As I write this, the corn crop is beautiful; an occasional tassel peeps up out of the top of a bouquet of unfolding dark green leaves. These are hot, sultry days in a Mid-Missouri July when corn needs water - and mulberries are at their juiciest best. These are the days when farmers pray for a gentle, 2 or 3-inch rain to come in a period of about two days and nights. "Please, God, no gully-washers, no hail," they say. "No twisters or driving winds, just gentle water to aid in the magical production of well-filled ears of corn. People everywhere need food." Mulberries? No. Not for people, for wild things.
The first year on our farm - I think it was 1951 - a promising corn crop was more than knee-high, but not nearly as tall and advanced as the crops we see this year. Our small acreage of corn stood still, waiting, as farmers scanned the skies for signs of rain. Their wives, watching quietly, prepared great meals to help their husbands through the discouraging signs of dry weather. Instead of rain, we got wind - hot wind.
In spite of endless waiting and listening to the radio for some encouraging message from the weatherman, none came. Another day or two, and the corn leaves were curling. Then the dry, curled leaves began to rattle in the wind. We knew the crop was badly damaged when that dry rattle lasted beyond the time the tassels should have sent down the fertilizing particles to be received, one by one, into the corn silk tubes. There were no fertilizing particles and no silk tubes reaching upward for them. Some farmers, including my inexperienced husband, Chub, called bulldozer operators and reserved a date for digging an earthen pit to receive the ruined crop as ensilage for our cows that winter.
What do animals do in these hot sultry days? Honeybees fan their wings to keep the beeswax from sagging and honey from dripping. Field bees continue to gather and store pollen, water, nectar and propolis. Housekeeping bees keep the cells clean and ready for the queen to inspect and then exit, turn and back into that cell to attach a tiny egg to the rear end of the cell. Guard bees keep thieves away; young bees carry the old workers with worn-out wings far out into the woods and leave them to die.
Drones, the males, continue to lazy around the hive being fed - or being killed and rolled off the front porch if they’re not needed. It’s more complicated than this, but be assured that bees work hard for their room and board.
Recently I’ve been rising at daybreak, and I’m surprised at the variety of animals feeding in my yard. Birds fill the trees, chattering at the intruders. Coyotes brazenly march up my long driveway and onto the lawn for a breakfast of mulberries. Turtles and raccoons eat here every year. Sometimes raccoons fight, high up in the tree at night. Skunks and coyotes, carnivorous animals, slurp their way forward, picking mulberries from the grass; the unusual skunk has two narrow stripes from shoulders to rump instead of one broad middle one.
One morning the coyote was filled and waddled down the long driveway until I slammed a door, and then it scooted fast into tall grass and stopped. One skunk ate so many mulberries that its belly extended so far out it could hardly walk even when it heard the door slam. Coyotes and skunks usually feed on mice, rats and other animals, but they prefer mulberries this July at our farm!