Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday's Nature Quote

I am a little piece of nature.

--Albert Einstein

© Soil-Net,, Cranfield University, UK, 2009

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I know where the skunk cabbage grows

I may not know where the bergamot grows, but I could point you toward some healthy specimens of skunk cabbage.
Photo by Patricia Talson
I maintain that the version growing here in the Pacific Northwest doesn't stink like rotting-flesh as does its obnoxious eastern cousin (but I'm willing to admit that spring allergies might render me senseless). It smells more musky than stinky, though bruising the leaves can produce more of a skunk smell.

The western skunk cabbage can release a sweet scent to lure in bees, or the muskier one to attract beetles. And get this: the plant releases different odors at different temperatures, depending on which pollinator is more likely to be out and about.

After a long rainy winter, I'm so glad to see these cheery, neon-yellow plants yoo-hooing up out of the muck to proclaim spring, I couldn't care less what they smell like.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Haiku Friday

Your challenge: write a haiku featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: burying beetles, goshawks, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is:

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 for the last.

Post 'em when you've got 'em!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dastardly Goshawk Tricks

A tip of my hat to The Roaming Naturalist, who posted this fabulous video earlier in the month. You might watch it just to admire the way the host says "dastardly," but you'll stick around to see how the northern goshawk manages her incredible maneuvers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Kidnapping the Lorax" in Amazon's Conservation Top 20 List!

I could hardly believe my eyes when a friend sent me this link. Look who squeaked into Amazon's top 20 Best in Conservation (at #20). JUST BEHIND "A SAND COUNTY ALAMANC" for crying out loud!

This is based on just 6 good reviews. If you've read my novel and liked it, PLEASE WRITE A REVIEW. (If you didn't like it, well...there are some things Amazon doesn't need to know...) If Aldo Leopold were still around, he wouldn't mind if I lap him.

Huge, huge thanks to the five I know who wrote reviews: Emily B, Jenny and Soozie L-S, Roxie M, and Ann K, who wrote the reviews that boosted me to #20!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday's Nature Quote

I've decided that as we enter the work week each Monday, we deserve a quote about nature. Here's the first one:

"Life has become so mechanized, life is so lacking in flavor, that anything learned about anything rescues people from the boredom of civil obedience. In a technological age the man who knows where the bergamot grows in some brushy back field or knows when and where to look for Pleiades is a revolutionary. He has published his declaration of independence."

--Brooks Atkinson, from his essay "The Bird Habit"


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Burying beetle wants to know: Are you gunna eat that or can I have it?

What does a burying beetle bury? Dead bodies, of course. These beetles are native throughout North America, but they're usually nocturnal and sometimes underground, so you may not have made their acquaintance. I've only seen one, toward dusk on a forested trail. Actually, at first all I saw was a dead shrew that was somehow twitching its way off trail. When the beetle crawled up from underneath the shrew, I had my first look at a margined burying beetle. I had no idea what it was, but later that evening some field guides clued me in to its disgustingly fascinating story.

Can't get enough of your love, babe. Photo from; photo by Andrew Williams
Sensitive chemical receptor on a beetle's antennae alert it to dead animals. It flies to the recently departed, ready to party. It has to act fast, though, because a dead thing is a pretty popular item in the wild. So it gets the body underground as quickly as possible. If the soil is compacted (like, say, on a trail), it might have to get underneath the creature, lie on its back and hook its leg claws into fur or feathers. Using its six legs as levers, the small beetle is gradually able to move the much larger animal to its final resting place.

As the beetle is working, chances are a suitable mate will show up to help, because there's nothing like a dead body to get burying beetles in the mood for love. The two beetles excavate the soil underneath the animal, which gradually sinks below the surface while the loosened soil rolls down to cover it. The beetles inter themselves with the deceased, and then they listen to some Barry White. No, actually, the act of examining and burying the dead causes the female's partially developed eggs to mature. The beetles mate and dig a brood chamber, and she lays her eggs.

Now the expectant couple further prepares the body. They remove fur or wings, and move them off to the side within the chamber, and then shape the denuded carcass into a ball. (If you happen to be eating anything right now, this might be a good time to stop.) By the time their eggs hatch, the parents have rendered the flesh edible for them by regurgitating it and depositing the resulting droplets into conical depressions in the body. The female calls her grubs to these soup bowls by rubbing a ridge on her wing covers against her abdomen. The adults tend their young for about two weeks, finally leaving the crypt when the young pupate. Ten days later, the young emerge as adult beetles, ready to sniff out another dead body and play some Barry White.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is this a good idea?

In Kidnapping the Lorax, one of the characters who is prone to eco-ranting complains, “We had this lovely planet that gave us all the sustenance we ever needed. Instead of being grateful and enjoying what we have, we’ve gradually and systematically ruined it. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe—now it’s all dangerous to us.” 
He’s accused of being overly dramatic, but consider this: some schools are now raising flags of differing colors, meant to inform the children how good or bad that day’s air quality is. As the EPA blog article “Raising the Flag for Air Quality Awareness” explains:
When Officer Jones asked if the kids wanted to help him, they cheered in unison, “YES.”  They eagerly held the flag while Officer Jones hooked it to the chain, watched as he raised it – and promptly asked why the flag was yellow. Officer Jones explained that the yellow flag meant that the kids could play outside, “because the air quality was pretty good today– not the best like what a green flag means.”
And here’s, which will tell you whether the air where you live is safe today. As the summer heats up, you might want to check it from time to time.  Like Officer Jones says, you want to see green there, not red. The U.S. EPA, NOAA, NPS, tribal, state, and local agencies developed to “provide the public with easy access to national air quality information.”
And that sharing of information is a good thing, right?  
So the thought of little kids raising different colored flags to reveal how safe or unsafe the outdoors is really shouldn’t make me sad ... right? 

Friday, May 13, 2011

The stupidity of lawns

I am just inside from pushing around a lawnmower, a job that gives me time to reflect on the fact that though I was once a pirate on the high seas (okay, the low seas--we were very close to shore when we were arrested for boarding the whaling vessel), these days I am reduced to engaging in battle with the grass that grows around my suburban house.

If someone tried to sell you three million tiny plants that demanded a considerable amount of maintenance, including weekly pruning throughout their growing season, you'd probably decline the offer.  But most of us have (more or less willingly) planted, mowed, watered, fertilized, and weeded a lawn. Yes, yes, I know there are many good alternatives to lawns, and someday I will convert mine, but for now I endure the stupidity of a lawn.

Here's something we lawn-owners can consider as we trudge behind our lawnmowers: grasses (wild and cultivated) grow differently than other plants. If you regularly lopped off the most-actively growing part of another plant--say the branches off a tree--you'd kill it. But because grass grows from its base, at or near the ground, we can (and indeed, must) mow it repeatedly throughout its growing season.

And while my lawn is small enough that I can tackle it with an old-fashioned push mower rather than a noisy exhaust-producing gas-drinker, it's still big enough for me to ponder my foolish landlubber ways.  Arr!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thanks to Dogwood

Dogwood in bloom is easy to recognize--you know, it's the tree with those creamy white/greenish/pink petals (which are really modified leaves--the real flowers are the tiny green ones clustered in the center).

 When I see Pacific dogwood, here's the story I like to remember: In May 1836, Dr. John Townsend was asked to treat two Cowlitz Indian children who were sick with fever. Unfortunately, he was out of quinine. He described in his journal, later published as Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River, how he substituted the bark of Pacific dogwood for the drug.

"Taking one of the parents in the wood with his blanket, I soon chipped off a plentiful supply, boiled it in his own kettle, and completed the preparations in his lodge, with most of the Indians standing by and staring at me to comprehend the process. This was exactly what I wished, and as I proceeded, I took some pains to explain the whole matter to them in order that they might at a future time be enabled to make use of a really valuable medicine which grows abundantly every where throughout the country. I have often thought it strange that the sagacity of the Indians should not long ago have made them acquainted with this remedy. And I believe, if they had used it, they would not have had to mourn the loss of hundreds or even thousands of their people who have been swept away by the demon of ague and fever."

The two children responded to Dr. Townsend's treatments and survived.

In light of the sad history between the native populations and the Europeans who were soon to overrun them, I like to remember that Pacific dogwood trees stand as an example of decency and kindness.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Feral shopping carts

I was just over visiting at Rock Paper Lizard, intending to read a few more of Hugh's Interpreter Stories (which I love, having been an interpretive naturalist myself at Mount Saint Helens)--but what did I find posted on the home page? This photo of a Pygmy Meadow Trundler:
The first Pygmy Meadow Trundler
sighted this season. Photo from Rock Paper Lizard.
The site refers back to Wild Shopping Carts, which is currently focused on carts found on Vancouver Island, but seeks sightings from around the world.  I tend to think of these species as more feral than wild, myself, but I haven't studied them as extensively as the bloggers at these sites. Should you make any sightings in your area, please consider adding to the data being gathered at Wild Shopping Carts. Who knows, you may discover a rare or previously unidentified species!