Landscape, Place and Memory

This topic of recent interest holds the potential for a vastly expanded ramble, with a point and even a conclusion perhaps, in another life time. But for now…

Suffice it to say that I have been revisiting the mysteries of memory, and the various historical ways humans have possessed it, or lost it–individually and collectively.

And so, beyond the arcane details of the “Major System” of phonetic numeric memory, the Locus System of memory palaces, the Vaughn Memory Cube, the Peg System and the world of synaptic chemistry of remembering that we are just beginning to understand, I’ve come across other diversions down other rabbit trails.

Briefly, to be further explored…

At some point the Gregg Shorthand characters are apparently derived on the same basis as the major system phonetic-based number system where f and v are homonyms, as are t and d, ch and sh, hard k and hard g. The historic roots of “shorthand” go back to Tiro (who died in 4 BC), Marcus Tullius Cicero’s slave and personal secretary. Many of his scribbles persisted as letters of today’s English alphabet. Greggs came along much later (1880’s).

Gregg’s system puts down the SOUNDS of the speaker, not the English spelling. The Major memory system does the same, and accounts for the method by which memory champions remember telephone books and pi to 300 places.

This matters to me because I so often heard my mother recoiling from her memories of her shorthand teacher in high school. I was so impressed with mom’s ability to jot down phone conversations in that cryptic curlycue writing that I learned a bit myself when I went back to get the PT masters in 1987 and needed to get down as much information as my hands could master.

But what really resonated with me in this revisiting the history of memory is that in pre-literate civilizations, memory was pegged to landscape. Lacking a written language, the memory “locus” system was based on PLACE. And so the rivers and forests, birds and mammals, mountains and deserts were both landmarks and memory marks for the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation.

STONEHENGE: was it erected as a shrine to a civilization’s collective story at the highest level, with each stone being the peg upon which tribal history was hung? There is support for that notion.

Lynne Kelly (science writer) – Wikiwand

This ancient mnemonic technique builds a palace of memory | Aeon Ideas

The Indigenous memory code – All In The Mind – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

One Word, Benjamin: Plastics

This advice was innocent enough, in a smarmy and ominously-prescient sort of way when the “the graduate” got this insider tip so many decades ago. It was certainly the way the world of profit and growth were going, even then, on our way to a shrink-wrapped future.

And woe to us, the tsunami of plastic has continued unabated ever since. From where you sit to read this, how many seconds does it take for you to find five objects made partly or entirely of plastic?

And now we have reaped the whirlwind of hormonal and other poorly-considered health issues from the biochemical to the biosphere level, as a consequence of so many Benjamins grabbing for the golden ring of plastics-for-profit.

It has been a wonderful-terrible answer to our problems of packaging and fabricating the temporary conveniences of our lives the last half of the last century. But by the middle of the present century, we must have broken our plastics addiction, for a vast number of reasons.

So now we can’t hope for a carbon-free future if it is not also plastics-free. We are overdue to find a replacement, while dedicating all manufacturing to “redesign plastics without harmful pollutants, reform regulation to account for low doses that may have harm, and recharge health advocates.”

If you have questions about what impact plastics are having on human and marine and any-other-biology or about what alternatives are currently being researched to help us break our plastics habit, you’re in luck.

The first Plastic Health Summit was held this year.

Even At The Gates

I looked up from the kitchen window about 10 minutes before we were to depart for a hike and pot-luck across the county.

WhatDaWhat! There not thirty feet away was a cluster of bittersweet (you never find just ONE Oriental Bittersweet vine because hundreds of seeds have fallen from the plant the year before, and many new sprouts also strangle the host tree and twine around others of their kind as well.

I reached for the loppers, since cutting the sapling at the base was the only remedy. And yet, this is no remedy.

I drug the whole mess down to my truck, and there it will stay until our next bonfire Weiner roast. To discard it in any other manner only spreads Medusa’s head in other seas.

And so what if one small group of vines does not drop seed this year? The cut vines still remain–to big to pull out of the ground. And within a hundred yards are a hundred other vines, climbing up the white pines in the powerline right-of-way.

I know this. And yet to do nothing with invasives coming right to the edge of the yard and in my face was a challenge I could not ignore.

And yet, in a hundred years, the flora of this place will be dominated by plant species from other continents. And maybe people born then will accept Stilt Grass, Multiflora Rose, and Oriental Bittersweet and admire them for their positive qualities, not knowing what would have grown in those places during their great great grandparent’s age.

Extirpated, Eradicated, Extinct

Passenger pigeons: From many to none.

We were walking down our pasture loop yesterday, and for some reason, I remembered when we first walked this path in 1999, we often saw flying squirrels that would drive the dog-of-the-day crazy. Not any more. It’s been years since we saw the last one.

And ruffed grouse: We’d hear their low-frequency drumming in the woods almost every time we went down the valley, some times of the year.

Red squirrels: Mountain Boomers, they’re called. I’d see them from the back porch, three or four at a time, chasing each other or the gray squirrels they seem to have a natural loathing for.

Whippoorwills: we heard them without fail every spring for the first ten years we lived here. Nope. None for the past decade.

Fortunately, these species are not gone completely and forever. They are only missing from our local landscape by my observations, and maybe all these kinds of macro-vertebrate animal have come to where you live and you see them regularly. I hope so. But I have little reason to think that’s the case.

It would be hard to tease out exactly why the range of some animals changes from year to year. But looking at global numbers of plant and animals species and populations, the news is not good. And it is not just local range retractions but large-scale ecosystem declines of entire webs of inter-related plants, animals, fungi and microbes taking place with increasing frequency and breadth across all biomes.

Two hundred species go extinct every day, the latest studies project.

Imagine: today, the Eastern Chipmunk. Thursday, the robin. Friday the raven. Saturday, the Monarch Butterflies. Sunday the silver maple.

These are conspicuous, named and familiar creatures we’d miss if they weren’t there. We’d be alarmed if we could actually see extinction, like so many lights across the globe that wink out suddenly. The very last one of its kind dies, and that is the end of the genetic line forever. We can’t see those lights going out, but be assured it is happening. And this Sixth Great Extinction is not new and it is not something we can blame on natural cycles.

The increasing number of humans on the Earth; the voracious appetites we have for stuff and the enormous footprint we leave in our wake of resource consumption; and now the extra heat our carbon era has left in the atmosphere—all of this disturbance of natural checks and balances is rapidly leading to a planet unlike the one experienced by living things, maybe not EVER, but certainly over the 200k years of hominid presence or the 10k years of proto-civilization.

Every living organism on every continent and in every biome is being challenged by the changes Homo sapiens has created. And our arrogance has us thinking we will be just be about our business of doing what is best for our own kin, corporation or country. And in the end, it will be self-absorbed indifference and willful ignorance that will do us in.

Extirpated. Eradicated. Extinct. As species disappear, we are burning the precious books–the last and only existing copies–from the Library of Life. Few of the species whose way of life has brought this about seem bothered by this emergency. Humankind may yet be a self-terminating species, but it will not be because we did not see it coming.

A Cicadian Pox of Conidial Pustules

Yes, it does sound like a medieval incantation of doom. This is one for you from Nature’s Book of Bad Dreams.

Seems we have among us a fungus that infects periodic cicadas in a most bizarre and ghoulishly effective way. So if you find said insect with its back half white, it is a flying salt-shaker of death to others of its kind. It will not turn you into anything more or less than what you have been. OTOH…

The white pustule is a teeming mass of fungal spores, that, when germinated in the tissues of a passing cicada, turn it into a living zombie, roaming the world for weeks with its hind-most parts replaced by the fungus that has eaten it alive. Note that the fungus, too, has periodicity so to be timed to “bloom” along with the emergence of its meal and meal ticket.

During its zombification, the chances of spores finding other victims are increased by the fact that chemicals are released by the spores (including a couple of known human hallucinogens, but you’d have to eat a bucket full of insects to get a, er, buzz.) These drugs induce male cicadas to produce sounds typical of females to lure in other males not yet infected. And also infected males respond by seeking out calls of both sexes, thereby increasing the odds of contact and contagion.

Order it by name: Massospora cicadina