The Nature Corner: Critter curiosity

Published 11:19 am Sunday, April 14, 2019

By Ernie Marshall

I contracted my chronic case of critter curiosity when I was in kindergarten.  I remember the incident vividly because it cost me a spanking.  Not that I needed that to instill the memory.

I was utterly bored by my first experience with schooling. We had books that were about “See Spot run,” instead of pirates, cowboys and fighter pilots. The class had a naptime in the middle of the day, when the teacher left the room and the other kids mostly had their eyes closed.

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Ah, my window of opportunity, literally. I tiptoed to the window, shoved it open and crawled out to freedom.

The school was on a slope, so sixth grade was at ground level and kindergarten was “down hill” from there and had a raised porch with stairs. So in my overheated imagination I had been captured by pirates and was being held in the ship’s dungeon. I forced the hatch, dashed to the ship’s deck and was over the side, a perilous drop into shark infested waters, well, probably five or six feet to the ground.

My “plan,” to call it that, was to show up back at school just as naptime was over. Who would know I had ever been gone? So I changed my usual route and went to a patch of woods with a pond. That should throw the pirates off my trail.

I soon became enthralled in what would become a favorite pastime of peering into the pond’s shimmering depths, under lily pads and lose rocks, for tadpoles, frogs, snails, crayfish, other creepy crawlies.

But time indeed flies when you’re having fun. The next thing I knew I was seeing kids on their way home from school. Well, OK I’ll just go home since that’s when I would do that.  (Plan B you might say.)

Mom met me at the door with storm clouds gathering overhead. And uh-oh, Dad’s home early.

“Ernest Clare, what do you mean by running away from school!?”

“But Miss Crankenstein – I liked that name because it rhymed with ‘Frankenstein’ – locked me in the dungeon for a month with only a crust of bread and a tin cup of water.”

“Your teacher’s name is Miss Crandle and she is a very nice lady, and it was cookies and lemonade. You always get it after the nap, which is only twenty minutes, not a month.”

“But Mom . . . ” Just then Dad showed up, so I knew there was no point in concocting an end to that sentence.  And thunder and lightening were added to the storm clouds.

I’ll let the reader complete this scenario, but suffice it to say I got a sore bottom and didn’t attempt any more escapes from Miss Crankenstein’s dungeon.

But I did managed to find more mischief.  “I can turn the garage into a museum!”

We had a garage, sort of a luxury in our neighborhood. But of course, like almost everyone else with a garage, we didn’t use it to shelter our car, but to store tools and other stuff.

“I’ll charge a nickel to come see my museum.  I’ve got my fossils, Indian arrowheads, armadillo shell, possum skull . . . I know where there is a cow skeleton. I’ll call it a ‘two-horned triceratops’ With a dinosaur skeleton I can charge a dime to see my museum.”

Our family had been to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg, which is on the way to summer visits to the family farm in western Pennsylvania. What I saw there, including assembled dinosaur skeletons looming over me like the giants they were, gave me some pretty grandiose ideas.

I asked my Dad about a two-horned triceratops. He laughed and said, but it should probably be called ‘biceratops.'”

“Then ‘biceratops’ would be a new dinosaur?”

“I suppose it would be,” Dad replied with a chuckle.

“So I’ll put up a sign,” I thought to myself, “‘Ernest Marshall discovers a new kind of dinosaur,’ and charge a whole quarter to see it.”

It took three trips in my fire engine red Radio Flier wagon to get my biceratops from the farm pasture a mile or so away to the garage. Another problem was that some of the cow carcass besides the bones remained, which meant that the garage took on a fowl odor.

“What is that awful smell?” Mom asked.

“Smell?  What smell?” I innocently replied.

So Mom was on to me, and decided to investigate.

I was in the kitchen when I heard her shriek, “Snakes! . . . Ernest Clare!” You probably could hear her a block away.

I had also brought home some brown snakes I found. I thought they would be a nice addition to the museum.

“But Mom they won’t bite.”

Mom was utterly terrified of snakes, of any sort. So that was the end of my museum project. Well, until a few years later . . .”

I mostly gazed out the window and daydreamed my way through grade school, until fourth grade and my teacher Miss Willis. She recognized my eccentric interests and gave me the corner of her bulletin board and called it “the science corner,” where I could display my collections – minus the cow skeleton and snakes.

This by the way, many years later, this is the source for the name of this column, “The Nature Corner.”

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