The Contented Zoologist: Mid Feb 2017

My MS degree from Auburn (just after the last Ice Age) was in Vertebrate Zoology. I would have been just as happy–if not happier–if it had been in Invertebrate Zoology since there are a gazillion times more animals without than with backbones.

And they have had oodles (another highly scientific word) more time to show up with bizarre, worthwhile and “clever” adaptations to life on Earth.

And it has never been easier for an armchair BoZo (I go both ways, botanical and zoological) to explore the world of animal wonders. How could I possibly keep from sharing from time to time?

This Crab Clones Its Allies by Ripping Them in Half – The Atlantic

Why This Squid Has Mismatched Eyes – Newsy Story

This new gecko species slips out of its scales to escape danger – CSMonitor.com e-danger

New beetle species poses as an ant’s BACKSIDE | Daily Mail

Big-Data Big-Brother NewSpeak

There are, of course, those who say that this big-data psychometric neurosociological element had nothing to do with the Trump win. What do you think? Twig from this quote from Cambridge Analytica’s own boast on their website on November 9 and go from there:

“We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part in President-elect Donald Trump’s extraordinary win,” said Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica. “It demonstrates the huge impact that the right blend of cutting-edge data science, new technologies, and sophisticated communication strategies can have.”

The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine – Scout: Science Fiction + Journalism – Medium https://medium.com/join-scout/the-rise-of-the-weaponized-ai-propaganda-machine-86dac61668b#.7r0en8xp7

Cambridge Analytica Congratulates President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence
https://cambridgeanalytica.org/news/pressrelease/1293

““We have a massive database of 4-5,000 data points on every adult in America,” Alexander Nix, CA’s chief executive, cheerily told me. This sounds weird, if not creepy. Indeed, when I first encountered CA a year ago, I initially wondered if they were cranks. But CA has built a business serving commercial and political clients.”

NOTE: Much of this comes from Facebook polls and such. Caveat emptor.

The Data That Turned the World Upside Down – Motherboard https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

Cambridge Analytica | Political revolution: How big data won the US presidency for Donald Trump https://cambridgeanalytica.org/news/press/1465

How Donald Trump utilized big data to win the US presidential elections http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/political-revolution-how-big-data-won-us-presidency-donald-trump-1602269

Who’s Your Data? ( on Fragments From Floyd)  from January 2014 contains this astounding quote, now much less far-fetched that a mere three years ago:

The big data revolution, as it matures from data collection to data interpretation to data-driven implementation across all aspects of human existence, will wield an impact on humanity’s future course that is no less revolutionary than the coming of the spoken and then the written word.

Featured image found in media archives. I confess I put the Nook in the hands of the damsel in the dark-peach dress.

Sense of Presence: Earth Places

I am one of those former young adult dreamers about far-away places that feels like a dream has come true. It is called Google Maps/Google Earth. It can take me any where, any time.

And when (increasingly often) I need a diversion from what passes these days as reality, I fire up the engine and head off: to Glacier National Park; the Smokies; my old stomping grounds in Birmingham or back to survey the Carolina Bays that continue to fascinate me.

If you lack the driving force to drive it yourself, hang on to this 2.5 minute spin around the planet to visit mostly human-made landscapes, but also a few natural places.

Earth: we just couldn’t stay here without you.

Be sure and turn on your speakers (or use headphones as the producers suggest.)

Got Plans

The the best-laid ones, well, you know. They don’t always follow the script.

I had plans for another post topic this morning (yes a rare-these-days premeditated bit) but was overcome by events. Again.

And in the process of doing the first thing so that the second could happen, I found one of not many audio files I’ve recorded over the past dozen years. So I thought what the heck, turn on your speakers, hold your nose, and click to play…

…to “I’ve Got Plans”–an old favorite by the Red Clay Ramblers. 

 

 

 

A Pill Bug By Any Other Name

So what do you call them? And if you say you’ve never seen them before or held one (or a couple of dozen) in your hands as a child, well–the pity.

We called them roly-polies. You might have called them pill bugs or sow bugs or wood lice, but they are not bugs nor lice, and they are not even insects. They are more closely related to shrimp and lobsters, and are Crustaceans living on land–the only ones fully capable of doing so.

And judging from the widely-divergent and varied names they have been given, you can assume that these innocuous detritivores are globally cosmopolitan and probably enter the mythology of almost all cultures going way way back.

And here are just some of those names (other lists have even more): they make me smile, for some reason, so I offer them here for your brief enjoyment:

20 Regional Names for Woodlice | Mental Floss

1. Cheesy-bugs or Cheeselogs (England)
2. Slaters (Scotland, New Zealand and Australia)
3. Gramersows or gramfers (Cornwall, England)
4. Butchy boys (Australia)
5. Boat-builders (Newfoundland, Canada)
6. Chisel bobs (England)
7. Woodpigs or timberpigs (England)
8. Monkey peas or peaballs (England)
9. Pishamares (England)
10. Potato bugs or tomato bugs (United States)
11. Sow bugs (United States and Canada)
12. Chuggie pigs, chuggy-pegs or chucky pigs (England)
13. Crunchy bats (England)
14. Wood bugs (Western Canada)
15. Pill bugs or roly-polies (United States)
16. Carpenters (Eastern Canada)
17. Granny greys (Wales)
18. Billy buttons (England)
19. Doodle bugs (United States)
20. Parson pigs (Isle of Man)

 

Feather Go Home

Go to medium.com to see more images for this post.

We don’t know what goes on in their minds when they are with us, but only the smiles and memories they leave in our own hearts and memories when they are gone.

We did not even know her name in 2014 when we first insisted that the white dog go back down the road to the new neighbor’s house where she belonged. Surely her family doesn’t want her wandering too far from home, we reasoned, what with their small boys who would miss the dog if she was gone for long.

I lobbed bits of gravel from the road in her direction in mock threat. “Go home!” I’d tell her, and she’d slink back east, a few tenths of a mile, to where we knew she belonged. We thought this was the right thing to do, especially as the times she did get close enough to the house, our dog, Gandy, would set upon the would-be visitor with bristling bluster and harmless aggression, not willing to share either territory or affections with an interloper.

We went so far as to call her owners once, early on, to let them know where their dog was, lest they worry, like we would worry if she was our dog, gone. They did come to pick her up that time, and we learned her name was Feather. She was also a rescue dog like Gandy; she was the same age and almost the same weight as our dog. But the two dogs did not have a speaking relationship. Yet.

Later that year, we’d see her (you could not miss the long-haired almost-white Labradoodle at the shadows at the edge of the pasture) just watching from a distance as we made our routine walk-abouts down the New Road and back to the house. Gradually, she’d leave the cover of the woods and slink sheepishly towards us near the end of our walk, her approach greeted by Gandy’s challenge and some mild rough-housing. I’d pick up a rock (or maybe throw a pretend rock her way) and say “go home” and she would go.

But after a few months of insistence, Feather and Gandy came to an agreement. By that time, we’d realized Feather’s whereabouts might be lost in the list of concerns of the young couple with full-time jobs and two small children. And Feather had figured out the retired folks with that other dog in the neighborhood who were all outside every day made for a pretty nice day camp. And so we saw her often. Then we saw her every day. And many nights. We did not own her, but she seemed to have decided that she owned us.

And yet, early in that growing relationship and before Feather finally realized which side her bread was buttered on, she was bad to set off on an adventure to find human (and maybe other four-legged) companionship. Feather, it turned out, was the most needy dog ever to be in the company of humans and driven to be touched by hands. And so when nobody was home down the road, she took a road trip.

Her time and distance record were four days and five miles from home. We were frantic during her uncertain absence. It ended well. Another time we saw her picture on Facebook when she had been taken in by some folks we knew about four miles up the mountain, rescued from a bad outcome on a very busy road. We fetched her home in the car.

In those early days, she followed many a bicycle rider out of the valley, certain they had come to sit with and adore her in the cool shade. They didn’t sit, so she just kept running behind them. When this happened on our watch, we jumped in the car and caught up with her, and brought her “home.”

Finally, after some months of routine day camp here, she understood that her needs for adoration could be more than met just up the road from where she technically belonged; plus she really relished the romps, the boxwood chase and the roughhousing with Gandy — eventually to the point that they turned what used to be the yard into a muddy wrestling ring. We lowered our standards of yard care and increased our tolerance for mulch on the hardwood floors, and life was good.

She was a creature of habit, governed by regularity and predictability. We new for certain that it would not be long on any given dawn before her ghostly white form would appear, ambling in no particular hurry, up the road, then up the driveway, and at last to the porch. If we failed to see her arrive we’d be startled (but not surprised) to find her standing with her nose pressed against the back door when we opened it for firewood. She’d enter, greet all, and go to her Feather bed — not far from but not in the same room as Gandy’s cushier loveseat in front of the woodstove.

Predictably, should we be away from the house for a few hours, upon our return, Feather would appear out from under the lilac bush to greet us, always searching with some urgency to find a stick or a piece of gravel or a leaf. In her world it was bad manners to have nothing to offer in exchange for a two-handed head snuzzle. She might even get a brushing if the offering was carefully selected and convincingly presented.

And just as predictably, at the end of the day (on those days when she was required back down the road) the one of us that drew the short straw got the distasteful task of coaxing her out the back door, telling her how happy we were to have shared the day with her, and finally the tough love command: “Feather, go home.”

We never figured out how she learned to obey this directive, but she always did, even though she visible wilted when she heard it. Down the walkway, round the front of the house between the Forsythias and to the road she’d go. One of us — usually Ann — would watch from upstairs to be sure she didn’t double back and hide until dark and show up again just at bedtime. The next morning, she’d punch the clock and another day of romping, wrestling and serious napping would begin.

In my private recollections and journal but not here, I will enumerate a long list of very particular behaviors and attitudes and already-fading memories of Feather — a character in my life that I never want to forget. It is both a kindness and a tragedy that the wounds of such a loss do become less painful with time, but words can give the faint solace of a kind of immortality.

We are grateful to have had so many hands-on moments with our unofficially-adopted grand-dog, to have had so many smiles over so many miles with the two good friends; to have had so many sweet encounters with a creature that we always knew would likely go before we would — though not certainly at our ages, pushing seven dog years now.

We never took her for granted, nor do we the days we have left with Gandy — who has not yet given up on the notion that a white form will appear out of the morning gloom. I don’t think she’ll ever quit watching and hoping. Those two dogs were quite a team. We make a point now not to say F’s name out loud so Gandy will hear it and rush to the window expectantly, with her tail wagging.

The blessing was that the decline in Feather’s regular, predictable habits was a quick and painless goodbye. We’d noticed for some time that she was losing weight, but it made no apparent difference to her ability to reach the top of any ridge with amazing speed and endurance, even during her last week. But when she could not keep food on her stomach, she visibly faded. The vet diagnosed her condition as kidney failure. Monday January 23rd was her last day. And Feather went home.

Off Grid on Goose Creek

This “slice of life” from 2013 also published on Jan 28 to Medium.com where you can see better views of the images. You might consider “following” my Medium.com articles and essays, and “recommend” a few if you find merit.

Off the Grid on Goose Creek at Medium.com

Rhythms change when the lights go out…

Even into the third month of round-the-clock wood fires in the stove, it gets no easier to hoist yourself out of bed in the mornings to feed it. Some are harder than others. I vote for yesterday as this year’s prize winner. So far.

The prolonged very-cold does not suit the energy personality of this 140-year-old house. She treats us well into the twenties, the teens if there’s no wind. Below that, there’s no love.

Here, after weeks of below-freezing days and below-zero nights, this old house (circa 1870) begins to suffer hypothermia, the normal heat retention and circulation pattern dis-eased by tiny cracks and chinks. The stove’s continuous gasping for replacement air pulls arctic cold in faster than the throbbing heart can radiate body heat into her living spaces where we sit huddled and blue.

At four a.m. I reluctantly heaved off of me every blanket and quilt and comforter we own. I would have stayed in bed, not to sleep but to avoid morning shock. The cast-iron tyrant was unforgiving of my hibernation hopes; she demanded a feeding. Meals come close together lest pipes freeze or wives whine when it is this cold for this long.

The percolator made encouraging groans. I squinted at the indoor-outdoor thermometer next to the kitchen sink (water trickling constantly for a week): minus 6 outside, 57 inside it read. For the next twenty minutes, my hands mindlessly did what they do to gather kindling, stovewood, matches, and a pine cone or two and start fires in both stoves. I can do it in my sleep. In fact, I think I did just that yesterday.

At last, chores done, I assumed the morning position, monitor, keyboard, mouse and microphone just so, and began brainstorming on some upcoming projects. I was really making progress when the lights went out.

…to stand listening to the silence of a snow

I poured another cup before the percolator went cold, and aimed my flashlight towards the frosted window: -8 now the thermometer said, the coldest so far this winter.

And long story short, it was 12 hours before the power came back on in time that we didn’t have to eat supper by candlelight. But we could have. And, as often is the case with such “emergencies”, we were reminded of how dependent we are on the life force of electricity and also, how in our particular situation, we can still go on without it. For a while.

Yes, we have a generator, and it’s true it has never been called to service in this kind of situation. Partly, that is because our outages ha been brief enough not to threaten the freezer contents (or cold enough outside that we have a substitute freezer), but mostly because neglected small engines do not like me and I fear rejection.

When, after the matriarch finally emerged after a few hours of having the quilts all to herself, I held a match to the top of the cylindrical wick of the shaded kerosene lamp I had fetched from the back room. It cheered up the room considerably.

We re-heated what I had not drunk of the coffee in a pot on the gas stove, and casting shadows against the cabinets, she seared the meat for the 32-bean soup that would soon simmer on the wood stove all day.

No two snowflakes — and no two frozen creeks — are ever the same. We see an infinite variety of things water can do in winter.

After sun-up I hauled wood, the pile I showed you a while back now, covered in goose feathers-–three inches of the driest snow I think I’ve ever known. She ministered to chickens, and Gandy had a playmate come over in the afternoon, his master also without power and bored.

Water water everywhere, but not a bucketful for flushing

Water saved in milk jugs we used as labeled—for drinking or flushing-–and good thing we had them stored in the basement since the creek’s water is inaccessible under a good six inches of solid ice. We’ve used a sledge hammer before to break through to flowing water, but I think I remember we were younger then.

On the loveseat, the warmest place in the house, stove in front and the afternoon sun off my shoulder, I spent a couple of hours reading with the dog curled up against me. She and I took turns solo-dozing, and then did a duet for a half hour.

And on the night the lights at last came on, I did some serious angst-ing over being behind in my projects, from having “lost” the day.

But some things, too, were found. Good books, warm granny quilts, hot chocolate and tea, the absent hum of the engines of home economics, and time slowed down to a crawl by an Earth now slowly tilting back towards bud and bloom, green and growing.

To everything there is a season. I, personally, would welcome the one that is now distantly waiting in the wings.