I was going to title this, “What’s blooming in your area?” But I got distracted by bees (again (I know, I know, shut up)).
When I take friends on bird hikes, they often ask me about whether birds are monogamous (i.e. have only one mating partner). There seems to be something unbearably romantic about animals that pair bond. And birds seem to be the classic example. It was once thought that up to 90% of bird species exhibited monogamy (see Lack 1968).
While it’s true that some birds exhibit a high degree of monogamy (including turtle doves, for example), even the most faithful exhibit some level of extra pair paternity (or offspring from another male). Such behaviour was fairly surprising, especially in a species where the male invests so much in parental care.
In fact, with recent molecular methods, we have found quite the opposite of the original expectation: 90% of bird species exhibit some degree of extra pair paternity (Griffith et al. 2002).
So when it comes right down to it, birds are just not satisfyingly monogamous. They are not monogamous enough. Then what is?
Blood flukes are endoparasites that live within the blood stream. In humans, some blood flukes cause the disease Schistosoma (the second worst parasitic disease after malaria). The female, like a long, thin ribbon, fits inside the male and they stay like that, sometimes for up to forty years.
Now that is true monogamy!
I was looking for a potential cover photo for a journal that I am submitting a manuscript to, and I stumbled on this beauty from last summer. Pretty nice, eh?
Doesn’t it make you salivate for summer? Right now, I’m just excited for SPRING! The air is starting to get that smell. Temperatures are starting to get above freezing. The snow is starting to melt. The ground is starting to thaw.
Or, in other words, as the cardinal says, SPRING SOON!!!
PS. If you want to vote, here are the three photos I am trying to decide between for submission. I’d love your opinion!
I have been sitting here
I have learned to sit and wait
for your caresses
Me, the rock,
I have learned how to thirst
For your touch
You seem so cool
As your rivulet hands reach toward me.
How can your calm
Hide so much passion?
I will turn my face up
And let your cool fingers
Run across my round cheeks
I love to be immersed in you
Wrapped in your arms
Coming up only rarely
Gasping for air
I love to bury my face in you
Blowing bubbles past my lips
When you are cold
Even then you find a way
To seep into my cracks
To break my armor.
Who have always been so steady
You have shaken me
In my foundation.
Your touch was always so gentle
Stroking my curves
I didn’t realize
That you were slowly wearing me away
That my resistance was
And when you left
you left only the hard parts of me
I was surprised to see them
Bare beneath the sun
I hadn’t noticed
That you were changing me
I will lie here
On the ridge of the mountain
And sleep, and wait for you
Like the backbone of the world
Even that will be worn away
By gentle caresses
Just a bit of fun fiction for Friday. And alliteration apparently.
Day 1 Initiated the experiment today. Set up and first trial (designated trial #1 “going for long walks”) proceeded smoothly. Will apply experimental treatment after equilibrium state is reached. Although this work will likely never be published (not necessarily converging with APA guidelines, and lacking IRB permits), I will keep this journal of my experimental progress in the hopes that it will be of use to future researchers (or even in my own future experiments).
Have high hopes for the ultimate success of this experiment, though, of course, too soon to tell.
Day 7 After careful monitoring, I determined that the initial instabilities had died down and, assuming equilibrium had been acquired, applied first experimental treatment today. Starting with a low dosage (low dosage designated “complimented hair”); so far no negative responses had been noted. Will slowly increase dosage and maintain monitoring regime. Still high hopes.
Day 10 Major steps in dosage today. Initiated first contact with no negative response. Casual “arm around shoulders” treatment seemed to go over well. Plan on setting up second trial in coming week.
Day 17 Initiated second trial today (designated trial #2 “watching movies”). Seem to be making substantial progress although keeping experimental dosages low for now. Second trial seems to have caused some small instabilities, but am hoping they will smooth out with time.
Day 20 Two treatments (“smile” and “playful teasing”) seem to be particularly effective. Have taken note and am continuing with progress.
Day 25 Divulged to test subject her experimental status. In retrospect, this was perhaps a mistake; although no outwardly negative responses were observed at the outset, subject later flinched away from contact. Only time will tell.
Day 28 Okay, okay, calling the test subject an “experiment”
last Sunday on Day 25 of the experiment was almost certainly a mistake. I admit that now. She Subject has been avoiding interactions of all types for past three days and eye contact when forced into interaction. Note for future studies: do not divulge experimental status of test subjects to the test subjects.
Day 30 Very frustrating! All progress has been stalled by earlier mistakes and
she subject remains wary and distant, although polite. Attempts to remediate the experiment have so far been unsuccessful (treatments “playing it cool” and “pretending it did not happen” with no results). Day 33 I regret ever starting this experiment. Who does she think she is anyway? I haven’t done anything wrong and am actually quite the catch. I think she is being silly. Am very frustrated and am trashing the whole thing. Considering burning notebook with journal entries.
Day 40 I was clearly not rational when I wrote the above entry. This is worrying, indicating that I have been unduly affected by conducting the experiment. I am glad that I did not burn the notebook in a fit of rage. In retrospect I do not think the experiment is a complete failure.
I would like to repeat the experiment, after learning from past mistakes.
I think I would like to It seems like In order to minimize variation due to stochastic differences in test subjects, I think it best to repeat the experiment with subject #1. The test subject She smiled at me today.
My friend, my friend, the summer is almost over. I know that you have made many mistakes…wait! Don’t walk away. How do I know? I can tell because you are young and handsome, and you are a man. You have that swagger and that confidence of human men that are careless with human hearts…yes, you have made mistakes, but next summer you can improve. You do not realize the danger to yourself! Not to your heart, but to your head. That is why I have this friendly (albeit unsolicited) advice for you. Here, put me on your shoulder, you can walk and I will whisper in your ear.
If you don’t want a girl to fall in love with you (you do not, although you think you do), do not smile at her when you introduce yourself. Do not laugh at her silly jokes, do not patiently say, “And what happened next?” when she tells you a story. Do not watch her fondly when she plays with a jumping spider. Do not be gentle or kind.
When there are others of your kind around, do not show off before her, do not compete with others for her attention. Do not show concern when she is ill. For heaven’s sake, don’t go to find her when she is lost! Don’t wait for her when she has fallen behind. Don’t offer her your hand when she stumbles.
If you do not wish her to fall in love with you, whatever you do, don’t murmur “beautiful” when she brushes out her long hair, not even under your breath.
Stop that! I am not finished. Don’t make me bite your hand.
Do not read stories to her. Do not point out things as you walk along the street together. Do not sit under the stars with her. Do not play the guitar and sing until morning. It is very dangerous for you to be talented and strong.
Do not compliment her. She will learn to hang on your every word, and wait with baited breath for your approbation. Now do not be cold…It is too late for you, you are lost! She will want to fix her mistake, to restore what she can sense she has lost: your humor, your witty quips.
For when the summer is over, and you have forgotten her name, who is to blame if she pines for you? Is it her fault, her caramel hair, her shy smile, her sudden laugh? Was she too easy to impress, too quick to admire?
In short, do not be kind. Do not be handsome. Do not be witty, or clever, or charming. For, long after you have gone, she will call out your name, and her heart will be broken. Then she will envy the female of my species, who has many suitors, and judges them not by the caliber of their smile, but on the crunch and flavor of their flesh.
My father’s mother never wanted to be called a grandmother…she said it made her feel old. Instead, she wanted us to call her Mom-mom.
I adore these old pictures of her. In that first one, she is twenty years old and it is 1950. She is so beautiful. And the second one is on her wedding day…she is standing next to my grandfather.
Everyone always says my Mom-mom is a hard woman, and hard to get along with, but not for me! I can get away with anything with my Mom-mom, just by cuddling her and giving her big puppy dog eyes.
I don’t know why this is true, but it is. She does get mad at me sometimes, but she can never stay mad.
My Mom-mom won’t let anyone into her kitchen except for me. Sometimes, at family gatherings, when one of my relatives is giving me a hard time about something or another, my Mom-mom will walk up behind my silently and sling an arm around my shoulder. Whoever was scolding me will gradually trail off and then walk away. This is the kind of relationship my Mom-mom and I have.
At every single gathering, she tells the same story of me when I was three years old. I walked into her kitchen, hands cupped and huge grin on my face. She leaned over and said, “What do you have there in your hands?”
“It’s Rebecca!” I shouted gleefully, opening my hands to reveal an enormous wolf spider. My Mom-mom’s hand still flutters to her heart when she tells the story. She laughs and says, “Some things never change.”
One time, she and I were baking pecan pie for Christmas day. I was dangerously thin at the time, and as we were baking, she nudged me with an elbow and said, “Do you like pecans?”
I blinked at her and said, “Yes, of course.”
“Then you should steal one!” she whispered conspiratorially, snatching a nut out of the batter and dropping it in my hand. I was startled into laughter because I had previously known her only to be very severe and straight-laced.
One time, I was to perform a piece (Ode to Joy, if I remember correctly) at my uncle’s wedding. He was getting married in Washington, DC, and I was living in Colorado at the time. Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, I had to fly from Denver to Salt Lake City, Utah, and then from Utah to Atlanta, Georgia, before landing in DC. I had been flying all night (red-eye), and landed with a mere hour to spare before my performance time.
I was so exhausted that day, and it went by in a blur. The only concrete memory I have of the day is being enveloped in the soft warmth my Mom-mom’s huge purple faux fur coat as she hugged me when I stepped off the last plane.
I don’t have a good reason to post about my grandmother today, but I hope you’ll understand. Some days you just need to write about things. Sometimes, you need to write about mom-moms.
A bit of fun writing for Friday.
It was a bright and beautiful morning in early September (early in the summer) in Western Australia. Charlie was a good looking Aussie and, like other good looking Aussies his age, he was out searching for a romantic interest. Of course, there were some ways in which Charlie was not an ordinary Aussie too. You see, Charlie was a wasp from the Thynnid family. Now, if you’re not familiar with Thynnid wasps, then you can’t possibly know how romantic they are. The females of the Thynnid family are unable to fly. They sit on the ends of branches, longing to be free to fly in azure Australian skies. Their pining attracts male Thynnid wasps, who fall in love with the female’s perfume, catch her up in their arms, and carry them away into the heavens.
Charlie cleaned his antennae anxiously, grabbing one with his middle leg and running it through his mandibles, then repeating the procedure on the other. He was young and physically fit, but he had never mated before. He was eager to increase his fitness in a more Darwinian sense. Look out! What was that? A beautiful aroma wafted out across the air. There was a very fine smelling female on that branch over there. Charlie straightened his wings a bit nervously, then flew over to buzz hello. There she was! He could already see that she was a good looking sheila. He buzzed about playfully, trying to get her attention, but she ignored him. In fact, she didn’t seem interested at all in his brilliant aerial acrobatics. Depressed, he sat on a branch for a minute, thinking.
Maybe what she wanted was to fly herself! he realized suddenly. Joyously, he flew up to her and caught her around the waist, lifting her effortlessly into the air…or so he thought. But as soon as had he embraced her, thwap! Something gave him a solid wallop on the abdomen. He spun off dizzily. What just happened?
He landed again and stared at the female, bemused. There was something wrong…she didn’t have a head! Charlie reeled in horror for a moment before he realized…that wasn’t a female at all! What was it…some sort of plant?! He buzzed furiously around the flower. It was releasing the sweet perfume of a female Thynnid. He had been tricked! This flower (an Australian Hammer Orchid although Charlie could hardly have known it) was a deceitful thing. It smelled and looked just like a lady. Well, if that didn’t just push his buttons! He buzzed off angrily, ignorant to the clump of pollen stuck to his underside like toilet paper stuck to someone’s shoe. He landed on a branch to cool off, cleaning his antennae of the false female’s offensive aroma.
After all, he thought, there was nothing to do but try again. That was the nature of love…hope and disappointment, trial and error. He was still young, still handsome. But wait…what was that over there? Another sweet smelling female! His lucky day. He thought, this time I will sweep her off her feet immediately and leave her no chance to be coy. He flew straight to her, but no sooner had he caught her up in his arms…thwap!
I took this photo a few years ago on Lizard Island, which is about 80 km (50 mi) off the coast of Cairns, Queensland. These white-lipped tree frogs were not uncommon, and they didn’t seem to mind being around humans. My friend had one that lived in her fine china…she liked it because it ate all the pesky insects that flew in to investigate the bright lights in her display case.
Doesn’t that frog on the mirror just seem to love himself? And I was thinking, isn’t that one of the hardest things to learn? But it is so important! Sometimes it almost seems that you have to learn to love yourself before you can truly love anyone else. And what use are you to anyone if you are so preoccupied with hating yourself? Maybe I’m not the one to be writing about it, since I am a master of self-hate.
I’ve hated just about everything about myself for a long time, and it has sometimes had serious implications for my life and health. I make mean jokes about my Cyrano de Bergerac-ian nose, my imperfect body, my annoying voice. I am 165 cm (65 in) tall, but at one point in college I dropped below 43 kg (96 lbs). It didn’t make me like myself any more. Looking back, I can see the ways in which my self-hate has kept me from being a good frienddaughtersister. And the times when I have been most at ease with myself have been the times when I was most absent from myself.
Does that make sense? There have been moments when I have been on the brink of giving everything away. I would have given my whole heart to the first person that asked for it, or wanted it. It was this wild feeling, joy and desperation in a cocktail blend.
But who truly wants your whole heart? Your complete and utter devotion?
I mean, really.
I make a good wingman, second mate, vice president. I’m good at taking orders and making things happen. I love doing things for other people. But not for myself.
The truth of the matter, though, is that you must love yourself. No one else is going to do it for you. You must learn, even though it is hard.
This fall I was suffering from a broken heart. To cope, I started training intensely for a half marathon. Similar to other members of my family, I sometimes attend to things with a dogged and driven devotion. This fall, it was running. I did everything: speed work, fartleks (“speed play”), hill work, sprints, long runs. I ran barefoot and shod, in minimalist shoes, on trails and on roads, in the middle of the day and in the middle of the night by the light of the moon. I ran every day, swam 3 km three times a week, worked in long long bike rides in the mountains.
Now, I’ve done heaps of races: half marathons and sprint triathlons are my favourites. But I have always said that I would never be faster, that I was simply incapable. No one in my family is a super star athlete, it is simply not done. And the “you just can’t”s in my family, though not intended to be discouraging, have been repeated throughout my life.
So, on race day, when I ran this half marathon in 1:42:26 (that’s 4.66 min/km, or 7.5 min/mi), I placed for ladies of my age group. I beat my last best time by 35 minutes. Now, that’s not a record breaking time, nor is it especially impressive. But it was more than I would have ever imagined I could do. And I had this one, brief moment. It’s kind of encapsulated by this photo:
You don’t have to run a race to love yourself. You just have to appreciate the miracle of your body every day. Don’t try to be like anyone else, don’t worry what they think. You have no control over that! And what does it matter? To them you are a blink in the day, their minds are full of their own lives. You must have your own internal meter of success.
It starts with this: love thyself.
Pepe le pew was a cartoon character, an amorous skunk that tragically fell in love with a high class cat. Allow me to wax nerdy on you, dear readers. This is illogical for a few reasons. Skunks are actually mustelids (like ferrets, minks, and weasels), while the house cat (Felis catus) is a felid. You see, they are not only unrelated, but they are in different families! Okay, it is true that they are both carnivora, but this would be roughly equivalent to a snake falling in love with a chameleon. You can see the problems, right? Ah, taxonomy, ruining your favourite childhood cartoons since 1735 (Linnaen’s Systema Naturae).
Just by the fact that skunks are roughly cat-sized and cat-shaped, the (non-biologist) creators of this cartoon thought it would be clever to have a skunk fall in love with a cat. I suppose love is not logical.
But I digress!
The point of introducing Pepe le pew is that he also tragically fell for my window well. Or rather, he fell in my window well. It was in mid-February, 3 am and black as pitch outside. I woke, wondering again what woke me, and heard a scratching noise just below my bed. Another nighttime visitor? A Romeo? I quickly realized that the window was just above my bed, meaning that the well was just below my bed. I figured that it was probably a squirrel and, grumbling selfishly, I decided to help him out when I woke up at 5, as usual.
But just as I rolled over to go back to sleep, I started to smell it. That horribly pervasive, obnoxious Eau de skunk. I groaned and levered myself out of bed, threw on a jacket and some bedroom slippers, shoved my glasses crookedly onto my face, and stumbled out into the dark. It was sleeting rain that froze the instant it touched the snow packed ground. Everything was covered in a sheet of ice. I slipped precariously around the back porch and peered into the well. A very distraught skunk peered back up at me.
I think that there was a pair of skunks living under the porch (still are probably). Pepe was probably just out for a morning jog. He must’ve walked out, yawning and stretching when suddenly(!), plop he fell into the window well. In his distress, he just started spraying everything. Well, that was sufficient to rouse me from my bed at 3 am in the sleet.
I can’t say any of that for sure; there were no footprints on the ice and sleet.
I have to say, of all of the animals I have rescued, skunks are the stupidest. I tried everything to help him out. I put in blocks of wood for him to climb up on. I tried putting in a ramp (that worked for the ducklings). But no, Pepe was too stupid (or too frightened). Finally, I put a trash can (rubbish bin?) in the window well, poked Pepe with a broom handle until he took refuge in the bin, snapped the lid on the bin, and lifted him out. Easy as one, two, three (um, four).
So, after all of this effort, after standing for over an hour in the sleet in my flannel PJs and bedroom slippers, I took a moment to celebrate Pepe’s release. He waddled off as quickly as possible away from the house. No sooner had he vanished into the dark than a completely different skunk (with completely different fur colour patterns) wandered up innocently and, without so much as a “how do you do” fell promptly into the window well.
PS Did you know that people used to keep skunks as pets? It’s true! (Wikipedia says so) They used to remove the anal glands that allow skunks to spray. Apparently, if not for their stink they would make good pets. Possibly better than cats.
Don’t be misled by the title of this post. This has nothing to do with my romantic interests (or lack thereof). This post is about animals that interrupt one’s peaceful slumber and intrude on the nightly journey of Queen Mab (see Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 4). I have had a number of Romeos from various taxa visit my boudoir (why do I want to use French to describe everything related to love?). I’ll describe a couple here and save some for future posts.
In Honduras, I was popularly nicknamed “reina de los escorpiones” because I woke on the first night to first a large scorpion sitting inches from my nose, illuminated by moonlight. Upon seeing it, I calmly went back to sleep. Apparently, I am not easily bothered when I am sleepy. When I awoke the next morning, I was considerably more startled.
There was a gecko with a stubby tail that serenaded me every night with his bird-like chirrups. I used to call him Romeo.
Once upon a time, I was staying in an old farmhouse in West Virginia, looking after the chickens and taking care of a chestnut orchard. I was sleeping in a guest bedroom that hadn’t been used (by humans anyway) in over three decades. I loved it because, just outside the old wooden window I could see fireflies more numerous than the stars. I fell asleep gazing up at their dance, but awoke in the middle of the night to pitch darkness. Why did I wake up? I felt that I had maybe heard or felt something. I sleepily fumbled for the lights and moved aside the ancient quilt, but there was nothing in the bed, so I attributed it to a dream and went back to sleep.
On the second night, after falling asleep to the flashing synchronized swimmers of the twilight, I woke up again in the middle of the night. This time I was sure I had heard something and felt something brush my leg, and I was better prepared. In one fluid motion, I tugged the cord to turn on the light and flung the covers off.
Mice went everywhere.
It was logical enough, in retrospect. They had converted the old, unused mattress into a comfy nest, and I was sleeping in their home. I could hardly be upset, I was the interloper here, after all.
The mice were such a perfect part of that old house. I can close my eyes and see it now, old creaky floorboards under my feet, the banister on the steep staircase worn smooth by generations of calloused hands. The smell of that hand made quilt with its unraveling seams. Rusty coffee cans full of nails in the pantry. Warm eggs from the chickens in the predawn dark. The old country roads rising under my feet as I ran, weaving around with the bends in the river.