Fragments from Floyd Photos and Front Porch Musing from Floyd County Virginia Fri, 03 Jul 2015 12:56:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Eye is on the Sparrow Fri, 03 Jul 2015 12:56:05 +0000 Continue reading Eye is on the Sparrow ]]> A "camera eye" not made with any cells--just organelles, complete with a "lens and retina." Credit: Hoppenrath and Leander
A “camera eye” not made with any cells–just organelles, complete with a “lens and retina.”

From our Easily Amazed Department: a July 1, 2015 detailed piece of sub-cellular anatomy finds in a particular dinoflagellate–a motile predatory alga type consisting of a single cell per individual–this remarkable enormous “eyespot” that is far more than the dot of phototaxic pigment we learned about in in Biology 101 that you saw something like Euglena for modifying the flagellum to vaguely move towards the light for improved photosynthesis.

This is a true “camera eye”, not a simple eyespot, and so like an animal eye it was once thought to be a digestive remnant of something this dinoflagellate had ingested.

In this case, the eye-covering “cornea” and light-refracting “lens” are made up of inter-connecting mitochondria, that you probably learned about as the “powerhouse” ATP generating parts of a typical cell.

The lower portion that is red in this illustration (Credit: Hoppenrath and Leander) consists of plasmids, whose general purpose typically is to convert light to energy (like chloroplasts.) And these, ostensibly, convey chemically (since there are no nerves) a message to the organism to–well, it is not known what or how this happens.

Dinoflagellate “eyes” then predate animal “camera eyes” of even the most primitive vertebrates by many hundreds of million years, solving the same “problem” with a remarkably similar solution from molecular parts on hand.  The technical name for this duplication of solutions is “convergent evolution.”

Having a term for it, I suppose, helps; but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered, even as I marvel at the answers living matter finds to carry on.

Plankton’s ‘eye’ made up of organelles, study suggests – Technology & Science – CBC News

Single-Celled Planktonic Organisms Have Animal-Like Eyes, Scientists Say | Biology |

Single-celled predator evolves tiny, human-like ‘eye’

Human-like ‘eye’ in single-celled plankton: Mitochondria, plastids evolved together — ScienceDaily

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Our Martins Thu, 02 Jul 2015 13:46:13 +0000 Continue reading Our Martins ]]> The tall pole for three years held up an empty two-story penthouse that could have sheltered up to a dozen pairs of purple martins and their young. Until this spring, those little hotel rooms were empty, and only once before–early last spring–did a single martin circle cautiously, almost landing, but moving on.

So I held my breath in early May when not one but two martins spirographed high over the barn, in time spiralling lower and lower in their tight or sweeping bezier swirls, finally landing on the front porch and tentatively inspecting apartment 1B. They quickly deemed it acceptable, and moved in. Yes!

This has pleased me far more that it would many homeowners, and at first I was at a loss to explain this warm fuzzy satisfaction over a couple of birds. But here’s the thing:

These are no longer just any birds. These are OUR birds. They have chosen the same living space as we have, and most waking hours, when we’re active, so too are these birds–our martins. They are likely to return to this same high perch in front of our barn next year, and perhaps their young that will born here will also return to be “our birds” just like their parents, and on and on for generations after we’re gone from here.

I do not use the possessive when I claim them as our birds, but intend a kind of mutual connection, and one that is not generic, not anonymous but particular. Like we recognise “our black rat snake” who we look for basking above the sliding doors of the barn or Waldo the brown water snake (as in “where’s waldo?) hiding but findable in the rocks of the barns foundation. In other years, we’ve had our ten point buck, our black bear sow, our pasture-hunting coyote, our barn-basement groundhog or albino fox squirrel.

Yes, these two martins out of all the world’s martins make me smile–they, and the other creatures around us that have names, that exist here with faces, with histories and personalities, with a place within our shared space that makes all of this OURS together, a complete community–a common unity on a common landscape for a shared season before migrating to South America for the winter.

So this simple fact weaves a fine thread but an important one, knitting together a life here that is more whole and complete, at least in my odd book, than if our martin house stood idle for one more year.

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Thoughts About Place Wed, 01 Jul 2015 12:29:07 +0000 Continue reading Thoughts About Place ]]> October_09_0794pasture480It started out as an assignment, sort of, for Tommy Bailey’s book, Floyd Folks.

Which, btw, if purchased in town (say, at the Floyd Community Market) will send proceeds to support  the market.

The version of my little part of that effort uploaded this week to is a tweak of the chapter in Floyd Folks.

To Know Our Place @

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Cat Does Not Have Blogger’s Tongue Tue, 30 Jun 2015 12:14:05 +0000 Continue reading Cat Does Not Have Blogger’s Tongue ]]> Fragments: via Fracture app on iPhone 5s
Fragments: via Fracture app on iPhone 5s

While it does not register even the tiniest twitch on the digital Richter Scale, it’s kind of a big deal on my personal  storyline (circa 2002) when there are few words and pixels here at Fragments for much of May and June.

No the cat does not have my tongue or my keyboard for that matter. There are reasons, and there are excuses, and there is some truth to the fact that said cat has my writer’s mojo wrapped up in a hot June-July blanket of lethargy and ennui as happens this time every year. The hotter it gets, the less I want to be sociable.

I am at my most advanced level of curmudgeonly achievement around the time of the Summer Solstice–the hot-weather form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, as I have confessed before.

Add to that three out of town trips, two sets of out of town company, two automotive car-tastrophies, lots of civic editing and committee-meeting, the building of  the new Poultry Palace (anybody got laying hens for sale?) and far less Fred-time than I once had before the semi-retirement of Spouse.

On the issues front, there is no shortage of concerns, this morning’s being the combined disasters of wildfires in CA, WA and AK that are terrible for that’s happening to people and other living things on the ground, but from the larger view, for the portent for soils, watersheds, CO2 and soot and in Alaska, the impact of such additional heat on permafrost release of methane.

Alaska wildfires have burned over a million acres — and fire season still has a long way to go – The Washington Post

As if all that was not explanation enough for the Perfect Yawn–the opposite of the Perfect Storm to smother the flames of a 13-year-old blog–I have largely lost whatever zeal I used to gain from the blog-visiting community that for years made me feel energized, empowered and somehow obliged to tell my story, our story or to offer one biology-watcher’s perspective of the planet’s story as our “personal ecologies” impact the future.

So I’m in a mell of a hess, dear diary. My premise from June 2002 when this blog became a “permanent” part of my life was that I could come to know what I thought by seeing what it would be that I would say about any given topic of a morning. It didn’t matter WHAT topic, premeditated or spontaneous, as long as it was authentic, in some way edifying, entertaining for readers or fun to write or satisfying to show an image from nearby nature.

So I’m in a quandary. If I don’t write to the blog for any or all of those reasons above, I don’t very well know what I think. Lacking the intent to write, I don’t do the research or dwell in the contemplation of or take the care to get any deeper into a subject than a trivial surface browsing.  And that is not a state of disengagement I should be content with just yet. I am not ready to sit idly and silently rocking on the front porch, scowling at a world about which I have nothing to say.

I just don’t know where to take the conversations I used to have on the blog. Times have changed but Facebook is not my bully pulpit. I suppose I have some catching up to do with the times. Come here, cat: let me tall you a story.

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Minnewaska: Ulster County NY Catksills Tue, 23 Jun 2015 12:28:31 +0000 Continue reading Minnewaska: Ulster County NY Catksills ]]> IMG_0450SteveFlyBranch480Sorry, we have house guests and such so only a link to some images from the recent NY trip this morning.

First use of a new “story-telling” app called Grapewise. Maybe I missed some of the potential for this tool on first use, but will need to see more from this to be tempted to use it further.

A few images at Grapewise. Seems you can’t click from one to the next. Meh.

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Catskills Part One: Kaaterskill Falls Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:34:52 +0000 Continue reading Catskills Part One: Kaaterskill Falls ]]> Upper Kaaterskill Falls
Upper Kaaterskill Falls Creek, a rock cairn accents the view, mid-stream

Kill this. Kill that. Fishkill. Peekskill. Fresh Kills. Say what?

Okay. It’s a Dutch term meaning creek or waterway (a vestige of the area’s colonial past) and found its way into Catskill–ONE name for this dissected assortment of variously protected natural areas in New York State. The geology seemed familiar in places to me as someone familiar with the Ridge and Valley and Allegheny Plateau geology:

Geologically, the Catskills are a mature dissected plateau, a once-flat region subsequently uplifted and eroded into sharp relief by watercourses. The Catskills form the northeastern end of, and highest-elevation portion of, the Allegheny Plateau (also known as the Appalachian Plateau).

Although the Catskills are sometimes compared with the Adirondack Mountains further north, the two mountain ranges are not geologically related, as the Adirondacks are a continuation of the Canadian Shield.

Similarly, the Shawangunk Ridge, which forms the southeastern edge of the Catskills, is part of the geologically distinct Ridge-and-Valley province, and is a continuation of the same ridge known as Kittatinny Mountain in New Jersey and Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania.

The reference to the “CAT” of the region’s name is in some debate, and there have been many who argued for something less Dutch and more distinctive in contrast to the competing mountains in nearby states:

The locals preferred to call them the Blue Mountains, to harmonize with Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It was only after Washington Irving’s stories that Catskills won out over Blue Mountains, and several other competitors.

And so Kaaterskill Falls inherited a name early on when the mountain label was still being established. It is the highest waterfall in NY state, and most likely, the most dangerous for the typical tourist to reach, as it requires a death-defying cliff-hugging scamper along a massively-busy Winnebago-traveled highway over the quarter mile that separates the parking lot from the trail at the base of the falls. Caveat emptor.

What we didn’t know until later that day was that traffic was WAY up because an impending major music festival (25k strong) near Tannersville–our original destination, aborted for less-traveled places that evening and the next day. And more on that, anon.

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Klingon Devil Pods: Trapa natans Wed, 17 Jun 2015 11:01:02 +0000 Continue reading Klingon Devil Pods: Trapa natans ]]> IMG_4349devilpods480And it turns out that the name we gave it– “Devil Pods”– is one of the historically-used “common names” for this plant. It took us a while to finally conclude that it was indeed a plant, since the pods seem to be made of a very hard alien material rather than any botanical matter we’d ever seen.

So had concluded at first that these were actually baby Klingons, dropped at Kingston Point Park along the Hudson. But then I knew that I had seen images of this bizarre thing from the web on Planet Earth, so as we drove towards our next destination (Massawaska State Park) I attempted to ID the six (empty non-viable) pods we brought with us.

And in this I failed. But my friend’s daughter back home that evening googled “Catskills black seed” and it was the first item listed. Go figure: the range extends from Virginia to Canada. And a friend for dinner that night–a kayaker–recognized the pods immediately and with some loathing as “Water Chestnut.” And it has both a good and a bad reputation–the former, back in Asia from which this invasive derived, the latter among those who fancy open surfaces on  waterways.

Also called water caltrop, water chestnut, buffalo nut, bat nut, devil pod, and ling nut, this water-rooted plant can quickly choke waterways.

“Water chestnut was first observed in North America near Concord, Massachusetts in 1859. The exact path for the introduction is unknown. It has been declared a noxious weed in Arizona, Massachusetts, North Carolina and South Carolina and its sale is prohibited in most southern states.

“Water chestnut can grow in any freshwater setting, from intertidal waters to 12 feet deep, although it prefers nutrient-rich lakes and rivers. Presently, the plant is found in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, with most problematic populations occurring in the Connecticut River valley, Lake Champlain region, Hudson River, Potomac River and the upper Delaware River.”

I should mention that we found these botanical land mines on a sandy beach near the volleyball nets. I still think they were dropped on our planet with sinister intent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Water Chestnut (Trapa natans)

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The Creature (Dis)comforts of Air Travel Tue, 16 Jun 2015 11:36:48 +0000 Continue reading The Creature (Dis)comforts of Air Travel ]]> It had been months in the planning. A college buddy invited me to his home in Westchester County, NY. On Saturday I would speak at the Pound Ridge Reservation Trailside Museum. On Thursday and Friday he and I would hike in the Catskills. But there were issues at both airports that made getting there an ordeal.

First there was the altercation with TSA that resulted in the letter below, crudely typed in flight while I was still fuming and indignant. Then at my destination, I suffered the consequences of the airline cavalierly moving my flight FOUR HOURS earlier than scheduled less than 24 hours in advance of departure. My friend’s day did not let him blow off planned meetings to fetch me home. So I sat and waited. Sort of.

I got to spend three hours like a street person at LaGuardia, where when you pick up your baggage, they want you OUTTA THERE and provide no place to sit except where you see me splayed out in the window. Color me disgusted with air travel at that point.

But in spite of some other glitches, we landed on our feet in the Catskills, and perhaps more about that soon. I offer my letter, just as a way of venting, and can’t imagine I’ll bother to pretend that sending it would do anything more than add all my personal details to a database watch-list and risk of future harassment, should, God forbid, I EVER have to get on an airplane again.

To Whom if May (or May Not) Concern at TSA

A micro leather man tool on my keychain was confiscated by TSA. It included a blade maybe an inch long and this was deemed a sufficient threat to do what? Somebody could do more damage with a large paper clip. Are paper clips “illegal”? Hair pins? Please offer some common sense maximum-permissible blade length that is determined by potential lethality.

I find it hard to believe that no effort has been made to provide convenient  access to prepaid mailers at public airports. If available these could be purchased quickly so that when small items of great personal value are confiscated at check-in they do not end up for sale. I was told taken items are sold, and this is disturbing.

Taken items should be incinerated so that opportunists with government contracts do not profit. Found items are one thing. TAKEN items should not benefit anyone–especially any entity doing business with the government.

This Leatherman tool was a special gift from my daughter and when it was taken I was given no real option other than to miss my flight to prevent this from being held and sold. That is unacceptable. Please arrange additional options for mailing personally valuable items to our homes rather than having the only choice be  “you can run it back to your car” parked a half mile across the blistering asphalt with 20 minutes before boarding. I am not O J Simpson. My checked luggage was by then already out of the terminal.

I saw your sign asking for input to TSA and have the faint hope that our tax dollars pay for someone at the other end who both listens and has the will and the authority to respond appropriately to disturbing experiences like what has just happened to me on June 10 at 115pm at the Roanoke VA airport.

I encourage TSA to rethink their rules to avoid making airports into increasingly threatening, obnoxious places for peaceful travelers while doing less than necessary to protect us from true threats. Please devote more of your time to consistently detecting truly lethal items and less to the harassment of law-abiding passengers for such low-threat items as a one-inch fingernail-pick.

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Homeland Security: Locally Intact Mon, 15 Jun 2015 13:00:46 +0000 Continue reading Homeland Security: Locally Intact ]]> I know how anxious you have all been during the silence at Fragments since last week, but want to assure you that all is quiet on the western front, and I come back from my adventures in NY state to find the homelands secure.

I will, perhaps, have a story of my encounter with TSA and post my letter to them for your approval, or for you to tell me I’d be crazy to send it, or “why bother.” But hey, there was a wall sign imploring me and my fellow travelers to tell them how they are doing. Boy, will I tell them.

I’ll have stories, possibly, about places and plants and word rambles along the way and the usual ruminations that end up every time (once every 5-10 years) that I travel.  But, there is indeed no place like home. And on the Fortinet Threat Map, I am relieved to find that not a single cyber-attack from China or Russia is focused on Goose Creek.

As for the rest of the world as we know it, there are rumors of war. Do take a quick peek at this real-time cyber-threat map and imagine what it will look like when the skirmishes of the past blossom to all-out web-infrastructure attack. It’s only a matter of time.

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The Cry of a Baby, The Big Eyes, The Innocence Mon, 08 Jun 2015 11:09:25 +0000 Continue reading The Cry of a Baby, The Big Eyes, The Innocence ]]> A fleeting glimpse of a mother and her baby
A fleeting glimpse of a mother and her baby from my image archives, 2005

Since the severe snow-covered winter of 2009, the “rats on stilts” as I used to call them have not been the constant army against us that they once were.

So now instead of fifteen deer of an evening browsing cavalierly at the end of the pasture, we’ll see a couple now and then, or none at all.

They have even left us our hostas and rhododendron alone, items that were once on the menu of our Deer Salad Park, as I used to refer to our garden and landscaping.

The deer population–at least in our remote corner of Floyd County–is certainly in better balance than it once was. The increasing coyote population may also play a role in that. Even so, deer are still one of our chief disturbers of forest diversity, eating the ginseng, the morels, the young browse of hardwoods , and committing acts of terrorism against our Floyd County Subarus.

And so given all this, I have to question why my wife and I acted so urgently and quickly out of parental instincts to save a fawn from  the annoyances of our dog yesterday. The pitiful bleating triggers the “baby crying in the next room” kind of reflex, and we rushed to protect the innocent, even though it was the young of an animal population still not quite in balance with the forests and fields they live in.

The fawn suffered no trace of physical injury from the dogs persistent pursuit, but will likely be in therapy for the rest of its days from the trauma of being chased in and out of the creek bed near the pasture where its mother had left it yesterday afternoon.

With considerable inelegant thrashing about in the creek to corner the dog, in the absence of a leash, I tied the sleeve of my red Goretex raincoat to Gandy’s collar.  Ann gathered up the tiny deer out of the cold water.

As I escorted the dog back to the house, she looked back over her shoulder often to follow what was happening. Ann carried the passive bundle of stickly legs, big eyes and spots back to the place on Nameless Creek where it had flushed when the dog almost stepped on it.

I was looking back, too, because if the mother deer was close by, she would be aggressive–as we have experienced before–in the defense of her fawn. It’s a little unnerving to confront a full grown deer that is snorting and stamping and full of maternal hormones and hard-wired to defend her baby.

The pasture grass is shoulder high. There may be a half dozen baby deer hidden in our field. So for the next few weeks, we will carry a leash–each of us, just in case.

We need not risk our necks if the choice is saving Bambi or saving our old bones. But we probably will rush to the rescue, and we know it. I mean really: what are ya gonna do?

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