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)

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.

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

What Native Plants?

Japanese Spirea ~ a beautiful invasive

We rounded the bend on Griffith Creek last week to find a hundred yards of creekside lined thickly with a flat-topped pink-flowered shrub I recognized as Spirea, a member of the rose family.

But the members of the genus I was familiar with are knee-high wildflowers, not shrubs. And seeing the extent of this population, I suspected it was spreading without threat of disease or predators, because it was “not from these parts.”

I sometimes wish I did not notice the invasives that are taking over Floyd County; that are changing the visual space; that are outcompeting or otherwise damaging what used to be endemic North American natives. There are so many forms of “kudzu” these days, and it makes me heart-sick.

At one point, I spent a lot of energy hand-picking the garlic mustard, coltsfoot and Japanese stilt grass; clipping back the multiflora rose, autumn olive and oriental bittersweet from anywhere I came across it within our boundaries.

Now I have acquiesced. I surrender. The bittersweet reaches the tops of young trees under the powerline clearing, having dropped so many seeds already that clipping back the mature vines will have no impact on future infestation. I suppose I have no options but to harden my shell.

I wish I didn’t care. I wish that this out-of-balance state felt okay; that knowing my grandchildren would experience the consequences of biological homogenization–the opposite of biological diversity–in their world and beyond.

It is the price we will pay as a species for the speed and ease with which we travel and ship and transplant from all around the living world. Their native plants and animals are now our pests, nuisances and invaders. And the average person thinks “so what?”

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” Aldo Leopold

(extra)Ordinary Nearby Nature

Ichneumonid wasp on our woodpile a few years back

Horntail wasp just out the back door last week

I’d never seen a horntail wasp until I saw this one last week, but knew at a glance what it was. Note the horn on the tail, just above its rather short, stout ovipositor. It is NOT a stinger.

And so now, I have familiarity with both the predator and the prey. How they interact is truly amazing, and a story I had known about for decades.

This short video below shows excellent details of the Ichneumonid’s remarkable way of getting its egg onto the horntail larva deep inside the trunk of a tree. Worth your time. Trust me.

This is just crazy! And yet, it’s just life for this barely-noticed common wasp.