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The Observer May 19

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Entomologist Michael Warriner is looking for bumble-watchers, and The Observer is thinking of signing up. To be a bumble-watcher, The Observer will have to spend at least 45 minutes over three days between now and June 24 to count the bumblebees we see coming to our garden, or to a natural area we know. The Arkansas Bee Survey of the Department of Arkansas Heritage is the next leg of citizen science survey efforts that began with tarantulas in 2004. Some 800 people sent in data on the arachnid, so Warriner figures Arkansans like hairy insects. Bumblebees are not only hairy, they’re cute. Bombus bees are more than just cute, of course. They are pollinators, and if you like tomatoes, cucumbers, blueberries, watermelons and apples, for example, then you need bumblebees. (Fast-food eaters note: Bumblebees also pollinate alfalfa, which feeds cattle, which give us hamburger.) Certain native flowers also depend on bumblebees, including obedient plant and big blue lobelia and purple beardtongue. Insecticides and today’s intensive agriculture that uses every spare scrap of land, saving no hedgerows or other habitat for the bees to nest in, are killing off bumblebees. When bee species decline, so do the plants they help propagate by carrying pollen plant to plant on their hairy, concave back legs. (Plants also get a buzz off the bee visits, from the static electricity the bees give off to pull in the pollen.) The Arkansas study, explained in detail on www.naturalheritage.org, asks volunteers to learn to distinguish between Arkansas’s seven bumblebee species. A field guide to our bumblebees is provided, and since bumblebees are slow-moving creatures and there are only seven to learn, identification ought to be easier than bird-watching, Warriner said. The Observer appreciates that. To participate, email Warriner at michaelw@arkansasheritage.org. The Observer is sure many moms out there were pleased to unwrap their scarves, chocolates and other trinkets on Mother’s Day this year. But we’re handing out the award for Best Mother’s Day Gift Ever to the child of an old college friend. Her son, a bright-eyed, train-loving 4-year-old, has speech aphasia — his brain doesn’t make the right connections to tell his mouth how to say words. Therapy has helped him build a very small vocabulary. As the mother of a non-verbal child, our friend wrote us, she’d never bothered to watch her language. Her child would never pick up new words so casually. Mother’s Day morning found her in the kitchen making breakfast. The blender was refusing to cooperate. She vented her frustration with an “Oh, hell.” From behind her came the pint-sized echo: “Hell!” We’re certain no parent has ever been so overjoyed to have to cut out the cussing. Kroger grocery stores have introduced a brand of dog food named “Disney’s Old Yeller.” For real. A product that every time you pour it in the bowl will remind you of the saddest story ever told, about the beloved mutt who befriends a family, saves them from numerous dangers and then is bitten by a rabid wolf and foams his way to an inevitable end. We are reminded of a mother we knew. It happens that it was The Observer’s mother. It was 1957. Not knowing the storyline of the new Disney release, she decided a trip to “Old Yeller” would be a fine way for her son and his friends to celebrate his 10th birthday, so she herded a number of pre-prepubescent boys into her car and off they went, probably to the Center Theater. In later years, she often recalled the disastrous party, which required that she deliver weeping boys back to their mothers. You’d think she would have learned her lesson with “Bambi.” A sardonic Observer in the office suggests the bags come with an enticement: “Old Yeller Dog Food — free in every bag: A single bullet!

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