I am reading E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth, his third in a series about our planet’s human and natural history. It is a sobering account of what humans have done, and a strident plea for a last-ditch effort to save all life on earth. His treatise says we must put aside one half of the earth’s landscape in order to support enough biodiversity for life to go on. He is a voice of reason, fact and hope, but I find it difficult to believe that the majority of human beings will care enough to actually do that.
Overcome by the printed matter and the state of global politics, I had a good cry.
Then I turned the page. There was something greenish near the top of the text, maybe an illustration? I touched it and it moved. No, it was not printed. It was left by a previous borrower of this library edition. Pressed flat and preserved for me to find.
A four-leaf clover?
It stopped me in my tracks. Was this left for the next reader, to nudge me out of my gloom and doom? “All hope if not lost,” it seemed to say. Wilson himself writes that there is still time for us to achieve his vision, if we act quickly.
Should I keep the clover, or leave it for the next reader? I will leave it.
There are forces at work here that I can’t explain.
My only knowledge of the legendary Moon Pie was vague mentions and a certain song from decades ago that paid homage.
My knowledge advanced like a moonshot recently when I was in a quaint little store in charming Bluemont, Virginia. There on the counter were individually wrapped . . . Moon Pies! I suddenly found myself on a precipice – leap or forever remain amongst the uninitiated. It didn’t take long to leap. I held in my hand a piece of American snack history. Sadly, I looked around for an RC Cola (which I had tasted in my youth) but didn’t see any.
Growing up in New Jersey, I never saw a Moon Pie. We did, however, have ScooterPies, made by Burry, no doubt a copycat product that appeared in the 1960s.
The Moon Pie first appeared in 1917, made by Chattanooga Bakery in Tennessee and was sold largely in the South. The attractive logo features a golden crescent moon on a blue background. I suppose when you hold your moon pie, you first observe a full moon. After you take a bite, you have a half moon! What a concept!
However, the origin is given that a coal miner in Kentucky asked a traveling salesman for a snack “as big as the moon.” Some time later, the miner got his wish when the first Moon Pie appeared. They were filling and fit in a lunch pail. The snack was a cosmic hit.
It was a simple concoction, made of marshmallow filling sandwiched between two round graham cookies. It was traditionally covered in chocolate. Now, the first ones seem to have had only two cookie layers with thicker filling, but the one I bought was a “double decker,” with three cookies and two thin layers of marshmallow.
You can buy either version today, plus in different flavors like vanilla, banana and even seasonal pumpkin.
I had consumed many a Scooter Pie in my younger years. These chocolate-coated disks were named for New York Yankee Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto. They can be still be bought in some areas.
And then there were Ring Dings, which were entirely different from Scooter Pies, with crème-filled chocolate cake and chocolate icing, but no cookies. They were a New York-regional thing (a college favorite of mine in Connecticut), but are now distributed in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
Let me stray from my topic briefly once more. I suddenly recalled one of my very favorite cookies of my youth, which seemed to have disappeared from the shelves years ago … Mallomars! A dome-like confection of marshmallow and a cookie layer on the bottom, covered in dark chocolate. Wow. Not a far cry from the then-unknown to me Scooter Pies and Moon Pies. A quick scan of the internet show that these too are available online. Why not in stores? Hmmm . . .
But, on to my Moon Pie taste test. I wasn’t planning to do a blog post about it, so I neglected to photograph mine before I ate it. I opened the wrapper and gently revealed the chocolate-covered Pie. With vague memories of Scooter Pie flavors and textures, I took my first bite. Interesting texture. Lots more cookie than Scooter Pies. Not cloyingly sweet. It wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t amazing. It was a snack that fit the bill for a mid-afternoon sweet lift. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now, no doubt the Moon Pie has its diehard devotees. It was the first such product on the market, and skyrocketed to popularity during the wars and into the baby boom years. It has its logo and its cachet. But, what is it, really? Cookies, sugar, weird marshmallow filling and industrial chocolate coating. If you tried to make them yourself, with premium ingredients, I’m sure they would be amazing. In fact, the internet is loaded with recipes for homemade, mouth-watering Moon Pies.
If you’re a fan, you already know how and where to obtain them. If you are intrigued and want to try one, you can buy Moon Pies online. But it’s always more fun to buy one in an old-timey store.
Now, for some tunes!
I found this on Youtube, “Gimme an RC Cola and Moon Pie,” by Big Bill Lister. Lister was a crooner and rhythm guitarist who toured with Hank Williams in the 1950s. He was born in Texas in 1923, named Weldon E. Lister, and grew to be 6 feet 7 inches. He died in 2009. Here is perhaps the first song about Moon Pies!
But here is the song that stuck in my mind for decades. I accurately attributed it to NRBQ, a band that never achieved quite the recognition it deserved. They formed in Kentucky in the 1960s, which could explain why they knew about Moon Pies! Listen, enjoy and wait for the punch line, which I repeated while eating my Moon Pie.
Shout out to Moonpie.com for helpful stuff for this blog! To learn more about Moon Pies or purchase them and related merch, visit that website.
The Isabella Tiger Moth Caterpillar – AKA Woolly Bear
Covered in fuzzy bristles, some are more black or more orange, but all have both colors. The one I found today was a beautifully dressed banded woolly bear, with black at each end and orange in the middle. Better known than its adult form – the Isabella tiger moth, the woolly bear elicits more pleasant reactions from people of all ages than most other caterpillars. They are cute and harmless, and don’t seem to mind being picked up.
There are similar caterpillars that are solid black or brown or other colors, and they can be called woolly bears, but they are different species. Only the larva of Pyrrharctia Isabella, the Isabella tiger moth, is the familiar black and orange banded woolly bear. Their bodies have 13 segments covered in stiff hairs.
First named in 1797, it’s not clear who this moth was named for. I know there was Queen Isabella of Spain. But these moths are found only in North and Central America.
The folklore of the woolly bear is said to stretch back to the American colonial days. The lore suggests that the width of the color bands relate to the upcoming winter. The thought is, if the orange band is shorter than the black, its means a snowy winter.
How could this be? People have tried to prove this notion, to no solid evidence. Researchers have crunched the weather data over periods of time and compared it to the markings of the caterpillars, finding no scientific evidence to support the folk tales.
We typically see the caterpillars in fall simply because that’s when the eggs hatch, though some do hatch in summer. They spend the summer munching on a wide variety of plants, getting ready for winter hibernation. When fall comes, they find a sheltered place, under a stone or log, or even underground. They have a kind of antifreeze that helps them survive very cold temperatures.
As soon as it warms up the next year, they emerge and begin to feed. Soon after, they make their cocoon, and within two weeks, the adult moth emerges, to begin the cycle again.
Like other moths, the Isabella tiger moths don’t live very long. They live simply to mate and lay eggs.
The moths don’t eat. I have never seen one, but they are attractive, with yellow-orange body and wings, and little black spots. The wingspan is about two inches wide.
If you see one, you’ll know winter is coming. The question is, what kind of winter?
I must have flowers, always, and always. ― Claude Monet
What is the value of a flower? Can you quantify the visual and psychological impact of a field of neon blossoms? Do you base it on the number of wows, or Holy cows, or assorted verbalizations, or the number of persons standing seemingly dazed and dumbfounded in the presence of such manmade, yet breathtaking beauty?
Suddenly, each spring like clockwork, thousands of men, women and children who, normally, don’t pay much attention to plants, flock like zombies called to the task, to behold fields of red, yellow, purple, pink and orange flowers, all arranged like soldiers in orderly rows.
In this particular case, the astonishing sight of more than one million tulips peaking in precisely planted rows is what draws visitors with magical magnetism.
A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars. ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
This year, the tulips did not disappoint. Right on schedule with the Skagit Tulip Festival, the flowers beamed their enchanting vibes to the crowds. Daffodils led the pack, with colors ranging from deep yellow to white with orange centers.
Beyond the daffodils, the stars of the show, Tulipa, obediently performed, knit together with the other colors into a vivid but orderly counterpane.
Here and there, couples and families and friends posed for photos among the blooms. Children delighted in the hues. To walk fields saturated with color, under a sunny sky, was like being in a painting.
Even though the incredible floral display was not planted merely for our pleasure, but for a bulb-growing business, the impact was not lessened. We walked away happy, content to witness the renewal, the continuance of the seasons, the affirmation of life. Perhaps that is the value of a flower.
Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind. ― Luther Burbank
Salt Creek in Death Valley National Park is one place that has water, and that’s usually only seasonally. I have never been there in summer, so I can’t say how dry it is then, but I imagine it’s pretty much dried up. Surprisingly, it serves as habitat for the critically endangered Salt Creek pupfish, which are about an inch long.
The narrow creek with its muddy banks is only part of the overall marsh area. The upper area holds small pools that remain year round, and where the fish can survive the summers.
On my fifth journey to the park earlier this year, I revisited Salt Creek, with the intention of spending more time, walking well beyond the boardwalk that parallels the creek.
The boardwalk, which is almost a mile long round trip, ends where the creek peters off and the land becomes more open and vegetated, and the path is sandy.
In late afternoon light, the sun highlighted the creek and magnified the textures and shapes in the mud.
With the sun getting lower and most visitors back in the distance, I drank in the gift of Death Valley, pure silence. I looked and listened for birds, but found none.
Nonetheless, the landscape was enough. I loved the way the low sun hit the water, and a variety of textures and shapes revealed themselves.
I knew some of my images would look best in black and white.
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 isreally 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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.