Fragments from Floyd Photos and Front Porch Musing from Floyd County Virginia Wed, 01 Apr 2015 12:42:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Doggy Delegation: I Come in Peace Wed, 01 Apr 2015 12:39:57 +0000 Continue reading Doggy Delegation: I Come in Peace ]]> A year ago, every time the neighbors shaggy white dog Feather would appear at the margins of our property, Gandy would bristle and charge and invariably run Feather back across enemy lines.

About three months ago, something changed between them. The two dogs, about the same age and size, came to some kind of an agreement. In one of the clauses it must have stated the terms:

1) Feather comes and goes as she pleases but Gandy agrees to remain close enough to home to hear us calling, and NEVER goes to visit at Feather’s house.

2) Feather will arrive not later than 8:00 a.m. (adjusted earlier as the days get longer) and will obediently “go home” upon the command, although if it is too early of an afternoon, she did not sign the agreement to stay home.


3) Each new greeting (upon a human arriving home in a car or upon exiting the back door for any reason) will result in a token offering of any kind (stick, rock, leaf) as act of appeasement.

Yesterday’s offering as I crossed the footbridge fresh home from town struck me as Feather’s Olive Branch of peace. It is a fragment from a privet bush.

IMG_4045feather2I came in and put up groceries, only to come to back door and see that I had failed to adequately accept the dog’s symbolic  indication of her peaceful intentions on our household and our resident dog. The latter was let out the door, promptly to begin the mock-combat they so dearly love, to heck with Feather’s silly gift.

I retrieved the Olive branch to a safe place indoors. It was the diplomatic thing to do.

And even as we speak, four thrashing dog paws are stripping away any remaining grass that once grew in what once was a yard before it became a Saturday Nite Wrastlin’ Rink.

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Gravel Exudes Mystery Salts Tue, 31 Mar 2015 12:21:58 +0000 Continue reading Gravel Exudes Mystery Salts ]]> This is one of the more obscure images ever posted on this blog.

IMG_4021gravel480And it’s exact nature is at question. It is a precipitate from crush-and-run gravel that, if located in an outdoor setting in the sun and rain would look like regular gravel.

This was observed in a location under roof of an extensive metal building in which a great deal of farm equipment is housed.

The owner is distraught to find that the entire floor of gravel from a local quarry looks as if it has been strewn with popcorn or crispy cottage cheese or cat puke. It is not a like powdery chalky discoloration of the gravel but is so dense as to totally obscure the rock from view in most places.

I’d guess it’s a calcium salt precipitate and that maybe there is more limestone in this particular gravel source in the county, which I thought was more generally quartz-granite derived.

So help me here, geology and soil chemistry types. Not sure that anything can be done to solve this farmer’s issues with corrosion, but I’d sort of like to better know what’s going on.

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Future Fuels for Free? Mon, 30 Mar 2015 12:55:35 +0000 Continue reading Future Fuels for Free? ]]> There are enough possibilities for this topic that are based on solid science to warrant a longer look for me, and then there is some over-statement and razzle-dazzle as well. I will let you wander and browse the links and videos on the web sources listed here and you can make your own judgment about it all.

N Tesla’s experiments from more than 100 years ago apparently transmitted electricity over a distance of some miles without wires. This is not the same as transmitting radio waves. This is getting electricity from point A to power devices at point B. The story is that his financier, JP Morgan realized the threat this would represent to his new copper wire transmission of electricity and the funding for competor Tesla was cut off and the inventor emasculated professionally.

There are other stories of similar destruction of prototypes and inventors that threatened the multi-TRILLION dollar energy corporatocracy, and this is not hard to believe. Look at what is happening in our own time with the best interests of future generations taking a back seat to those who will suck and sell every bit of carbon from the ground come hell or high waters. We can be reasonably assured of the latter within your grand children’s lifetimes. The former—well, as the Bible says of the callous rich “they have their reward.”

So it is a fact that power generation without propellants aboard space vehicles is currently under development. See this Press Release from U of Maryland. I have created Google Alerts for RINGS (Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System) that might well power future space flight; and WPR (wireless power transfer.)

This could very well represent the potential for major changes in the need for battery storage and transmission lines from power source to end user, and democratize energy across landscapes and societies currently living in energy poverty with all the spin-off health and well-being hardships that go with lack of electricity.

But of course there are things to think about:

► Could any energy like this be totally FREE if the generator devices are made from increasingly rare minerals and demand is not limited in any way?

► What would it take for the Top Energy Dogs to allow this to happen if they can’t get rich from metered energy?

► What would the consequences of ubiquitous energy from the electromagnetic fields of the planet be to the planet if 1) we don’t take an active role in controlling human population? and 2) If we don’t restructure our economy so that it is not just a bigger better engine to turn planet into profit and now unlimited by energy to do so?

Japanese Scientists Transmit Electricity Wirelessly Through the Air | The Mind Unleashed

Is the Age of Free Energy Already Upon Us? | The Mind Unleashed

Press Release, A. James Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland

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Shifting Baselines: Visible with Age Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:44:14 +0000 Continue reading Shifting Baselines: Visible with Age ]]> I have not said much about my time with the visiting students a few weeks back. I was only with them as a central figure for a couple of hours, and it was an eye-opener.

Granted, most of them were in curricula related to marketing, communications and business and not biology. But their lack of knowledge and therefore of concern about or engagement towards the planetary conditions their generation will face was alarming. I was stunned.

And so I said a bit about this notion of creeping baselines—a luxury of indifference for the young to the wider range of facts that us older biology-watchers are burdened with. At least a few of us are. We have a broader range of comparison and know we are frogs about to boil. It makes us antsy. Not so these otherwise bright and polite young folk.

It adds considerable contrast to my baseline perceptions that I entered the discussion about the time that Rachel Carson made it clear to humanity that our one species actually could and already was causing measurable changes (with attendant mortality) to the living planet.

Until the mid-sixties, we could not fathom the idea of a planet or ecosystem that was not too big to fail. Silent Spring sounded the alarm. The first Earth Day in 1970 was to no small degree a response to that shocking look at Earth’s biochemical baseline creep.

Ocean acidification—”global warming’s evil twin”—is one of those invisible creeping changes that does not elicit much concern for the typical science-indifferent American consumer. The negative log of the hydrogen ion concentration does not mean much to spring-breaking students, especially as the pH number for ocean acidity has not changed many decimal places in their 20 years on the planet. And after all, with a pH of 8 point something, sea water is still basic and not acid, so what’s the big deal?

Think about this as you take your next dozen breaths.

Notice how some are deeper than others. We don’t typically take any notice of this fact. But the chief reason for this change in your breathing rate and depth is a finely tuned mechanism to either conserve or eliminate the hydrogen ions that enter our blood from the metabolism of our food. If too much H+ stays around, all sorts of health issues ensue. Our homeostasis in a state of good health deals precisely with our blood pH through our respiration because if it failed to do so, the out-of-balance state is called SICK.

Marine ecosystems, since I was born in 1948, have continued to become increaasingly sick because the vast majority of the CO2 we emit goes into the oceans (forming carbonic acid), along with most of the heat. And the oceans can’t breathe faster to maintain a steady state, so that…

 “the acidity of the oceans will more than double in the next 40 years. This rate is 100 times faster than any changes in ocean acidity in the last 20 million years, making it unlikely that marine life can somehow adapt to the changes.”[37] It is predicted that, by the year 2100, the level of acidity in the ocean will reach the levels experienced by the earth 20 million years ago.”

That’s more like baseline LEAP than creep, but it doesn’t directly affect me, so why worry about such geeky details? Or that the trees in the Amazon that have been the planet’s land-based lungs to take up CO2 are now failing to do that because they are dying younger due to the warmer climate?

The WHY of such worry is that we (you and me and those young students) are alive and conscious and at some level aware and capable of action at the 11th hour.

The good news is that, at a few seconds before midnight, we are waking up. We’re finding it hard to breathe (in all sorts of metaphorical ways) and we know why the planet and its living systems are sick and have some notion of what needs to be done.

We know that leaving carbon in the ground is where the future must begin. Given all the cards stacked against us, there is room for hope.

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Creek Jots 25 March 15 Wed, 25 Mar 2015 11:36:23 +0000 Continue reading Creek Jots 25 March 15 ]]> SITTING IS THE NEW CIGARETTE SMOKING:

If I was still advising patients about lifestyle choices, I’d most likely advocate that many of them cut calories but also reduce their sitting by half. “But my job requires computer work” they’d counter. And I’d say “There’s an app for that.” I’m considering a standing workstation for my desk at home.

Varidesk: Turn any desk into a standing desk

Treadmill Desk & Standing Desks: Workout at Work with a TreadDesk


Tinnitus. Ringing in the ears. Mine is more like high-pitched insect noises. I mostly have learned to tune them out, to hear around the whine. But if I attend to them, the tiny wings are always there. It is a notoriously difficult condition to treat. Some claim there’s an app for that. (This method assumes you have your “tinnitus frequency” provided by an audiologist. Does Medicare cover such things?)

A new audio app claims to treat tinnitus


As if this really surprises very many people who have been paying attention, it is now publicly stated that the active ingredient in Roundup—glyphosate—“probably” causes cancer, the WHO says. I haven’t seen the stats but I’m guessing this is on as sound a basis as the claim that cigarettes “probably” cause lung cancer. Now that maybe the gloves are off, the list of purported consequences to soil ecology, natural biodiversity and human health deriving from this “miracle herbicide” will make for unpleasant reading knowing that it will take generations to outlive Roundup’s toxic legacy.

17 Scientists Speak Out: Monsanto’s Roundup is Causing Cancer

Study: Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide Probably Causes Cancer | Mother Jones

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Displaced Persons: Recovering from Travel Shock Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:33:29 +0000 Continue reading Displaced Persons: Recovering from Travel Shock ]]> I am thankful that I look forward to returning home when we occasionally travel. Imagine dreading to go back to the familiar routine. We have no such dreads. Anymore. There is that about a dual retirement plan—a recent chapter at Chez HeresHome.

It was cold inside (57 degrees) when we returned from four days with the GRANDS (and their parents of course) on the NC coast. The wood stove is cranking this morning, and it looks like it will be to some degree (!) for at least a few more weeks. But soon, we make the transition from “tyranny to the wood stove to the tyranny of the garden” as I once described it—a major tilt of the planet shift in the center of our lives.

This swing of focus from inside during short days to being outside during long days also means any writing projects I might have had underway will be co-opted by lawnmowers, string trimmers and soil amendments—and it also means hours on the porches with a book, a laptop or free hands and a receptive set of more-or-less intact senses. Life is good at least until mid-June when it grows too hot and I retreat indoors except early and late of a day.

So I have a week’s worth of STUFF for the blog, from which I’ll sift one or two that might be of interest to today’s small cluster of regulars. You know the kind of odds and ends that might end up on Fragments—or as I considered a renaming this weekend to the Breccia Blog.

The featured image is from a neighborhood margin where this certain rock is used in landscaping—as it is all along the interstate within an hour’s drive of the coast. (We stopped there on a walk to turn such rocks and found rolly-pollies for the 7-yr-old’s petting zoo.) Rushing down the interstate this rock only appears rough and gray, but on closer inspection at this pedestrian pace it is obvious that this is sedimentary rock consisting of a limestone “mortar” holding together a dense deposit of bivalve shells.

I have not yet be able to determine the age of such deposits or where along the coast they are mined. But since the original shells of some of the bivalves still persist, I’m thinking it is not old and therefore not a deep deposit, so easily quarried and sold by the dump truck load for a profit.

pilly300So I’m hunkered there ruminating about the history of these random chunks of sedimentary conglomerate and wondering how to learn more about them, and out of nowhere, the word BRECCIA popped into my head. I didn’t know I knew the word. I looked it up when we got little PILLY home to his new home.

Breccia, it turns out, is not quite the right word. It means  “a rock composed of sharp fragments embedded in a fine-grained matrix (as sand or clay). It typically refers to other rocks cemented into a conglomerate. But that word pulled from thin air did lead me to the more appropriate word for this kind of rock—and yes this blog is a kind of breccia. Or maybe just flotsam piled higher and deeper.

And now that I have you at the edge of your seats, here it the best term to describe this shell-packed kind of rock:

“Coquina (/koʊˈkiːnə/; Spanish: “cockle.”) is a sedimentary rock that is composed either wholly or almost entirely of the transported, abraded, and mechanically-sorted fragments of the shells of either mollusks, trilobites, brachiopods, or other invertebrates”

You’re welcome, Scrabble and Hang-The-Man fans everywhere.

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Empty Nets: Fisheries Future? Thu, 19 Mar 2015 09:38:17 +0000 Continue reading Empty Nets: Fisheries Future? ]]> I leave you with a visual, and a word of hope.

Once we were innocent of the knowledge of how much and how quickly our resource demands took from the planet’s finite or slowly-covering stock of stuff. Now we can stop taking before it’s too late. We have eyes in the sky. I’ll feature some of them from time to time here.

This morning, it’s fishing pressure. We know where the boats are.

There are a lot of fishing boats in the sea—and now we can see them. OnEarth

From the opening image of the global fishing map, scroll down for the rest of the story. Its not just the NUMBER of fishing ships that is pushing fish stocks past tipping points. It’s the short sighted but very “efficient” methods of profit-taking that are more like the sub-surface strip mining  of living things.

Having some objective measures of our impact on a failing resource that feeds hundreds of millions, there is currently serious talk of banning fishing on the “high seas”, leaving a sanctuary for some fish stocks.

“A study last year found that a ban would be a triple win: It would increase fishery profits, fishery yields, and improve fish stock conservation dramatically.

Since many fish caught on the high seas also migrate into coastal areas, closing fishing in international waters would both serve as a protected reservoir and cause “spillover,” therefore boosting coastal catches by at least 18%, according to Sumaila’s estimates. If that was achieved, overall catches globally would at least stay the same and probably would increase..” FastCoExist

This is the kind of pro-active thinking that just might allow us to re-order our economy as if the planet and people really mattered.

Related articles

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To See the World in a Wood Roach Gut Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:35:12 +0000 Continue reading To See the World in a Wood Roach Gut ]]> I dropped to my knees like I’d found nuggets of gold. The old chestnut was mixed in with the recent load of firewood I’ve been stacking for next winter. One light tap of the maul, and the straight grain gave way, spilling three fat wood roaches out into the sawdust. I should not tell you how excited I was. I will tell you that the wife was not sympathetic when I offered to let her see more closely the biology lesson wriggling in the palm of my hand.

I suppose it’s an acquired taste, peculiar to biology teachers. And I suppose it was a kind of biology lab nostalgia, remembering that if I had termites or wood roaches at hand, I’d get at least one WOW! from an otherwise unreachable student.

Why? Because the guts of these wood-eating creatures are literally pulsing with life—an ecosystem consisting of dozens—some say hundreds—of specialist microbes (bacteria and protozoans) that have the unique chemical ability to dissolve and digest cellulose, which of course is the chief structural component of plant life. We have our own unique gut microbiome, but the wood roaches is far more interesting to look at through a phase contrast microscope when all you’ve seen before are flat, lifeless, blue-stained prepared slides of onion skin or frog blood.

Symbiotic Organisms in Termites – YouTube

You might watch a half a minute of the termite video just long enough to see the frenetic whirling flagellates (Trichonympha comes to mind) and the oscillating stick-like bacteria do their dance.

But this is more than entertainment. The chemistry of these microbes is getting a lot of recent attention as we look at alternative liquid fuels to replace today’s petroleum based combustibles. If this living chemistry could be mimicked in sufficient quantity, the efficiency of energy conversion would increase hugely. Hopefully then we could avoid growing plants for this purpose and use agricultural wastes instead. But then there’s that much organic residue that is not returning to the soil.

Fuel From Termite Guts? (Brainstorm Ep94) – YouTube

And here’s the thing (you knew there’d be a thing): I’m happy to be among the few that has been privileged to see such an invisible reality as this.

The astronauts came back from space having seen the planet in a different light–through a different lens, you might say. They called that spiritual-philosophical shift “the Overview Effect.”

I think something similar happens when you suddenly comprehend that life goes on in rich variety in a drop of pond water–or a termite’s gut. Maybe we’ll call this way of seeing worlds “the Underview  Effect.”

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The Bad Luck of the Alleghenies: What’s Under the Ground Mon, 16 Mar 2015 13:18:24 +0000 Continue reading The Bad Luck of the Alleghenies: What’s Under the Ground ]]> There was once a wide shallow life-filled sea that filled the bowl to the west of the Crystalline Appalachians—as the Blue Ridge geology is sometimes described. The area is now known as the Cumberland or Allegheny Plateau of the Central Appalachian Basin. Along with the Ridge and Valley Province from Pennsylvania to Alabama, the region’s bedrock consists of sedimentary strata laid down like a two-thousand foot thick layer cake.

When continents collided a few hundred million years ago, it lifted the ancient Blue Ridge higher still and rucked up the Fold-Fault mountains of the Ridge and Valley layer cake that have eroded since into long more-or-less parallel low sandstone ridges above less resistant limestone valleys. But the Allegheny Plateau was not impacted by the pushing and shoving of continents, so there, the layers are relatively undisturbed and neat—one on top of the other.

View the cross sectional image. The horizontal strata of the Allegheny Plateau are to the left of the image, the Blue Ridge to the right.

What is, in the rear view mirror of history, unfortunate for that geological land form (and in the end not so great for its people) is that one of those buried layer components of the ancient oceans consists of the oily carbonaceous deposits of millennia of dead algae and phytoplankton that piled up thick and stayed that way—compressed and in place over the years to form coal.

Or oil shale. And you know the rest of the story. Any place Big Oil can gain access to those deep-dead organic compounds (Carbon in the form of coal, oil or gas) it will do whatever it takes to extract it to the last possible drop. This black-gold rush create lots of jobs, then much fewer as mechanization and Mountaintop Removal replaced pick and shovel mining and the boom went to bust, as natural gas will and already is.

The latest verse of that song is fracking the Marcellus and Utica shale within this same geology—from which is extracted deeper, less efficient, unconventional energy that requires huge amounts of chemical-laden water and whose highest dollar return at the end of thousands of pipeline miles across private property is overseas.

Move over, landowners, just passing through on the way to end users in Europe. With the government in the pocket of industry, eminent domain hangs as a threat to force the taking of the land (and water) of thousands of Appalachian farms and homesteads “for the greater good” of society (provided they own the right corporate stock.)

This is NOT going down well with a people who take their identities from the places they have lived for generations. Communities like Floyd are insisting that they have a say—including veto power—to refuse to allow access and probable risks to the long term health of their land.

What we have here is a growing stand-off—not between NIMBYs and a legitimate only-choice / best-possible way forward in our energy future. It is a struggle between simple folk taking the seven generation view of things, looking at the BIG PICTURE standing resolutely against get-rich-quick maintain-the-status-quo Big Oil Hamfists and their bankers and lawyers and senators and spin-merchants-of-doubt.

The F in FERC is for Federal, and this rubber-stamp agency at the top of the peck order (F may also stand for Fox guarding the hen house) does not give a tinker’s damn about the well-being of you and me.

But the  increasingly organized and geographically spreading opposition is not just speaking out against this or that pipeline to but against PIPELINES and FRACKING and another generation of carbon in the air our great grandchildren will breathe. And in this struggle, we are seeing more clearly those things that we are against, but also those unalienable rights that we stand for.

See Our view: The big picture on the pipeline – Roanoke Times: Editorials

We have to end this HERE and NOW. Investors across the nation are saying NO to coal. Investors in natural gas had better be paying close attention.

Stay tuned. I think we’re about (within a generation or less) to witness a regime change. Or a revolution.



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Seeing the End: What Would You Say? Sun, 15 Mar 2015 11:11:47 +0000 Continue reading Seeing the End: What Would You Say? ]]> After a night on the futon to distance my contagion from the wife, I’ve admitted at the end of four days of symptom creep that I probably have a cold–nothing more than that, most likely. It has been a couple of years since the last one, so I should not whine too much.

I was miserable in the wee hours as my chest ached and the in-the-dark impromptu bed clothes failed to keep my bare feet covered. In my unsleeping misery I wondered if this might be “the big one.” Actuarially speaking, the odds go up each year in this time of life that even simple formerly-trivial health challenges will overwhelm age-weakened immunity and resilience.

But what if you KNEW with cold certainty that your end was near? And if you wrote about it—to better grapple with your own mortality or to leave a message in a bottle to a child, spouse, friend or the world—what would you say?

First Oliver Sachs a few weeks ago, and now Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon, have recently shared publicly their thoughts about impending death. The latter passed away last week, leaving behind his infant daughter born as he was released from his first chemo treatment.

And I guess what I would say in light of these intimate epistles of impending death is that—not always but not infrequently—I’ve seen this inconsequential backwater blog page serving as my letter in a bottle to the future. I have a habit of wanting to see the ground I’m standing on and so I often write from the perspective of an outsider looking in on my own life–and that of the ailing and imperiled planet I’ve been privileged to know so briefly and so superficially. What shape has my time and now my words taken, and why that particular shape, and so what?

If my life were coming to a close in a week, a month, a year—what would I say, and to whom, and so what? Would I blog it? Would time, as Kalanithi describes, become merely a measureless medium through which I simply persist or could the end bring a kind of clarity and energy and sweetness that the deluded “eternally-living” cannot appreciate and employ?

And so, dear diary, I leave myself these two terminal epistles this early Sunday morning (on which I will not take my germs to church) that I will come back to some day. Maybe a few random Fragments visitors will read over my shoulder.

Before I go | Stanford Medicine

Your Dying Words to the World: Oliver Sachs /FragmentsFromFloyd

Message in a Bottle: The Power of Words | Fragments from Floyd March 2012


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