Knock On Wood # 1353

Our annual first Saturday in October squirrel hunting camp lasted from midafternoon Friday until late afternoon Sunday with a Sunday morning break for church. Everyone is welcome to these gatherings but the crowd was shorter than usual since I couldn’t start texting folks until after the front came through Thursday. Very much rain would have prevented us from getting down the dirt road to the river. Fishing has been good the last several months and I had quite a bit of fillets in the freezer. No sense carrying them through the winter so instead of the normal squirrel stew we had fish and fish and fish. Cook a while and eat a while.

A few of us were sitting under a bois d’arc tree right by the river and Ronny Glossup was telling something then said “knock on wood” as he pecked on my head. I’ve heard that phrase many times but until now never wondered about its origin. After we put out the fire and called in the dogs I went home and checked the trusty internet. I knew this phrase is used when people want to keep bad luck away like, “My old bad knee sure has been doing good lately” and then says “knock on wood” while pecking on something made of wood. The English version is “touch wood.” How many thousands of years did it take for this phrase to be scattered worldwide back in the days before communication and travel that we have now?

The phrase was widely used back when many believed in elves, fairies, goblins, and dryads that lived as spirits in trees. In Italy “tocco ferro” is used and means “touch iron.” English folklore says people would go off in the woods to have privacy when discussing secrets. Knocking on trees would prevent the spirits in the tree from hearing. Others say knocking on wood began when a sect of Monks would knock on a wooden cross they carried around their necks. This was to ward off evil spirits. In some areas of the world the phrase is changed to “God guard me” and “May the devil not hear” as they knock on wood. In Bulgaria after knocking on wood the process is extended by pulling on an earlobe with the same hand they knock with. In Turkey, upon hearing some bad news people knock on wood, pull an ear lobe, and say “God save me from that.”

Remember the television show called “The Rifleman?” In 1962 an Irish lady on the show told that knocking on wood was to wake up leprechauns to let them know a good deed was needed. Another version of the origin comes from the ancient game of tag. In some areas you are safe and can’t be tagged if you are touching a tree. A Jewish version goes back to the 1490’s when they were fleeing the Spaniards. Refuge was sought in temples and the only way to be let in was to knock in a certain way. Like a code. Many lives were saved by “knocking on wood.” My computer has been ornery while I write this and I knock on wood that it won’t quit on me.

The front that came through broke off lots of twig girdler limbs. These pencil size, two foot long limbs mysteriously fall off mainly pecan, elm, persimmon and hickory trees every year starting about mid-September. A one inch long beetle chews (girdles) round and round on the twig until it gets below the “arteries and veins” that carry water and minerals to the leaves. You can plainly see the groove that surrounds the twig. Sometimes the beetle chews until the twig falls off. Other times it just goes just deep enough to make the small limb die. Wind and gravity makes many of them fall. Why does the beetle want to kill the twig? The beetle lays several eggs in the soon to be dead twig. Look closely for tiny orange slits where the egg was placed, usually at the base of other small twigs point of attachment. As I grew up at East Delta I would find these in the woods and take one of them to the store to find out what it was. That would usually start an argument. Some said it was done by a woodpecker and others said a squirrel. I couldn’t see what benefit either one would get from cutting a tiny limb like that off a tree. Look for twig girdler limbs in your neighborhood.

As I mentioned arguments at the store I was reminded of the question sure to start one. Those in the store were about equally divided on their answers. If you see a squirrel on the trunk of a big tree and walk slowly around the tree to get a better shot, and if that squirrel stays exactly opposite you on the other side, do you circle the squirrel? Some said you went around the tree the squirrel was on so therefore you went around the squirrel. (That sounds like one of the theorems we had to memorize in high school in Mrs. Garrison’s geometry class.) Others said you did not circle the squirrel because you had to get behind something to circle it. Another fracas starter was “Does a mule pull or push a plow?” Some say the mule is ahead of the plow so it has to be pulling it. The other side said the mule was not pulling the plow but simply pushing on the collar. Therefore it had to be pushing the plow. Then somebody would ask “Where was the man when he jumped off the bridge?” One man would say he was in the air. Nope, that was after he jumped. Well then, he was on the bridge. Nope, that was before he jumped. That’s a tough one.

Aldebaron, eye of Taurus the Bull, will be just below the Moon on the early evening of October 11.

A man went to the doctor and complained he couldn’t stop singing “Green, Green Grass of Home.” The doctor told him that was known as the Tom Jones Syndrome. The man asked if it was very common and the doctor answered, “It’s not unusual.” (If you’re not a Tom Jones fan you may have to go ask somebody.)
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