Tag Archive 'natural history'

Aug 25 2021

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Looking Deep into the Past

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A few days ago, I revisited Fisk Quarry in Isle la Motte, where there are all kinds of marine fossils in full view. Then I stopped by the Goodsell Ridge Preserve to see even more fossils etched into stone over immense periods of time. I’ve been reading a lot of natural history recently and wanted to look with my own eyes deep into the past. After all, seeing is believing.

The fossils didn’t exactly jump out at me. At first all I saw were strange shapes in the rock that seemed more like hallucinations than anything real – projections of my own thoughts onto stone. But when I reached down and touched them, yes, that made them very real.

Gastropods, cephalopods, stromatoporoids, bryozoa – the names of these ancient creatures are as strange to me as what I was seeing. Or at least they were. But if you say such names frequently enough they become commonplace. The brain makes room for them, and for what they represent.

Chazy Reef it is called. Not a reef in the strictest sense, since the mound of life forms that built up there over time contained only a smattering of corals. It dates back 480 million years, and was located back then where Africa is today. The tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust move a couple inches each year, so now Chazy Reef is in Vermont. Pondering that alone is enough to make my head explode.

480 million years… That’s a long time. Back then marine life was all the life there was. Amphibians, reptiles, and land-loving mammals like us came along much later. It’s difficult to fathom that passage of time, and even more difficult to think of the natural world as something much different from what it is now. We take so much for granted. But this world of ours, all the stars and galaxies, the entire universe has been evolving for 14 billion years. And it will continue evolving long after you and I are gone. That certainly puts things in perspective.

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Aug 09 2021

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Incredible Nature

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Both Judy and I have delved deep into nature this summer.

Judy has gotten into macro photography. Using a special lens, she creates photos of small subjects that are larger than life, enabling us to see them in a different way. Sometimes she takes photos of insects or other tiny creatures, but her main interest is flowers. The inner workings of some flowers are surreal. Sometimes they are downright cosmic. It’s amazing what her photos reveal when she gets up close and personal.

Meanwhile, I have been studying natural history, reaching way back in time to the emergence of life forms on this planet. It’s a long journey from single-celled organisms in an oxygen-starved world to multicellular plants and animals populating the ocean five hundred million years ago, then to the appearance of insects, amphibians and reptiles, then to flowering plants, mammals and eventually us. While millions of life forms have come and gone, many of the most primitive ones, such as fungus and algae, are still with us. Some species of algae are over a billion years old. Some species of bacteria are much older. It boggles the mind.

The other day, while I was cleaning out the birdbath in our back yard, I hosed green slime off the rocks that sit in its water. That’s algae, that only hints at the kind of primordial slime that once covered the earth. While I was going about this task, songbirds flitted from feeder to feeder, squirrels scurried about, insects crept through the grass underfoot, and trees swayed around me in a gentle summer breeze. Wild and domestic flowers of various designs bloom in our yard. So much diversity. So many different ways to exist, right out our back door.

Nature is unfathomable. The deeper we go into it, the more we see. From subatomic particles to galaxies, from a single cell of bacteria to the Amazon rainforest, there is so much going on all at once. How can we possibly wrap our brains around it all? Perhaps it is enough to simply marvel at the wonder and beauty of it all. But no, some of us want to go even deeper, hoping to find the driving force behind his phenomenon so casually referred to as evolution.

Nature spelled with a capital “N.” Yeah, that’s what I’m after.

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Jan 28 2020

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What Is Human?

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After nearly a year away from it, I am back to work on my book concerning wildness and being human. That’s a good thing, but I must say that I’m intimidated by the sheer magnitude of the subject. What do we really know about ourselves? What do we know with absolute certainty about our own humanity?

To be more specific, where do we stand in relation to nature? No doubt we live in the natural world and have always been a part of it. That much is obvious to anyone who takes paleontology and archaeology the least bit seriously. But when did we become fully human and how did that transformation take place? More importantly, what does it mean to be fully human? The more one delves into this subject, the more mind-boggling it becomes.

I imagine that all this seems rather academic to most people. What relevance could such questions have in the Digital Age? The stone tools and cave art of our distant ancestors seem rather distant indeed. Yet therein lies the key to who/what we are, and what we must do in these dangerous times to preserve our humanity.

I am convinced that the dynamic relationship between wild nature and human nature did not go away when we started building towns and engaging in agriculture on a grand scale. Contrary to what is generally assumed, civilization does not define us. I am also convinced that wildness is an essential part of our humanity. But these things I know on a visceral level, after spending considerable time alone in wild places. Making a convincing case, a rational argument to this effect, is another matter altogether.

I am working on this but it isn’t any easier than trying to understand the meaning of those 30,000-year-old drawings in the Chauvet cave or elsewhere. Were the people who drew them, long before civilization, as human as we are? I believe so, but proving that is turning out to be a much greater challenge than I thought it would be.

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Jan 10 2016

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New WTB Website

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Wood-ThrushThe renovated Wood Thrush Books website, featuring used books on a variety of nature-related subjects, is now up and running!

Many of you have been hearing about this undertaking for months. With Judy’s help, I’ve finally turned a quasi-professional site into a bona fide online bookstore.

To be honest, Judy did all the heavy lifting. She reconfigured the site so that browsing it is easy and making a purchase is even easier. All I did was upload a bunch of cover photos and book blurbs, which has been more time consuming than difficult.

There are over 150 books at the site now, between used books and those published by WTB, and more on the way. Shipping is included, making these books quite affordable. The inventory system lets you know when a book is out-of-stock, and a third party securely handles credit cards. We can even do returns.

I am quite pleased to provide a place where readers can browse good books about the natural world, from classic and contemporary nature writing, to ecology, natural history, wilderness travel, wildlife, and even astronomy. So check it out: WoodThrushBooks.com

 

 

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