BY DR. DAN WITT
Jack rabbits are making a come-back! I have seen more of these cheerful hoppers recently than I can recall in the 20+ years that I have lived in Barton County. They have a checkered history. Timothy Egan wrote a book “The Worst Hard Times” about the dust bowl and the horrors of that time. Steve Douglas has some of the most gripping photography of that era. His images are so resolute-- and his black/white pictures set a standard that is inspirational to anyone interested in documentary photography. I have studied them a lot-- and learn something important every time I visit his galleries.
Kansas was in the pivot of the dust bowl. It included the Texas Panhandle where I was raised. I was able to visit relatives that survived those awful years and learned about relatives that didn’t. Jack rabbits were a scourge in that time. I have watched news reports from that time period. Over 2 million rabbits were killed in 13 counties in western Kansas. It was estimated that each rabbit would do $10 damage in a year-- and that was a lot of money in the 30s. They dug alfalfa roots and ate bark off trees. More than 98,000 people participated in the rabbit drives. Interestingly,as the animals were congregated in western Kansas, surrounding states actually trapped them to transport and release in a effort to enhance their populations. They were very plentiful in Carson County, Texas where I grew up. My cousins and I shot some but we never ate jack rabbits. A few of them had odd cystic tumors-- we never took any precautions in cleaning or handling them, but we were always suspicious about their edibility. Cotton tails were a delicacy and rabbit is table fare today. There is a German recipe that I can’t pronounce that I have eaten with friends here that gets rave reviews. I am really glad to see the resurgence of the jack rabbits-- they are a vital part of my memory and a significant element in our Kansas history.
The marsh is quiet right now. The big fall migration is not that far away-- so brace yourselves for that wonderful event. I have had the best tomatoes this year-- planted the “Heirloom” species and even found some cherry-sized plants that have been terrific! The kids are starting school and football is in the air. We did the pre-testing of the Hoisington football team for concussion management last Wednesday. I hope we never have to use it, but the “Impact” program is used by the NFL, NHL, and Nascar is now pre-testing their drivers. It is a new level of safety for our children. We learn so much over time... Robert Penner is starting a new monthly column for the Nature Conservancy on Facebook. I was honored that he asked me to provide some bird pictures for his column. I am shameless in inviting you to read that column(he is so smart that he “squeaks”) and also watch the By-way website for the photographs of the local photography club. We live in a wonderful place with the best people! Go see the marsh now, and follow it as it changes into its fall colors. What a beautiful process!
Doc Witt is a retired physician and avid outdoorsman.