Fifteen Doves

Zenaida macrouraThere are a few collective nouns for a group of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura): bevy, cote, dole/dule. Wouldn’t a “cortege” be appropriate? And while we’re on the subject, what is the name for a group of collective nouns? A thesaurus of collective nouns? An obscurity? A venary?

It’s out there

mantisLike the truth…. Buried in the soil. Tucked underneath bark. In rotting wood. Encased in mud. Coiled in buds. Massed right out there in the open like in this mantid egg case. Can’t you hear it? The roar of life to come? Spring? Summer?

Raptor Wednesday

Falco columbariusA Merlin (Falco columbarius) at Croton Point. On a recent excursion, the peninsula was largely iced-in on the water side and covered in snow on the land. As a result, Bald Eagles were few and far between: we had only nine sightings (we’re getting spoiled). There was also a dearth of Red-tails: just one one juvenile bird. A male Northern Harrier was flying over the hill.

Learning from Thoreau


I started this project on this day in 2010. Here is my opening salvo:

Originally posted on Backyard and Beyond:

Henry David Thoreau didn’t particularly like cities, including New York, all that much.  “The pigs in the street are the most respectable part of the population,”he wrote while visiting in 1843.  Thoreau was a country mouse at heart, not a city rat.  He was neither the first nor the last to believe that there was a hard line between nature and culture (or wilderness and civilization, or natural and unnatural). 

This separation between the outside and inside may be a basic human characteristic, one as old as the species.  When there are dangerous things out there, we seek protection in here, drawing into our shell like a snail at the first sign of danger.  But has the border between the inside and the outside ever been that tight?  Didn’t insects, snakes, and small mammals slip into the cave?  The ancestors of the domestic cat and dog certainly came…

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The Red-Orange and the Black-Purple

Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Quiscalus quisculaCommon Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Ending The Endless War

Last year was the the hottest year since modern record keeping began in 1880, capping all the other recent record-breakers. And it’s NOT going to get better. If you were born in 1985 or after, you’ve never experienced a year in which the global temperature has been below the 20th-century average.

And then there’s methane. Mother of Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (who isolated Franklin’s “flammable gas”)! Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For the length of human civilization, most of the CH4 on the planet has been frozen and out of the way, no bother at all to, say, Sumerian seal carvers, Medieval shepherdesses, Arabic astronomers, Incan princesses, Nri-Igbo traders, Australian song-line cartographers, or even lardy Americans bellowing from their couches at corporate sportainments on their big, big screens. Most of the gas has been locked up in the permafrost and at the bottom of the polar oceans in the form known as methane hydrate. But now our warming-by-CO2 planet is unleashing the CH4, adding it to the blanketing layer of atmosphere-trapping heat. And it will be astonishingly bad for humanity.

I call it the methane bomb ~ not with fire, and certainly not with ice… but with a fart?

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group — contemplate that name for a moment — is calling for a re-freezing of the Arctic to prevent this eruption. I think we can safely say that that’s a non-starter now, and if it ever is a starter it will be too late. The feedback mechanisms we have set in motion are no longer a matter of turning things on and off, even if we could. We’re hit 400 ppm of CO2 (not so long ago, put where they wanted to draw the line in their name). Among other effects, the AMEG gets to the rub of what is often confusing about radical climate disruption when they note that the methane bomb’s effects will be “disruption of jet stream behaviour, with abrupt climate change leading to crop failures, rising food prices and conflict in the Northern Hemisphere.” Because it’s not the planet that’s ending, not for a long time yet, barring a meteor collision. What’s going to end is the world as we know it, the world as the last 10,000 years of humans have known it. Yes, rising waters, fiercer storms, greater flooding, harsher droughts, — and yes, more snow when, as happened off New England this winter, very warm ocean water (unusually warm ocean water, soon to be the norm, not so unusual), pumping more moisture into the atmosphere, meets cold air from the north — but the really terrifying and terrible changes will be the resulting political ones, the human ones. Considering that the world is already a chaos of conflicts, beset by refugees, terrorism, overweening authoritarianisms, and the rapid movement of disease, lighting a massive fire under current conditions must obviously make things infinitely worse. (Remember, we’ve seen weather-related economic migration already within the US itself; they were called “Okies” by the Californians who wanted to keep them out; I called one of them my mother.)

Rebecca Solnit, who is one of the essential writers of our time, has a short essay in the February Harper’s that is mandatory reading. (It is, however, subscriber only, but this is a necessary publication amidst so much corporate shit, so don’t tell me you aren’t subscribing already.) She writes of the war being waged against Earth; she dates it as a kind of continuation of the Second World War (I might argue it’s older, but certainly it became fiendishly modernized in the last half century with plastics, pesticides and nuclear power). A servant of the oil and gas industry, the carbon lobby suicide squad that for all intents and purposes currently owns a significant part of our country, is quoted here on the “endless war” against the Earth and all its Earthlings. But it’s not endless; it’s going to end, sooner or later. That time should be ours to decree. Later will be very much worse for today’s children and their children.

King Carbon is as wrapped up in our economy and lives, our entire civilization, as slavery once was. Capitalism, with its bottomless maw for finite resources, can’t be permanent, which is why it desperately wants to devour other worlds. What this means, though, is that, like slavery, these things can be ended. Thomas Jefferson, for all his blindness, rightly called the Missouri crisis the “fire bell in the night” that “awakened me and filled me with terror” for the firestorm to come. Jefferson heard it late in the game; it had been ringing already for two centuries before the fire came, always louder and louder. We have rather less time now to heed the screaming klaxon.

Ruddy, Ruddy

Oxyura jamaicensisMany ducks sport their breeding plumage over the winter, but the Ruddy Ducks don’t start turning until… about now. This male should have an astonishingly light, electric blue bill and much warmer cinnamon-brown plumage in a month or so.Oxyura jamaicensisA female. She won’t get all peacocky. Ruddy ducks often have their stiff tails raised as here and below.Oxyura jamaicensisA common pose, bill tucked under wing. Note that this one has some of those cinnamon feathers coming in. They don’t breed here, so we miss most of the big show.


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