Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared June 23, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — I saw a deer, a little white-tail buck, in a bean field about two miles north of town one evening last week. This surely is not remarkable, but it brought to mind Worthington’s zoo.
A great long time ago — oh, 60 years ago, before there was a South Shore Drive — A.J. (Hap) Ehlers built a shelter and erected some high fencing along the east edge of what today is Ehlers Park (named in Hap’s memory). Someone brought four or five white-tail deer to that enclosure. I think it never had a name; everyone knew the site as The Deer Pens.
On summer evenings, especially, families would go for a ride through town. The Deer Pens were a familiar stop along the way. People sat briefly, munching popcorn or licking ice cream cones, while they watched the deer.
“Why would there be a thing like that?” someone wondered.
Well — deer were popular creatures but they were a rare sight in Nobles County, in southwest Minnesota. Hunters went to the north woods to find deer. They returned with their trophies tied or strapped along the tops of their cars or along the fenders.
Through the passing of years, whitetail deer learned of the cornfields in the southwest. There was a burgeoning migration. Deer by the hundreds exchanged the forests for the fields. Nature itself was changed by the tide of new immigrants.
I was reading lately of the awesome armada of men and machines and ships which the United States put together in the late fall of 1942 for the invasion of North Africa — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia.
Among things brought together were six fly swatters and 60 rolls of sticky fly paper for every 1,000 troops. No one knew a great deal about flies in Libya, but the army knew that in the United States it was essential to have ways and means to combat flies. Spirals of fly paper hung from the ceilings of every barracks, and there were GI fly swatters in plentiful supply.
I remember in a time when I used to drive farm to farm selling subscriptions to the Daily Globe, I often would come upon a kitchen screen door which was wholly black with flies. Fly swarms were companions at every area park and picnic. Fly swatters and fly paper were staples of local homes.
There still are flies but — relatively — flies now are seen in sprinkles while once they were seen in great deluges. This is another important change we have seen in nature about us.
On the evening I saw the little deer, I also saw a couple of dandy rooster pheasants. (“What you don’t see when you haven’t got a gun,” people used to say.)
In the memories of many residents of our region, there were times when hunters found pheasants in flocks, maybe 30, maybe 50 birds in a flock. This has changed, of course. Pheasants also have changed. In that time when there were flocks of those beautiful birds, hunters worried that the pheasants would lift out of a field before they were in shooting range. Now a hunter’s hope is that a lone bird may lift up here or there; mostly, pheasants scoot along the ground, hidden under brush and weeds and largely unseen. Another change in nature.
One more thing (I am sorry to mention). I must have been 90 years old before I really knew what a wood tick was. We used to hike and romp through the countryside summer day by summer day. We were not much bothered by mosquitoes and we were bothered not at all by wood ticks.
The wood ticks and the deer ticks, like the white-tail deer themselves, have completed a great migration. I was in a county park. This was in May. I felt — I thought I felt — a tickling along my left arm. Sure enough. A wood tick. I still am surprised and distressed when I find one.
Lyme disease comes to mind — 20 years ago I did not know there was such a malady.
White-tail deer. House flies. Pheasants. Wood ticks. In the beginning, there were grasshoppers by the millions. The hoppers went their way. Prairie chickens. Gone. Oh, but now there are quite a number of newcomers, aka Asian beetles.
The world about us is in constant change.