When I was a preteen on an isolated farm in Northern Wisconsin, every summer I saw a group of prairie chickens on the edge of our ‘south field’. They cackled and boomed; dooo, dooo dooooo!
Then, One summer they were silent.
We had provided some of their food. We did not shoot them, we did not have a tractor and our two horses and the cows did not graze there to bother them.
Our farm was surrounded by woods, the prairie chicken habitat was ideal and enormous.
Our nearest neighbor lived 2 miles west, through woods. To the south, more woods and 1.5 miles beyond, flowed a river. To the east lay 2 miles of woods and to the north 20 miles of woods. It was not an urban or encroaching environment.
As far as we were concerned, they disappeared with only one possible explanation.
It was the Depression and drought and we were in the middle of it.
When I was six, a lightning strike destroyed our 5 barns, a wood stave silo, a tool shed and our car. The fire insurance adjuster stated the concrete foundation did not burn and if we rebuilt we would be paid for materials. If we did not build, no insurance.
We shot and trapped rabbits for food and income, which we needed.
Rabbits were one important help. But something happened to them as well.
We brought home the usual rabbits to our mother. But one day, she refused to cook one. It had a large boil on its flank and my mother wisely determined that it was too dangerous to eat. She refused to gamble with health and we stopped hunting.
Then the rabbits disappeared – so did that source of meat and income – I remember the change very well.
It was then the Prairie Chickens disappeared; we guessed that without the rabbits, hungry wolves possibly hunted the chickens down – every last one.
Partridge disappeared at the same time.
Then the wolves, coyotes and foxes also disappeared. Barking and howling was no longer to be heard. Their food sources had vanished.
When I was 16 years old, I had a face to face with a very large timber wolf in the woods north of our farm; he was chasing my dog who was racing to me as a last resort for protection. Normally timber wolves lived farther north; had their food sources also disappeared. Fortunately, I spread out my raincoat and maybe yelled. With their last jumps, about 20 feet away, my dog turned around in midair landing at my feet facing the wolf. The wolf changed course ever so slightly. He flew past me, waist high and just outside my raincoat. My dog suddenly became brave and dashed after the wolf.
I was sure he had made a fatal decision and I ran for the clearing; but after a long maybe 15 minutes he rejoined me. He was panting and shaking and could not stop moving, but got lots of hugs.
We also trapped and sold ermine pelts for 10 to 15 cents each. Often our traps were raided. Footprints in the snow pointed to great horned owls who were helping themselves overnight to our trapped animals. My brother figured out how to trap the owls and get rid of them. The thievery stopped and we got our animals back.
But the following year, with no owls, our fields were overrun with mice.
We learned hard lessons of Interdependence.
Thinking about those stories now inspires a new train of thought and a question. My brother solved the problem of the owls stealing our trapped animals with the wrong solution.
What problems are we solving and are trying to solve with the wrong answer?
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