Friday, July 29, 2011

NW Book Festival June 30, Portland, Oregon

I'll be at the NW BookFest on Saturday, hawking Kidnapping the Lorax.  Maybe I'll see you there?

Saturday, July 30, 2011 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, OR (corner of SW Morrison and SW Sixth Avenue)

Haiku Friday

Your challenge: write a haiku featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: sword fern sex, wildflower apps, 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:

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

Haikus away!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

There's an app for wildflowers

Yet another reason for me to want an iPhone: Daniel Mathews' Northwest Mountains Wildflowers app. Mathews is the author of the utterly marvelous Cascade-Olympic Natural History: A Trailside Reference (I suppose it's a bit unusual for an author of PNW natural history books to promote someone else's, but I can't help myself--whadda book!)

But back to this new app: it covers over 500 wildflower species found in the Pacific Northwest, with over 800 photos. And since this info is all held in the memory of your iPhone or iPod touch, you don't need cell reception out on the trail to access it.

Someday, oh someday, it shall be mine...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The sex life of sword ferns

Oooh, baby, get a load of those sori!
Photo by kqedquest 

Good ol' sword ferns are abundant in virtually any moist forest west of the Cascades. Compared to plants that flaunt gaudy flowers as a reproductive come-on, sword ferns lead quiet, strait-laced sex lives. They reproduce with decorum, forgoing both flowers and seeds.

Ferns make more ferns in a two-step process. A mature plant produces small rusty circles, called sori, on the underside of its fronds. These circles, which neatly line up along the margins of each leaflet, contain microscopic spores, and each plant produces millions.

The spores eventually fall to the ground or are carried by the wind. If moisture and light conditions are right, the spores will grow into tiny heart-shaped plants called prothallia. These reproduce sexually to become young fern plants.

Sperm and egg cells grow on the undersides of the prothallia leaves and require a drop of moisture to unite. Then the sperm cells, drawn by a chemical attractant, swim through the water to fertilize the eggs. A fertilized egg divides and redivides and finally creates new leaves unlike those of the heart-shaped prothallia. Additional leaves become more fern-like, eventually taking on the characteristic broad-sword shape the plant was named for.

Thoughout the spring and summer I like to note the progression in the cycle by occasionally tipping up the underside of a frond to see how the sori are developing.

Go ahead and take a peek--they won't mind.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday's Nature Quote

"When asked whether I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, then you haven't got a pulse."   

--Paul Hawken, in Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World

Friday, July 22, 2011

Haiku Friday

Your challenge: write a haiku featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: swallowtail butterflies, 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 at the end.

Looking forward to your latest!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Words on Wednesdays--novel excerpt #6

For the past fiveWednesdays, I've shared excerpts from Kidnapping the Lorax. This last excerpt takes up where last Wednesday's left off.

Tracker had ahold of the Lorax almost immediately, hugging her around the waist with his big arms, and when she continued struggling to get away, lifting her clear off the ground. She didn’t scream, but she fought like a wild thing, kicking with her high-heels—one sailed away into the surrounding trees—and scratching with her long nails. She was attempting to kick the now-yelping Tracker in the groin when Walden leapt into the fray. Between the two of them, they managed to subdue her. 
"Jesus! Fuck!" yelled Walden, breathing heavily. "Set her down, Tracker, but for Christ's sake, keep ahold of her in case she tries to run again."
Tracker did as instructed, placing the Lorax lopsidedly back on the ground, and keeping one meaty hand around her wrist. Maggie retrieved the far-flung high-heel, but was rebuffed with an icy glare when she attempted to offer it to the heavily-breathing woman. Maggie placed the shoe on the ground next to the Lorax, keeping her eyes on her, and moving cautiously.
“Fuck,” Walden repeated, but he was smiling this time. “You’re a feisty old lady, aren’t you?”
The Lorax pulled back her shoulders and eyed him with contempt. A moment passed while she caught her breath. Then, “Young man,” she addressed him, her voice ringing with authority in the now-silent forest, “you may have kidnapped me, but you will nonetheless mind your manners. You will not refer to me as ‘feisty.’”
Walden crossed his arms, leaned back, and regarded her. “Let me get this straight. You’re not objecting that I called you an ‘old lady.’ You’re objecting that I called you ‘feisty?’”
Feisty,” she loaded the word with scorn, “is a diminutive term. One virtually never hears it applied to men, and that alone should be enough to make one suspicious of it. It is a term that lessens the power and strength of a woman, and as you will discover should this excursion continue beyond this point, I am not a woman to be lessened. You may refer to me as ‘self-assured,’ ‘strong-willed,’ ‘brash’ or even ‘cocky,’ but you will not refer to me as feisty.”
Walden regarded her for a few seconds before he blinked. “No,” he agreed, “no, I will not.”
“Nor am I fond of ‘spunky.’”
“No. I suppose not.”
“Furthermore, for the remainder of our dealings here, you will neither use the vulgar term “fuck,” nor will you take the Lord’s name in vain.”
Maggie gaped from the woman to Walden, who slowly uncrossed his arms and placed his hands on his hips.
“Don’t push it, Lorax,” he said.
She didn’t reply, but continued her imperial glare. “Now tell your henchman to release me,” she demanded.
“Are you going to run again?” Walden asked.
“Would he catch me again?”
“Yes, he would.” 
“Then I believe you have your answer.” 
When the larger man continued to stare at her mutely, Walden clarified, “She won’t run.”
Tracker let go of her wrist.
Walden shook his head. “Tracker, you better keep an eye on this cocky lady. Fern can help me finish covering the car.”
Maggie gathered an armload of branches, glad for the work. “Walden,” she said, as they completed the job, “I’m really sorry. I’m so embarrassed. I just didn’t expect her to take off running like that.”
Walden grunted as he arranged the last of the sticks. “Neither did I,” he admitted. “It looks like the Lorax might be full of surprises.”

* * *
Kidnapping the Lorax is available in paperback and for e-readers at Amazon .

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hilltopping = barhopping for butterflies

During their brief lifetimes, swallowtails, like most butterflies, basically do three things: bask in the sun, sip sugary nectar, and have sex. Since they only spend one or two weeks in their adult form, it seems fitting that they should live it up.

Amorous swallowtails head for the hills--literally--to find mates. This activity, known by the descriptive and delightful name "hilltopping," is shared by some other insect species. (But at least one species of swallowtail, the western tiger, tends to prefer trees that border rivers or even streets.) The males patrol the area, seeking females of their own species. When a female seductively flutters by, the male pursues her. They mate by pressing the tips of their abdomens together as he transfers a packet of sperm called a spermatophore to her.

When she is ready to lay eggs, she seeks an appropriate food plant for her species, confirming its identity with hairlike taste organs on the tips of her forelegs. After depositing 150 or more single eggs, she lives only a short time. Like most butterflies, a swallowtail lives fast, dies within a month of emerging from its chrysalis, and leaves a good-looking corpse.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday's Nature Quote

We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life's continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.

--Stephen Jay Gould

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

Sunday, July 17, 2011

#1 in the Conservation category on Amazon!

My sincere thanks to those who have been kind enough to go onto and say nice things about Kidnapping the Lorax--because of you, it is now listed as #1 in the Conservation category, based on reader reviews. Sweet!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Haiku Friday

Your challenge: write a haiku featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: pillbugs, 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 at the end.

Haiku away!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Words on Wednesdays--novel excerpt #5

Next Wednesday, I'll share one final excerpt from Kidnapping the Lorax. This excerpt takes up where last Wednesday's left off.  
It wasn’t until they’d turned up the old, washboarded logging road that the woman under the blanket moved, finally, stretching her legs and straightening her back. Maggie was glad to see the movement. It had occurred to her that the old lady—what was she? Maybe fifty? Walden would know; he had researched all kinds of details about her—the old lady might have had a heart attack and died under there, for all they knew. Now her ankles and blue high-heels stuck out from under the blanket, but that wasn’t a problem. There was no one now, no one for miles around who might look into the car and see her. They jolted along for several more miles, before taking another road, even older and less-traveled, and then another. Maggie breathed a sigh of relief when, at last, they reached their destination. 
“Okay, Fern,” said Walden. “You help our guest out, and Tracker and I will start camouflaging the car.” He glanced down at the high-heeled feet, still protruding from the blanket, and added dryly, “And try not to get a run in her stockings, will ya?” 
Tracker had backed the car into a gap among the trees, where it couldn’t be seen from the road. Now he and Walden grabbed tree limbs from a waiting pile and began further concealing the vehicle. 
Maggie stared down at the immobile figure in the foot well. “Uh, Lorax, I’m going to pull the blanket off you now. It’ll be a relief to get that thing off, won’t it?” She reached over and gently tugged the wool off the woman, who sat squinting and blinking in the sudden light. This was Maggie’s first really good look at her. She stood, Maggie already knew, about 5’4” without the heels on, and, while Maggie would not have described her as stout, she did look plump, especially stuffed down there in the foot well, in her pale blue business suit. Silk, Maggie guessed. Unfortunately, the Lorax’s nice hairdo was mashed down, the once-pouffed brown hair now lying flat against her head. Not that appearances mattered much, out here. 
Maggie was relieved to see that apparently the woman hadn’t been crying after all; there was no sign of tears. Still, she spoke quietly, soothingly, as one might to a small animal or a frightened child. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. While the guys are concealing the car, let’s get you into some clothes you can walk in. We’ve got a little ground to cover before nightfall.” It was disconcerting that the Lorax didn’t say anything in reply. She just gazed around her, as if trying to get her bearings, and then startled when some brush landed, thunk, on the hood of the car. 
Maggie slowly reached past her, and opened the car door, saying, “I’ve got some boots for you that will be more comfortable than—” and the Lorax took off running. She bolted out of the Volvo faster than Maggie imagined an old lady could run. “Hey!” Maggie hollered, scrambling after her.

* * *
Kidnapping the Lorax is available in paperback and for e-readers at 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A pillbug's relations

Photo by Cletus Lee
Which of these is a pillbug most closely related to: ladybug, lobster, or kangaroo?

Okay, this is clearly a trick question, so you've probably rejected the ladybug. And you'd be wise to do so: a ladybug is an insect, which has six legs. A pillbug has fourteen.

You're not going to go with kangaroo either, since you know that's a mammal. Correct again. But do give the pillbug credit for its similarity to kangaroos and other marsupials: like them, the females have special pouches to hold their young.

So, yes, that leaves the lobster as long-lost relation to the pillbug; they are both crustaceans. (Shoulda known I couldn't get one past you!) Having long ago evolved from the briny deep, pillbugs retain gill-like breathing apparatus that requires moisture, which is why you'll likely find them in damp places.

A pillbug can be differentiated from its close relation, the sowbug, by its ability to roll up in a ball--sowbugs can't manage this--and by the sowbug's two small appendages called uropods that extend from its hind end, which pillbugs lack. Collectively, these critters are also called woodlice, roly polys or potato bugs.

Next time you encounter a pillbug, don't think bug--think kangaroos and lobsters.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday's Nature Quote

In Encounters With the Archdruid,  John McPhee wrote:

Sooner or later in every talk, [David] Brower describes the creation of the world. He invites his listeners to consider the six days of Genesis as a figure of speech for what has in fact been four  billion years. On this scale, a day equals something like six hundred and sixty-six million years, and thus, "all day Monday and until Tuesday noon, creation was busy getting the world going." Life began Tuesday noon, and "the beautiful organic wholeness of it" developed over the next four days. At 4 P.M. Saturday, the big reptiles came on. Five hours later, when the redwoods appeared, there were no more big reptiles. At three minutes before midnight, man appeared. At one-fourth of a second before midnight, Christ arrived. At one-fortieth of a second before midnight, the Industrial Revolution began. We are surrounded with people who think that what we have been doing for that one-fortieth of a second can go on indefinitely. They are considered normal, but they are stark raving mad." 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Haiku Friday on Saturday

Due to a computer glitch, Haiku Friday arrives late this week.
Your challenge: write a haiku featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: octopuses 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 at the end.

Kindly post your haiku in the comments.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Words on Wednesdays--novel excerpt #4

For two more Wednesdays, I'll be sharing an excerpt from Kidnapping the Lorax, so readers can see if it is a novel they'd like to purchase. This excerpt takes up where last Wednesday's left off.

Kidnapping the Lorax is available in paperback and for e-readers at

Maggie was amazed that they were on the freeway before the radio had anything to say about what was happening at the hotel. “We’re getting a report that a protest has erupted at the Timber Conference, which is being held at the Benson Hotel,” the announcer said. “It seems that a stink bomb has been set off, and the building is being cleared of participants, guests, and protestors at this moment. More information as we receive it.”
Maggie found herself grinning like an idiot, and Walden laughed out loud. Planet Now had managed to pull off their stink bomb action. She wished she could see their faces when they realized how their puny little action had covered for one that would really result in saving the old growth. Planet Now would initially be blamed for the Secretary’s disappearance, of course, but this misdirection had been a part of Walden’s plan.
When they’d first clambered into the car, Maggie’s legs had started jiggling with sewing-machine rapidity. After all the planning, the long discussions, the anticipation, it was hard to believe this was really happening. She wasn’t even afraid anymore, the excitement of the moment had drilled out any fear about the course they were now committed to. 
But then, she had been committed to the plan since Walden had first approached her, almost a year ago, after one of the many interminable Planet Now meetings. That meeting, like so many others, had been one of grindingly slow consensus-building, with a subcontext of backbiting and jockeying for position within the organization. Why did sincere, dedicated people embarked on a just cause waste so much time on ugly infighting? When it was her turn to hold the talking-stick, Maggie had stood and made a plea for unity and selflessness, for the sake of planet earth. There was so much work to be done to save the forests, and they simply didn’t have time for silly, internal bickering. How could they expect to get the government, the timber workers, and the landowners to work with them when they couldn’t overcome their own differences and work with one another? There was a long battle ahead, she said, and it was time to stop sniping at each other. It was time to focus and prepare. Together they could change the world. 
She’d stood in their midst and been rewarded with rousing applause. She knew she’d managed to say what so many of them were thinking. She sat down with the flush of victory on her cheeks, and the next person to take the talking-stick said he felt like Maggie was trying to manipulate the meeting and block consensus. Several in the organization had rallied to Maggie’s defense, while others were quick to disagree, and by the end of the meeting, the focus had become her little speech and whether or not she had usurped the natural flow of the meeting. 
Maggie had gone home and cried. There was precious little time, they all knew, to save the remnants of old growth that still existed, and they’d just squandered still more of it. Shortly after the meeting, when Walden approached her with his idea, Maggie was ready to hear it.
And against the odds, they’d done it, just the three of them. Now, as the hours passed, a feeling of subdued elation remained. The farther they got from the city, and the more trees that lined the road in an unbroken line, the calmer she began to feel. She rolled down the window and let the cool scents of the forest flow into the car. They would be safe in the wilds. 
Unavoidably, her mind veered toward what the Lorax might be feeling or thinking, still huddled beneath the striped Pendleton blanket on the floor. Maggie didn’t want to consider that. Even as she’d bought clothes, boots, and food for the woman, she’d only thought of their target as “The Secretary of the Interior” or as “the Lorax,” their code name for her, not as a real person who had a family, who had feelings. A person, it turned out, who wore perfume with a hint of lilac that reminded Maggie of the talc her own mother had worn. As Maggie changed her shoes for the hiking boots she’d left in the car, she pulled her feet up onto the seat, and sat cross-legged so the Lorax would have a bit more room to spread out. It couldn’t be comfortable, on this hours-long ride, sitting down there in the foot well, leaning at an angle against the seat, with that blanket over her, but Walden was adamant that she couldn’t take it off. Maggie understood. It wasn’t just that he wanted to be certain no passing truckers would glance into their windows and recognize or be signaled by the Secretary, it was also precaution against the Lorax herself seeing where she was going. The more Maggie’s adrenaline-high dissipated, the more she realized that this whole situation must be terribly uncomfortable for the woman. Maggie hoped she wasn’t silently crying under there. She wanted to pat her shoulder, or say something reassuring—but she didn’t know how to approach her, what might be considered an appropriate gesture. What do you say to a total stranger you’ve just kidnapped? 
Maggie said nothing.

* * * 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

50,000 Happy Birthdays

Child-free & fancy-free
Photo by Laurie Kormos
© California Academy of Sciences
The YouTube video called "50,000 Happy Birthdays" is getting a lot of attention these days. The footage begins with a view of the Seattle skyline, and then divers go down into Cove Two to film a mama octopus guarding her eggs--all 50,000 of them.

And if you think that woman who had octuplets went through a lot, you should consider the situation of the mollusk kind.

After laying those 50,000+ eggs, she uses her tentacles to braid them into garlands that she hangs from the ceiling of a small cave or protected space. She tends them continuously for the next five or six months, blowing air on them with her siphon and fending off predators. She usually takes no nourishment during this time and dies shortly after the young hatch--thousands and thousands of teeny tiny little octopuses--and leave her behind.

A few (very few, perhaps only two0 will grow into adults, which generally means to about 100 pounds with a sixteen-foot armspread. The largest recorded weighed 600 pounds, with a thirty-one-foot armspread.

But when you watch the video, it's difficult to imagine those itty bitties managing to negotiate the fearful dangers of the Pacific long enough to become octomoms and octodads.

Monday's Nature Quote

"Unknowingly, we plow the dust of stars, blown about us by the wind, and drink the universe in a glass of rain."

--Ihab Hassan

Photo by C. Frank Starmer

Friday, July 1, 2011

Haiku Friday

Your challenge: write a haiku featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: Indian pipe, space junk/eco-guilt, 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 at the end.

Can you haiku?