Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Animal Planet

Last night I thought I might watch a little entertainment–having paid the bills, done the laundry, and spent the day in (basically) healthful activities.
So, I peered about Netflix looking for shows while Bertie sat in my lap (he is such a fan!)
What do you know, just about every show these days is Dark, Violent, Sublimely Creepy, Filled with Disturbing Revelations.
This was not exactly the note I was striving for last night.
So I clicked on Planet Earth II, and watched astonishing animals as Richard Attenborough narrated. He was talking about islands, and there were crabs, birds, monkeys, lizards–this is the show that gave us that brave iguana baby fleeing his natal sands for the shore chased by HUNDREDS OF HORRIBLE SNAKES, a little clip that will make your blood run cold. Talk about sublimely creepy!
The most lovely part focussed on Bullers Albatrosses, who spend half a year alone, winging over the vast southern ocean, and then fly thousands of miles home to rejoin their dear mates and raise one precious chick in the brief summer of the islands off New Zealand. They are odd birds, presenting a strangely unreal aspect, what with their dark brows, tri-colored beaks and white bodies.

We waited with one swain, who anxiously peered about looking for his wife–and finally she appeared. He modestly held back for a moment, but then the two birds cried aloud their joy, and did their dance of happiness. It is simply lovely, and so moving–here is a clip of Layser albatrosses dancing.
Then there was the odyssey of 50 million red crabs. Colorful, very. But not quite as moving, somehow.


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By way of restoring the soul between riveting BUT HORRIFYING episodes of Game of Thrones, I have been watching a nature series called Africa, narrated by—of course–Sir David Attenborough (who is now about a hundred and five or so). One astonishingly fabulous vision after another—I found that my jaw was quite literally dropping open in sheer amazement. As for instance, at the huge panorama of a million million pale pink flamingos feeding in the strange soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley. Or, a giraffe battle in the Namib desert—the giraffes whip each other with their long stately necks in an oddly beautiful dance (except that both victor and loser are bloody and bruised afterwards).

There was a particularly charming scene, filmed at night, showing a group of black rhinos—normally solitary creatures—who gathered at a waterhole, appearing to greet each other with great good cheer. One young male, having been dismissed by haughty female, reappeared bedecked with an antelope skull, the long horns forming a sort of perky hat. WELL! She was captivated, and a rhino dalliance ensued. Not perhaps a very graceful proceeding, but there, we can’t all be Baryshnikovs.

Except the springboks, that is—they outdo any human dancer. There is even a name for their acrobatic bounding about: pronking. As Sir David says, it’s hard not to think they are leaping for the very joy of it.

Among many breathtaking scenes—good lord, the Dragon’s Breath Cave!—the odyssey of the King Fish stays with me—completely mysterious, completely splendid. These enormous and powerful fish have a unique custom: periodically, they gather together and leave the ocean to swim up the Mtentu River, deep into the interior. Once arrived at the place they seek, they gather into a vast ring and dance in a circle. And then they turn and go back to the ocean. No one knows why.

Except the King fish of course.

As I said, it made my jaw drop, just drop.

It reminds me of a recent story about an archaeological find in Turkey, Göbekli Tepe, a site of great age, built possibly 11 thousand years ago—whose elaborately carved monoliths imply a technology that seems impossible in a time when humans still lived in small hunter-gatherer groups.

And yet, there it stands.

Whenever you hear someone announcing that the science is settled, that he knows all the answers, ask him about the King fish’s dance. Ask him about Göbekli Tepe.

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This morning I stepped outside and suddenly a flock of geese swept past, calling and clamoring high up in the bright blue sky, an arrow of birds pointing north. Though I felt none of that land-girt longing to travel with them, my heart lifted at their joy and exhilaration. A fine beginning to the day!

PS In researching geese formations I came across the following:
I grew up in Virginia, and I remember asking my father why the geese flew in a “V”. He told me they only do that over Virginia and would switch to an “N” over North Carolina on their way south…

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This morning when I stepped outside it seemed that the season changed overnight–BOOM! Now it’s fall. The ground was covered with fallen leaves that were NOT there yesterday, and it was dismal and dark. SO dark that I thought, perhaps my clocks all wrong and it is really the middle of the night? Which event figures in Jerome K. Jerome’s wonderful and deeply silly book, Three Men in Boat. One of the 3 men forgot to wind his watch when he went to bed, and waking up on a dark foggy winter morning, thought that it was 8:30.

“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” exclaimed George; “and here have I got to be in the City by nine. Why didn’t somebody call me? Oh, this is a shame!”

He rushes about, bathing and dressing, and in the commotion, the watch starts up again. There is NO BREAKFAST waiting for him–wicked and shameful laziness of the housekeeper–and so he rushes out unfed to get to work on time. Gradually it dawns on him that it is VERY QUIET about. On asking a policeman (who regards him with wounding suspicion) he discovers it is 3 in the morning. A simply charming tale, you can read it here.
But my clocks were right, and it was just a dismal dark day.
Oh well, at least we’ve had no earthquakes lately.

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Today I was putting the finishing touches on a charming Patriotic Cake, destined to nourish and entertain fellow revelers at a local July 4th celebration. Outside was a rather dismal morning, with rain falling steadily. Finally, the organizers of the celebration decided that it just wasn’t going to stop, and canceled the parade. And, INSTANTLY, the rain stopped, and not long afterwards, the sun came out.
The organizers must be tearing their hair out.

DAMN weather.

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Flowers and Duty

Yesterday the horrid glacier that imprisoned the snowdrops finally relented–what a treat to see the dainty white buds bravely hoisting themselves out of the dark earth! A welcome sight on the morning of my 67th birthday!

But aside from that, the morning was dire and filled with DOOM.
Because I had Jury Duty, in distant Rockville.
So, while I caught the bus in the usual way, at the station, I took the train going in the opposite direction than usual. And this was not the only terrifying novelty–this train hurtled ABOVE GROUND, unlike the echt, the normal train which remains decently underground. Once arrived at Rockville station–almost the end of the line, deep into the heart of Montgomery County (I live on the outskirts of the county, and only occasionally visit the dark interior)–I pored over the instructions sent me. It is odd but the simplest directions are furiously complicated when the heart is beating high with nervousness, facing unfamiliar territory and the horror of being late. Did it say turn left after the pedestrian bridge–or turn right?
Anyway, I found the court building, went through security, and made my way to the Juror’s Lounge. Whoa! Talk about palatial luxury! The place was huge, with rows of wide comfortable seats, 3 drop down screens with projectors at the ready, a pleasant little snack area, and a large counter at the back lined with computers for our use. Our task was carefully explained to us, and we watched a movie making clear not only the importance of performing jury duty, but also the superabundance of funding our county has to produce such an elegant show (with MUSIC!)
Afterwards we lounged about playing on the computers, eating expensive snacks, and reading the newspaper, until we were told that in fact our services were not required today, so long, and thanks for coming.
And then, back across the pedestrian bridge, back on the train, and back to the quotidian world and my office–where a splendid bouquet was awaiting me, a birthday present from my kids! So, adorable snowdrops in the morning, gorgeous roses and hydrangea in the afternoon, with a dicey bit between. Not so dusty, really! Lovely flowers AND the delightful glow of having done my civic duty.

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There was a bamboo grove on a street near my house, which resounded with the songs of all the birds who lived therein. It was like a sparrow tenement house–in summer and winter I could hear their busy noise and friendly chirping as I walked by. Tall and green, it was a dense and impenetrable mini-forest.

And then one day I walked by to find a crew of men hard at work, cutting down the fronds, digging out the hill with a back hoe. Though shocked by the carnage, as a fellow gardener I couldn’t but sympathize–bamboo is the devil plant, and will take over the world one day. So sorry, this MY garden now, it says as it moves into your rose bed, your patio, your house. As days passed, I noted the hill now neatly planted with plugs of ivy, and a tall fence at the top. All very commendable, and very possibly the house is being trimmed in preparation for resale.
But you may drive out nature with a pitchfork yet she will ever hurry back.
This morning I noted the springing whips of bamboo rising like an army through the pathetic little bunches of ivy. Thousands of new shoots. A dismal sight for the house owner, though probably the birds find it cheering enough.

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