Readers respond with stories of cotton, crows

posted Feb. 12, 2018 8:04 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jerry Apps | Stories from the Land

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As my readers know, I write about a wide variety of topics related to agriculture, agricultural history, and related environmental topics. And, of course, in addition to writing columns, I write books on these same topics.

As an aside, I first began my professional writing career, which means I received a little pay for the work, back in 1966. In November of that year, I began writing a weekly column for the Waushara Argus, published in Wautoma, my home community. Soon the column appeared in four central Wisconsin newspapers: New London, Hortonville, and the Central Wisconsin Resorter, in addition to the Argus. I wrote this column, called Outdoor Notebook, for 10 years.

I began writing a column for The Country Today in 2013, so this makes year six. One of the fringe benefits of writing a column is hearing from people who have read it.

Ronald Anderson emailed me with a most interesting question. As many of you know, I wrote a book titled “Wisconsin Agriculture: A History.” I spent some four years digging up research materials for the book, searching for little facets of farming in Wisconsin that many people didn’t know about, as well as writing about the big topics: dairy farming and cheesemaking.

But Ronald, after reading my agriculture history book, wrote me and said my book did not contain any information about the history of cotton growing in Wisconsin. I answered him back with “I didn’t think you could grow cotton in Wisconsin, and I didn’t know of anyone trying to do so.”

Well, someone did do it. Ronald Anderson’s mother, Fern, obtained a cotton boll from the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in New Orleans, planted the seeds and grew cotton in Trempealeau County in 1937, as a sixth-grade school project.

Ronald wrote me that he still has several of the cotton bolls that his mother raised that year. So add cotton growing to that long list of interesting Wisconsin agriculturist pursuits which include hops, hemp, ginseng, sphagnum moss, fur farming, sugar beet growing, mint, barley for malt, and more.

Not long ago I wrote about crows, and how they are tough (they stick around all winter while many other birds wing south during the cold months), and they are smart (I mentioned a talking crow that I once visited when I was a kid). Betty Blauvelt from Wisconsin Rapids emailed me this:

Dear Mr. Apps,

Regarding your article about crows in the Dec. 27th issue of Country Today. Here is my experience with crows.

Crows are not “bird-brained.” They are exceptionally smart and fun-loving with a keen sense of curiosity. One day my two young sons brought home a half-grown crow from their excursions in the woods. It showed no fear but instead seemed to enjoy the attention.

All summer “Gordy” would come when called out of the wild blue sky. He preferred our 10-year-old son’s head or arm to land on. Sometimes he would bring a shiny stone or bottle cap and deposit it on our son’s red head of hair. We never hand fed him; he foraged for himself. We never caged him; he came and went as he pleased.

One day I was kneeling in the garden plucking weeds out from amongst the bean plants. Gordy flew down and stood beside me. I talked to him as he intently watched what I was doing. After a few minutes, he picked up the discarded weeds and firmly pushed them back into the spot I had pulled them from. At that point, I tended to think he was a she, following an instinct of sturdy nest building. As summer turned to fall, the children went off to school and we became busy with other things. Gordy lost interest in game playing and his presence just faded away.

But the next spring my hunter boys again came home with four baby crows. No nest nor a protesting mother. I cut a large sturdy branch off a tree, propped it up against the garage and placed each baby crow on it. Every two or three hours, I dug earthworms and hand fed them as they each waited patiently for the delicacies.

Feeling responsible for their welfare, but not wanting to be tied down to the responsibility of raising a family of crows, I put them up for sale to good homes. My boys were instructed to leave future crows in the woods. Baby raccoons and baby skunks are another story. Betty.

A big thank you to Ronald and Betty for their stories. I look forward to hearing from others.

Jerry Apps can be reached Visit for information about his writing and TV work.

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