Once again it is the time of year for that age-old question… How do I keep squirrels out of my bird feeder? I have found that squirrels eating bird-seed have a much better flavor than those found eating acorns.

Here are some nature questions you might find interesting. First, are there any mammals that reproduce by laying eggs? What color is a giraffes tongue, blue, pink, black, red or green? How do male giraffes fight, with their horns, their feet, their necks or their teeth? True or false… some frogs in Africa swallow their eggs and their young climb out through the adults mouth. There are more than 300 species of humming birds somewhere… Where? Answers at the end of this column.

I learned the answers to these questions by watching television. I hate to admit that. That skinny little box is no doubt the devil’s most favored instrument, a place where you can see as many advertisements per hour as robins on a spring day. It is designed to ruin the minds and lives of millions of young people.

But when I get in from a tiresome day in the woods in the winter, I set back in my recliner and turn it on and usually go to sleep. I notice that Marie Osmond spends more time grinning and talking about her stubborn belly fat than Matt Dillon does recovering from gunshot wounds. Boy am I sick of that woman .

The companies which provide television channels do not have to tell you the truth, or live up to anything they tell you. I called one and told them I do not watch television much, I just need the old westerns, the nature channels, the Cardinal baseball games and occasionally a news channel. No problem, they said, “we’ll fix that all up for 40 bucks.”

So I agreed and then I couldn’t get the Cardinal baseball games at all, but I had about 80 channels I wouldn’t watch except at the point of a gun. To date, after several months, nothing works right, and the first bill was a hundred and two dollars. I called several times trying to get someone to fix a problem, and each time I got someone with a foreign accent I couldn’t understand.

So I asked to get it all unhooked and finally an English speaking employee decide to talk to me. She apologized and got the Cardinal baseball channel added. But she couldn’t remove the trashy stuff channels I had no interest in. She told me that even though I only watch and ask for a dozen channels, I have to get all the others, and after one year the price will go up. I told her to pass on to the main people at her company that when that happens, they can come and get the whole mess, because I won’t be paying them any more.

I won’t miss the stuff most people watch television for, the slanted, biased and useless news mixed in with the advertisements which take up hours of viewing time. But I will miss the nature channels. With the Animal Planet channel, National Geographic, Discovery, the Travel Channel and British Broadcasting, I have often been fascinated and made aware of a natural world in the ocean, in the Arctic, in New Zealand and Australia and Africa.

When those programs about history or geography or nature come on, I don’t drift off to sleep. I don’t have words to describe my amazement. The wonder of it, the beauty and peace found in those wild places where those cameramen I envy so much get to go, taking me to a world I could never have seen otherwise.

Take my advice and spend some time with those channels. It is mesmerizing, photography that is mind-boggling. It makes me think often of that first line or two of the song. “How Great Thou Art.” Indeed what a great Creator God is.

If you are a hiker, this is the time of year to get out and see what the trail-followers do not see. Strike out across the forests of south Missouri and north Arkansas where others do not go. Go alone and stay off those beaten trails. Take the bare necessities for a long day and see what others have not, from high promontories or along rocky creek bottoms, finding and exploring a cave here and there, finding a gushing spring, a rushing waterfall, trees that are two centuries old because they grow where the loggers cannot get them.

Just last week a lady wrote me a letter, talking about being a member of a group of “Master Naturalists” in a Missouri city not far from this wooded ridge I live on. It made me think of a man at a sports show years ago who proudly announced himself as such in a boastful way.

I pushed one of my magazines before him and asked him if he knew what species of duck that was on the cover, and what it did that other puddle ducks did not. He just looked at it with a bewildered look… had no idea what it was, knew nothing about it. The cover showed a baldpate, or widgeon, a puddle duck that likes to hang around diving ducks and steal food. Divers go way down deep to bring up vegetative matter that the widgeon can’t get to.

Can you name 10 puddle ducks, and a half dozen divers? Any real naturalist can do that off the cuff. That Master Naturalist really got mad when I told him that true naturalists do not live in suburbs, they lIve the natural world so much they find a way to live close to it, far from the traffic jams which consume so much of his life.

I worked for more than 10 years as a paid naturalist. I spent a couple of years just out of college as the Chief Naturalist for Arkansas State Parks, giving hundreds of programs in those parks, conducting daily hikes with park visitors to teach them all I could about nature and conservation, and the web of life found in unaltered natural places.

Then for a couple of years or so, I worked as a paid national park naturalist at Buffalo National River. During winter months I explored the Ouachita and Ozark mountains of Arkansas for the state’s Natural Heritage Commission, going into the wildest areas of the state to find and report on significant natural features, and plant and wildlife species I found there. Again, I wasn’t there as an amateur, I was a paid naturalist.

For 50 years I have written about nature and the outdoors. I sell those articles to newspapers and magazines because they believe I have been there and done that. I do not write about what I read out of some book, but what I see and hear and experience in wild, remote places.

And with all that, I never was a master naturalist. I never knew anyone who was. Every trip outdoors then, and every trip now, I learned more and more. I have studied the lives of great naturalist like Leopold, Muir, Audubon, Miner and Peterson. Not one of those men would have accepted the term “Master Naturalist.”

There are indeed Master Electricians, Master Plumbers, Master Musicians, because they can learn all there is to know about what they do. Naturalists cannot. Calling yourself that makes it obvious you haven’t spent enough time wearing out boot soles in far off wild places. You haven’t been out there alone where bobcats bounce from tree limbs to rocky ledges as you slip close late in the evening, and a barred owl answers your call at mid-day. Bobcats and barred owls do not live in the suburbs. Neither do naturalists.

-The giraffe has a black tongue. They fight with their necks, whipping with tremendous force at the body of their opponent. There are 18 species of hummingbirds in North America, 308 species in South America. In Africa, a species of frog incubates eggs inside the stomach and the babies crawl out the mouth. One mammal lays eggs from which her young hatches. A Platypus.

See my website… larrydablemontoutdoors email me at lightninridge@windstream.net, or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.

PUDDLE DUCKS – Blue-winged teal.