Our record subzero temperatures in the Midwest had my mom and me staying indoors as much as possible during the past few days.
Even Lao-lao (Old-old), our China Chi rescue, hunkered down in his doggie bed, hoping we’d forget about him and not throw him out into the cold to do his business.
But yesterday, my mom and I braved the polar vortex chill for the love of birds.
Yes, on Friday, the last of the birdseed stored in the garage was dumped into the feeder on the back deck. The squirrels, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, doves and even the grackles (which we despise) tugged on our heartstrings as they clustered in overhanging tree branches, waiting anxiously for their daily meal.
A delay in relieving their hunger was not an option.
The impending snow and ice storm, predicted for Friday night, had me and my mom taking Route 1 for a road trip to Paris, IL, 20 minutes away, where our favorite wildlife food center is located: Rural King.
Rural King: A Rural Mid-westerner’s Dreamhouse
For my Chinese readers, Rural King is a supply store that mostly caters to rural folk, i.e. farmers. It actually began quite near Marshall in Mattoon, IL (45 minutes away) in 1960. In fact, the corporate office, distribution and flagship store are still located there. Now it has 70 stores in a nine state area that includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Florida.
The website touts “an outstanding product mix” of agricultural parts, farm equipment, workwear, housewares, pet supplies, automative items, clothing, outdoor living gear and tools. That includes a huge supply of wildlife food for woodsy critters. Rural King also offers free freshly-made popcorn and coffee for patrons wandering the various sections.
Free anything is always a big sell for me and my mom.
Not only that, but the store is pet friendly. On trips to Rural King, it’s not unusual to see someone’s leashed hound following along behind his owner or a smaller breed riding contentedly along in a shopping cart.
On our trip to Rural King yesterday, we debated bringing Lao-lao along to accompany our cruising of the warehouse but decided against it. While the store itself is heated, the wind chill was at -10. Not exactly pleasant for a short-haired Chihuahua to be carried through the parking lot in that kind of weather, nor suffer in the freezing temps while waiting for the car’s heater to kick in.
Lao-lao was left behind, a desertion that honestly suited him just fine.
Our Rural King Adventure
A visit to Rural King for us “city” folk is always a rather exotic undertaking. That initial blast of warehouse smells, whiffs of new vehicle tires, leather items and recently unpacked overalls and jeans, is one that we never experience in the Walmart. Viewing the wide expanse of products we don’t deal with on a daily basis is another. Hardy work clothes, farm animal gear and feed, curious-looking tools, hefty big-men furniture, unique gardening figurines and countryside food staples keep us in a constant state of interest. Every turn down an aisle presents a new surprise, making this trip to Rural King a little more than just a quick shop-and-grab for birdseed.
No, it’s an event!
Creating a Spectacle
Before meandering, we set our minds to completing the task at hand– our bird mission.
Planting herself in the fowl wildlife section, my mom pointed to what she wanted and it was my job to lift the loads into the cart: two 40-pounders of all-purpose birdseed, 40 pounds of black oil sunflower seeds (a cardinal favorite), a 12-count box of suet (grackles and woodpeckers), 5 pounds of loose peanuts (blue jays), container of cracked corn (doves) and 12 pounds of classic dried ear corn treats (squirrels).
The higher our stack grew, the more attention we drew from those passing by.
“Looks like you’re feeding the entire Illinois bird population,” one of the male employees joked.
Another spectator, a gruff-looking farmer looking down at his one measly 20-pound bag of birdseed, remarked, “Guess I’m not quite as generous as I thought.”
We parked our overburdened cart near the cashier before beginning our strolling tour of the store. No sense in pushing 200 pounds around if we didn’t have to. After another hour of leisurely shopping, we called it quits, paid for our items at check-out and came home, my mom being $89 poorer than when she arrived.
The Big Snow: No Starving Birds Here!
Last evening, my mom and I watched the growing excitement of our local TV weathermen as they followed by radar the swath of snow soon to hit us.
Snow plows were out all night.
And this morning, we had to shovel a pathway for the dog so he could get to his favorite pee tree.
As for the birds, they’ve had the time of their lives.
We’ve filled up the feeder twice already, including putting extra corn ears out for our 3 sassy squirrels.
The suet has attracted a ladder-back woodpecker and the sunflower seeds given our cardinals something to cheer about. The sweet, puffed-up doves are enjoying the cracked corn.
For our winged woodland creatures, this Saturday’s been a feast fit for a king, or rather, I guess we could say, a feast fit for Rural King.
From snowy Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend!