Mama’s been gone for nearly 30 years now, but she still scolds me on occasion. She tells me she is proud of my little stories in The Examiner about the history of our neighborhood. She is concerned, however, “with the development that has taken place all across Eastern Jackson County. It gets harder and harder to connect with the land.” Mama thinks natural history is just as important as “human” history, and she is ever so right!

In our hustle-bustle world of the 21st century, we desperately need the tonic of the wilderness sometimes, to wander and even wade in the marshes where the long-legged blue heron and meadow hen lurk. We need to be able to smell the whispering forests, where only some wilder and more solitary critters build their nest. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things about nature, we also require that all things remain mysterious and unexplorable.

Mama says it would probably do us all good this summer to sit for hours awaiting the snipe. Have you ever been on a snipe hunt? That crazy thought takes me back to my childhood along the Missouri River bluffs, where we spent many hours among nature, romping through the woods with our trusty dog, Chubby. That’s when my ornery older sister, Margie, took me on my first snipe hunt, where I indeed sat for endless hours with a gunny sack, awaiting and waiting for a snipe. I was all alone, surrounded by the sounds of nature, the whispering winds and songbirds, but how soon we get enough of nature’s quietness.

Mother Nature excites an expectation within us, which she cannot satisfy. The beauty and the music of the wild were all within me, and I sat listening to my thoughts, and there was even a song in them, which possessed me. Then, finally I tired of it all, and went to the house.

The folks all laughed and told me there were no such things as snipes. “Margie was just pulling your leg; I would better spend my time watching the swallows.” So, I wandered down to the barn, having nothing better to do, and thought I’d watch the swallows – barn swallows no less.

The old mother bird was busy feeding her young, so I climbed high toward the rafters and found a perch within 15 feet, overlooking them. There were five featherless young in the nest, and I became curious to know how each received its fair share of the mayflies. As often as the mama bird came with a fly, the first one at the door of the nest took it, and then they all hitched around one notch, so that a new one was presented at the door, who received the next fly; and this was the invariable order. The same one never received two flies in succession.

At last the old mama bird brought a very small fly, and the young one that swallowed it did not desert his ground, but waited to receive the next fly, but when mama came back with another, of the usual size, she commenced a loud and long scolding at the little one, till it resigned its place, and the next one in line received the fly.

Indeed we enjoy the convenience of our urban life in Eastern Jackson County, fast highways and endless shopping, but we should never have enough of nature either. We must balance the two of them. We must be refreshed by the sight of the inexhaustible vigor of nature, with its vast and titanic features, the wilderness with its decaying trees.

Even the billowing thunderclouds that bring these summer rains, which produce freshets, and more fly for the swallows, plus chiggers and mosquitoes of course.

To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to or call him at 816-895-3592.