“In an age when the ecological integrity of our planet is threatened on so many levels, anything that strengthens those connections, or makes meaningful our daily arrangements with the world around us, is a form of resistance, a kind of love forged with home that has the potential to be fiercely protective.” Julian Hoffman, in The Small Heart of Things. Born in the UK, raised there and in Canada, Hoffman lives in Prespa, Greece; the Prespa Lakes area is a unique tri-national park, shared by Greece, Albania, and the awkwardly, absurdly, named Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Greece protested the use of the name “Macedonia,” also the name of region within their own country, if you remember Philip and that whole crowd sweeping down from the north). These belles lettres never forget the human history, as horrible as it has sometimes been, soaked in the landscapes.
Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey, is something completely different. At least at first glance. Abbey was one of the spiritual grandfathers of the activist environmental movement. He was also, based on these essays, curmudgeonly, cranky, and a pain-in-the-ass. But his writing about the desert of the Four Corners area are remarkable; this a classic of nature writing for a reason; I’ve taken a long time to get to it. He is best on the elemental: water, rock, sky. The heart of the book is a voyage through Glen Canyon, something no longer possible because it was flooded soon after he and his friend made the trip. The American madness about the desert is that we pretend it isn’t a desert; the greater Phoenix obscenity boasts 200 golf courses! And all around them, the evidence of a previous civilization that failed in the dry country stares back at them. With a grin, perhaps. Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell, named after explorer John Wesley Powell, who saw the desert for what it was. That naming honor was a bitter irony. Jet-skiers today zoom over the drowned glorious side canyons, Native American ruins, and whole world of habitat that was the canyon. Now we have just this book and Eliot Porter’s photographs. (That’s the original cover above; I like it much more than the softcover I found.)
Birds Britannica, by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey. I discovered this through a reference in the Hoffman and got hold of a library copy on this side of the Atlantic. It’s amazing: a mix of field guide (but too big for that!) and cultural study of the British love of birds. Hundreds contributed to this species-compendium of names, lore, and traditions, as the rise and fall and sometimes rise again of species over the centuries is charted. But let’s not forget the hate: game keepers are the great villains of the piece, slaughtering any- and everything that might interfere with some fucking aristo’s potted hunt. And the egg-collecting sociopaths, who still present a threat. While you may never enjoy any of these birds in the feather, this book should still interest you.
Flying between these absurdly large flowers of hybrid rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), this bumblebee was practically glowing yellow from all the pollen.But note how the wings remain mostly clean. Bees are hairy, the hairs statically charged to help pollen stick to them. Of course, you wouldn’t want your wings to be laden with pollen or anything else when you fly.
Tags: insects, invertebrates, ladybugs
On the veldt of my arm, a tiny lady beetle that turned out to be the 20-spotted, Psyllobora vigintimaculata. Found throughout most of the US, barring FL and the SE coast, and into Canada. Unlike most lady bugs, carnivorous-chompers if there ever were any, the Pysllobora genus ladies are fungus-eaters. The “Latin” name of the genus is actually Greek and means “flea [of the} north”. It was awfully small, perhaps 3mm long, the smallest lady beetle I’ve ever seen. Light enough to start crawling up one of my arm hairs. I was sitting by the Hudson River in Battery Park City when I noticed it landing on me. A handsome example with the orange, black, and white markings. They come in quite a range of variations. (And all, I’ll wager, a challenge to half-century old eyeballs: I took these pictures with the phone)
Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is one of the great trees of the eastern forests. This distinctive peely bark makes them easy to distinguish from most of the other species of native North American hickories. However, the Shellbark (C. laciniosa) is also known as Bigleaf Shagbark; its uncommon in rich bottom lands in the arteries of the Midwest, the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.
The hickories make strong, durable wood: I have a hickory hiking stick. And not for nothing was Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson so nicknamed. He was one tough SOB: sword-slashed and bullet-ridden from youth on, as an old man he helped subdue the first attempted Presidential assassin. Pity he was so genocidal.
Hickory nuts are a major food source for wildlife, and most are edible to humans (except the warningly named Bitternut [C. cordiformis]), but among the hickory family only the pecan (C. illinoinensis) is cultivated.
Tags: butterflies, insects, invertebrates, plants
As you probably know, we have done quite a number on this spectacular species, through deforestation in Mexico, reducing its food crops further north in the U.S., and poisoning its habitat everywhere; such blows make them even more susceptible to external pressures, like severe weather, in particular the drought in Texas (“external” if you don’t count our carbon-dirty hands in disrupting traditional weather patterns through global warming).
Here are some graphs of the shocking declines and here’s an interview with a biologist whose entire professional career has been about them disappearing. There’s nothing personal, of course, in this drive to extinguish one more species; we’ve done it to the whole planet, and even ourselves.
Can you do anything to keep this remarkable animal, which has a multi-generational, continent-spanning migration, around for your grandchildren? You can plant milkweed, stop the wide-spread poisoning of the environment through herbicides and pesticides, and drive less.. say what? The field-to-field cropping of corn to meet the ethanol demand means that “weedy” edges have been plowed under. We must all change our lives.
Tags: birding, birds
Or at least one of them. Eurasian Collared-doves (Streptopelia decaocto) were released in the Bahamas in the 1970s. They soon made their way to Florida and then spread out through North America, except for the Northeast. But it’s only a matter of time. An outlier has been hanging around Chelsea Piers in Manhattan for a week or more. You can just see the black line on the nape of the neck that makes the “collar” — it doesn’t go all the way around. Otherwise, this bird is rather similar to the native Mourning Dove, if a bit larger. Its white tail feathers and dark wing-tips in flight also help differentiate it.