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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.