Real or Imaginary Time? Even Stephen Hawking Wasn’t Sure

I’ve been reading A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking’s bestseller. It’s a bit dated now, having been first published in 1988.  I’m not a scientist, but I imagine there have been many knowledge updates since then.

I found it tough in the beginning to get into the book, but now that I’m near the end, I’m really liking it. Not only do I enjoy building my scientific literacy, but the book started to read like a novel to me. Especially the chapter about black holes. Wow! What suspense! What characters! That poor astronaut who keeps getting sucked in and turned into spaghetti! (Those who have read the book will get my humor.) In fact, I appreciate that such a monumental mind had a sense of humor.

The book takes you on a journey, as the title says, through humans’ observations, theories and understanding of the nature of the universe, time, and space. Hawking walks you through how scientists actually conduct research into such an esoteric and controversial subject. There is so much we know now, and so much we still do not understand about the nature of our universe.

One can read this book in a vacuum, though I am certain Hawking would insist that there is no such thing as a vacuum in space. But I couldn’t shut out the current world political scene while reading parts of it.

One passage in particular jumped out at me for its absurdity. I loved it so much that I have copied it for my own reference. I took philosophy in college and loved it. It challenged my brain, and expanded my ways of thinking and analyzing situations. I have found Hawking’s writing much like philosophy. It puts things in perspective and sometimes makes you throw up your hands and surrender to the cosmos.

The Brain Twister

Following is the passage that so tickles me. It might amuse you, it might intrigue you, or it might simply annoy you. I might just let this guide my view of life from now on.

“This might suggest that the so-called imaginary time is really the real time, and that what we call real time is just a figment of our imaginations. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like. But according to the approach I described in Chapter 1, a scientific theory is just a mathematical model we make to describe our observations: it exists only in our minds.  So it is meaningless to ask: which is real, “real” or “imaginary” time? It is simply a matter of which is the more useful description.”

Got that?

Bonus

While reading A Brief History of Time, I felt my brain being stretched to its limits, much like the astronaut being stretched to death in that black hole. What sprang to mind was one of my favorite and most appropriate Far Side cartoons from decades ago.

I hope I don’t violate any copyright laws by sharing it here. All credits to Gary Larson and The Far Side!

Fossilicious

What happens when art and science collide? It’s not always a trainwreck.  In some cases it’s more like a delicious union, especially when artist Ray Troll and his buddy paleontologist Kirk Johnson get together. Johnson is the head of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, while Troll is a noted artist, fossil fan and conservationist who lives, fishes, and makes art and music in Alaska.

Detail of one of Troll’s illustrations, showing Washington state’s fossil map

I had heard Johnson speak at the University of Washington and seen him on some PBS programs and had become a fan. Last year I became a fan of Troll as well, when I attended a benefit for a conservation organization where he was a speaker. It was then that I first saw his artwork and learned of his enthusiasm for fish, fossils and the earth.

One of the museum’s impressive displays, combining a fossil with its illustration and a projected image

The pair have known each other for more than 20 years, traveling far and wide hunting for fossils. They previously collaborated on a book, Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway, focusing on the west.

The latest is the sequel, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, chronicling their adventures from coastal California to Alaska in search of mind-blowing fossils.

Gems of artwork and fossils representing their 10-year coastline journey are now on view at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum.

The exhibit of the same name features Troll’s magnificent artwork, Johnson’s expertise and some actual fossils. Troll’s knack for showing creatures both realistically and with a healthy dose of cartoon-like humor is on full view.

The artist and the scientist have come together to create a journey through time that will appeal to all ages.

The Burke recently reopened, with strict protocols. I visited the day after it opened and expected to find a fair number of other visitors as well. What I found was an almost empty museum! I had the exhibit just about to myself and was able to spend all the time I wanted, savoring the artwork, watching videos and ogling fossils.

What I really wanted to do here was share some images from the exhibit and maybe inspire others to check out Troll’s [Trollart.com] and Johnson’s work.

Desmostylians – New to me, these ancient marine mammals are thought to share lineage with horses and rhinos.

This exhibit is on view until May. Troll’s art is enough to lure you in, and the multi-sensory experience will leave you wanting more. The arrangement of paintings, fossils, videos and projections is very impressive. I have to applaud the museum for creating an educational and truly fun experience.

I know I will continue to learn about the captivating creatures I saw. (Here I will put in a plug for Troll’s alt website, Paleonerds.com, which I just visited, and believe you me, it will keep me occupied for millennia of lifetimes.)

The Burke isn’t a large museum, but it’s a treasure, and the research staff does amazing work. Apart from special exhibitions during the year, the Burke is known for its collection of regional Native American items and natural history specimens.

A most lifelike exhibit!

The Nest Box

Nesting season is over. I went out to clean out my chickadee box. I had seen Bewick’s wrens in the spring, bringing nest material to it. I got so excited, I figured wrens had beaten chickadees to prime real estate. I watched and watched. But after a while did not see any wren activity at the box. I assumed they had abandoned it.

I also watched for chickadees, but never saw any going in or out.

But opening the box just now, I got such a surprise! A beautiful little nest. There must have been a clutch! But whose?

Here’s the nest. You can see moss, twigs, feathers and other materials.

My first peek
Next
Note the blue feather! Must be a Stellers Jay
Out of the box
For size

Fort Casey: One Foot in the Past, One Foot in the Present

More than 100 years ago, the U.S. government build military strongholds along many coastal areas. In Washington State, Fort Casey is a formidable example of the nation’s determination not only to defend itself, but also the use of the latest technological advances in military power.

Fort Casey was part of a trio of such forts around Puget Sound, including Fort Worden in Port Townsend and Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island. The Harbor Defenses of Puget Sound, as these forts were known, were created because Admiralty Inlet was considered vital to the defense of Puget Sound. And Puget Sound was important to defend because of its access to Puget Sound Naval Station in Bremerton, and also to the ports in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia.

The ghost fort and adjacent Admiralty Head Lighthouse stand today as a state park on Whidbey Island, and also a historic district in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Fort Casey was operational from 1899 until 1945. It was built for defense, but spent the greater part of its life as a training facility.

What remains are the fortified structures – batteries or emplacements – with their associated functional rooms and towers. There were 10 batteries, each named for an Army officer.

I was curious about who the honorees were, so here they are.

Battery Schenck: Named for Lt. Col. Alexander D. Schenck, U.S. Artillery Corps, who died in 1905.

Battery Seymour: Named for Major Truman Seymour, 5th U.S. Artillery, who gave distinguished service in the Mexican War and Civil War, and died in 1891 in Italy.

Battery Worth: Named for BG William S. Worth, who served with distinction in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and died in 1904.

Battery Moore: Named for MG James Moore, Continental Army, who served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, and died in 1777.

Battery Parker: Named for Bvt. 1st Lt. Thomas D. Parker, 2nd Lt., 2nd U.S. Infantry, who was killed during the Civil War in Gaines Mill, Virginia, in 1862.

Battery Kingsbury: Named for Col. Henry W. Kingsbury, 11th Connecticut Volunteers, 1st Lt., 5th U.S. Artillery, who died during the Civil War at Antietam in 1862.

Battery Valleau: Named for 1st Lt. John Valleau, 13th U.S. Infantry, who was killed in Queenstown Heights, Upper Canada, during the War of 1812.

Battery Turman: Named for 2nd Lt. Reuben S. Turman, 6th U.S. Infantry, who died in 1898 at the Battle of Santiago during the Spanish-American War.

Battery Trevor: Named for 1st Lt. John Trevor, 5th U.S. Cavalry, who died in 1864 at the Third Battle of Winchester, Virginia, during the Civil War.

Battery Van Horne: Named for Capt. Isaac Van Horne Jr., 19th U.S. Infantry, who was killed in 1814 at Fort Mackinac, Michigan, during the War of 1812.

Personalized Experience

Visiting Fort Casey today, you are free to wander the grounds and emplacements, and the eerie dark empty rooms that once bustled with purpose.

The mazes of rooms are like catacombs and you never know what you might encounter exploring them.

Luckily, I did not find any creepy spiders, monsters or ghosts. I ventured only as far as the light would stretch.

I had wondered whether some were living quarters, but all the rooms were for supplies and operating other equipment within the battery.

Interpretive signs help you understand how the various small rooms were used in each battery.

Living quarters were located away from the emplacements.

Me being me, I am certain that my experience at Fort Casey was quite different from anyone else’s. From the first battery that I explored, my eyes were instantly drawn to the artistic patterns of minerals leaching out of the concrete walls – efflorescence.

Other folks no doubt just passed by this vacant scene. But I found a treasure trove, and spent a lot of time photographing my finds.

Exterior walls brought to mind landscapes, with mountains and rivers undulating across them, while interiors presented galleries of waterfall-like patterns.

At the same time families were moving through and children were delighting in screaming in the tunnels, I was focused on the art of the concrete, shapes, and light and shadows.

As I moved through the batteries, I also tried to imagine the manpower involved in operating and maintaining the fort. This was not today’s Army! The crowning glory in the fort’s heyday was without doubt its two 10-inch “disappearing” guns.

These large cannon-like guns were state of the art in the early 1900s. They could be raised and lowered as necessary, ensuring that they would not be detected when lowered below the battery walls. Note: The two 10-inch “disappearing” guns seen in Trevor and Worth batteries are not the original ones, but similar versions brought back from Fort Wint in the Philippines, where they had been used in defense of Subic Bay.

It’s dizzying to imagine how it would have been under a real attack, with “all hands on deck” at all the batteries. Hundreds of soldiers hurrying, shouting, hauling ammunition, loading the guns, noise and smoke.

The First War

As impressive as these Puget Sound forts were when they were built, technology soon advanced and warships and airplanes made the big guns obsolete. During World War I, Fort Casey was a training facility, readying soldiers for battle in Europe.

When the war ended, the fort was kept under “caretaker” status, and the artillery was removed.

The facility was still used for training for the National Guard and Army Reserve officers. There were officers quarters, enlisted barracks, an administration building, hospital, gym, fire house, commissary, exchange, bakery, and stables.

The Next War

But, as things go, a couple decades later, Fort Casey was called up for service again. As the U.S. was entering World War II, the Army reactivated the fort as an induction center and troop training facility. The old emplacements were outfitted with new anti-aircraft guns.

After this war ended, the fort was vacated and fell into disrepair. The old iron doors looked Medieval to me. The whole place could serve as a great movie set.

Finally, in 1953, it was officially deactivated. Two years later, the state of Washington acquired the property for a state park, and Pacific University acquired the administrative buildings and housing to create Camp Casey Conference Center, which you can see today.

Admiralty Head Light

Just up hill from Fort Casey stands Admiralty Lighthouse. It wasn’t always where it is now. A navigational light at this location predates Fort Casey, but when the fort was on the drawing board, planners realized the light would was going to be in the way, so it was relocated. However, the original structure no longer exists.

The lighthouse you see today was finished in 1903, with an Italianate Revival design. But in time, as happened to Fort Casey years later, the usefulness of Admiralty Head Light was less than desired. In 1922, the lighthouse was deactivated, in favor of the navigational effectiveness lighthouses at Point Wilson and Marrowstone Point. 

Admiralty Light stands 30 feet high. The building was constructed with thick walls to withstand concussions from the fort’s guns and earthquakes. Its fourth order Fresnel lens was removed in 1927 and installed at the New Dungeness Lighthouse.

August Full “Sturgeon” Moon

This month’s full moon has been given many names by native peoples. Among them are sturgeon, salmon, blackberry, and “flying up.” The latter referring to the time of year when young birds fledge.

I agree with Blackberry Moon. It’s ripening and picking time here! At various places in town, you can see people here and there with buckets and bags, cars parked alongside the road. But the invasive shrubs might make up for their brash ways somewhat by giving us bounties of berries to perk up summer meals and snacks.

I suppose if you are an angler, you might find sturgeon and salmon at this time also.

I went out to greet the Blackberry Moon on its fullest night and found an enchanting sight between the trees.

Columbines: Enchanting and Toxic!

What caught my eye against the red-rust bricks was the softness of the purple-blue and white petals, like bits of angel wings.

The shapes made me think of cranes and swans and butterfly wings; even dragons. They had a most delicate appearance, ethereal.

As it sometimes happens, an object in death can be as beautiful as it was when alive, just different.

The spent columbine petals lay assembled in various random poses, but could not have been more artistic if they had been purposely placed. I ran for my camera.

These magical columbines came with the house I bought 13 years ago. For years, there were very few, just about hidden beneath some shrubs. It took me a few years to discover them, coming to recognize their distinctive rounded lobed leaves. I quickly came to cherish the secretive blooms.

By this year they have spread and I had more little purple flowers than ever. Some gardeners almost regard them as pests. I wholeheartedly invite them to spread across the entire yard.

Widespread Wildflowers

Wild columbines are native to Europe, Asia and Northern Africa, but they have been widely cultivated as garden flowers in the United States. The five-petaled flowers come in many colors, from purple and blue, to pink and orange.

Aquilegia, their Latin name, pays tribute to the flower shapes, with spurs jutting out from the rear.

These spurs hold nectar and were thought to resemble eagle claws or beaks. Aquila is Latin for “eagle.”

Traditional uses

Columbines are said to symbolize wisdom, strength and happiness. It has served as a religious symbol of purity and has appeared in paintings with the Virgin Mary. It was also considered sacred to the goddess Venus.

Like many wildflowers, columbines have been used medicinally since the Middle Ages. All parts have been used, including the roots, flowers, leaves and seeds. The medicinal uses were many. It has served as a remedy for fevers, rhinitis, swollen lymph nodes, bloody coughs, jaundice and gall bladder ailments. The plant contains several alkaloids, triterpenoid saponins, flavonoids, and small amounts of cyanogenic glycosides.

Though columbines are considered toxic, the flowers have some astringent and antiseptic properties. The root has been used as a topical treatment for eczema. It is not recommended to consume any parts of the plant, as it contains cardiogenic toxins which can cause gastroenteritis and heart palpitations. Ingestion of large amounts of the fresh herb can cause convulsions, breathing problems and heart weakness.

Best to enjoy these storied flowers from a distance!

Just for fun, take your own Rorschach test: see what the petal shapes remind you of.

Before death

Bunny Visit

On a recent morning, as I was lifting the window blinds, I saw a tiny bunny munching on grass in my front yard. What a sweet surprise! It looked very small and seemed completely at ease.

I do occasionally see them around, cottontail rabbits, but not often in my yard. Once in a while one shows up on my camera trap that is set up in the back.

Cottontails are common throughout North, Central and South America. If you want to get uber scientific, there are many subgenera, such as Eastern cottontail, desert cottontail, mountain cottontail and swamp rabbit. Most have the little white fluff that gives them their name.

Females can have up to three litters a year, with an average of four young. they grow quickly and are considered full grown at three months! They live in burrows and are quite sociable with others in their group.

The life of these cuddly creatures is short though, averaging two years. They are appealing to many predators, including birds of prey, foxes, coyotes, cougars, dogs, cats, snakes and even squirrels!

I was able to get some good photos of my visitor before she or he left.

Squirrel streak

Eerie Anniversary: Mount St. Helens

cool cloud

Now that I am living in earthquake territory, the fact that today marks the 40th anniversary of Mount. St. Helens’ most recent eruption is a stark reminder of the earth’s power, and the power to shake us out of our daily complacency at any second.

I can’t let this anniversary pass without a decent amount of acknowledgment, respect and awe.

Before the eruption, Mount St. Helens was to be a popular recreation spot. Lots of trees, trails, a magnificent mountain, boating on Spirit Lake.

MtSt Helens card
1953 Postcard

The lake was beloved by picnickers and families. I recall a woman remarking sadly after the eruption, “Spirit Lake was gone.” I found a charming vintage postcard, furnished by the Washington State Progress Commission, showing a uniformed serviceman and his family enjoying a picnic amidst the Pacific Northwest scenery. The back of the card reads “Write the commission … for Victory File for use in planning your first after-war vacation.”  mt st helens2

I vaguely recall my visit to the national park back in 2007. On my way there, I saw a lot of destruction. Felled trees, layers of ash in the Toutle  River.

Here are some photos from that visit.

river1
Toutle River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the park, I looked out over the scene and the topped cone. It still lives. Scientists keep a regular eye on its activity.  lahar area

But flowers and plants have returned, and hikers visit every year. I need to return to see how it’s evolved since I visited.

nice trunk

 

For now, I am thankful that the eruption didn’t reach Seattle. But we live along the Ring of Fire and that’s little comfort.

ghosts

Moms and Fire Hydrants

No, I haven’t lost my mind. There is a theme here.

I have a fire hydrant in front of my house. Stamped on the top in big letters is “IOWA.” It’s interesting because my mother was from Iowa, Davenport to be precise. She was born and raised in that Mississippi River town. And her father was a fire captain there. Water was, and is, a big presence there.

My hydrant is all about water too. It just got a makeover, painted from dark green to yellow, so it’s easy to spot now. It was manufactured by the Iowa Valve Co., of Oskaloosa, Iowa, which made hydrants from the 1900s through the late 1960s. I think my model is from 1954.

That company was acquired by the Clow Valve Co. in the 1940s, but kept manufacturing under the Iowa Valve name. Today, Clow Valve continues to make hydrants in Iowa, and the design hasn’t changed much from the early models.

We pretty much take fire hydrants for granted. We hardly even notice them, until we are looking for a parking space, right? But we expect that in case of fire, the fire department will come and find the closest hydrant and come to our rescue.

I guess hydrants are sort of like moms. They provide security, comfort and make us feel safe. We expect that from them.

Mom is gone but I have my Iowa fire hydrant. I know she would be tickled about that.

Mom garden - Copy

 

DSC_0893

Three Birds, Two Continents, One Burning Question

bunting standing

lorikeet

finch standing

 

 

“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” — E.O. Wilson

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I wanted to present something intriguing. The one thing that leapt out at me was something that’s been nagging me lately and I’ve been meaning to look into it.

So, here it is. I’ll drag you along as I explore these incredibly colorful birds. These species have survived despite the onslaught of humans. They are similar yet different, if that makes any sense. You’ll see what I mean.

My question is, Why? Why has nature given these birds such similarly distinctive patterns?

Thousands of their ancestors suffered being trapped and moved thousands of miles, to live out their lives in cages. Today, some wild birds still face being sold for pets, but there is hope that wild populations can continue to exist.

Painted Bunting

These are perhaps the closest thing we have to parrots in the U.S. (though there are some introduced, non-native parrots.)

paintedbunting

Males are spectacular with a blue head, red on the breast and back, and bright yellow-green around the shoulders and upper back. Females are green-yellow.

two buntings
Female and Male Bunting

 

 

 

Native to North America, they breed in the southeastern and south-central U.S. and winter in Mexico and Central America. They favor scrubby and coastal habitat. With their thick bills, it’s easy to see that they’re seed eaters.

Painted buntings have always been prized for their beautiful feathers and they’ve long been captured to be sold as caged birds. In the mid-1800s, John James Audubon reported that thousands were being caught and shipped to Europe.

bunting7

Today, birds are still illegally caught and sold in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. I cannot imagine these wild birds living very long in a cage.

bunting1

 

 

Their overall population is said to be stable, though like most birds, they suffer from habitat loss. The eastern population favors swampy thickets and woodland edges that often are destroyed by human development.

Gouldian Finch

Also known as the Lady Gouldian finch or rainbow finch, these are native to the grasslands of Australia. Male plumage can vary in the color pattern. In the wild, males usually have black faces, but can have yellow or red variations.

finch3

Captive birds for the pet trade are selectively bred for red faces. The males feature turquoise around the face, green on the back, purple on the chest and yellow on the belly. Females have a similar color pattern, though not as bright.

About the time that painted buntings began to be trapped and exported from America to Europe for pets, Gouldian finches also were similarly being extracted from the wild.

finch2

By the 1980s, trapping had reduced the wild population to only about 2,500. In 1992 they were declared endangered in the wild by the Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Today, it’s illegal to export them from Australia, but they continue to face challenges to increasing their wild numbers. finch variations

Gouldian finches may be as challenging to save in the wild as our endangered orcas – the Southern Resident Killer Whales – native to Puget Sound. Both species have incredibly narrow, specific food preferences.

Gouldian finches eat seeds of certain native grasses and conservation biologists discovered that they nest only in specific types of deep hollow branches of only two types of eucalyptus trees. Researchers are hoping that by installing specially constructed nest boxes in the wild, they can help boost finch numbers.

finches

Other factors that impact Gouldian finches are their bright colors, which make them easy targets for predators, diseases and wild fires. They are still popular as pets, though all sold are captive bred. They do not like to be handled and don’t do well with a lot of human interaction, compared to other finches kept as pets. Their average lifespan is six to eight years.

Rainbow Lorikeet

This brilliantly colored bird is also native to Australia. A blue head, red beak, orange and yellow breast, blue belly, and green wings and back make this species distinctive among parrots. lorikeet3

They grow to about a foot long from beak to tail.

In the wild, their preferred habitat includes woodlands, and lowland forests, and rainforest. Like the Gouldian finch, lorikeets prefer to nest in hollow limbs and holes in eucalyptus trees.

lorikeets

But they have been moving into more urban areas and easily adapt. Their diet includes fruit, nectar and pollen, and they will visit bird feeders and eat various seeds. They have even become pests in some areas, such as orchards and farmlands, and in New Zealand, where they were illegally introduced.

lorikeet5

Needless to say, this species not threatened or endangered. In fact, they can out compete other native species of parrot and cockatoo for nesting holes.

lorikeet4

Rainbow lorikeets are very popular as pets, with captive bred birds available worldwide. They can live up to 30 years.

In conclusion

I have not answered my question. Why? Why are there such brightly colored birds? It’s no camouflage against predators. I have noted that most such colorful birds live in more tropical environments. Does climate have something to do with coloration? More questions needing more research.

Mother Nature has given us many mysteries, but one thing we do know, she has it all worked out. Everything is the way it is for a reason. Everything is linked to something else. We are running out of time to preserve the links.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” — John Muir

 

*Not my photos