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Columns: Boys, girls, everyone can learn more about birds

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 March 17, 2007.

WORTHINGTON — It is hard to know what to call people any longer.

When talk is of women — that’s it. Women.

I mean, it is not thought right to say, “Ladies,” any longer. Ladies aids and ladies auxiliaries long ago became women’s associations. Something like that.

Of course you don’t say dames, even if you thought, “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” was a great song, even if some dame sang it right along with you. Ames-days. Broads — oh — I am SO sorry! Truly.

Women most certainly are not girls. There are no girls in front offices any longer. No more gals. Even girls are not girls. They also are not young ladies. If you want to summon a troop of Brownie Scouts you say, “Hey guys —”

The guys — I mean now the boys — boys are youths. Except, I guess, for Boy Scouts.

Children. There are no children. A mother’s children are her kids, though teachers in the long-ago said, “Not! Not kids! Kids are baby goats.”

I am getting into deep water and I am sinking.

Change the subject.

I was talking not long ago to a small group of — I would have said boy and girls. I suppose I may say, “Kids.” All right. I was talking to some kids.

I talked to one of the kids (a boy), a bright kid and a good kid. I learned he did not know what a meadow lark is. He never heard a lark sing.

I asked the bunch — the group — none of them knew what a meadow lark is, either. It turns out not one of them ever heard a rooster crow. Several of them never have seen a chicken. They eat chicken (not a favorite), but they have never seen or heard live chickens.

There is a disconnect here that troubles me, although it seems not to trouble others. More than I ever realized, I came from “bird people.”

My dad told of prairie chickens and of hunting prairie chickens. (Kids: prairie chicken is a bird you have not eaten, a bird you do not see in these parts any longer.) My mother, reared on a farm, won six chicks in a promotion at a Worthington retail store one spring. We raised six chickens that summer.

There are people who are excited by birds. One recent column recalled a brown pelican which was seen last summer on Spirit Lake. That sighting stirred excitement, but not even approximately the excitement stirred by the green-tailed towhee which spent the winter at Mountain Lake. The towhee had the attention of 27 newspapers, 16 television stations and (truth) hundreds of area people — women and kids and guys. All such.

I started a project. What birds do you guess were in our corner of the world when settlers first arrived? Really, this was not a great long time ago.

There were no pheasants, of course. Ringneck pheasants came in the late 1920s.

What about robins? We watch closely for the first robin each spring. There is no mention of robins in early records. Anyway, there were no trees. Would robins come for a summer season to a treeless land where grass grew six feet high? How would they find worms?

There were great blue herons. Hence, Heron Lake. Hence, Okabena, which means Nesting Place of Herons.

Lewis and Clark, who kept careful records of birds and who moved along the Missouri River past present-day Sioux City and Yankton, reported finding the waterfowl we see today but they did not see the jays or the finches or the larks. O.E. Rolvaag, the pioneer author who traveled our region in a covered wagon, said there were no chickadees or thrushes, flickers or wrens.

There was a man at Fairmont — Arthur Moro — who wrote of birds he saw on this prairie in 1876. Geese and ducks and sandhill cranes.

“There were also many small birds,” Moro wrote. “Of these there was a great variety. Their colorings — red, blue, green or yellow — were most attractive. So were their songs. But these gentle and beautiful little birds were gradually driven away by the more sturdy, quarrelsome, voracious, combative, and ugly sparrows.”

I wish the kids — the guys — the youths — knew of these things. I wish kids could hear a rooster crow.

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