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What is the story?

19 May

This book should be required reading for all scientists, new and old. No exceptions.

Houston we have a narrative.jpeg

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

A Path with Heart

17 Jul

On mountains I lose myself and become one and nothing with everything, and I see things clearly.

To know happiness, one must know pain. To know joy, one must know sadness. To welcome the day, one must know the night. To rejoice in life, one must know death.

The yin and yang is present in all life, in all non-life. It is the Way of everything. Where there is a positive, there is a negative. We cannot always choose one or the other, sometimes it chooses us. To know both helps us to choose a path. But we should not choose to deny that which we don’t want to choose. Otherwise we may fall into that path unknowingly. It is how that path chooses us.

Denial is choosing blindness, and then blindly we may tumble onto the wrong path. We live on a dynamic journey that with each step we learn and navigate by following what we think is right. That journey may twist and turn with several obstacles in the way, some with demons. But to face the demons, and conquer them, yet still acknowledging that they exist, makes us stronger and informs our choices in the Path with Heart.

Enjoy your day and follow a path that has heart.

Steens Mountain, SE Oregon

Night Angels

12 Jun

I am surrounded by hundreds of fireflies.
They are the stars and angels.
I am in the heavens of the universe.

Another year on The Road

1 Jan

This was the reason I took early retirement and is my pledge for the rest of my life. To contribute to this goal. And shed the chains that prevented me from this mission.

Happy Third New Year on this road.

  

Wolf and Raven under the Moon

16 Sep

Wolf asked Raven, “What is it like to fly?”Raven said, “Well, it is what I do every day; how I move around, obtain my food, find my mate, and find shelter.”

Raven then asked Wolf, “What is it like to run on the ground?”Wolf said, “Well, that is what I do every day. I run to move around, obtain my food, find my mate, and find shelter.”

Raven and Wolf looked at each other in silence. 
“You look very different from me,” Wolf said. Raven nodded his head up and down. “And you from me,” Raven said.

Wolf looked up at Raven and said, “But we are very much alike. I think we are Brothers and Sisters.”
Raven looked up at the big moon and said, “Yes, Wolf, we are. Let us celebrate that and tell Big Brother Moon!”

In the distance, I heard a wolf howl and a raven caw. I smiled with a deep togetherness under a big bright moon.
  

It depends!!

19 Mar

funny-owl-i-have-no-idea-whats-going-onShould burns take place in spring
Or wait for autumn rain?
Would baiting help or hinder?
Can owl chicks live through flame?

‘I dunno,’ we had to answer.
‘Not sure, can’t really say.
Needs further replication
Might vary day-to-day.’

PhDs require devotion,
Long days with no weekends
But the ultimate conclusion seems
‘Umm, well, it depends.’

– excerpt from post, ‘My Grand Conclusion‘, on zoologist Bron’s blog, Working on the Wild Side

 

The two of us answered in unision….. “It depends.” And looked at each other with a knowing smile.

A retired couple asked for information on where to go to see this bird and that bird. Husband asked for specific details: what species, what location, what time. He was dissatisfied with my answers, including “They were seen here yesterday morning, and there yesterday afternoon, and at this location this morning, but they may be anywhere. They don’t send us memos on when or where they go.”

When asking for exact details on how to get to ‘Point A’ from ‘Point B’ (a distance of 125 miles), my explanation of various options of traveling from Point A to Point B resulted in visible upset. His wife gently reminded him that they aren’t in a hurry and he might enjoy experiencing different things along the way. Her comment was met with a hand wave, pointing at a map, and listing what he expected to see, do, encounter, etc. He wanted no surprises.

“If something changes, if we stray from the map, it will be an adventure!”, said Wife.

“No! No surprises, and I don’t like adventures. Adventures mean poor planning,” Husband responded. “How long will it take to get to ‘Point B’?”

Wife and I replied simultaneously, “It depends!”

I looked at them both and then asked Husband, “Are you a mathematician?”  Eyebrows went up and he said, “Why, yes! How did you know?”.

“A strong aversion of risk and uncertainty,” I responded. Wife  returned my smile.

“Oh my God, are you a biologist, too?!” Husband asked with raised eyebrows and looking like he was stuck in between two conspirators.  By that time, all three of us were laughing.

Third Law: It Depends!

My First Law, apologetically borrowed from The First Law of Thermodynamics (aka ‘You can’t win’), states that where there’s a positive, there is a negative. And this is related to My Second Law: ‘Everything is relative’. ‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ are relative to the perspective of that which observes or experiences the action/reaction, which depends on time, place and being. (Note that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is ‘You can’t break even’. See blog post linked above.)

I think you can see where I’m going.

My Third Law is ‘It Depends’. If anything I have learned in biology and ecology remains constant, it is ‘It depends.’ For the person who demands or insists on a life or reality of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, you will either be disappointed or live in perpetual denial. For life is not simply black and white. A vast area of gray reside in between.
Further reading:
The typical ecological answer – it depends“, blog post by oikosasa. Website: Oikos: Synthesizing Ecology.
“Which species is best for their host marsh cordgrass? Fiddler crab or mussel? The answer is – it depends”

 

 

Loons and innate responses

25 Apr

In the Chihuahuan desert, no one would expect to hear what might be the most eerie sound of the watery forests, a bird more commonly known throughout the northern portions of the US. Especially a water bird. Yet I did, in disbelief.

I heard it the other morning, but I discounted it. ‘No way!,’ I thought. But I heard it again this morning. I know that wail like the blood that runs in my veins and my ears. It stirs deep inside like a wolf howl.

My childhood and most of my adulthood was spent in the northern regions in this country: Maine, New York, and Oregon. I know this sound, I know this bird. It is ingrained in my being like the beating of my heart.

Conversely, the common loon is very rare here in these parts of the desert. Water is scarce, and loons are an aquatic bird. The only documented reports of loons in this area are 1937 and 1988 (in Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio del Norte). Both were spotted on the Rio del Norte in the National Park. Another report of a loon spotting was in Boquillas Canyon a couple years ago.

It is amazing how (and even that it does) our ‘lizard brain’ responds to certain sounds. People usually don’t question man-made sounds, or sounds of a predator. They are typically associated with danger, pleasure, risk, etc, which is a plausible explanation. But a bird call that has no threat, instead eliciting a profound feeling of inate and inexplicable comfort and alliance is almost always casually dismissed by the scientific community.

There is one that could offer an explanation, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran*, who researches synesthesia and mirror neurons. He is one of the few scientists that ‘thinks outside the box.’ If the smell of rain is almost universally associated with the color green, and with pleasure, is it not possible that a bird call can elicit a profound psychological response other than fear?

At one point long ago, as a conventionally trained scientist I would have dismissed all this. Until a wonderful professor in my graduate biochemistry class impressed upon me once that we must  at some point in our lives accept that sometimes there is no explanation for what we ‘know’. And ‘knowing’ is a dynamic process. It’s a journey, not a destination. For a chemist to tell me that, it altered they way I understand things. And it enhanced my life both as an individual and as a scientist in so many ways.

The loon call literally gives me goosebumps and, simultaneously, a surge of endorphins. It stirs inexplicable primitive feelings in which no words can explain. All I can do is close my eyes and become a part of the sound, the bird and it’s environment.

It’s a ‘Zen’ thing.


A sampling of the sounds for the common loon can be found at this link to the webpage provided by Cornell Lab of Ornithology (All About Birds website).

* V.S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Distinguished and Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is also Adjunct Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute. I highly recommend reading his book, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind and listening to his many podcasts on iTunes and elsewhere. He’s also a fantastic speaker with a great sense of humor.

Ode to Plate Tectonics

26 Feb

I wish I were on Pangaea
Where every place was whole
We could swim in Panthalassa
With the fish that move on a bowl.

All the land was united
And no borders kept us intact
Living things were forming
And nothing subscribed to pacts.

But, like universal love and life
Breaking up is hard to do.
Land masses were moving
And super-continents became anew.

There was Nuna and Rodinia
Gonwana and Pannotia.
Then Laurentia and Avalonia
Finally ending with Laurussia.

Land masses colliding like pool balls
On a table of global plates
Wandering on polar paths
Like lost loves missing their mates.

There was rifting and breaking up
Separating into little sections
Plates drifted apart
And oceans spread in all directions.

The continents swam around then
And life began its emergence
But we lost our connection
And now are ruled by convergence.

Oh, I wish I were on Pangagea
Where life was peaceful then
When amoebas and the tigers
All lived together in one den.

Pangaea

Pangaea

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