Critters and the laws of nature

Funny chipmunk cowboy with stick horse on white

By Joe Cobb Crawford

“It’s not easy being green,” said Kermit the Frog. What he was trying to tell us was “Hey! I’m a frog. You humans don’t understand. It’s hard for a frog to be like you.”

Critters do not change. Time, technology and their environment do not affect their innate behavior. We humans try to adapt to them, but not critters. They stick to the eternal laws of nature.

In a shocking way this trait of critters was recently revealed to me. I was attempting to restore my old work truck when it happened. The truck had not been cranked and driven in years.

It refused to crank until after I replaced a few deteriorated parts. But the idling was rough. While finding the cause of the rough idling, I discovered the laws of nature had been at work.

A chipmunk was “sheltered in place” inside my truck’s air filter housing. “Dang crazy critter,” I recall fussing. I had to remove his nest and about 32 of his stashed acorns from the Thermactor valves. Then the old truck immediately idled somewhat better.

“Hey, Kermit! Being a chipmunk is not easy either,” the chipmunk might have lamented.

A stark image from about seven years back also spoke to me about the permanence of the laws of nature. That image is stuck in my mind and won’t go away. Let me explain how it got there.

On a blustery winter’s day in rural North Georgia I drove by a large church with a tall steeple. It reached into the drifting clouds. Atop the steeple was a cross… a cross with a buzzard roosting on it. He glared about, as though he was chief security officer for the church. What’s a buzzard doing up there, roosting on a sacred symbol, I asked myself.

The answer came swift—he’s carrying out the immutable laws of nature; doing exactly what his ancestors have done for centuries.

From my farm boy childhood in the tri-state area of the Great Copper Basin of Tennessee I recall another incident that revealed the laws of nature. The era was the early 1960s. Smoking cigarettes was socially cool back then.

A custom of this tri-state area was to drive to the nearby Tennessee-North Carolina state line. There, North Carolina’s tax-free cigarettes could be purchased. A carton cost less than $2 back then. Some folks would drive for many miles to purchase those cheap cigarettes.

One weekend my brother-in-law, Retoe Hensley, and my sister, Doris, were visiting my family on the farm. It was a hot, hazy Sunday afternoon when Retoe made his announcement: “I’m driving over to the state line store for some cigarettes. Anyone want to go with me?”

My brother Jim, T-Bone Watkins, the Johnson brothers, Jerry and James, and I all scrunched our excited selves into Retoe’s cool ’55 Chevy. Who got to ride “shotgun”—next to the car window—went to the older boys. With arms waving from car doors and burr heads cooled by moving air, the packed car sped away from the farm, leaving behind a static cloud of dust.

Minutes later we approached Bell-Hill Straight—a one-mile stretch of Tennessee concrete highway where hot rods often illicitly raced. It was then and there we all smelled the stench from under the car’s hood. Retoe’s eyes showed concern. He feared the worst; maybe his beautiful Chevy had engine trouble.
He stopped.

Holding our noses, we boys jumped out of the stinking car. Retoe popped open the hood. In plain sight we all witnessed the laws of nature at work.

A hen cackled, flapped her smoldering wings, and like a rocket launched herself from the car’s engine. A smile of relief touched down on Retoe’s face. Atop the carburetor she’d left behind an egg.