Another Design Flaw

Three years ago, I wrote about an annoying design flaw in the human body—that inability to scratch a frustratingly large portion of one’s own back. Recently, a friend (Hi, Mor!) pointed out yet another. Why don’t we have ear lids?

I’d certainly love to have a pair. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to employ them when you’re trying to take a nap and your next door neighbor cranks up his lawnmower? They would sure have come in handy the many times people have attempted to force their religious beliefs on me. I’d probably have much better hearing if I had ear lids when I attended the rock concerts of my youth.

There are many things in life I’d really rather not hear.

  • Anti-vaxxers trying to explain why they want to ignore every scientific inquiry to the contrary and put the rest of our lives at risk so that they can bask in their own selfish ignorance.

  • People saying cruel things to their children that I know will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

  • People crying out for help when I know I am completely incapable of doing anything for them.

  • Politicians attempting to justify their evil actions.

  • Details about Season 8 of Game of Thrones when I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

  • Used car salesmen, and anyone else trying to hoodwink me out of my money.

  • Chinese robocalls.

  • Excuses. Lies. Hate speech.

  • Anything coming out of Trump’s greedy, corrupt pie hole, especially if it’s wall-related.

The funny thing is, nature is perfectly capable of creating ear lids. Most creatures have eye lids to protect their eyes. Heck, cats even have double ones. Marine mammals often have the ability to close off their nostrils. We are able to close our mouths when necessary, although many of us, including me, don’t do this nearly as often as we should. The ability to shut orifices is not a new concept. So why is there no means to protect our ear drums and our sanity?

La la la! I can’t hear you!

Perhaps this is nature’s way of telling us that we already spend too much time not listening to one another. Even so, I’d give just about anything to be able to have peace and quiet whenever I want it. I’m telling you, people, it’s time for an upgrade.

tenor

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I Don’t Do Mow

The other day I drove past my rental house and discovered that my tenants had worked wonders with the yard. Not only was the lawn mowed, but there were pretty flowers in pots on the front stoop, little fences around various plantings, and questionably tasteful yet charming lawn art here and there. In the back, they had placed a few tables and chairs with cheerful little umbrellas.

In other words, they’re taking much better care of the place than I did when I lived there. It kind of feels like I won the lottery. I don’t ever want them to leave.

And as the cherry on top of the yardwork sundae, I have married a man who actually enjoys mowing the lawn! That, in and of itself, makes him quite a catch, even though it’s a tendency I can’t relate to at all. He says he likes the mindless physicality of it, and takes pride in how beautiful things look afterward. I’m glad he isn’t into toxic chemicals to make the grass even greener. That we agree on. So more power to him, I say.

Personally, I can think of no bigger waste of time than mowing. Manicured lawns are a foible that has been visited upon us by the French. It’s not what our yards want to do with themselves, and no one should have to put so much work into keeping up appearances. We mow to follow rules that we’ve imposed upon ourselves. Nature could care less about our stinking rules.

I think all yards should have native plantings. I think if we all were to xeriscape, the planet would be in much better shape. So much water is wasted on lawns, and so much damage is done when we fertilize them.

I think we should all plant fruit trees and let the neighbors help themselves. I think we should have vegetable gardens to teach our children what real food is supposed to taste like. I also think weeds have as much right to exist as anything else. I want rabbits to want to hang out in my yard.

In the first house I owned, I planted confederate ivy in the front instead of grass. I never watered it. I never did anything to it, other than occasionally cut it back so it wouldn’t choke the sidewalk and cause a tripping hazard. I lived there for 23 years.

I’m sure my husband would be horrified, but not overly surprised, to know that if he were ever abducted by aliens, the yard would wind up looking extremely different than it does now. Things would definitely be encroaching upon one another. Survival of the fittest.

Watching people sweat behind gas propelled machines on a beautiful sunny day seems to me to be the biggest waste of life and the worst of ecological insults. We should all be on our knees, getting our hands dirty, working the soil and planting for food, beauty, and the chance to do something, anything, other than mow.

Natural garden

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The Mines on Tiger Mountain

My strange work schedule as a bridgetender for the City of Seattle means that I miss out on a lot of interesting events. Recently, my husband had the opportunity to experience some unique Pacific Northwest history, and I felt that it was worth blogging about. As I didn’t share the experience, and because, frankly, I need a day off from this blog every once in a while, he offered to write about it for me. So what follows comes from my husband, Cris.

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Hopefully, most kids get a back yard to play in as they grow up, whether it’s the confines of their fenced yard at home, a park in the neighborhood, or the hundred-acre wood where Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh played. From the time I was ten until I moved out to a college dorm, my back yard was a forest owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company. It extended for miles across Tiger Mountain, just south of Issaquah, Washington. There was plenty of room for discovery, and since it was mostly enjoyed by me, or in the company of a few friends, it became whatever we wanted to call it.  Each clearing, trail or landmark was given a name, and family and friends always knew what and where we were talking about.

The years continue to zip past. The land is now the 13,745 acre Tiger Mountain State Forest, enjoyed by countless people. My network of friends and associates has far surpassed what it was when I spent the day in a classroom, tree fort, or fishing at Fifteen Mile Creek.

Recently I discovered the Issaquah History Museum was hosting a mine tour, and I recognized the photo as one of those landmarks in my back yard. The photo that caught my eye was an old mine shaft into the side of the hill, with a stream of water the color of burnt orange flowing out. That water has poured from the hillside in a ceaseless flow for as long as I can remember, although the cave now has a lattice of timbers in place to prevent reckless people from entering.

So, almost forty-nine years after moving into the forest, I attended a tour in the backyard of where my mom still lives, in the house we built with our bare hands, using the lumber milled from trees on our property. My goal was to listen and learn and discover some of the truth as told by others, as much of early Issaquah history includes coal mining. And what I learned was indeed fascinating.

After Weyerhaeuser did a land swap with the Department of Natural Resources, and the land became a state forest, the DNR and the US Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining did their best to seal off the mines to prevent access and accidents. One that I had once walked about fifty feet into was filled with liquid Styrofoam, a particularly non-ecological method that is no longer used. (Think of the expanding foam known as “great-stuff”.)

But the USDI only wanted to seal legitimate mines, and the one I recognized in the photo was also part of a stock scam, so they found a loophole in their guidelines and chose to exclude that one from being decommissioned. However, it’s still a state forest with lots of public access, so it fell upon the DNR to seal up the mine entrance.

On the tour, I learned about the stock scam. An investor named Raymond Carr claimed to have purchased the rights on Tiger Mountain and named the mine after his wife Caroline. It produced enough coal to provide the appearance of production, and in 1932 Mr. Carr sold $200,000 worth of stock in the mine to people on the east coast of the United States. To his downfall, he also sold $200 worth to a Dr. Malcolm Wise on nearby Mercer Island. The Doctor was excited to own a portion of a coal mine that was less than twenty miles from his home, so he visited the mine. That’s how he discovered that Mr. Carr had no rights to sell stock. The State Securities Department got involved, and the local lawsuit opened the flood gates to the lawsuits from the east coast.

The mine did actually produce coal for several years, but another nearby coal mine a half mile further up the trail was operated to greater success by a company from Montana and was called the Bear Creek Yards Mine.  As a kid I knew that mine because the steel rails for the coal cars still came out of the mountainside and extended in an airborne loop over the collapsing hillside above where I’d hike and fish for cutthroat trout in Fifteen Mile Creek.

Mine - Bear Creek Yards.jpg

On the tour, we continued our walk beyond the Caroline mine, and several hundred feet further along the trail, our tour guide stopped along a crumbling hillside that I’d climbed dozens of times in my youth. At the top of the hill, among the layers of shale we would find rocks embedded with amber. Rock-hounds from near and far, following the lead in their guidebooks, would come searching for this amber, and the road to this location just happened to cross our property. For obvious reasons this hill was known to the family and friends as Amber Hill.

Our tour guide asked if we could guess why nothing grows on the hillside of exposed rock, and naturally we guessed that it was because of the shale. He then explained that just a few inches below the surface is a concrete cap that sealed off the air shaft to the Caroline mine. What?!  It should have occurred to me that there was a solid reason why nothing grew on that slope; nature reclaims everything in that forest, and it swiftly overgrows and covers everything. And it turns out that there’s a concrete reason!

Amber Hill.jpg

Just as the mine itself was draining water from the hillside, so did that airshaft while it was uncovered. Apparently the water flowing from both hillside openings was so great at the time that in order to bring coal from the Bear Creek Yards Mine, they needed to build a bridge to cross both the outflows. But concrete was plentiful at mine projects and bridges were expensive, so the decision was made to seal the upper cave entrance and build just one bridge.

The other discovery made on my backyard tour was that a high profile crime was related to the Caroline Mine. For the entire story of the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, you can visit this site. It seems that after days of being driven around the western states, the 9-year-old heir to the family fortune was left tied up in the guard shack at the mine. When he escaped, he followed the road out of the forest, and his trail to freedom crossed the property where I grew up.

I know that there is always more to learn, but it was especially rewarding to spend two hours on a springtime Saturday learning so much about the back yard where I grew up on Tiger Mountain.

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N-N-1 Season Changes

As always, it’s been a pleasure to participate in this photo/writing challenge that we bloggers call N-N-1, where the first N stands for the number of participants, the second for the number of photos (they should be the same), and the 1 stands for one moment in time. This time around, there weren’t as many participants, but the entries, as you will see if you click to see the entire post below, were all poignant and thought provoking. I hope you’ll join us in this wonderful project next time around! And thank you, Natalie, from Wild Rivers Run South, for hosting it this time!

I have been honored to offer this most recent N-N-1. Thank you to everyone who participated. I am already looking forward to the next one. Princess Butter, whose blog is asplashofmylife.wordpress.com, has a short, but very sweet, entry for this N-N-1. It could be spring, summer, or winter, for all I care. Right now, it […]

via N-N-1 Season Changes — Wild Rivers Run South

Seals Will Be Seals

Trust me, you don’t want to be a penguin on Marion Island. The seals there seem to have lost their moral compass. And now that they’ve tasted the forbidden fruit, it seems, there’s no turning back.

According to this BBC article (which, I must warn you, includes several very disturbing videos), the first time scientists spotted a fur seal attempting to copulate with a king penguin was back in 2006. Needless to say, that raised a few eyebrows, but they assumed it was an anomaly.

But no.

Since then, these penguin rapes have been on the rise. And it is more than one seal that’s in on this act. Fur seals are capable of learning from one another. Unfortunately, they seem to have chosen a pretty twisted mentor.

What they’ve been doing is chasing these penguins down, throwing themselves on top of them, and having their way with them for up to 5 minutes at a time, all while the penguin screams in agony. In one really creepy incident, the seal then killed the penguin and ate it. What a horrible way to go.

The perpetrators of these moral outrages are all adolescent males. It figures. The victims, on the other hand, seem to be random penguins of either gender who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m sure that there are seal apologists out there who will chalk this up to the fact that there’s really nothing much to do for fun in the sub-Antarctic. Or they’ll say this has something to do with how the penguins are dressing. As enthusiastic penguin-shamers, they’ll say those birds just lead them on. They’ll say they wanted to be crushed by an animal that’s at least three times their size. Because size matters. Seals will be seals.

I, on the other hand, feel that this is a sign of the coming apocalypse. Someone has to speak for the penguins. They cannot speak for themselves.

(Shame on me for making light of this situation. It really is disturbing and disgusting on so many levels. I just wanted to make it blatantly clear how absurd and wrong it is to blame victims.)

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_5_55_Antarctic_Fur_Seals_of_various_sizes_(5724162986)

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What a Wonderful World

If you’re feeling jaded about the state of the planet, whether it be environmentally or politically, I urge you to take a moment to do the following internet search: Scott Kelly Photographs. You won’t regret it.

As an astronaut and three-time commander of the International Space Station, Scott Kelly has spent a great deal of time gazing at our planet from outer space. In the process, he was kind enough to take many stunning photographs of what he saw, so we could share in the beauty and wonder.

There are two other great ways to see his spectacular work. You can read this article about him in the New York Times, or you can buy his book, entitled Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space. This book is making me struggle to remember that I’m trying really hard not to accumulate more stuff. I want it, I want it, I want it…

But whether it winds up gracing my coffee table or not, I’m really thrilled that these photos exist in the universe. Because no matter how horribly we behave as a species, we still, it seems, haven’t quite managed to muck up the planet beyond all recognition. These photos are proof positive of that.

We live in a gorgeous place, full of color and wonder and infinite majesty. There’s still a slight hope that we can preserve what’s left, and these photographs, more than anything else I’ve seen in a long time, give us all the reason we need to do so.

And dare I say it? They’re a testament to the fact that the earth is not flat! If you believe otherwise, you’re a fool.

Anyway.

Earth. What a gift!

(Join me in gazing up at the International Space Station as they gaze down at us. Learn now, here. It’s fun!)

Scott-Kelly--800x430
That’s one helluva selfie!

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Anomalocaris

I’ve always been fascinated by the fossil record, and the evolution of life, so when the book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren mentioned a “segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever” I was more than a little bit intrigued. I mean, can you imagine? Shudder.

Fortunately, upon further lazy Google research, I discovered that these creatures only lived during the Cambrian period. They were quite possibly nature’s first predators, though, and they were around for about 20 million years. I’m glad our species’ time on earth didn’t overlap, or I’d never swim in the ocean again. Ever.

The discovery of this creature kind of reminds me of that parable about the blind men who inspect various parts of an elephant and come away with wildly different descriptions of what an elephant is.

Before they ever discovered any Anomalocaris fossils, they kept coming across trilobite fossils with strange bite marks on their shells. What could be hunting these trilobites? What creature in the Cambrian period had such formidable jaws?

The first part of Anomalocaris that was discovered was a long, segmented appendage that juts off near its mouth. When a fossil of that part was found, scientists assumed it was some sort of shrimp. They named it Anomalocaris, or Odd Shrimp, for that very reason. They kept waiting for a fossil that would show the head of this shrimp, but they never found one.

Then they found a fossil of the mouth. It’s a very weird thing, most often described as a pineapple slice. It’s segmented, and doughnut shaped, with sharp prongs in the center. As a stand alone creature, it was assumed that this was some weird kind of jellyfish.

A fossil of the body was mistaken for a sponge.

But over time, paleontologists came to realize that these fossils were quite often found together, and then finally it was determined that these weird body parts all belonged to one creature. A highly efficient, shell cracking, trilobite terrorizer. And now I can’t get this creepy thing out of my head.

So I figured that the least I could do was put it into yours, dear reader. Now, check out this video, and your journey will be complete.

You’re welcome.

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_c_c3_Anomalocaris_BW

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