Tim Horan

My wife Kathy is often the inspiration behind Tee Time topics.

“Jan. 29 (Wednesday) is Kansas Day. You could write about your interaction with Kansas symbols.” Spoken like a true retired educator.

• State Flower: Wild Native Sunflower

They are so pretty, except when they grow wild around our pond. The more you try to kill the wild sunflowers, the more they grow.

I was finally successful in eradicating the unwanted plants but they are still present at our home. We have three metal sunflowers in our rock gardens, all purchased at Mid Creek Antiques.

Kathy also has Sunny Smile Sunflower plants by our front porch which have little blossoms. This was prompted by our granddaughter asking, “Grandma Kathy, if sunflowers are your favorite, why don’t you plant some?”

• State Tree: Cottonwood.

If you visit Brown’s Park in May, you can witness it “snowing” when the cottonwood trees shed their cotton.

My experience with the wild tree again centers around the pond in my backyard. I guess I ignored its growth on the banks for a couple of years and soon discovered a forest of cottonwood trees there.

A couple of evenings I went out back with my tree trimmer and started cutting them down. Yeah. That lasted two days.

Next I borrowed a chain saw. That lasted one day.

Finally it took a skid steer and a trained operator to clear the banks. The cottonwood will suck all the moisture out of the ground it’s in, leaving us a gaping hole instead of a pond.

• State Animal: American Buffalo

As we know from our great history lessons in grade school or from just watching old movies on the television, millions of buffalo once roamed the plains of Kansas.

Eventually, hunters began killing off the breed for hides and meat.

At one time the buffalo was on the endangered list but is now listed as “population stable.” There are several buffalo ranches in Kansas.

There was a buffalo at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan when we visited years ago. Our son Ryan, maybe 11 years old at the time, was standing by the fence when suddenly the buffalo charged him. Fortunately, the fence was sturdy.

• State Bird: Western Meadowlark

It is known for its yellow chest and distinctive song.

We have a mulberry tree in our backyard. It is very old and has some dead branches in it but in the summer, meadowlarks often perch in the tree.

We named two of them Lemon and Lime. (Some of you readers may recognize the inspiration for the names from the famous Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon.)

One time our granddaughter, who could whistle before she could talk, spent several minutes whistling answers to the meadowlark singing in the brome near our house.

• State Insect: Honeybee

We have a couple native elm trees that survived our contractor running over them several times while moving dirt when the house was being built.

One July when I returned home from a trip, Kathy took me outside to look at a branch the diameter of a quarter that was covered with bees, turning the diameter to about the size of a basketball.

After a phone call to Kansas’ insect expert Jeff Whitworth, an entomologist at Kansas State University, we found out that the swarm was not that uncommon. He suggested leaving them alone and the bees would be gone in a couple days.

A honeybee swarm is formed when a queen bee leaves the colony with worker bees to start a new colony.

Whitworth said to make sure that new colony wasn’t established in the attic.

On more than one occasion swarms have been seen in downtown Abilene.

• State Amphibian: Tiger Salamander

While I haven’t seen many salamanders lately, as a child they were abundant in the area.

Brown’s Park once had its own water tower and I often caught salamanders around it.

• State Reptile: Ornate Box Turtle

We don’t see box turtles much but the painted turtles sure like to sun themselves around the pond.

When the kids were little, we drove country roads in late June looking for a box turtle to compete in the turtle races the Abilene Parks and Recreation Department held as part of the Fourth of July activities in Eisenhower Park.

• State Fish: Catfish

My first fishing pole was a long stick and a string with a hook on the end. The bait was worms dug up from the garden and the weight was an old hex nut or washer.

I didn’t know I had so many relationships to the symbols of Kansas until I started thinking about it.

But then there is the State Flying Fossil, the Pteranodon; the state Marine Fossil, the Tylosaurus; and the State Gemstone gelignite. Maybe I just haven’t developed those connections yet. Although, some might say sometimes my thinking is prehistoric and not rock solid.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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