Mother Nature’s annual April Fool’s Day Joke

By Jim Freeman - In The Open

The other morning around the office, a couple of guys and I were discussing how the Conservation Area on New Lima Road could actually stand being mowed – never mind that it was pouring rain outside and there is a possibility of snow next week.

It’s almost Mother Nature’s version of a cruel April Fool’s Day joke, except it is all too real. We are in the time of year that, if it is not below freezing, the grass will be growing.

Only in Ohio do you have to juggle that first mowing of the season between snow and rain storms, wearing a coat, and mowing only those parts of the lawn that have already started growing. For the record, we personally don’t have a “lawn.” When I hear the word “lawn” I think of that carefully manicured, smooth, lush, verdant turf with nary a weed or dandelion to be seen, and probably mowed in that weird stripe-y sort of way.

We have none of that. We have a yard; it’s sort of sketchy and a little disreputable. Sadly what we really have is what my wife describes as a “doggy latrine that we have to mow.” It’s lumpy and bumpy; if the weeds died, the entire surface would be brown. In the fall I don’t rake the leaves, I just chop them up with the mower and let the wind handle them.

Growing up, grass could barely grow in my parents’ yard because it served many roles as a neighborhood playground, kid camping area, football field, baseball diamond, badminton and volleyball court, among other purposes. Do they still have yards like that?

One thing for sure, from the instant the first blade of grass is cut, it is “Game on!” with mowing until early November, so I am in no hurry to start.

Late winter and early spring are the dreariest times of the year, and it is ironic how the conditions that make us the most miserable and depressed as humans are the very conditions that set the stage for the return of life in the spring.

The cold, gray, wet, muddy conditions, while gloomy, are absolutely necessary to set the stage for the rest of the year.

The weeping willow trees along the back creek have been insisting for the past several weeks that it is already spring, but it’s not spring until our sawtooth oak says it is spring by letting go of last year’s leaves, and right now the sawtooth oak still holds it is winter.

Nonetheless, the seasons are continuing their relentless march. The days are now longer than the nights, and getting longer every day, and with daylight savings time we arranged our schedules to where we get more of that extra daylight in the evening and not in the early morning.

Here at the office that means soon I will be getting phone calls about “orphaned” baby animals. Despite all of the public relations campaigns by various wildlife agencies or organizations, humans still feel the need to get involved with wild animals’ child rearing.

Just know that for the most part wildlife mothers are very dedicated and not prone to abandoning their young, but with that being said sometimes they tend to have them in places that don’t seem very appropriate. Most of the time the best course of action is to do nothing. Of course the parents aren’t around because there is a large predator nearby… you!

Baby birds can be picked up and put back into the nest, and other baby animals should be left alone to wait for their mothers to return. They aren’t little for long; for the most part all they need is a little space and time to get their young raised and out of the den or nest. For the times that I have accidentally mowed over a nest of rabbits in the yard; I set up a flat board on blocks over top of the nest – leaving enough room for the mother to get underneath but providing some protection and cover for the nest.

Sometimes animals act different during the spring, and what “everyone knows” about animals is not necessarily so. For instance, “everyone knows” only sick raccoons or skunks come out during the day, but that isn’t always the case. After giving birth, female raccoons will stay with their young for extended periods of time, protecting them from male raccoons who will kill them; many times their only chance of going out is during the day (when the male raccoons are asleep), and they are hungry and looking anywhere for food. The best thing we can do is leave them alone and just give them some space.

A little later in the spring, it is not uncommon to see young animals out alone. Adolescent animals are sometimes like human teenagers, they don’t always follow the rules about bedtime. Just know that in most cases where humans interfere with wildlife, the wild animal loses – so don’t intervene unless absolutely necessary.

Just remember, although it may be gray and dreary today, keep your chin up because at any moment my sawtooth oak will officially declare an end to winter!

By Jim Freeman

In The Open

Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. His column In the Open generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at

Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. His column In the Open generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at