Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Going to where half the land is mine (and yours)

More than half, actually. According to National Geographic, 52% of the land in Oregon is managed by the federal government. Of course we all know that just means they want first crack at logging the shit out of it, but since I don’t own a 3000-acre cattle ranch in Texas, it’ll have to do. Besides, who wants to go camping in a field full of cow dung anyway?

Photo from a postcard via here.

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The Year of Bugs and Mosses

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Thanks to all who helped me ring in the thirty-second, whether by presence, words, presents, or thoughts. I couldn’t have made it this far without you.

I’m dedicating this year to all the little live things that go so often overlooked. The canaries in coal mines, the ancient unchanged organisms, the green things and crawly things and fluttery things we walk past without noticing … until they are gone, covered over by pavement or pesticides. The good bugs and the bad bugs, the bed bugs and true bugs and pretty bugs and ugly bugs. The ferns, the mosses, the lichens and fungi, the algae and the trillion trillion cyanobacteria. Frog homes and lizard homes, pond scums and epiphytes. The creatures just big enough to swat with a newspaper and those too small to see without a loupe or a macro lens or a microscope. I’m no biologist, but I’m certainly not gonna let them have all the fun. I’ll keep a journal, I’ll write a blog, I’ll take notes and make pictures and put them in all in a book just to make sure nobody forgets.

This year’s for you, Jean-Henri.

Genesis 1:11, Now With Neodarwinian Stylings!

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“You see, kids, the Calla lily, or Zantedeschia aethopica, isn’t really a lily at all! In fact, Brianna, the white part you are touching — which you so innocently call the “flower” — is actually just a leaf, or bract, that has been modified by natural selection to attract insect pollinators to the inflorescence inside of it. Thousands of tiny orange male flowers sit atop hundreds of tiny female flowers on a long column called a spadix, in an arrangement similar to that utilized by the genus Arum. The genus Zantedeschia is native to Africa, which is where we humans probably started evolving away from the common ancestor we share with apes and chimpanzees. Modern humans have only been around for a few hundred thousand years, and ever since then we have looked to the heavens and our favorite bedtime stories to explain the things we don’t understand or refuse to learn about.”

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Konrad Lorenz on Anthropomorphism

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The creative writer, in depicting an animal’s behaviour, is under no great obligation to keep within the bounds of exact truth than is the painter or the sculptor in shaping an animal’s likeness. But all three artists must regard it as their most sacred duty to be properly instructed regarding those particulars in which they deviate from the actual facts. They must indeed be even better informed on these details than on others which they render in a manner true to nature. There is no greater sin against the spirit of true art, no more contemptible dilettantism than to use artistic license as a specious cover for ignorance of fact.

I am a scientist and not a poet and I shall not aspire, in this little book, to improve on nature by taking any artistic liberties. Any such attempt would certainly have the opposite effect, and my only chance of writing something not entirely devoid of charm lies in strict adherence to scientific fact. Thus, by modestly keeping to the methods of my own craft, I may hope to convey, to my kindly reader, at least a slight inkling of the infinite beauty of our fellow creatures and their life.

Excerpted from the preface to King Solomon’s Ring.

E.O. Wilson on Memory

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What happened, what we think happened in distant memory, is built around a small collection of dominating images.

Consider how long-term memory works. With each changing moment, the mind scans a vast landscape of jumbled schemata, searching for the one or two decisive details upon which rational action will be based. The mind with a search image is like a barracuda. The large predatory fish pays scant attention to the rocks, pilings, and vast array of organisms living among them. It waits instead for a glint of silver that betrays the twisting body of a smaller fish. It locks on this signal, rushes forward, and seizes the prey in its powerful jaws. Its singlemindedness is why swimmers are advised not to wear shiny bracelets or wrist watches in barracuda waters.

The human mind moving in a sea of detail is compelled like a questing animal to orient by a relatively few decisive configurations. There is an optimum number of such signals. Too few, and the person becomes compulsive-obsessive; too many, and he turns schizophrenic. Configurations with the greatest emotional impact are stored first and persist longer. Those that give the greatest pleasure are sought on later occasions. The process is strongest in children, and to some extent it programs the trajectory of their lives. Eventually they will weave the decisive images into a narrative by which they explain to themselves and others the meaning of what has happened to them. As the Talmud says, we see things not as they are, but as we are.

Excerpted from the autobiography of Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist.
Image from here.

Imaginary Album Art: Frugivore

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Apparently during SXSW week in Austin even some Cedar Waxwings can start a band. It’s a good thing I had time to churn out the album cover before their free showcase in my backyard. The drummer is down there on the left … I think he said his name was Saul.

Fenestraria aurantiaca

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(“Fenestra” — from the Latin defenestrate, meaning “to uninstall Windows from one’s computer.”) A succulent plant native to southern Africa which has evolved a waxy translucent window to channel sunlight down into the leaves even when the plant is buried in sand.

From a very clever person at the University of Pretoria named At de Lange:

You are speaking of “Fenestraria aurantiaca”. The genus name (in this case “Fenestraria”) comes first and is written with a capital letter. The species name (in this case “aurantiaca”) comes second and is written with a small letter. Cultivated specimens of it is often sold in supermarkets in Europe. One plant can produce on average ten seed capsules and each capsule can produce on average one hundred seedlings. So ten plants can become the source of ten thousand of plants per year. It takes two years to grow a nice specimen.

I am sure that some of you have already seen “Fenestraria aurantiaca” for sale in a supermarket. Perhaps you have looked a few seconds at it and found its windows curious. But my point is that you will not remember any more this curiosity — you will have to look up in a book how it looks like. On the other hand, should you find “Fenestraria aurantiaca” in the desert itself, you will never, never again forget this experience. You might not know that its name is “Fenestraria aurantiaca”, but you will recognise it anywhere in the world and think tenderly of your experiences while finding it.
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Well-Respected Beards, No. 011: Ernst Haeckel

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Sure, sure, the creationists like to bitch about some misleading embryo drawings, and — here’s a shocker — we’ve learned some new things about evolutionary biology since he was studying it at the turn of the (other) century. Was he a German social Darwinist at the dawn of the First World War? Yeah, prolly, but I’m no expert on the history of eugenics. It cannot be denied, however, that he was a badass academic and a scientific illustration machine, and I’ll take his stuff over Jackson bloody Pollock any day. Art is for fuckers anyway once you get a load of these radiolarians … there’s enough beautiful stuff outside to keep us happy forever, assuming we don’t paint over it all with drab gray concrete and high-rise condos.

Thanks, Ernst. Thernst.

Photos: Radiolaria from here, Ernst from Wikipedia.

Ptilonorhynchidae: A Bird with Bling

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Welcome to my blog. You’ll see that everything is very orderly here, with lots of interesting tidbits from all over the world for you to gaze upon and wonder over. If you like what you see, perhaps I will treat you to a brief display of my dancing abilities, which you will be able to view on YouTube. Forgive me if my clothing is somewhat drab, but I think you’ll agree that my blog more than makes up for it.

My interest in the family Ptilonorhynchidae (Bowerbirds) was renewed recently when I rented and viewed this excellent David Attenborough documentary a few weeks ago. Though occasionally heavy-handed, it was nonetheless life-changing and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

(Should you encounter difficulties in viewing the program in its entirety, please accept an open invitation to view it at my residence when next you find yourself in the neighborhood.) I would be very much obliged if you could see fit to lend your mind to this particular train of thought: I am interested in discussing what, we must admit, is a rather peculiar avian family … and primarily because I feel that I may be starting to develop sincere doubts about the level to which it may actually be possible to legitimately anthropomorphize some of these little critters. I suppose this is really like a philosophic question which has been around since that Thursday long ago when Man naively assumed that he was wholly different from the Animals; He, exempt from mechanically responding to carnal desires because of an Almightie Soule or some similar metaphorical abstruseness.

At any rate, I’m sure you’ll agree that the behaviors of various members of the family Ptilonorhynchidae suggest an unavoidable parallelism betwixt They and Us. It is this very similarity toward which I hope you might be willing to shed some much-needed light; my mind, such as it is, seems very muddled by the confusing notion that I in all my privations may share some rather grave characteristics with a handful of obsessive Australian catbirds.

Satin Bowerbird (P. violaceus) photo from here.

Greengreed

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In the future, the hip green children of the First World will fight over high-fashion grocery bags ostensibly designed to reduce our reliance on environmentally damaging plastic bags. Though made of cotton, these bags will also be disposable, but only because their seasonal stylishness will cause them to naturally degrade. I feel a great war brewing between capitalism and ecology, and these are just the warning shots.

We are not plastic bags