Test-tube Earth: The Anthropocene Experiment

Honeybee on Black Cohosh flower, Floyd County VA 2015

Innoculate, Feed, Wait, Observe

We are living in the midst and are each of us part of a great experiment. There is no control group laid out to co-exist on a planet where our species has NOT altered the chemistry of the atmosphere. And so we are destined to jump right to the increasingly-likely CONCLUSION: the more CO2 in the air, the lower the nutrient value of foods.

And this, as the global petri-dish population of us grows towards 8 billion and beyond. Beyond–well beyond–the carrying capacity to grow healthy bones, brains and bodies as the nutrient content of our food falls.

Quotes from The Great Nutrient Collapse, Politico / 13 Sept 2017

“Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO 2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes.”

And one consequence perhaps already seen outside our doors here in early Appalachian autumn–one caged canary in this massive one-off experiment might be the European honey bee feeding on goldenrod pollen:

“Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat.

And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination.

Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.”

See also / The Guardian / Sept 26, 2017:

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies |

Reprise: Of Memories and Hopes and Golden Dreams

Once upon a time, there was a strange farmer of Erehwon. He gathered his curiosities, his precious things–momentary objects that held his attention and delight–and hoped others might wander down his lonesome road and share his fascination with the ordinary.

Click to enlarge

They came at random, sometimes rather sizable crowds of them, and a few exclaimed and were delighted, and some returned often and regularly. Some where changed by having seen up close the myriad works of nature and light, of clouds, of storms and seasons that the farmer set before them.

He laid these things out expectantly-mere things, some onlookers imagined–but each was a story, and each story was a memory and a meaning to the foolish man.

And so, over the years, when fewer came, and then none, it was not the same of a morning. He still wandered among his amazements but he did not often gather them, and of those, he almost never laid them out for others to see. For there were so few that he felt alone, and his stories and meanings for him only. Life was good, but it was diminished, because he still remembered the gifts he once gave, so appreciated and approved, once upon a time. He thought of the friends he had made, whose names he could barely now remember.

And yet, now and then even today,  some pattern in tree bark or glint off moving waters or bird call or memory of the smell of earth will urge him to lay out his boards again along the creek road. And has done so this morning.

He had come upon a wonderful village of threaded webs, separate but close, isolated but connected by the thinnest of dew-beaded tightropes. In the wet grass, as he so often did, he imagined. He saw in these tattered webs tight aggregates of neurons, each synapsing cluster a concept, a siloed understanding, an aggregate idea or realization. He so often searched for those almost invisible threads that, discovered, would make him shout AHA! in the thrill of creative connection.

It was the possibility of sharing creative connection between disparate things on his roadside bench that woke him up each morning, expectant and hopeful of the alchemy of object and language, searching among his curios to find what he called the “so what” in everyday things like spider webs and blossoms and one more picture of a familiar light-and-shadow turn of his road or creek.

And so life goes on, the buzz of conversation barely audible to him in some distant tavern in an altogether different kind of stopping place for travelers along the loud and hurried webs of surface travel and talk.

Winter is coming. It is the time for the old farmer to draw the curtains on the chaos and confusion beyond Middle Earth and to go back over all his  klediments and commonplace jottings and scraps of wonder, revisiting like old friends the emulsions of light and memory he has stored and saved, stories unspoken.

He lives on. And with what is left of his bones and his wits, he will weave what he might from the webs of wonder his eyes and his ears and his heart have laid out for him, even so, on his slow road. And we shall see what lies around the bend.

Strange Farmer of Erewhon— a blogger’s Allegory from the early years of Fragments (original version 2005.)

Snake in the Grass

Brown phase black rat snake?

In eighteen summers on Goose Creek, this is the first rat snake (of scores) that was not black. Most have no hint of a pattern on the dorsal surface; this one does.

We’ve transported four snakes to other parts after catching them eating our eggs (well, our hens’ eggs) and then spotted another thirty feet of rat snake at various places about the farm.

We saw fewer brown water snakes this year, right many queen snakes near the creek, and not a single corn snake. And no copperheads–which thankfully have been rare: four in 18 summers.

And now the day of the snake is almost passed again for another year. And I’m pleased to have spotted this one next to the barn rock foundation–in the grass, except that the day before, I’d taken away his usual hiding cover with the string trimmer.

Dingo: The First Month

This is a screenshot from a video. STILL shots of this dog would require sedation!

It has been almost a month now since we first freaked when a new dog terrorized our chickens, and only two weeks since we first “met” this dog. He has come so far, and we have so far yet to go. I’d hoped to spend more time shaping this early cameo of Dingo’s early days, but alas, the Muse now carries a leash and a peanut-butter Kong and does very little typing.

There have been times over the past week when I was sure we had over-committed, had acted out of the heart and not the head. In the end of things, we would surely be compelled to endure the pain of a promise, broken, and would see the grief of goodbye in the eyes of a dog we almost loved and then, relinquished with mixed emotions, to strangers.

I’d like to think this was the hardest week in the long life of a new family member sent by the Adoption Agency of Canine Fate. I know the week of Dingo’s neutering has been an ordeal for all of us—quite possibly, least of all the dog. There will be weeks worse than this, maybe, but surely, please, not the week to come. We all need a break.

I say this as I see this through the eye of faith, with hope, more than a little exhausted by what it has taken to keep a year-old puppy from “running, jumping or getting the stitches wet” for 7 to 10 days, per the recommendation.

This has been almost impossible, since the dog kept saying “What stitches?” and dashing full speed to an abrupt halt at the end of his six foot leash or bounding over furniture, unrestrained by pain, discipline or good sense.

At the root of this logistical turmoil has been the apparent novelty for this dog of every aspect of “normal” that we’ve grown used to now with almost seven years with Gandy. She reads our thoughts. She knows the nuance of our footsteps. She totally wants to do the dance that has become so deeply a part of her personality and character. Dingo does not hear the music at all. And what’s worse, he is all left feet.

He has no social skills or sense of behavioral propriety whatsoever—not having been much around people or other dogs; never in a house or a car (except to be dropped off in this strange place along Goose Creek almost a month ago; never was the recipient of all of the attention and love he so earnestly asks for there at our side no matter what we are doing, inside or out.

This is a smart dog. He already knows (and inconsistently obeys) the command to SIT. He does this faithfully at the beginning of walk-about, and both dogs sitting attentively looking up for a treat makes a gratifying scene. Once sitting, STAY will keep Dingo across the room until COME brings him to his food or a Kong with a smear of peanut butter.

We have to suspect that he has never been on a leash before. He’s done well on that count, and learned quickly to walk with us instead of freezing in place as he did on day one—as if he’d once been chained in place.

He may have never had much human care. Although he is a loving and affectionate dog, he hasn’t a clue how to show it. With Gandy, now that his interest has shifted from his Little Brain’s fanatic drives towards his Big Brain’s desire to make friends, he is like a gawky adolescent: enamored of the opposite sex, but drop-dead dumb about how to engage one of them without a total turn-off.

“Hey, watch me put your whole face in my mouth! Want to see me spin around really fast and catch my back foot in my teeth? Think I can run all the way under your belly and come out on the other side? Huh? Huh?” Gandy says: Dog NERD!

But he is having some calm moments, finally, not so many days after returning from his surgery, on the heels of totally forgetting any progress he had made before it. We’ve started over again from the bottom of the learning curve.

He has been actively affectionate to Gandy—when not showing off—and to us this week, including to my mother who was a stranger to him for only a half-minute. It will take time to widen his exposure to other creatures and humans, and know he can trust them. He has had a shaky first year in that regard.

Like the puppy that he is, his brain map has a huge territory devoted to the MOUTH. He is prone to showing his affection by mouthing the hand of whoever attempts to show him attention, and if he persists with this, we withdraw attention and scold him: NO BITE! He has shredded a rubber glove, a small pillow and an old quilt. So far, no gnawed furniture, which was part of Gandy’s puppyhood tooth-works.

The encouraging background of all of this is that he shows much promise on many fronts, and that we don’t have to endure his first year, but only his second, as a puppy. It will be a long year, to be sure, but one higher in energy and longer in country miles around the pasture and woods than without this new activity director living with us.

He is an intelligent and oh-so-faithful dog. I think we should have no fear of his running off, after he has so decisively chosen this family and this place out of all the places he must have wandered to get here. His claws are mere nubs. We will always wonder about his story, before Goose Creek, and never know.