Category Archives: Nature

In the woods

I’ve been living in the cabin for most of the past 12 years. The first four were spent mostly outside gardening and clearing the area of tornado-downed trees.The fifth was a lot of time outside at night looking through the telescope and then I left for two years. When I returned in the fall of 2015 I never quite got back into the rhythm of gardening or my time at the telescope. I was still outside a lot but not in the steady, mission-driven way that I had been before. My time outside became more casual and meandering.

This spring I’ve been back outside far more. First on the bike, riding around the county. Then, in mid April, my sister and niece began an extended stay in their cabin which prompted me to cut my rides short. From 36 miles I dropped to 26 miles or less and my ride time from 3 hours to 2 hours. And then, almost accidentally, I started the trail building project in mid April. Three weeks later and we’ve now got about 2 miles of completed trail. I feel like I’ve spent most of my days either working on the trails or walking on them or riding on them. It’s been a wonderful, rewarding process.

The simple act of just getting out into the quiet woods during the springtime has been a privilege I wish more people had access to especially in these times of the Covid virus. I’m used to having outside time and space so it’s not really new for me but a lot of people are struggling with what to do with themselves.

Wood Betony, a favorite spring food source for bumble bees

Whether walking, biking or trail building, time spent in the woods is good for the mind and the body. Obviously, increased movement and exercise is always good but the time spent hearing birds and frogs sing, observing the daily emergence of spring wild flowers and the flight of insects amongst those flowers is a constant source of bliss.

Denny

May 11, 2019

This. Yes, this says it well.

Alexandra Petri writing for the Washington Post about the recent UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’,

Just admit it! You don’t care about other species!

Look, let’s abandon this charade, all right?

I understand: You do not give a ringtailed lemur’s posterior about the majority of life on earth. I fully get it. Believe me, I barely give a carp about it, and some of it is my family. Just — respect me enough to admit it, okay?

For years I have come to you with news that the prairie chicken is not doing so well, and you have furrowed your brow and made concerned sounds. But — the prairie chicken does no better. I am sure you intend to do something about the prairie chicken, but “doing something about the prairie chicken” has slid somewhere on your priorities list below “doing nothing about the prairie chicken” and “forming strong, detailed opinions about the coffee cup that briefly appeared in a single shot of ‘Game of Thrones.’” And that’s fine! I mean, it’s not fine, but it’s between you and your God. Just, admit it, so we can stop wasting time.

I feel like the hardest part of my job right now as a scientist is how you pretend you care about other living beings (apart from dogs and cats, the dunking otter, the new dunking otter, or the occasional octopus who has on account of his exceptional gifts risen from straitened circumstances, pulling himself up by eight bootstraps). To save the rich and glorious tapestry of species that makes life possible on earth, there is nothing you would not do, except alter the way you live in even the slightest bit or be mildly inconvenienced for a very brief time. That is the sense I’m getting? I guess I understand why it is an important element of your self-image that you care about such things, but — look, you are not fooling anyone.

More on the report.

And more…

Denny

May 10, 2019

As is often the case I have a tendency to become less regular in my posting here. As I was writing up a description of a recent episode of the Discovery Podcast to share on a slack channel it occurred to me that this is exactly the sort of thing I should post here.

So, this was a fun podcast to listen to… about the perception of the passing of time in different animals. Basically, the perception of time is different based on sensory input, audio and visual, which varies. Flies, bats, and birds are discussed as examples of animals that have a higher frame rate of perception. In a sense, time seems slower for them or at least can be. For bats who can control their frame rate through clicks in the audio-echo based system, time can be slowed down as needed. So, when flying through an open space with little action they can conserve energy with fewer clicks but when hunting an insect they can speed it up from 1 click a second to 200 a second and slow their sense of time for accurate hunting. Kind of like increasing the resolution of what they hear/see as they need to.

Give it a listen!

Denny

December 19, 2018

Not the best photo in terms of quality due to cropping but I love it because, well, Snow Goose! Just one. So pretty.  Side note: Trying out some image processing with Darkroom on iPad and it’s pretty fantastic.

Sunset Time-lapse

Been having some very active weather lately. That may sound silly as the weather is often active.  Maybe more accurate to say that we’ve been having lots of windy days. Thankfully we had a slight let-up in the wind the other day at sunset and there were some very nice clouds rolling through which made for a very nice time-lapse.

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Of Monarchs and Birthdays

It’s Royal’s birthday so I’ll put on a happy face. But this. This. I’m having a real hard time imagining a summertime without Monarchs. What else will we kill off because we don’t know how to live within limits, don’t know how to live as species that recognizes the needs of other species. Every grass lawn, every golf course is a problem.
Prime example, I’ve just had a bit of a family kerfluffle because now that I’m not living at the lake they are making changes. Gone are the native wildflowers, including the butterfly milkweed I planted (the exact food source mentioned in this article), the coneflowers, etc…. replaced by? Grass. Every area we humans occupy (at least those of us I have come to know in my life) we insist upon wiping nature clean with a green lawn or concrete.
Of course I often hear “Oh what does this one little patch matter”? There’s more growing over there (wave hands in some direction). It is as though we each live in a bubble and unwilling to acknowledge that what we do matters because millions (in this nation) of others are doing it as well. The denial of collective behavior and collective effect is very intentional.
So, today Monarchs. Tomorrow?

A Cold and Snowy Night!

A 13 second exposure of my scope and all the snow
nicely illuminated by the moon! Note Sirius in the
lower left corner of the image. Wish I’d gone just a bit
higher to fit Orion in the image!

We’ve been clouded over since the December 14th, the night of the fantastic Geminid shower so when it cleared late yesterday afternoon I decided to get the scope out. My plan was to try to get an as much time as possible before the moon came up which I did. It was about 25 degrees when I settled in at 6:20pm with a plan to observe 6-8 open star clusters in the Herschel 400.

The viewing was perfect! As cold as it was I was toasty warm with 4 layers on my legs, 2 pair of socks, 4 layers on top and my mittens and ski mask. I was able to get in a little more than an hour looking for my clusters and then spent another half hour looking at Jupiter. NGC 7209  and NGC 6940, both open clusters, were quite beautiful.

As beautiful as the views through the scope were what was most enjoyable was the snow covered landscape all around me. Even before the moon was up there was enough light reflected around by the snow that I could enjoy the view. The higher the moon got the better the scene became! The night was so calm and serene.

Pondering the Future

Specifically my personal future and also thinking a bit about this blog. I’ve obviously not been very consistent with updates. Honestly, I put some of the blame for that on Facebook. I’m sure I am not the only one who spends too much time there. While it is great for sharing I thing the downside is that much of that sharing is just reposting. I am also leery of so much content being under one roof so to speak.

So, still here. With the crazy heat and drought of this past summer my garden suffered as did the many trees and bushes I put in over the past four years. That said, almost all of my perennials survived even if they didn’t thrive. Luckily the veggie garden was, by chance, smaller. The climate future looks increasingly scary for those of us that want to eat food, wink wink.

As for my project here, it will continue for the time being though I struggle to remain enthusiastic with the annual veggies. Something about three months of intense drought and heat seems to make my garden time outside a bit less enjoyable. Our well is shallow which means I either need to haul water from the lake or invest several thousand into a new well. Climate change is ugly.

So, I’m thinking that it is time to add in a new element of activity which reflects a new interest (actually a childhood/life interest that has been sitting in a corner of my mind): astronomy! Well, science in general, but astronomy especially. While I have no intention of abandoning the permaculture work I think having another primary activity is a good thing and in the winter when growing is out I’ll have something very interesting to explore, namely, our universe.

Which brings me back to one my thoughts on the blog. I’ve not been consistent in writing about my permaculture/homestead efforts but do think I might be more consistent in reporting on my astronomical explorations as it is the sort of interest that lends itself to data collection and reporting. Should I do that here as a supplement to my other interests or do I start an astronomy based blog? Actually, I think I just sorted it out as I write. I’ll keep it here but will not just add in my astronomical observations but will also add in other science related material.

Actually, and don’t laugh, but I have this vision of humanity (or myself?) that connects to a few episodes/films from Star Trek that have always stuck with me. In particular, those which seem to showcase small, egalitarian villages in which science seems to not only co-exist with daily life, but informs a deeper and greater understanding of the relationship between humans and nature and the larger universe. Contrast this to our modern manifestation which seems to have largely become a tool for corporate profit with little regard to ethics. A great example would be GMOs and modern industrial agriculture as it might compare to a decentralized permaculture-based system informed by local and thoughtful observation.

One outlook, the modern corporate/capitalist/industrial, uses science primarily as a tool for the accumulation of wealth. The other uses science as a method for deepening our understanding of the natural world around us not just for technological development, but for the sake of understanding. In this second outlook the ethics of use would be an important part of the overall process and would include all sorts of new questions and concerns in any sort of possible application of scientific knowledge. In fact, one might say that the second view represents a kind of democratization of applied science.

Wow. I didn’t expect to take this post in this direction but it is interesting and it is something I’ve thought about off and on over the years so, yeah, I’ll be back to this at some point. Another area that I’d like to explore is science literacy and critical thought. There has been a long trend in the U.S. which seems to be gaining a bit of steam when, in fact, it should be losing steam and that is the movement against science. Such a movement can only happen when there is a lack of communication of knowledge. When people are ignorant of established scientific knowledge and the basic method which serves as its foundation there is room for manipulation.

So, you can expect that I’ll be spending some time discussing not just science but specifically science literacy. I’m not a trained scientist but I think I know enough to discuss some issues as a citizen. Specifically I’m likely to dig into the entwined relationship of politics, religion and global capitalism have been used to undermine science literacy to further their capacity as control agents: social, political, economic, ecological… everything from the genetics of corn to humans, from crowd control to the “entertainment” that comes out of the glowing screens in living rooms. Science and technology can be used in many ways for many different and often opposing agendas. I think that will be some interesting exploration.

There is also some real life stuff I’m hoping to make happen that reflects all of this, specifically a few ideas for how I might further science literacy here in rural Missouri where it is greatly needed. I’ll share that as well.