I have a friend who told a humorous story about being in a meeting where someone was speaking of things that he knew to be untrue, downright bovine excreta. When he had taken all he could of it, he stood up, got up, slammed a dollar onto the table and cried out “gimme a bottle of that snake oil!” Snake oil is indeed a popular metaphor for anything being touted as true, but in reality is fraud. And those attempting to sell or convince you to accept something fraudulent are referred to as snake oil salesmen.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a common tree in our area, normally found growing in low areas where the soil is moist, such as near streams or drains. The name comes from the taste of its hardened sap that bleeds from wounds on the trunk.
The tree is easy to identify, with leaves distinctly star-shaped and with a small-toothed edge. The bark is gray and furrowed with flat ridges that form a diamond pattern. The twigs are showy in the winter with corky wing-like protrusions. The fruit is a spiny ping pong sized ball that hangs on well into winter.
The winter night sky gives you the opportunity to see a few things you may not have thought you could see. In one small part of the sky you can easily identify a constellation, name two stars, see a sun that has a planet orbiting it, and see a Nebula. This will be the fastest astronomy lesson you'll ever have, so hang on.