Happy Anniversary Plate Tectonics!

5 Dec

Fifty years ago, the ideas of plate tectonics crashed into the earth science arena. First proposed in the early 1900’s by Alfred Wegener, the hypothesis that continents drifted around the planet like floating icebergs was naysayed. He could not explain how or why.

In 1967, while many of us were wearing flowers in our hair and inciting a revolution, Dan McKenzie and his colleague Bob Parker at Scripps Institute in California (and independently, Jason Morgan at Princeton Univsersity) put together pieces of the puzzle and described how plates move and continents drift. They started their own revolution.

Geology was changed, like a volcano erupting in the field. Not only does geological evidence confirm plate tectonics, but also biological. Fossils of some species of plants and animals are located within specific areas on continents where they adjoined each other. Those continents are now separated by thousands of miles of ocean.

Plate tectonics and continental drift have awed me since I was a child. I have no idea why, except that they are like a memory of deep time. And seeing examples and remnants of plate tectonics and continental drift is like looking at old family photos. I’m captivated.

In honor of the anniversary of plate tectonics theory, follow the link to a poem I wrote years ago. Ode to Plate Tectonics.  Meanwhile, enjoy your daily ride on your continental plate.

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Sagebrush

12 Mar
Sagebrush.

Its aroma is almost an aphrodisiac.

It is the timeless scent of an ancient organism
that evolved with the sand and deserts
of the Great Basin.

Many of the Artemesia spp. are very aromatic; their leaves lush with terpenoids. These aromatic lipids are volatile and will relinquish their scents when leaf cells are crushed, or even under the right weather conditions.

Adding to the symphony of volatile compounds are the three isoprene rings that build the  sesquiterpenoids; lactones that repel herbivory, invite the sagebrush checkerspot butterfly to lay their eggs, and gall midges to build galls to house their nymphs.

But they also attract humans that cherish the yin and yang of their leaves and scent. The silver hairs, the trichomes, on the leaf surfaces that catch the sun and dew; the aroma they impart when crushed between fingers, the scent when scattered upon a fire.

In a harsh land where sun and sand cover the earth,

in the shadow of the mountains,
sagebrush provides shade for sage grouse,
structure for fly nymphs,
caterpillar homes,
and an aroma that
sits
and
waits
between the fingers
of the Ancient Ones.
Sagebrush,
all Artemesias,
are my spiritual plants.

Coyote Woman

21 Jan

We, the Coyote Women, stand together today.
Viva la donna selvaggia!

Coyote Woman
by Carolyn Dunn

From the deep hills
and dark wet
earth,
a bay moon of time
and after-rain, she moves glistening
past wild alata
jimson smoke, cedar
and sage.
He has called her
one last time
and it is in her blood
to answer.
Woman,
he calls,
will you ever
heed me?

Laughing,
baring her eyeteeth,
she moves the rough
the burning sky
cloaking the black earth
with fur.
Tell me a story,
she whispers,
a sound only
he can hear,
a sound about the crying
of last night’s
feast.

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Coyote Woman Waits, artist Susan B. Boulet

A story,
he says,
about a dog of a woman
who won’t answer
the call
of the one who
tamed her first
by voice,
then by touch,
then by song.

A story,
she whispers,
of land
and longing
and winds
that terraced over mountains,
across plains,
bringing madness
from the land
of our birth.
These are our worlds,
formless,
yet from within
the story of my heart,
the part of me
you could not take
away.

I’m dying,
he said
and there will be nothing
left but willows,
palm bark,
and voices
in the trees.
What will you sing
when my bones
in the ground
turn to dust?

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A cry to the moon,
she answered,
the wind
a breath from
a fire’s touch
upon your skin.
I’ll sing a song
of death,
a toll for you
who trapped my voice
with your pale touch.
My voice is my own
and no wax,
no sealing string,
no empty hole
can keep it from moving
on the wind
across simmering
black canyons, pine, and
chaparral.

And my voice
will never leave
this land,
lighting fires
and fountains,
from here
to your
soul.

From The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

Creation Turtle

15 Jan

Wiley, the Midget Coyote, and She took a break in their routine to hike in Closed Canyon along the Rio Grande del Norte.

“Wow! This is a neat place!”

“Yup. Canyons, like many land forms, are like books. When you open a book in the middle and read the two flanking pages, you might wonder just how the story led there and where it goes. You might thumb through previous pages, or perhaps those leading to the end. Unless you read all the pages, you are left with pieces of narrative, dialogue and pictures that lie in wait for the whole story. That is what canyons are.

Canyons are slices in the upper layers of the planet we live on. Yet these levels we see were once buried deep in the earth’s crust, flowed from places  far away, or crashed into by other layers and heaving them up. As in Santa Elena Canyon,  there may be bumpy levels of stone made of accumulated bodies of minute sea animals. Or, as in Closed Canyon, they might be hard sleek cliffs of what was once flowing molten rock.

In essence, Wiley, canyons are open books, their steep cliffs pages of time and accumulated activity, far far greater than we can imagine. Layers of differential stone and rock, colors and form, tell us pieces of stories, events long before mammals and humans walked the surface. Remains of living entities that precede us may lie in wait to provide a dialogue enriching the story. Canyons talk to you if you listen.”

Wiley stood still. “Well, I hear things, but not sure what canyons talk like. Do they growl like me? Yip? Grunt like Josephine? This is like my Home where I was a pup.  Sort of.”

“The canyon is a bit different than those you remember, aren’t they?”

“Yup. This one is only big enough for two of us coyotes to run in side-by-side.”

“It’s called a slot canyon, Wiley.”

“Hey, remember I am ‘Coyote‘!”

Sigh. “Yes, Wiley; you are that, too.” She and Wiley sat on a big boulder.

Wiley took a deep breath and then……. “Okay, so this is my turn to tell a story. They say…..  Are  you writing this down? I can’t hear talking pages, you know.”

“I am writing your story, Wiley.  I will read aloud the talking pages to you so you can hear them.”

“Okay. So.

They say this is the way it was, long ago. When Sky  Woman fell from Sky World and down towards the Great Water world, Turtle saved her. He swam underneath her and she fell on his back.

When she did, Turtle’s feet pushed mud up underneath him so they would both not drown. The mountains, valleys and oceans formed underneath them. Where his claws dug into the mud, water flowed and they grew into rivers. So the world grew from Turtle’s back, the mud underneath him, and Sky Woman’s songs.

Some of those claw marks in the mud lost their water. Some are narrow, like this here, and some are wider, like those where I grew up. Yet, when waters fall from Sky World and call on Turtle and Sky Woman below, that water will run through these gashes in the mud that is now rock. They look and search for Turtle and Sky Woman. And they take pieces of the rock mud with them when they go. That is how they remember how this world was created.

That was how it happened, they say. A long time ago.”

“That was a good nature story, Wiley.”

“What is this ‘nature’ ? What do you mean?”

“It is many things. It is the water in the well that was there before any of us came to be. It is also the bucket into which we put things, or ‘the’ things we call ‘Nature’. And it is a leaky  bucket.”

“What do you put in the bucket?”

“We put in things we meet: lions, thunder, wind, water, rocks,  you. Some people see only a bucket with one thing and call it ‘Nature’. Or they see only certain things in the bucket that they call ‘Nature’. Or things that have already been called ‘Nature’. ”

“But how did all those things get in the well?”

“Ah, well, that depends on who you ask, or who is looking. Some of us humans believe that things have been in there long before we could see them, and probably many things that we can’t see or even know about. Yet.

Many of these things were not created in the human mind, or in any living thing’s mind. They just ‘are’. Or ‘are not’. ”

Wiley said, “I don’t know about this ‘Nature’ thing. I only know I have to find food to eat. If I don’t, I may starve, maybe even die. Or I might become food for something else. Is that in the well, too?”

“Well, that is more an interaction with other things in the well. That tends to be put into the bucket, too, sometimes. Just as sometimes that tends to leak out,” She replied.

Wiley paused, then asked, “So, is Nature only those things that we see, touch, smell, taste, hear, and….?”

“Yes and no. It is all those things. We put all those things we encounter matching our world into a container. But Nature also does things on its own – with no containers. It did so long before we arrived with our buckets and it will continue to do so long after we are done with our looking and investigating and leaves it alone. Because it is a only word in our language. And a very leaky bucket.

Shall we continue on our hike?”

“Yeah. But can we leave the bucket behind for now?

I’m going to teach you how to stalk. You need to learn how if  you are going to hunt rabbits like I do. First you have to get low to the ground. Then move slowly and quiet, so the rabbit won’t know you are there. Hide behind a rock or tree, or slide along side this canyon side. See those rabbits up there? I’m watching your back.”

 

“Those aren’t rabbits, Wiley. Those are people.”

“So! You can pretend they are rabbits! That way you can practice for when you do see a real rabbit.”

“Okay, Wiley. Can I get up now?”

“It sure took them a long time to crawl around that deep pool of water. I’m getting thirsty……”

“We’ll just sit here and watch them. Here, have some water from my bottle.”

“Good, ’cause I don’t think I could get out of that pool. I wonder if Turtle is in there……”

(Original story written by this author in 2011 and published in issue of ‘Alpine Daily News,’ Alpine, Texas, 2013)

Voices other than our own

4 Jan

“When we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing speech of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.”
– David Abram

I hope we never lose the voices of sandhill cranes.

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Sandhill cranes under full moon, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

 

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May this year bring Peace to all life

1 Jan

new-years

Flying High

6 Nov

Last night on the way back from town, I observed and drove along with a flock of ~250-300 sandhill cranes returning to the refuge from foraging north of here. (Couldn’t do an accurate flight count and drive at the same time.)

Observing the flight dynamics of this group was really quite interesting. Unlike Canada geese that typically form several dynamic ‘V’ patterns, this flock of cranes did not. Except for the front ‘V’ with a very truncated side ‘arm’ of five individual cranes, the rest of the flock was one long linear flock stretching for a few miles.

Typically with geese the front leading bird of the ‘V’ formation frequently changes, trading places with nearby individuals. This seems logical because energy is then conserved among the leading birds. Not so with this flock. The leading crane never left its position as lead and never ‘coasted’ in flight, aka never altering or ceasing wing-flap flight. I was impressed, but also suspected it was very energy consumptive. Additionally, the five cranes forming the truncated arm behind the leader never changed positions and also never faltered in consistent wing activity.

The cranes following in line behind the leader, on the other hand, often coasted with short periods of folding wings alongside their bodies. Whether this was to rest (energy conservation) or to retain their position in the long line, I cannot be sure. I did notice that some individuals did change positions when some birds slowed or fell slightly out of line. Consequently, the line was truly maintained as one long linear fight pattern! I also wondered how many of these birds were immature cranes who aren’t yet as strong as the older adults, or if they haven’t yet mastered the ‘protocol’ of flying in large flocks. I watched one crane fly under and ahead of five other cranes in front of its former position and fill in a gap in the line. It reminded me of how blackbirds and other flock songbirds change positions while roosting on utility lines, with some hop-scotching to keep a tight and consistent line formation.

I was fascinated by the flock and flying dynamics of these several hundred sandhill cranes! Very different from the geese. Although my original intent was just to monitor where this flock landed, I was treated to an entirely different perspective of flock flying dynamics.

Because questions of daily roosting versus feeding movements and populations of sandhill cranes arose during a meeting between state and federal managers this week, I thought watching where this flock was destined might be interesting. Only a small percentage of the total flock (~24) landed on the small ‘crane ponds’ (small shallow water impoundments just north of the main refuge where cranes often roost). I expected a higher sub-set of this flock to land there. I briefly watched these birds try to locate the members of their family units for roosting overnight, then I drove ahead to monitor the remainder of the flock.

As the larger sub-set of birds approached the center of the refuge where two large impoundments are shallowly flooded for roosting and feeding, the linearity of the flock dissolved as smaller flocks formed and dispersed. Approximately 50% of the flock settled on these impoundments, and the other 50% flew east to roost on the sandbars of the Rio Grande River.

New Mexico state biologists survey populations of waterfowl on the river via aerial surveillance once a month. This refuge conducts feeding surveys every week. We are discussing now whether to incorporate ground roosting surveys for geese and cranes once or twice/month to add to the total data on use of the resources and land in the mid-Rio Grande Valley, especially since most of the cranes now present here are flying north to feed during the day at state-managed refuges (~38 and ~60 miles north of here).

Estimating the light geese roosting population would be easier than that of the cranes because the former typically take flight in one large massive flock. Cranes, on the other hand, usually depart from their overnight roosting places in small family units of 2-4. However, cranes congregate in overnight roosting  flocks at only a few locations on the refuge. Counters posted at each of these locations can easily count the family units and obtain total numbers as they take flight. It might take longer, but it might also be more enjoyable.

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Feeding sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR

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