enforcement. My family were lovers of the written word and became teachers. My parents were teachers. Several aunts and uncles were educators. Even my grandmothers were involved with schools. My Oklahoma grandmother taught in a small rural school. My Michigan grandma was a cook in a public school and the cook at Timbers Girl Scout Camp. She then expanded her horizons by becoming the chef at Bay View Inn in Traverse City. This required some savvy word knowledge.

Traverse City lies in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan on the edge of Lake Michigan. This area was the ancestral home of the Ottawa, Potawatomie and Ojibwa peoples. Michigan comes from the Ojibwa word “large lake”. The well-drained sandy loam soils provide an ideal substrate for growing cherry trees. Michigan leads the nation in the production of tart cherries.

My family visited grandma in August while she was in Traverse City. We later took a trip to Petoskey, 35 miles from the Upper Peninsula (UP). The Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan are joined by the fivemile-long Mackinac Bridge. Lake Michigan on one side, Lake Huron the other. Lake Superior forms the northern boundary of the UP. Many people in the UP are descendants of Finns who immigrated to a land quite similar to their own Finland, looking for jobs. Michigan leads the nation in Finnish Americans.

We searched for Petoskey stones. About 350 million years ago, give or take a few years, the six sided rugose coral polyps (Hexagonaria percarinata) packed tightly together in colonies and lived in shallow seas. As the corals died, they formed layers of sediment and through time became fossilized. Glaciers turned and polished smooth the rocks. Today the unique Petoskey stones are found along Lake Michigan. Use the internet to read about these cool rocks.

Relatives, public schools and higher educational systems all contributed to my interest in reading, which stimulated my curiosity and drive to learn, teach and write. After becoming a newly minted science teacher, my Michigan grandma came to visit me in Okeene Oklahoma. Her chef days emerged while we walked through the one grocery store at the time. She read every can label and critiqued each aisle. At supper in the small café, she held up the silverware and inspected one and all while I tried to dive under the table. But…. The best meal ever was my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese accompanied by butter beans she fixed from scratch in the tiny kitchen of my prefabricated home.

My grandmother loved to read. Books were stacked alongside her chair and by her bedstand. When her vision failed, she devoured audio books. My mother, when not at school, could be found with her head buried in a book and a cup of black coffee by her side.

One son relishes a good book. When he was much younger, the ultimate punishment was for him to be alone without a book. The other son had to have a book glued to his hand to read on his way out to play. Reading the written word trains the brain, stimulates the mental processes, enhances vocabulary, relieves stress, adds new knowledge and is so enjoyable, at least for most.

Reading about the McLoud Blackberry Festival online informed me of the date. The hot July 9th didn’t stop one of us from picking up a few blackberry goods. Yum. The rumor was a person had a heart attack while watching the parade. Saw another person collapse in a chair in the Chamber of Commerce tent. The EMTs were kept very busy.

When the weather is HOT, read the weather forecast (newspaper, cell phone or laptop) each morning to determine if it would be in your best interest to go outdoors for an extended period of time. Are you conditioned to the heat? Do you frequently work in the garden or do outdoor activities? Begin to acclimate by raising your home thermostat and conserve electricity. Who wants Brownouts? We can all share less-cold air while frittering away time on the internet or reading our favorite book.

My Sunday morning began by fetching the newspaper, then seeing dozens of dead large black ant bodies littering the floor of the sunporch. The cats refused to enter their siesta patio. The carpenter ants (Camponotus species) had accessed the porch and turned it into an above ground cemetery. No doubt this was a clean-up job, but the sunporch? Had there been a coup or ant war? Had they gone crazy from heat or lack of water?

Ants are like honey bees. They have a queen and workers. Carpenter ants can bite. Instead of stingers, these ants have powerful mandibles used to gnaw and chew wood that form paths and nests. They share with other ants, nettles and stingless bees the ability to produce formic acid, a very simple form of carboxylic acid. Quite the antimicrobial chemical. Ants swallow their own formic acid to disinfect their stomachs to reduce disease and enhance their intestinal flora. On Bird-Note July 11th: over 250 species of birds practice “anting” by smearing themselves with ants or letting ants crawl over their bodies. The formic acid may control parasites.

Carpenter ants cultivate aphids for honey dew. To track where the ants have come from, put honey on the back of paper. After sating their sweet tooth, follow the ants as they return to their colony. Use boric acid, cinnamon, vinegar, diatomaceous earth, or boiling water to end their visits.

Or eat them. A 3.5-ounce bag of ants, approximately 20,000 ants, containing 14 grams protein, 5.7 grams iron, calcium, fiber and fat. I’d recommend adding chocolate.

Michigan, Petoskey stones, the McLoud Blackberry Festival and carpenter ant facts were all discovered through reading a multitude of divergent sources. Go to the library, open a book, read a newspaper, unlock your mind to experience different perspectives.

New worlds await.

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