And the story of the Bush Stone Curlew’s cry.
A while back, I spent a few weeks with an Aboriginal tribe a few hours west of Townsville. The ecotype was desert scrub (what I like to call “soft outback”), and it was very dry except for a small creek trickling close by. It was an amazing experience, and one I’d readily repeat.
The tribal elder who spent the most time with us, would tell us stories every night in his amazing, melodic voice. I would lie on my back and watch the star-filled sky and let his stories take me away to the dreamtime.
Over the course of our stay, he gave each of us a tribal name as he became familiar with our personalities. One by one he named my friends, and each name was perfect. Our gruff and hairy academic director became Koala, one of the students who bobbed and swam like a fish was Padeoboy (Platypus), the tall and willowy Jenna was Guyur (Brolga), my quiet and peaceful friend was Gurugu (Peaceful Dove).
Our trip was coming to an end, and I was starting to become anxious. I was the last to receive a name. On the last night before we left, I sat staring into the fire as everyone ate dinner. I hadn’t received a name at all! I was devastated.
When everyone gathered for storytime, the elder called me over. He wanted to know why I was upset. I told him shyly that he hadn’t named me yet.
He grunted in surprise and sat back, then rubbed his chin thoughtfully and peered up at the stars. “Guyibara,” he said after a moment.
“Guyibara,” I repeated, rolling the unfamiliar name off my tongue. “What does it mean?”
“It is the name of the Bush Stone Curlew,” he answered.
I blushed and he said, “You don’t like your name?”
“No, I do! It’s just…the call of the Bush Stone Curlew is so annoying. Did you name me that because I am also annoying?” I wondered.
He laughed a big belly laugh. Then, his eyes twinkling, he started his story:
“The cry of a Bush Stone Curlew is one you won’t soon forget,” he began, “It is a heart-wrenching wail.
“But there is a very good reason why the Curlew cries this way. Back in the dreamtime, Owl and Curlew were very good friends. They both lived happy lives and soon both had full nests.
“It wasn’t long before the dry season came, and soon it was hard to feed all of the new mouths. Curlew was skilled at finding small beetles and grubs for her young, but Owl needed meat for hers. As meat became scarce, Owl watched Curlew’s chicks grow fatter and fatter, while her own became skinny and weak, and her jealousy grew.
“Curlew went to visit Owl one day. She called and called, but Owl would not speak to her. Finally, in desperation, Curlew cried, “Owl, why won’t you speak to me! We are good friends, what have I done?”
“Owl finally came out of her tree hollow, “Curlew, your babies grow fat while mine starve to death. If we are true friends, tonight you will go to find meat for my babies.”
“Curlew bowed her head, for she could see the truth in Owl’s words, “Yes, Owl! Tonight I will find food for your young! Don’t give up hope.” And she ran off.
“Curlew spent the whole night searching for food that owl babies could eat. Meanwhile, Owl was brooding in her nest, “What good is that Curlew anyway? What has she done for me?” And then she thought about Curlew’s fat babies, and she knew that Curlew was away, hunting, and she had an idea.
“Curlew came back the next morning after hunting through the night. She called to Owl, but there was no response, so she left her meagre catch at the base of Owl’s tree, and returned in exhaustion to her own nest, only to find it empty of all but a few feathers. She realised at once what had happened, and threw her head back to let loose the most heart broken wail.
“Now, ever since that time, the Curlew has wailed her despair at her friend’s betrayal. Now Curlew disguises herself so that she is hard to find. Curlew is always on guard, and always watching. She sees and analyzes everything.”
There was a brief silence, then he said, “I named you Guyibara because you stand to one side, alone, and watch everything that happens. You see every insect and bird, and every lizard.”
That night, as I lay awake, listening to the calls of the Curlews, I realised that this name fit me as well as the names of my friends fit them. So that is me, Guyibara, Bush Stone Curlew.
American senna, Apis mellifera, Campanula rotundifolia, Cassia hebecarpa, Desmodium canadense, harebell, honeybee, illustrations, Limenitis arthemis, native plants, New England aster, Ohio spiderwort, pollinator plants, pollinators, red-spotted purple, showy tick trefoil, Symphotrichum novae-angliae, Tradescantia ohiensis
Just a doodle for Friday. These are all good pollinator plants in the northeastern US (and some associated pollinators). All real species, are you surprised?
From top left to top right: Desmodium canadense (showy tick trefoil), Limenitis arthemis (red-spotted purple), Cassia hebecarpa (American senna), Tradescantia ohiensis (Ohio spiderwort), and Apis mellifera (honeybee)
From bottom left to bottom right: Campanula rotundifolia (harebell), Apis mellifera (honeybee), and Symphotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster)
PS I changed my theme do you like it?
I recently engaged in a battle of poetry with a friend of mine. I have found an invasive bee in my area (named Lithurgus chrysurus, it is a pest because it bores through wood) and when I informed him, he insisted that I should find a nest. I told him that the research farm where I work is 250 acres (101 hectares) and has hundreds of barns. Also, I have my own experiment running this summer and don’t have the time to chase bees all summer.
He wrote back:
For years, copying other people,
I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
p.s…..there can’t really be “hundreds” of barns….
To which, I responded:
While I share your interest in Lithurgus
And finding a nest sounds fabulous
With such a big farm
I fear the harm
This chase would impart on my thesis.
And he quipped back:
The thesis is an ephemeral beast
That should not be worried about in the least
Lithurgus has a fondness for lumber
Destroying all while you but slumber!
A clever Lass would craft her thesis
Upon the grinding of this bee to feces
Tis but the nobler thing to do
Nothing but a moment or two
After which, I submitted. How can I withstand such clever rhyme? Let’s add nest searching to my docket of things to do this summer. He was happy, though. He wrote:
I am the strife that shapes
The stature of man,
The pang no hero escapes,
The blessing, the ban;
I am the hammer that moulds
The iron of our race,
The omen of God in our blood that a people beholds,
The foreknowledge veiled in our face.
- Charles Roberts, Autochthon
Acer pennsylvanicum, Antennaria neglecta, Bellwort, Black Cherry, Bleeding heart, Claytonia virginica, Dicentra eximia, flowers, Golden Alexander, Jacob's ladder, Meadowood Nursery, Mertensia virginica, Moosewood, native plants, nature, photography, Pinus strobus, Polemonium reptans, pretty photos of really lovely native plants, Prunus serotina, Pussytoes, Spring Beauty, Uvularia sessiliflora, Virginia bluebells, White Pine, Zizia aurea
Located in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, USA, this is one of the few nurseries dedicated entirely to the cultivation of native plants. Over 430 species of native plants are represented in this small business, run in the owner’s backyard and hidden away in the middle of a decidedly suburban looking neighborhood.
I need native perennials for my summer fieldwork, so this is where I came to get them!
With all of these native plants, many native insects and birds are also attracted, making the gardens feel like a little bit of heaven.
Here’s another post of mostly flowers!
And in the woods just outside the nursery, my very own Spring Beauty.
I found a nest of baby rabbits in my garden.
I suppose I have mixed feelings. I’m not living in Oz right now, so rabbits aren’t a horror-story-nightmare, but they do tend to nibble the lettuce and carrots in my garden. And by nibble, I mean completely devour.
Still, it is difficult to be angry at the little fellas.
I ended up just moving the entire nest out of the premises. No baby bunnies were harmed in the process.
Here the mom comes to visit the new location, think she’s figured it out anyhow.
I was thinking about the fallacies of taxonomists today because of this study about the “personality types of scientists,” which, according to the study, tend to be “INTJ” using the FFPI. I hate this kind of pseudoscience. I don’t think people fall neatly into self-contained categories that are easily expressed in a FLAT (Four Letter Acroynm Type).
Even if they could, there is nothing in this paper to suggest that scientists have significantly different personalities from the average person. What is the null model here? What is the hypothesis they are testing against?
Are you surprised that the students’ choices are influenced by their personalities?
I guess I shouldn’t be so aggravated, but I feel that these things merely exacerbate the human tendency to overname and overclassify everything, assuming that everything will fit into a neat and well-defined box. This is rarely true in real life. I think it is even less true when you are speaking about something as plastic and subjective as personality.
I can be all five of those personality types within a given day. (Which reminds me of a great Mark Twain quote, “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather within 24 hours.”)
I’m not saying that the indices themselves have no use…they are a model used to represent and simplify reality. They can be useful for informing hypotheses, framing questions, and understanding results. But, like all models, they are fundamentally wrong.
I always draw colouring pages relating to our display for outreach events. Here are some recent ones where our themes included bird beaks and monkeys, despite the fact that I am not particularly fond of monkeys.
You know those K-9 units? They are police units which include at least one highly trained canine helper. They rely on the intelligence and loyalty of well-trained dogs, but also on the fact that dogs have a sense of smell 100,000 to 1,000,000 times stronger than that of a humans.
We humans rely most heavily on our eyesight for our perception of the world, and it biases everything. Canines, on the other hand, are much more dependent on their sense of smell. They interpret the world as a host of chemical and volatile cues, most of which we are completely unable to perceive. In this way, they are very similar to wasps.
Wasps perceive and understand the world as a set of chemical cues, which they receive through their sensitive antennae. Wasps like Cerceris fumipennis, a solitary wasp of the Crabronid family. Taxonomy nerd out for you here: the Crabronids are in the superfamily Apoidea, to which your familiar honeybee also belongs. In other words, these wasps are more closely related to bees than to your standard yellow jacket or paper wasp (or other common stinging wasps) which belong to the superfamily Vespoidea.
But I digress.
This species (Cerceris fumipennis) is now being used as a ‘biosurveillance’, to detect invasive beetles known as Emerald Ash Borers (Agrilus planipennis), an invasive pest that has done an incredible amount of damage to eastern US Ash trees. That’s right, we are now using wasps to sniff out contraband (infected) ash wood to prevent the spread of the beetle.
Is that cool or what? Check out this website for a handy pdf of how to use your own watchdog wasp.
Is just incredibly fun! Here are some photos of kids engaged in our outreach activities from a big science outreach event over the weekend. Kids are fun to photograph because they have the best expressions.
A very interesting poem about discussing philosophy with your dinner.
a spider and a fly
i heard a spider
and a fly arguing
wait said the fly
do not eat me
i serve a great purpose
in the world
you will have to
show me said the spider
i scurry around
gutters and sewers
and garbage cans
said the fly and gather
up the germs of
and pneumonia on my feet
then i carry these germs
into the households of men
and give them diseases
all the people who
have lived the right
sort of life recover
from the diseases
and the old soaks who
have weakened their systems
with liquor and iniquity
succumb it is my mission
to help rid the world
of these wicked persons
i am a vessel of righteousness
scattering seeds of justice
and serving the noblest uses
it is true said the spider
that you are more
useful in a plodding
material sort of way
than i am but i do not
serve the utilitarian deities
i serve the gods of beauty
look at the gossamer webs
i weave they float in the sun
like filaments of song
if you get what i mean
i do not work at anything
i play all the time
i am busy with the stuff
of enchantment and the materials
of fairyland my works
i am the artist
a creator and a demi god
it is ridiculous to suppose
that i should be denied
the food i need in order
to continue to create
beauty i tell you
plainly mister fly it is all
damned nonsense for that food
to rear up on its hind legs
and say it should not be eaten
you have convinced me
said the fly say no more
and shutting all his eyes
he prepared himself for dinner
and yet he said i could
have made out a case
for myself too if i had
had a better line of talk
of course you could said the spider
clutching a sirloin from him
but the end would have been
just the same if neither of
us had spoken at all
boss i am afraid that what
the spider said is true
and it gives me to think
furiously upon the futility
- Don Marquis
My aunt taught me to ride on a Thoroughbred blue roan named Yankee Blue. He was a retired racer, a gentleman who had mellowed out with age to a fairly calm disposition. He was wonderful to learn on. Over a few weeks, I gradually improved, learning to walk, trot, and canter. I was in charge of cleaning the stalls every day and cleaning old Blue after rides. It was a good summer.
Finally, I was learning to gallop. I took Yankee Blue out after practising in the ring for a while. We were at a full gallop when he spotted something that startled him (I never knew what it was).
He bucked hard (man, that hurts in special places), which freed my feet from the stirrups.
He jerked his head sharply to the left, which tore the reins from my fingers.
Then, he bolted, recalling his past as a racer. We rocketed like a bullet across the field.
At that moment, with no points of contact except my poor rump bouncing in the saddle, I planned how I would fall. I would tuck and roll, pushing away from the horse, to avoid the flashing hooves and protect my fragile bits.
Then I remembered my aunt’s first tip for riding a horse, which is that they have an emergency brake.
I flung my arms around Blue’s neck because no horse can run with that much weight around his neck. He came to an abrupt halt. Trembling, I dismounted and limped around to stroke his nose. He was trembling too.
We took a few minutes to calm down. I took a few deep breaths. No choice but to get back in that saddle! My aunt says that you have to get back on right away because otherwise the horse will learn that it can get rid of you that way AND because you will start to get too scared to get back on.
We rode at a slow walk back to the stables. I told my aunt the story, and she was proud that I had remembered her trick. She told me, “There are only two kinds of riders: those who have fallen, and those who will.”
Well, I’ve had a few accidents in the past few months and now that I am finally healing enough to get back into gear (hahaha, pun intended), I find that I am a little afraid. I think the blogger Btweenblinks describes it so perfectly in this post.
Recovery is slow, and getting over fears related to falls is difficult, but I am overwhelmingly grateful to be back on my Dragon.
For some mysterious reason, I have a soft spot in my heart for foxes. I don’t know why, but they are one of my favourites. A while back, I was working in West Virginia, and every day we passed a big rock upon which there was a fox curled up with its tail around its nose. Every morning, the fox would be there, basking in the dawn sun. It was incredibly adorable.
And, because it’s Friday, here is an adorable video of a fox licking a window. Watch it if you need a pick-me-up! It makes me laugh every time.
And here are some foxes jumping on trampolines.
My sister-in-thesis (i.e. in the same grad program and started at the same time), and one of my best friends of all time, and I have a battle royale that has been raging for four years. It is…a battle of awkward.
It started out as an innocent game, where one of us would tell an embarrassing story and the other would say, “Ha, you think that’s awkward? Well, this one time…” And ever after our stories would start with, “You know what’s awkward?”
And so on, until we had essentially aired our most embarrassing secrets in a matter of hours. This was all a terrible mistake on my part, as she is horrible at keeping secrets.
One semester we were taking classes together. We had a 9 am class that was just after my morning swim. I arrived one day and sat down at my desk, smugly awaiting for her arrival…I knew I now had the most awkward story and she couldn’t possible compete.
She came in and sat down next to me groggily (not a morning person, hey) with her cup of coffee. Smirking I said, “Hey, you know what’s awkward?” She looked at me suspiciously, and then I dropped the bomb, “Being naked in front of [famous scientist whose name will be kept anonymous to protect the innocent (i.e. me)].”
She looked at me in surprise for an instant, and then snorted, choked and started guffawing uncontrollably. I didn’t realize just how funny she would find this situation, but I was content in my triumphant victory of awkward.
It was only then that the professor walked into the room. He cast a glance over my friend, laughing helplessly with tears streaming down her face, and then at me. “What is so funny?” he asked pointedly.
“Oh,” I started turning red. The whole class was looking at us now, and my friend was still chortling away. “It’s nothing…”
The professor’s gaze turned to ice, “Oh, it’s like that, is it? I see,” he said stonily.
I could see that he thought we were laughing at him. “Oh no! It’s not like that,” I stammered. He was not convinced. I did not have a choice. What I did have was an audience.
I heaved a huge sigh and I said, “You see, I was swimming, and then I was in the locker room and there was the shower area and it doesn’t have any stalls, and well basically I was sort ofnaked in front of [really, very famous and intimidating German scientist].”
He also gave me a look of surprise, a snort, and a guffaw. The rest of the class started laughing too. I could feel the blush burning up the back of my neck and the tips of my ears.
Won that battle, hey?
Trees, trees, trees, I love trees. So much.
In the mating of trees,
the pollen grain entering invisible
the domed room of the winds, survives
the ghost of the old forest
that stood here when we came. The ground
invites it, and it will not be gone.
I become the familiar of that ghost
and its ally, carrying in a bucket
twenty trees smaller than weeds,
and I plant them along the way
of the departure of the ancient host.
I return to the ground its original music.
It will rise out of the horizon
of the grass, and over the heads
of the weeds, and it will rise over
the horizon of men’s heads. As I age
in the world it will rise and spread,
and be for this place horizon
and orison, the voice of its winds.
I have made myself a dream to dream
of its rising, that has gentled my nights.
Let me desire and wish well the life
these trees may live when I
no longer rise in the mornings
to be pleased by the green of them
shining, and their shadows on the ground,
and the sound of the wind in them.
- Wendell Berry
Once upon a time, I was hiking with a couple of friends through an old hemlock forest in the Appalachian mountains. Appalachia used to be a lot less forested than its current state, and it is riddled with old homesteads, so much so that you can be 20 kilometers from civilization and stumble across a patch of tulips. After spending a few minutes scratching your head, you will spot the remains of a stone foundation, perhaps an old hearth, and you will realise that, at one time, this was someone’s farm.
Well, my friends and I stumbled upon an ancient graveyard that day, one with head and foot stones so worn by time that only a few were legible. The dates were from the 1800′s, which may not seem a lot to those of you in older countries, but is certainly respectable for the US.
As we meandered through the cemetery in respectful silence, I came across a large patch of the most coveted edible mushroom in the eastern United States: the morel. Morels are a popular forage food here, and are rumored to be the most delicious wild mushroom (except for the truffle, of course, but you need a pig to find those).
“Oh, oh my,” I said, in some distress, “Do you think that I should collect these?”
My friends were concerned, mainly because the patch was right over the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier, “I don’t know…isn’t that kind of cannibalism?” they queried.
With a twinkle in my eye, I responded, “No, you’re right. I wouldn’t want you to think that I was morel-ly questionable.”
“No, no…we wouldn’t question your morals, it’s just that–”
“No! Guys. Morel-ly questionable? Come on.”
“Face it, I’m hilarious.”
Well, guess what? I just found another big old patch of morels. Happily, they were on the edge of a babbling brook instead of in a cemetery this time, so they are edible! Exhausted by the “im-morel-ity” of the campaign season in the US, I was happy to focus on a different sort of morel.
I use them to make delicious omelettes, but there are many things you can do! Check out this website for lots of morel advice: thegreatmorel.com.
PS. Please do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are 100% confident as to their identity, or you know someone who can confidently ID them and you trust them with your life. Morels are among the safest wild mushrooms, but please be careful!
A Gömböc is a three dimensional object which has only one point of stable equilibrium, meaning that no matter how you drop it, it will always right itself and roll back to the exact same spot.
“Just like a Weeble!” you are thinking. Well, not quite. A Weeble is weighted at the bottom. Because the bottom is heaviest, it tends to always be at the bottom. A Gömböc, on the other hand, depends entirely on its shape.
There is more than one way to make a Gömböc, but humans didn’t figure out how to construct one until the year 2006…that’s right, just 6 years ago. You may be thinking that this is an incredibly clever thing that we invented, but let me tell you, nature was there first.
Introducing nature’s Gömböcs: shelled animals like the turtle, the tortoise, and the beetle all have Gömböc like properties. When turned on their backs, the architecture of their shells helps them right themselves once more. It’s terribly clever.
Now, the largest human-made Gömböc is 3 m by 3 m (at the Shanghai Expo in 2010), but the largest natural Gömböc is the Galapagos tortoise, weighing in at over 400 kg (880 lb).
NB: Wait! You may be protesting. What about sea turtles?! They are not Gömböc like. And you are right. They are streamlined for swimming, and lack the “righting response”. Problem solved.
This is beautiful and fascinating…and you can see the creature that was the inspiration for the Alien movies at work.
Things you never knew about plankton:
Some people have normal bucket list goals, like skydiving, or hiking Mt. Kiliminjaro. Whatever, I’ve got those too, but until then, I’ve got this unique goal:
I want to learn how to say, “I don’t speak X language” in every language, where X is the name of the language. My totally arbitrary rules for my totally random life goal include the fact that I am not allowed to just google the answer, I have to be taught by a friend who speaks the language.
I’m up to 14 languages, so I’d like to share. Please add any additional languages that you speak in the comments section! (with the phonetic spelling, also, if you please) ‘Cause we’re all friends, right? Right?
I wrote my phonetic interpretation, the google translate version of any symbols, and the English translation. I apologize for any mistakes! Feel free to correct them; this is about learning.
Jeg snakker ikke norsk — I don’t speak Norwegian.
Den milao elinika (Δεν μιλάω ελληνικά) — I don’t speak Greek.
Watashi wa Nihongo o hanashimasen (私は日本語が話せません) — I don’t speak Japanese.
Wobushwo putong hwa (我不會講普通話) — I don’t speak Chinese.
I am not a member of the set of mathematicians — I don’t speak mathematician.
Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français — I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.
Nanege Kannada gotella (ನಾನು ಕನ್ನಡ ಮಾತನಾಡುವುದಿಲ್ಲ) — I don’t speak Kannada.
Teriadu Tamil (நான் தமிழ் பேச வேண்டாம்) — I don’t speak Tamil.
Yah nee rosmovayu Ukrayinskoyu (Я не говорю український) — I don’t speak Ukrainian.
Ich kein nicht Deutsch spreche — I don’t speak German.
No hablo español — I don’t speak Spanish.
Não falo português — I don’t speak Portuguese.
Non parlo italiano — I don’t speak Italian.
It’s been a rough year for me, injury wise. I’ve always been eager to fling myself into life (i.e. “accident prone”), but the injuries of the past year have been on a more serious scale.
In January, for example, I tore my Achilles tendon. Well, let me restate that: I ran 19 km (~ 12 mi) on a torn Achilles tendon…when there was 6 cm of snow on the ground (it doesn’t help the healing, actually). I had convinced myself that it was “just one of those things you run through” and even though my ankle hurt every time it hit the ground, I was listening to an “expose” on the horrible conditions of Chinese workers in Fox Conn factories on NPR’s “This American Life” program. How could I complain about my ankle when they were suffering so much? (NB: The narrator, Mike Daisey, turned out to be partly falsifying and exaggerating the situation.)
After running that distance on my injured ankle, I could barely walk. My friends finally persuaded me to go to the doctor. He hemmed and hawed and poked at my ankle before declaring a torn Achilles tendon. I said, “Can I run on it?”
He stared at me for a moment, then said, “I remember you.” It was only then that I realised that this was the same doctor that had seen me when I had broken my wrist the previous autumn in a bicycle accident. After he declared my wrist broken, I had said, “Can I swim with it?” (I still had tears in my eyes from the nurse “positioning” it for an x-ray. Which is a special kind of pain.)
Now, sitting in his office, I declared huffily, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He narrowed his eyes, pulled out a prescription pad and wrote, in all capital letters, “NO RUNNING.“ Then he underlined it three times and sent me to the physical therapist. Now that I think of it, this was also the doctor that had to call the CDC for me because I had been bitten by a tropical bat and needed rabies shots.
I sighed and said, “I always have problems with this ankle.”
To which he quipped, “I guess it’s your Achilles heel!”
As it turns out, you can develop a physiological addiction to running. I had been running more than 80 km (~50 mi) a week at this point, and to go from that to 0 was a shock to my system. I had all the withdrawal symptoms of a heroin addict: shakes, headaches, chills, cold sweats, mood swings, panic attacks.
To support me in the absence of running, I upped my swimming routine to more than 25 km a week. The physical therapist started me on an RTR (return to running) program, where you increase the amount you can run from a 30 second segment of 6 five minute intervals to a full 30 minutes. The RTR program was painfully slow, and my healing was unbearably incremental. I had finally finished the RTR program and was building up my running mileage again (and biking between 25 and 50 km a day), when…the skateboarder hit me.
The person who stitched me up said, “No swimming!” And I couldn’t bend it far enough to bike or run.
As I sat in the doctor’s office, waiting to get my stitches out, I reflected on this whole adventure. When the doctor came in, he said, “Oh no, not you again.” He poked at my stitches and said, “What did you do to yourself this time?”
When he took the stitches out, it was still gaping (“It looks like a mouth,” he said. I was not amused.). He put on Steristrips and forbade me for swimming for another week.