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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Almost every person in the world has seen a picture of the Grand Canyon. Pictures do not do it justice. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, and you walk up to the rim, it takes your breath away. The Grand Canyon is much larger, much more awesome, than anyone could possibly imagine and expect.

So it is with a total solar eclipse. Yesterday I experienced my first one. I have seen countless photographs, by amateurs, and by NASA professionals. I had first-hand reports from my friend and eclipse chaser M.B., and I knew intellectually what to expect.

Being there and having it happen was like the Grand Canyon to the power of three. It was the most awe-inspiring natural event I have ever experienced (the births of my children excluded).

Trisha and I went to the small town of Idaho Falls, a community of 56,000 people in the southeastern plains of Idaho. We went down to the banks of the Snake River, where there are falls and the river rushes. The area is a manicured park, with lots of grass, trees, benches, pathways, all right downtown. There were probably a thousand people there in the area, but it was not crowded at all.

We arrived shortly after “first contact” when the moon’s disk had just started to obscure the edge of the sun. You can’t see it, unless you have special eclipse glasses, but we had those, so we could easily monitor the progress. People set up their cameras, frolicked in the park, and slowly the anticipation built.

It started getting interesting in the last 20 minutes. While it was hot under the sun at 11:00am, it rapidly started getting cooler. The sun became a sliver, but it was still way too bright to see without the glasses. Then the light changed to an eerie blue and silver tint, somewhat like dusk, but different altogether. Shadows didn’t look right. It got chilly.

In the last three minutes things started happening fast. It was cold. It was dusk. The stars overhead became visible. The city streetlights came on.

And then, from one moment to the next, it was dark. We could look up and the sun was gone. With bare eyes we saw a dark black disk were the sun was, and a bright corona all around it. The sky was dark. The stars were out. Only a light ring around the entire horizon lit up the world. And the temperature dropped significantly. I shivered. It was outright cold in the middle of summer at noon.

I took a picture or two of the moon/sun/corona with my iPhone, but what came out was insignificant. The eclipse looks huge in the sky with bare eyes, but pictures are disappointing.

I took a panoramic video. At the end you can see Trisha waving at me. You can see her face lit up from the dusky glow of the horizon only. That’s how dark it was.

All round us people were cheering and howling, and so was I. Unable to stop the emotional outbursts, I found that a big portion of the experience is sharing it with the crowds around me. Everyone there, young and old, was unable to contain their emotions. The rawness of the experience, the depth, came through.

And then, just a couple of minutes later, a pearl of light shot out and the brightness of the sun was back. We had to use the glasses again. Within a minute, it started getting warmer, the eerie shadows came back for a while – and then, quickly, my normal world returned.

But I was a different person. I had seen an eclipse. It was too short. I wanted another one. How dare they be so rare!

The next eclipse in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024, and I will be there. There is no way I will miss that. It will arch up from Texas to Maine, and Chautauqua, one of my favorite places in New York, will be right in the path. And I will be there.

Then, the next coast to coast eclipse will be in 2045. I will be 89 years old. I will be there too.

I have seen a total eclipse, and things are different now.

 

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The name Al Gore is synonymous with Climate Change (capitalized on purpose). Gore started a popular uprising more than ten years ago with the movie An Inconvenient Truth and with this sequel he continues his fight.

He has been vilified by deniers and the far right lobby in the United States, and he has suffered setback after setback in his mission to get the message out.

Living in the United States in the age of Trump and the dumbing down of America, we tend to forget that we are pretty unique in the world. Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population, and the far right is a small, albeit powerful slice of that 5%, but they seem to be the loudest criers. Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord. This makes no sense. 95% percent of the people of the world are scratching their heads.

I know people all over the world, Europeans, South Africans, Japanese, Brazilians, Indians, to name just a few. And I could not name a single one of them who would be what we call in the United States a climate denier. Denying climate change seems to be a uniquely American malaise.

Al Gore has the work cut out for himself in this country, and I am grateful for his leadership and tenacity.

You don’t have to “believe” in climate change to watch An Inconvenient Sequel and learn from it. The movie is full of facts and astonishing imagery about how our world has been changing and is continuing to change.

The most important experience for me, however, was as I walked out of the movie, stunned, but inspired. We have got this. There is no stopping that movement. People have turned their backs on coal and oil, no matter what the coal and oil lobby, and our own government, that is supposed to protect us, tells us. People are installing solar energy systems at an ever escalating pace. Solar will be cheaper and easier to use. Coal and oil will be inconvenient, and the planet will heal.

This didn’t happen by accident. This happened because of the tireless leadership of thousands of people, one of which is Al Gore.

Oh, no, we’re not done yet with the fight, far from it. But oh, yes, we will choose to take the baton so we can march toward a better world.

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We have a small upstairs balcony, just large enough for two chairs looking down on the street. The balcony is completely covered by the eaves of the house. Inside, there is a supporting beam, and that’s where a pair of doves have decided to build their condo.

[click to enlarge]

Most of the time, only one of them is here, just sitting there, resting. They are now used to us, so we can get within a couple of feet and take a picture without scaring them. We come up and talk to them through the screen door.

Today, we saw both of them there at the same time, one of them in the nest and the other in the adjoining condo – or perhaps separate bedroom.

We don’t know if there are any eggs in the nest yet. We’ll check the next time they are both out shopping.

If I were a dove, I’d find this spot too. It does not get any better. It’s completely protected from terrestrial predators, since it’s under a balcony that cannot be reached from the ground. It’s invisible from the outside. While other birds could get there, they’d have to know it’s there first. And it’s protected from all weather and wind.

When choosing real estate, it’s all about location, location and location.

In contrast, I searched for nests of doves, and found that not all doves are as smart as our pets. Check out this one:

[picture credit: imgur.com]

It’s right out in the open, on top of an ultrasonic bird repellant machine. It does not seem like the gizmo is working on the doves. Hopefully it won’t drive the chicks crazy when they hatch.

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Other Minds – The Octopus, the Sea,

and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

When we think of intelligent animals, we think of whales, specifically dolphins, apes, elephants, dogs, crows and parrots. I have written much about this subject, and you can find the posts by selecting Animal Intelligence from the categories dropdown on the right.

We generally do not think of octopuses as intelligent. However, octopuses, as well at cuttlefish and squid, commonly classified as cephalopods, are highly intelligent animals.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, the author of Other Minds, is a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, who started studying octopuses in the process of thinking about consciousness in humans and in animals.

Other Minds tells the story of how animal life first started on earth, and how the invertebrates started splitting off from the vertebrates some 500 to 600 million years ago. As it turns out, cephalopods are invertebrates, and all other intelligent animals are vertebrates, including humans. The common ancestor of both humans and octopuses are small flat wormlike creatures that lived over 500 million years ago. As a result, an octopus is about as different from a human as you can get, and still have two eyes – and a mind.

Godfrey-Smith illustrates many astonishing examples of octopus intelligence and it becomes quite clear that, yes, they are really bright, and yes, they are very alien, very different from us. He says that the closest we are likely ever to come to meeting an alien intelligent being is going to the aquarium and watching an octopus.

I searched and found a few astonishing videos. The first one is of an octopus escaping from a ship’s deck. Since an octopus has no hard parts, no bones, no shells, he can squeeze himself through a hole as small as his eyeball, his hardest part. The video below demonstrates that.

Octopuses can also learn to use tools and solve complex problems. Here is an example of an octopus opening a jar into which it has been placed.

There are other examples that show how an octopus can open a jar from the outside to get to the prey locked inside.

I am highly interested in animal intelligence and alien intelligence, so this book turned out to be a treasure trove of information and great anecdotes and stories. I learned much about the evolution of life on earth, and the development of intelligence and consciousness. If you have similar interests, this is a book you must read.

The author is trying to be factual, and the book is therefore more of a text book than an entertainment book, which makes it somewhat challenging to read.

But I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I am sure I’ll refer to it in the future.

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On Sunday, I did a little hike along Lake Hodges. Three years ago, in January 2014, is what the “lake” looked like. It stayed that way through 2015 and most of 2016, until it started raining.

Now, areas like in the picture below, that have been bone dry for more than five years, look like this again:

The wetlands are back. I wonder what the fish think that used to be confined to the deeper waters at the other end of the lake. Now they can come up and dig for yummy grubs in the mud that saw no water for years and years. It must be a fish paradise under there now. All that Lebensraum.

Under the I-15 freeway bridge:

This too, has been dry for many years. Now there is water deep enough for boats to go through.

Here is a view down from the pedestrian bridge.

You can see that during the half decade of dryness, serious trees have grown. The one on the left is at least 30 feet tall. The water is at least 10 feet deep here. There are hundreds of trees in this part of the lake. Over the next few months, they will all die. Their leaves will fall off. Then next season, the will start falling over from rot. In a few years, they will all have fallen, except for the strongest and thickets trunks. For comparison, in my 2014 post linked at the top of this page, I took this picture:

You see the red arrow? That points to the exact spot where I stood when I shot the above photo last Sunday. For years, it was bone dry under that bridge. No trees, as you can see, except those in the foreground. The trees all grew in 2014 through 2016.

Then finally, a shot of the hillsides:

Right now, all the hills are covered with Wild Mustard. The plant in the foreground is representative of all the ones in the back. All the hills are rich in yellow now. For those of you that didn’t know, Wild Mustard is the super weed that the following vegetables are all derived from: Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips and kale. Here is a post about that.

And that’s all I have to say about Lake Hodges.

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I noticed that my license plate on my Missouri rental car had a bird on it. That reminded me of Bernie Sanders.

Then, as I sat in my car, I looked outside, and there it was, looking right at me:

As I researched, I found out it’s the Missouri State Bird, the Eastern Blue Bird.

Nature gave me a coincidental treat. It made my day. There is a bird on it!

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Ocean Majesty

In Hawaii, the ocean is never far away. Life is dominated by the ocean. Its power, its grace, its eternity is overwhelming.

Recently a friend (WI) sent me this poem about the ocean by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), from “Childe Harold,” Canto IV.

Here in Hawaii, this rings true, every minute, every day, all the time:

THERE is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean,—roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin,—his control
Stops with the shore;—upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths,—thy fields
Are not a spoil for him,—thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth:—there let him lay.

The armaments which thunderstrike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake
And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee and arbiter of war,—
These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the Armada’s pride or spoils of Trafalgar.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee;
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters wasted them while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts: not so thou;
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play,
Time writes no wrinkles on thine azure brow;
Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed,—in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving; boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of Eternity,—the throne
Of the Invisible! even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers,—they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror, ’t was a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane,—as I do here.

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After hiking Palm Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert almost every year right after New Years, and skipping 2015 and 2016, today I went again on Jan 1, 2017.

Starting out, on January 3, 2010, I noticed a brand new stand of palm trees developing. I took a picture and marked the spot (click to enlarge):

New Palm Grove 2010

When I came back two years later on January 7, 2012, here is the identical view:

New Palm Grove 2012

Then I came back on March 10, 2013. This is what it looked like:

Final 03-10-2013

New Palm Grove 2013

After massive floods in 2013, this is what it looked like on January 1, 2014. I hardly recognized it.

Final 01-01-2014 with annotations

New Palm Grove 2014

The trees that were formerly where I placed the blue and green arrows are completely gone. The water pulled them out completely and washed them away. There is not a trace of them left. The center grove is still there, but it has hardly grown since last year, and it is severely bent at the root, obviously from the rush of the creek downstream.

Here is the picture I took today:

palms

New Palm Grove Jan 1, 2017

Of course, I had to take the obligatory selfie in front of the famous oasis, the destination of the hike.

selfie-with-oasis

And, as usual, there were some bighorn sheep very near. I even got some short videos of them.

bighorn-sheep

They completely blend into the environment and are very hard to see. You can only see them because they move. I saw an entire herd of about a dozen of them on the hillside; they were so camouflaged, I almost walked right by them.

It made my day. Wild bighorn sheep.

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praying-mantis

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The Religious Argument

I have been fortunate that I was able to cast off the shackles and blinders of religion very early in life. I am not religious or spiritual in any way. I have always called myself a non-combative atheist, and I am convinced that mindset has served me well.

According to Wikipedia:

The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the U.S. population. The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of American had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.

So being part of only 3% of solid atheists mean that 29 out of 30 of my friends, associates and people I run into on a daily basis are more or much more religious than I.

As a result, I have a lot of religious friends. Some very old, good friends. I have friends who are pastors, youth pastors, and even a Catholic priest. In serious late-night discussions with religious friends, one of the most common points that eventually comes up is:

What if you are wrong?

They argue that their belief in a God protects them from eternal hellfire. While I, who does not have such an insurance policy, am exposed. Let’s say with both die. If there is a God, the priest presumably goes to heaven. If there isn’t, he’s just dead and nothing mattered anyway. But on the off-chance that there is a God, he has an insurance policy. He is covered.

But I don’t have that coverage. If there is a God, he says I’ll go to eternal hell. If there is no God, I’ll be just as dead and nothing mattered anyway.

I know that is why many religious people hang on to religion. Just in case.

The Climate Change Argument

The American public has been led to believe that “climate change is a hoax.” Our populace has just elected a government that officially, and in all levels of the executive and legislative branches, supports this argument.

The vast majority of all climate scientists in the world disagree with this reasoning. Our CO2 levels at 400 PPM in the Antarctic are now higher than they have been in 4 million years. In a hundred and fifty years of burning coal and oil we have created a hockey stick of CO2 levels in the atmosphere in the blink of an eye from a planet’s perspective. But this argument I am making here is not about the science. I’ll leave that to the thousands of scientist much better qualified than I am. I just need to state that I am utterly convinced that we’re seriously messing with the balances of chemistry in our atmosphere, and we will need to pay a dear price for that in the not too distant future.

Our illustrious American politicians tell us that it’s all a hoax. Never mind that we are the largest polluters in the world as a country. Never mind that the second and third largest polluters, China and India respectively, basically agree with the seriousness of climate change. Never mind that China is now cleaning up their act as rapidly as they can (which requires another post eventually to discuss). Never mind that 195 nations all came together and agreed that this is a serious problem and crafted the Paris climate agreement.

Our government, empowered by the electorate, is now preparing to get out of the Paris climate agreement. Trump’s position is: We’re not allowing UN bureaucrats to have the power to spend American tax dollars. By itself, that argument makes sense. UN bureaucrats should not get to spend American tax dollars. However, the consequences of just tearing up the agreement are severe.

What if they are wrong?

Say for the sake of argument that climate change really were a hoax. These CO2 levels of 400 and more in our air are just a natural spike, and humanity has nothing to do with it, and can do nothing to change it. The weather will change whether we like it or not.

In a hundred years, no matter what we do, we’ll still be here, with our Manhattan real estate, with our Miami beaches, happily ever after.

Then it will not have mattered.

But on the other side, if human activity actually does affect the climate adversely, and the hockey stick graphs are going to get worse, we will have serious consequences to deal with as a species. The human food chain in the oceans will be disrupted. Agriculture will be severely hindered. Real estate will disappear and many of the lowlands around the country will be under water.

Seriously, we’re willing to play this game – for MONEY?

Ignoring climate change now is like killing the last rooster and chicken, who have been laying eggs for us every day, so we can have ONE LUNCH.

We’re risking our children’s welfare and taking away their right to the pursuit of happiness so we can burn some more oil and coal, so some people can have jobs? Seriously?

What if we are wrong?

 

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When I was in the service, I once saw a demonstration of a tank speeding across a bumpy field at 30 miles an hour, jumping up and down, while the barrel of the gun was continuously pointed straight at a target. Very frightening.

This raptor clearly has that same ability. No matter what the body does, the eyes are focused.

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Today during a walk it occurred to me that the word for butterfly is seemingly beautiful in all the languages, at least the ones I know:

  • Butterfly – English
  • Papillon – French
  • Schmetterling – German
  • Mariposa – Spanish
  • Papillio – Latin
  • Kamehameha – Hawaiian
  • 蝶 – Japanese (pronounced CHO)

How cool are those words?

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Elephant

Inspired by a photograph Trisha brought back from her Safari in Botswana in 2014.

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This happened in Tehachapi last Thursday.

Tehachapi

Click here for more images.

Click here for the original poster’s comments on Reddit.

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Yesterday I had a brilliant, clear view of Yosemite Valley from the plane:

Yosemite from Plane 3

Yosemite Valley [click to enlarge]

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