Monday, December 31, 2012
Saw a display in a local store of jewelry made from the elytrae of scarab beetles. Maybe it's the artistic version of entomologists' preferring their beetles pinned and under glass. I don't like either version. My favorite beetle displays are either Ladybird Beetles clustered on plants or pairs of other species mating. In both cases, ALIVE!
Friday, December 28, 2012
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Meanwhile, back at the coffee shop, people were enjoying owl stories. The sun hadn't yet risen above the cloud bank toward Reno, so I obviously have no photos of owls, but it was nice to hear so many cheerful people who enjoy early morning walks and who pay attention to the interesting sounds of nature around them. Later in the day I heard lots of Stellar's Jays in the pines behind our house.
There's supposed to be a break in the stormy weather for a few days so hopefully more of the local wildlife will re-activate.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
While cooking our traditional noon-time Christmas feast, I was taken by the beautiful bunch of Chard my wife bought at the natural foods co-op. The 'Christmas colors' were impressive, so I got out the camera before continuing with my chopping.
dirt. I need to do more research on this. I was then reminded that during an environmental training I did some years ago at UC Davis, we were admonished to quit using the word dirt. It implies 'dirty,' and 'undesirable.' Instead, we were to think of 'soil,' a living community on which all living things are ultimately dependent. I urge you to click on any of these photos in order to get a closer look at the vein patterns in the leaves. The red is due to the fact that more iron is stored there than in other parts of the plant. I love finding the Christmas colors in nature. Better than in plastic ornaments.
For a snowy-day activity, I recommend researching some item you had for dinner. I started with Chard, then got led to Beta vulgaris and Beets. Then to Spinach, bete noire, all sorts of nutrition web sites, and interesting lore associated with all sorts of vegetables. It was hard to stop, but I really do want to take a walk in the snow.
I'm now having memories of what I did on snowy Christmases when I was a kid. Besides playing with the new toys, especially ones that require assembly like Erector Sets and electric trains, I loved to look up things in our huge Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. It was hard to look up just one word and stop. At an early age, I developed the habit of seeing that everything is connected to everything else, and my siblings and I spent hours chasing words and origins through our dictionary. It still worked when the power went out, unlike today's internet.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
I enjoy meeting naturalists from other parts of the USA, and from other countries. Today I fantasized about meeting a naturalist from another planet I won't say 'he' because I don't know if there's such a thing as gender on this planet. So it approached me in my favorite coffee shop and asked me to explain this headline, which I saw on Yahoo News, and evidently it did, too: "Fiscal cliff spooks shoppers in last lap of holiday race." The alien had already been studying such earthly phenomena as "Black Friday" and the alleged Mayan forecast that Earth was going to end yesterday, and found us to be a very puzzling species. It wondered how we've managed to survive as long as we have. It asked me what sort of race was being referred to in the headline, and I was speechless. It had correctly figured out that on Earth races have winners and losers, but couldn't figure out what would constitute 'winning' the holiday race. This wise alien was also puzzled about the recent tragic event in Newtown, Connecticut. It was particularly puzzled by the suggestion of some 'leading' humans that the best way to prevent such occurrences would be to have armed personnel on every school campus. I am used to taking for granted my role as naturalist, observing, wondering, and writing about other species, but it was quite an awakening to find myself to be a member of a species that was being studied by naturalists from another planet. I wonder if the beings on that planet have developed a field of study comparable to what we on Earth call Wildlife Management?
This time, when it lands on the roof of the garage, I'm afraid I'll have to cut it down to prevent damage. One of my favorite features about this particular birch tree is that it is a favorite haunt of a Red-breasted Sapsucker. I do still have one birch nearby that is standing straight and tall. I hope he'll discover it next spring and become a regular visitor.
Friday, December 21, 2012
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
It's now the next morning, and a bit after 10, but I think I have my thoughts straight on a difficult subject. The opening photograph is a combination of the thoughts and skills of me and my friend Chris Bolton of spudgrafix. The photo has no direct relation to my topic, but is meant to provide a little levity to offset the seriousness of the topic. Scroll back to the photo whenever you need to.
A quote I've been saving from the late William James, Harvard professor in the late 1800's, will set the tone: "The chief characteristic of civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present."
These past few days there has been a collision in my mind of thoughts about our use of fossil fuels and about reactions to the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. This collision led to my reading the article in Wikipedia on "Willful ignorance." The gentle author reminds us that ignorance itself has gotten a bad rap. It's meant to refer to a kid of ignoring, not necessarily purposeful, or an unawareness. For example, if you were unaware of a tragedy happening in a remote part of the Earth you can't be blamed for not having a reaction to it. Willful ignorance, on the other hand, is when you ignore any sense data the contradict your already established and preferred world view. Some people who habitually do this sort of thing actually don't trust the senses as our primary source of information about the world. Science, of course, is based on data gathered by the senses. Knowing the senses are not perfect, science has other practices such as peer review and reason so that errors are found out and corrected as much as humanly possible. Faith, on the other hand, as Mark Twain once said, is 'belief in what you know ain't so."
In the Wikipedia article, the second paragraph, titled "Examples," lists Creationism, Conservapedia, and Expelled: Leader's Guide, among other things. I got a charge out of that. Toward the end of the article there's a section titled "See Also" under which are listed Cognitive Dissonance and Faith. Another chuckle. At this point, some of my readers might want to scroll back to the opening photo for a few minutes.
Years ago I lived in an extremely remote area next door to a family that had some sort of hound dog. Or maybe a Lab. I don't know if it was one of those breeds that is trained to chase things, or if it was a breed genetically predisposed to chase things, or maybe a combination. One evening this hound came yelping home from the woods with a face full of porcupine quills. A painful trip to the vet, 45 minutes away, was followed by a few day's rest in the house on a diet laced with pain killers.
The moment the dog was allowed to go back outside, it took off for the woods and a short while later returned yelping with a more serious face full of quills. Another trip to the vet and another painful recovery. The next time the dog was allowed out of the house it headed for the woods again, this time more animated and barking louder. This time the dog returned with an inoperable face full of quills and it was agreed by the vet and family that the dog needed to be put down.
This dog's behavior reminded me of the philosopher Santayana's definition of a fanatic: One who upon forgetting his original purpose redoubles his effort.
So, this brings me to my recent observations:
1. the continuing popularity of leaf blowers - using fossil fuels to blow leaves around rather than use rakes. To further support this practice, it's hard to find a high quality rake any more.
2. The popular seasonal practice of leaving one's car running while shopping. If the world's going to end from global climate change, might as well keep that tush warm until then.
3. The continuing popularity of stock car races. When the inevitable switch to electric or other silent cars arrives, I imagine 'stock' cars being equipped with speakers that play recordings of the roar of internal combustion engines without mufflers. Young drivers would buy these from a J C Whitney catalog, or online they could order the particular roar that appealed to them. Otherwise, can you imagine people attending silent stock car races?
Then I imagined football helmets with built-in sound systems that could broadcast roars of the players' choice - lions, wolves, hyenas, so the menacing roars could be heard above the roar of the crowd.
4. Dry land snowmobile races.
5. Saving the most ludicrous for last: require teachers to carry guns. How else can schools be made safe? The more guns we have, the safer we'll be, right? If a high school prankster ordered a pizza to be delivered to his math class, the poor delivery guy would probably be shot on sight.
As a life-long student of natural history, I have tried to notice features of plants and animals that work. that is, enhance their chances of survival in given environments, versus features that tend to lead to maladaptive traits and extinction. Over the course of life on Earth, at least 3.5 billion years, extinction is the rule, not the exception. Seems like we're well on our way.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
I want to dedicate today's post to two inspiring ladies. Beatrix Potter, 1866 - 1943, who was one of the first to realize, over 100 years ago that lichens are a symbiotic combination of fungi and algae, was basically laughed out of the academy by men who thought they knew better. Lynn Margulis, 1938 - 2011, who was one of the first to realize that our mitochondria were once bacteria, as were the chloroplasts in plant cells, then followed up that hypothesis with the realization that each of us is essentially a colony of bacteria. Therefore, we shouldn't be so arrogant in our relationship to Mother Earth.