The 1100 th Ask A Science Teacher Column


X- Ray illustration of brain stroke – 3d Illustration

The brain has forever been referred to as gray matter. Truth be told, the brain is pinkish fleshy in color. The very center of the brain is an off-white shade. The brain is very soft tissue having the consistency of tapioca pudding.

The brain uses about 20 percent of the total oxygen intake. Oxygen is used to make glucose, which is the brain’s source of energy. If the brain’s oxygen is cut off, permanent brain damage occurs after about four minutes. Hypoxia means low on oxygen and anoxia is total lack of oxygen.

A whole slew of things can go wrong with the brain. Heart attack, suffocation, drowning, high altitude, and head injury or blunt trauma can all put a damper on a healthy brain.

A stroke is caused by a disruption of blood flow to a certain part of the brain. An aneurysm happens when an artery wall in the brain is weakened. The damaged area can swell and apply undue pressure to the surrounding tissue. Tumors are growths caused by run-away cell division. Malignant, or cancerous tumors, invade surrounding tissue causing massive damage. Benign, or non-cancerous tumors, do not spread or attack other tissue, but they can apply pressure to adjacent brain tissue.

The abuse or misuse of legal and illegal drugs can damage nerve cells in the brain which leads to permanent brain damage.

Dementia is a general term that describes a wide range of brain declines, such as memory loss, demise of thinking skills, and the inability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s Disease account for about 75 percent of cases.

There are three main parts to the brain: the cortex, the limbic, and the brainstem.

The cortex handles the most complicated things, such as thinking, making decisions, recognizing sights, words, sounds, and sensations. We depend on the cortex for playing sports, playing music, and for writing.

The limbic is involved with survival. The limbic lets us know when we need to eat, drink water, and put on a coat when we get cold. The limbic warns us of dangers and makes us aware of threats. The limbic also is where we experience pleasure and happiness.

The brainstem connects the brain to the spinal cord that runs down the backbone. The brainstem controls heart rate, breathing, and other vital organs. If the brainstem is badly damaged a person can lose consciousness and lapse into a coma. The cortex needs the brainstem to keep it alive. The brain weights about three pounds and has a volume of the 1300 cc (cubic centimeters) or 5.5 cups, or 1.4 quarts. Brain weight and volume varies with the size of the individual.

                Don’t read any further. Reader discretion advised!

Sometimes a medical examiner or coroner will order an autopsy of a body. The reason, of course, is to establish cause of death. As part of most autopsies, the brain is removed. The medical examiner uses an electric saw, called a Stryker saw, to make a round cut through the top of the skull. The cap of the skull bone is removed. The medical examiner employs a scalpel to cut the tissue that connects the brain stem to the spinal cord. The brain can be pulled out, stored in a solution, and is now available for further examination.

Albert Einstein’s brain was removed within a few hours of his death in April 1955. It is well worth reading about the journey his brain took in the next 50 years.

OK, the gruesome part is done, and you can start reading again!

The brain is a wonderful instrument. Our brain is who we are. Our body is just along for the ride, so to speak, and quite utilitarian. The brain is so complex, it has been referred to as one of the last frontiers of the unknown. Outer space and the deep ocean have also been put into the categories of “last frontiers.”

Each of the 100 billion neurons in the brain has about 1,000 connections to other neurons, creating a huge network of 100 trillion synapses. These synapse connections are “on” or “off”, like electronic switches in a mega computer.

Our brain is so magnificent and exquisite that it behooves us to take good care of it, for no other reason than it is the only one we will ever have. Realize that it is not wise to endanger our brain by drug or alcohol misuse, or failure to wear cycling helmets or seatbelts. And like muscles, we know we should exercise the brain by lifelong learning.

Sources: www.hopkinsmedicine, WebMD, Mayo Clinic.

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Lake Tomah

Update:  December 2022 saw a warming trend, and Lake Tomah was mostly ice free for several weeks. A cold snap refroze the Lake on December 18, 2022. Several ice shacks are up and a dozen or so tents set up every day.

Lake Tomah froze over on Friday, November 18, 2022. We have kept track of the dates Lake Tomah froze and thawed since we moved to Tomah in 1973. We have a picture window view of the  north end of Lake Tomah, just across from Butts Park; a view of the old hospital, the dam, and the steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

In the nearly 50 years that we have lived in Tomah, the earliest Lake Tomah froze was November 8, 2019, and the latest was December 21, 2001.

As for thawing: The earliest thaw was March 6, 2000 and the latest thaw was April 26, 2013.  The year 2007 was a strange one. Some really warm days thawed the ice out on January 6, but the Lake dutifully refroze on January 11.

There were a few years following the mid-August 1990 flood when there was no Lake. The dam and levee gave way.




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Lake is ice-free

A sure sign that Spring is here, and Summer beckons, is when the ice goes out of Lake Tomah. It was April 4 this year. We live on Parkview Drive across the road from Butts Park and have a good view of the Lake. We can see the Lake, of course, but also the former Tomah Hospital, Winnebago Park across the Lake, St. Mary’s steeple, and the dam. We’ve kept track of the date the Lake freezes and the date the Lake is ice-free. Same little book that we keep track of oil changes and foot race results and the first robin spotted. The earliest that Lake Tomah thawed was March 6, 2000 and the latest Lake Tomah was ice-free was April 26, 2013.


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Tulips are coming up

The tulips are coming up. Ann and I celebrated a 55+1 wedding anniversary at Taphouse Twenty (formerly Ground Round) last August. We requested “no gifts.” But one dear friend presented us with a small sack of 50 tulip bulbs, which I dutifully (wife’s demand request) planted around the yard light pole in October. The first few poked through the ground on March 23, but the cold weather has kept the rest from rising. This Thursday morning,  I counted 23 breaking ground. I’ve been checking every day. It’s one of those added anticipations of Spring, along with watching the ice go out of Lake Tomah and the swelling of the buds on the maple trees in the back yard and watching the robins hopping around.

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Visit to Branson

We go to Branson, Missouri each year about the middle of November to take in the Christmas shows. It’s a magical place with a great concentration of musical talent. We have our favorites: Dixie Stampede, Daniel O’Donnell, Presley Family Jubilee, Shepherd of the Hills Chuckwagon Dinner, Clay Cooper, Hughes Bros, and several shows at the Little Opry Theatre.

A must stop is the Branson Belle Showboat dinner cruise on Table Rock Lake. Another is the Sight and Sound theatre with the Jesus production with large, lavishly furnished sets, and stunning choreography.

The locals are friendly, courteous, and helpful. Traffic is doable, as most tourists come by bus at this time of the year. It is refreshing to arrive at the theatre, have a seat, and strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Typically, it’s a retired farmer from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, or Illinois, whose younger family has taken over the operation of the farm.

Branson knows how to honor military veterans. Every show MC asks veterans to stand and be acknowledged and accept thanks for serving our country. We also like drive the Skyline that overlooks Branson and visit the College of the Ozarks, also knows as Hard Work U. Students work 15 hours a week, with a portion of the expenses covered by gifts and scholarships. They graduate debt-free.



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Cow and Calf

I write a weekly Q&A science column for local newspapers. A question was asked, “In a large herd of cows and calves, how does the mother cow know which one is her calf?”

I harken back to my 1950s days on the Seneca farm, so I’m appending a bit from the Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers book.

“Most of the time our cows would freshen and have a calf in the barn. But sometimes if the cows wandered into the woods bordering the pasture, we would have to go look for the calf. The knoll field was a pasture that had extensive woods bordering the tillable field. The half-acre knoll was close to the farm buildings and had an outcropping of rock among a dozen tall oak trees. The spot provided an ideal location for us to play hide-and-seek or crack walnuts for making home-made fudge. It also served as a refuge for a farm boy who just wanted to get away from siblings and sit and talk with his pet dog.

Once when we brought the cows in for milking, one of them turned up missing. Phillip, Bob and I were sent off to find it. My brother Phillip was a year older than me, and Bob was a year and half younger.

Even though we yelled, “Here cow, here cow,” we did not get a response. We held a pow-wow. We pretended to be cows and tried to think like one. We imagined where we would want to hide if we were bringing a little calf into the world.

Phillip thought of the deep woods below the old potato patch. “There’s a lot of sumac there, just the place for a cow to give birth.”

Bob said that he’d search the woods over by the Cruzan fence line. I headed for the woods below the big cottonwood trees.

We searched for about 20 minutes before Phillip yelled, “She’s over here.” Cows keep places like this, among the sumac, a secret and do not like anyone knowing where they’re hiding.

The cow was licking her newborn calf, a ritual that we had witnessed many times before. We knew that the calf should start nursing very soon and helped it get its footing. The Hereford’s brown and white fur was soft and silky. But when I reached toward its mouth, the calf licked my fingers with a tongue that felt like sandpaper.

Bob said, “Let’s call her Patches,” because of the brown fur on her white forehead.

Phillip and I could not argue with that. Patches started to nurse, and the bonding between mother and infant began. We waited ten minutes before we herded them back to the barn. Patches wobbled slowly, so Phillip picked her up and cradled her in his arms. The mother trailed close behind. I am still amazed at how soon a calf can get up and walk after it is born. Whereas most humans take about a year, calves are up and about in less than an hour.”



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Our New Book

            Our latest book has just come out with a publish release date of November 1, 2021. Country School Days: True Tales of a Wisconsin One-Room School  is an account of one-room schools in Crawford County with emphasis on Oak Grove School that I attended from 1948 to 1956.

            The book is for sale at Ft. Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien, Knowlton House in Prairie du Chien, PaperMoon in McGregor, Iowa, Johnson’s One Stop Shopping Center in Seneca, Viroqua Public Market, Dregne’s in Westby, J&R Variety in Tomah, and more to come.

We’ll be putting books in libraries for checkout to readers.

            Ann and I will be giving book talks with a PowerPoint presentation followed by a Q&A session. We already have five lined up and booking more. It is so good to get out and give book talks following a general shutdown due to COVID. We did many on Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers and Murder in Wisconsin: The Clara Olson Case.

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Walnuts on the Scheckel Farm

It’s been a busy week with a flu shot and delivering books on Wednesday, Thursday LYNXX-24 taping of a Halloween science segment of the Lab. Friday was a funeral in La Crosse. Friday afternoon was a long bike ride from Tomah to Sparta and back via the newly-paved highway through the southern part of Fort McCoy. Saturday, I rode with my good friend, Dave Hall, around on the John Deere harvester bringing in the soybean crop.

            Tooling around the countryside, one comes across walnut trees and that triggers memories of growing up on the Crawford County farm outside Seneca. The Scheckel farm on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca in Crawford County had 10 walnut trees in the hill pasture along ShortCut Road. We always looked forward to the annual gathering of walnuts in the late 1940s, early 1950.  

            As fall approached, we kept track of the walnuts falling off the trees.  We traveled past the walnut trees several times a week on our way to Seneca.  When it was time, we gathered up milk pails and gunny sacks from the granary, the burlap bags we used for corn and oats.  Off we would go to the hill pasture.

            Our hill pasture was special.  We drove our milk cows on the gravel road and pastured them during the day in spring, summer and fall. The hill pasture was just a few feet less than the highest point in Crawford County.  A few years after I left the farm, several agencies, including the Wisconsin State Patrol, built a relay tower on the highest point, which was just a few hundred yards from our property line.

            Looking north from our vantage point on the hill pasture, we could see the steeple of Utica Church on Highway 27 north of Mt. Sterling.  The top of the Lansing bridge could be spotted above the terrain to the northwest.   We could see all the way back onto Oak Grove Ridge, the farmlands of Bernier,  Ingham, Suttons, and Fradette. The Payne, McAreavy, and Aspenson farms were fairly close. Further to the east was the Elmer Stove farmstead with its immaculate white buildings and white board fences. They kept their bright red Massey Harris ’44 tractor in spic and span condition.

            Phillip, Bob, and I would pick up a bucket full of walnuts, pour them in a gunny sack, and tie off the gunny sack with binder twine. We’d walk home and ask Dad to take the tractor and wagon or the pickup truck to load up the gunny sacks and bring them back to the farm.            When we were old enough to drive, we boys could retrieve them ourselves.  Age did not determine when we could drive a truck or car.  If your feet reached the pedals, you could drive.  Dad and Mom didn’t allow us to drive to town, but we could drive on Oak Grove Ridge Road and on the roads around our farm.  “Fearless Fred” Brockway, Crawford County deputy sheriff,  would not be patrolling on Oak Grove Ridge.

            The walnut sacks were unloaded on the cement apron east of the Big Barn.  The walnuts might stay in the sacks for several days until we had time to tend to them.  Then the shucking began.  Walnuts were poured out of the sacks onto the concrete, and beaten with a board, that loosened the shell or peeling around the black/brown walnut. Walnuts were picked off of the broken casings and put in a pail or bucket.  Our hands got really badly stained, almost pitch black.  That stain would not come off in soap and water, so we wore our walnut stained hands for several days as sort of badge of honor. Even went to school with stained hands.

            The shucked walnuts were stored in metal tins in the basement.  We cracked walnuts in the winter time, and put them in fudge candy that we made on the stove. Some went into brownies and cakes.

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The Harvest is Coming In

Weekly Blog

John Deere S670 Combine Soybean Harvest

Oct 13, 2021

            Someone asked me why I wasn’t blogging anymore, to which I replied that “life got in the way.” I will blog every Wednesday from now on. At times it will concern what is going on at the present time and other times, it could be one of the science Q&As that are in The Journal or the Monroe County Herald newspapers.

            Last week, Ann and I traveled to west-central Iowa to a town of Odebolt, population 1100 if everyone is home. It is the place that caramel corn and Crackerjack started and houses the largest popcorn ball in the world. Odebolt is smack-dab in the middle of farm country and huge grain elevators sit right in the middle of town.

            We were in Odebolt for the one-room Iowa school conference. Sessions on Friday and travel to rural schools on Saturday. We gave a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation on Friday about our newest book, Country School Days: True Tales of a Wisconsin One-Room School. It has a publishing date of November 1, 2021, but we have advance copies, and it is up on The price on the back is $17.95, but when we do book talks, we sell it for $12, same as all our other books. It is at J&R Variety in Tomah.

            It’s satisfying to see those huge John Deere and Case IH combines or harvesters move through the Iowa fields. Soybeans are going into the big bins atop the machines at the present time and corn will be harvested in about a week. Most combines have a 40-foot header or cutting width and throw up some crop dust that can be spotted from miles around. 

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Busy in Tomah

The lilacs, that most fragrant of flowered bushes, are in full bloom. Paul’s Glory, a flowering plant given to use by niece, Jennie Zeitler, has come up on the north side of the house and is about 8 inches high. The seed pods on the big maple trees in the back yard are starting to move from a reddish-green color to tan. In another week, they will start helicoptering down. Several pair of Canadian geese frequent our nearby Butts Park, their little ducklings in tow. The City removed many diseased ash trees last winter, and brush along the bank has been removed, providing us and our neighbors with a stunning view of the blue waters.

We’ve been busy with the Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Drive, planning an early June trip to the Black Hills, and working the St. Patrick’s Queen of the Apostles Carnival. The Carnival was delayed due to COVID. Getting cover made for our next book, Country School Days: True Tales of a Wisconsin One-Room School.



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