Moray and Maras

I have always wanted to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. But I’m hesitant because it would kind of suck to be kidnapped by Sendero Luminoso and forced to live in a jungle for months on end while they attempt to get a ransom that wouldn’t be forthcoming. This is one of the few sacrifices I’m just not willing to make for travel.

Having said that, though, if I did get to go, it would be a dream come true. Of course I’d love to go to Machu Picchu. Those ruins perched up so high that it’s hard to breathe have always captured my imagination. But I would also like to visit some of the lesser known sites that also highlight the Inca’s supreme intelligence and innovation. Case in point: the Moray Inca Ruins and the Maras Salt Ponds.

The Moray Inca Ruins are terraced fields high in the mountains that show that the Incas took agriculture very seriously, to the point of conducting scientific experiments. The terraces go so deep that the temperature from top to bottom can be as much as 59 degrees different. And they’re in a circular bowl, so the terraces get differing amounts of sun depending upon if they’re facing North, South, East, or West.

What this means is that the Incas could simulate just about any climate to be found in Peru, and they could move crops from one “climate” to another to see which plants preferred various conditions. I think that’s absolutely brilliant. I’d love to spend an hour or two there, just marinating in the Nerddom of it all. Check out this blog post by the Exploration Junkie for more details, including a stunning panoramic virtual tour.

From there, I’d go to check out the Maras Salt Ponds. This is yet another example of the Inca’s amazing ability to exploit all the natural resources that they encountered. It seems that even the people who once lived here before the Incas came along knew about the amazing spring that flows here. The truly amazing thing about this spring is that even though it’s 3380 meters above sea level, what comes out of it is salt water. Imagine.

When the Incas came along, they decided to really exploit this resource by making terraced ponds. Each pond flows into the next, and when they evaporate, they leave behind salt, which is vital for life. Rows upon rows of these ponds are still maintained and harvested by the locals to this day. And it’s a gorgeous sight to see. Exploration Junkie has not only a panoramic virtual tour, but also a short video of this stunning place.

Perhaps someday I’ll be able to visit and share with you some photos of my very own. Until then, I’ll content myself with traveling vicariously.

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Mason Bee Rentals

A friend of mine crowed on Facebook that she just received her mason bees in the mail. Naturally, I had to learn more. It turns out that you can rent them from rentmasonbees.com. They come to you in early spring with a bee house, a nesting block, 50-60 mason bee cocoons and a box with return postage for when you send them back in the fall. What a nifty idea!

Why mason bees? They pollinate your garden for you. They aren’t aggressive. (You really have to mess with a mason bee a lot to get stung because they’re naturally gentle creatures.) They’re super low maintenance, since you’re not dealing with honey. Just hang the box and let them do their thing. They’re also a great learning experience, and a great way to help the planet.

Why rent them? Well, each mason bee does the work of 100 honeybees. And at the end of the season, 50 mason bees can produce 500 eggs. When you send them back free of charge, the company will clean each cocoon and sterilize each nesting block to free them of predators and then safely keep them in hibernation under just the right conditions. The next season, they send these healthy bees to farmers, who need 1000 bees per acre to pollinate their crops, which, in turn, feed all of us.

What’s not to love about this program? If you’re interested, you better hurry, though, because they ship the last mason bees of the season on April 26th. So get your bee on!

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Questions for a Conspiracy Theorist

The other day I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine. He’s very gregarious and therefore quick to start up conversations. He’s a pleasant man, the kind of person that makes you grin, but in truth we don’t have that much in common. Mostly we stick to safe topics, such as the weather.

But on this day, it turned out that the weather wasn’t as safe a topic as one would hope. He said, “Well, you know that all those tornadoes that are being kicked up out East are because they’re seeding the clouds over California to make it rain, don’t you?”

True confession: I’m not particularly quick on the uptake. I kind of blinked at him for a few seconds. I mean, what does one say when hit with such a loony concept? It’s probably best that I am a little slow in these instances, because the first thing out of my mouth would otherwise be, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

I could easily disabuse him of this belief if he were willing to listen, which I’m sure he wouldn’t be, and if I had the energy, which I’m sure I don’t possess. I could just pepper him with the following statements and questions until he was left realizing he didn’t have a retort.

  • What are they seeding the clouds with? Because it sure isn’t working. California is dry as a freakin’ bone.
  • California consists of 163,696 square miles. How much of that stuff do they use, where do they store it, who supplies it, and how have we overlooked the hundreds of planes flying back and forth in a grid pattern to distribute the stuff?
  • If you are referring to “chemtrails”, see, also, my blog post entitled, “Debunking Chemtrails.” And besides, contrails are in sloppy, messy patterns over well-established flight paths, so these wouldn’t equally distribute this substance, whatever it’s supposed to be, and it would interfere with commercial flights, so private passengers would get awfully cranky.
  • The whole problem with having a drought is that there are very few clouds to be had, so where are the clouds coming from that they are seeding?
  • And who is “they”?
  • How do the chemicals in the West wake up the tornadoes in the East? Do they use Twitter?
  • And how are the hundreds of people it would take to pull off this little caper, the pilots, the materials producers, the distributors, the logistics personnel, the air traffic control people, the accountants, the support staff, and so on and so forth, able to keep it a secret when three people can’t keep most secrets?
  • Where are the Smart Phone pictures?
  • And if this project is causing so many weather disasters and not producing rain for California, why don’t they just stop?
  • And why is it a secret?
  • Isn’t it much more likely that it’s all of us doing our own horrible part with our disastrous carbon footprints trampling the planet (especially the major industries who are the very ones paying a great deal of money to prop up your conspiracy theory), who are the cause of the weather problems? Hmmm?
  • And even if global climate change caused by man didn’t exist, despite the fact that 95 percent of the world’s scientists say it does, why would you resist the urge to take care of the only planet we have, just in case?

But you know, while I was blinking at this guy, I suddenly felt tired. Nope. Nope. I couldn’t. I just didn’t have the energy. Because some people, as nice as they may be, just have no grounding in science, education, and critical thinking to grasp reality.

So instead, I just stammered and said, “Erm… well… California could certainly use the rain…”

And we both went on our merry ways, his way comprised of utter fantasy, and mine, at that moment, full of frustration and disappointment and shock.

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Do Animals Have a Sense of Humor?

The other day I was lying in bed, giggling helplessly at the memory of something funny my husband had said hours earlier. It still makes me laugh. Giggling is the best feeling in the world. I looked at my dachshund, who was eyeing me curiously, and I thought about the fact that he doesn’t get to laugh. He’s really missing out.

Do dogs have a sense of humor? I’ve had a few that definitely showed subtle signs of it. One liked to run his cold wet nose down my spine at moments when I’d least expect it, causing me to screech. Another hopped up on the bed while I was taking a nap and sat on my face. And refused to move. That’s a heck of a way to wake up. I could picture both of those dogs laughing inwardly.

Primates can laugh in their own way. And now that we all have video capabilities on our phones, we are capturing more and more evidence that animals like to play. Even the grown ups. There’s a crow here on my drawbridge that enjoys riding the bridge up and down, and spinning on the weather vane. If animals can play, they have a sense of fun. If they have a sense of fun, a sense of humor must not be that far away.

I cannot imagine going through life without being able to laugh. I’d feel like something really significant was missing. It’s a quality of life thing.

We all have that one friend…

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April 5-12, 2021 is International Dark Sky Week!

It breaks my heart to know that more and more children are growing up without ever having seen the Milky Way. There’s nothing like being out in the middle of nowhere and looking up to see what seems like a million stars. It makes you realize that you’re just a tiny little person on a tiny little planet in a gigantic universe. It fills you with reverence.

Unfortunately, as humans take up more and more space on the planet, they bring their inefficient lighting with them. The skies glow above cities. That’s so unnecessary. There are often multiple lighting sources where one would be sufficient. There are too many unshielded lights that illuminate unnecessary areas. How much electricity is wasted, lighting up the sky? Light pollution also negatively impacts the ecosystem and our health. (Do you sleep well? I don’t.) If this trend keeps up, people will forget that the stars even exist. That would be tragic.

According to www.darksky.org, “80 percent of the world’s population lives under skyglow. In the United states and Europe 99 percent of the public can’t experience a natural night.”

Fortunately, light pollution is reversible if we take action. The International Dark Sky Association is an excellent resource toward that end. At their website, you can learn about light pollution, see an interactive map that will show you exactly how much your town glows at night (I was horrified when I looked at mine), learn how to make your lighting dark sky friendly, Find the nearest officially designated Dark Sky Place, and even learn how to talk to your neighbor about their obnoxious lights.

Tonight is the first night of International Dark Sky Week, 2021. It’s a week to raise awareness of light pollution, and it encourages you to go to a dark sky place and look up, to remember that there’s a lot out there that you may have been missing. The night sky should not be taken for granted.

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The World’s First Computer

In 1901, some sponge divers came across the wreckage of an ancient Greek vessel. From that vessel they pulled a very unusual looking lump of metal dating back from the 1st Century BC. This lump of metal has been fascinating scientists ever since, to the point that there’s even a research team at University College London that is dedicated strictly to determining its inner workings. (Incidentally, you can see the actual metal remains at the National Archeological Museum in Athens.)

It turned out to be a complex device that included numerous gears, pins, dials and metal plates. Since it was found off the coast of a Greek island named Antikythera, it’s been called the Antikythera mechanism ever since. It was so rusted it took a long time to determine the purpose of this thing, but now, according to this article, scientists have come up with a working model of how this device would have functioned.

It seems that this complex mechanism was able to track the paths of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, which were the only planets they were aware of at the time. It also tracked the path of the sun, the phases of the moon, predicted eclipses, retrograde motions, and the position of the zodiac constellations. It even, oddly enough, described the timing of various athletic events such as the Olympics.

This device required experts in Math, Astronomy, and Geometry to be invented, and it’s entirely too complex for me to describe here, but if you enjoy bathing in the Land of Nerd as much as I do, you’ll really want to watch this half hour video. It made me understand for about 15 seconds, and now it’s gone again. Something to do with prime numbers. It is very legitimately called the world’s first computer.

What fascinates me the most is that scientists were able to figure it out based on a rusted lump that was only 30 percent intact. The inscriptions on the front and back helped, but basically they had to reverse engineer the whole thing  based on what the Greeks knew about the cosmos at the time, so they also had to employ historians.

The ancient Greeks believed that all the planets, and the sun, revolved around the earth. So they had to really put serious thought into how the planets seemed to be going in retrograde motion at various times. The device actually accounts for that quite accurately.

This mechanism alone demonstrates that some people were a lot more sophisticated 3000 years ago than we used to think. But that makes me wonder why they didn’t take things even further. The Antikythera mechanism was the key to the universe. They could have gone beyond that.

As is often the case, the mysteries of the past will most likely remain just that. But kudos to the scientists for learning so much from so very little. That’s impressive.

When I said that there’s now a working model, I didn’t mention that scientists made it using modern tools. The next challenge will be to try to create it using ancient Greek methods. How did they produce something so solid and accurate back then? Time will tell.

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Please Don’t Shoot the Humans

Today I read an article entitled, “Florida Man, 83, Shot Neighbor in Heated Dispute About Ducks and Geese, Daughter Says”. Talk about your click bait. Naturally I had to read this article.

I pretty much have to read every article that starts off with the phrase “Florida Man”. I lived in Florida for 40 years. I know how some of the more lunatic fringe Florida men can be. So I sigh, but read on, sort of like I sigh but slow down to gawk at a traffic accident. I can’t seem to help myself.

I can understand disagreeing with a neighbor who is feeding animals that a) produce a half pound of disease-bearing feces per day, b) cause property damage, and c) are perfectly capable (or should be) of feeding themselves. It can even be argued that whatever you’re feeding these birds is probably causing them a lot of health issues, and is therefore cruel.

But shooting someone over it? Seriously? That’s a scary, scary man.

I’m not someone who has a gun. I really don’t like them. I don’t like to be anywhere near them. And I don’t see any positive result from owning one. If you’re not using them, they’re just stuff that used to be money that is taking up space, and if you are using them, very little good comes from it. I can’t imagine shooting another human being unless they’re shooting at me first.

Here’s a promise. I will never, ever, ever shoot you based on your stance about ducks. If we disagree, let’s chat about it. If that doesn’t work, let’s go to court. But as sure as I’m typing here, I can guarantee that I’m not shooting you over a duck. Even if someone puts the loaded gun in my hands, cocked and ready to go. It will never happen. I set the attempted murder bar a bit higher than that.

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The Circle of Life Brings Comfort

Grief is a horrible thing to experience, and it washes over all of us sooner or later. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

Personally, I take great solace from the evidence all around us of rebirth and renewal. I will pass away one day, but someone or something will step in to take my place. It will grow through me or out of me or in spite of me or because of me. Nature will out. That’s why Spring is such a glorious, vitalizing time, after the death of Winter.

Recently, this photograph showed up on my cell phone wallpaper, and it really caught my imagination. I mean, here’s a ship, half sunken, abandoned, rusting and rotting away, and enough sand and soil has gathered within it’s broken hull to provide a place for trees to sprout. A ship becomes an island. That intrigues me.

I learned that this hulk started its life in 1863 as the SS City of Adelaide, a steam ship. It was built in Scotland, and had a regular route between Melbourne, Sydney, Honolulu and San Francisco. In 1890 its boilers and engines were removed and 4 masts were added.

By 1902, this vessel was only fit to be a hulk for coal storage, It caught fire in 1912, and it took days to put the fire out. In 1915, the hull was stripped, and what was left was sent off to Magnetic Island to become a breakwater on the coast, but it never quite made it. It ran aground in Cockle Bay, and has been there ever since, slowly turning into an island. During WWII, the hulk was used for bombing practice, but one of the planes accidentally hit a mast, and 4 military men were killed.

I like this story. Created by man and a slave to man’s whims, then attacked by its creators and then tragic retaliation. This thing has now become part of nature. Talk about the circle of life.

While researching this post, I came across many other vessels that are now sporting trees, including this abandoned ship outside of Anacortes, Washington, and also the SS Ayrfield in Sydney.

Mother Nature reclaims everything, if only we leave her alone to do her thing. When I die, I’d like to become compost and nurture a tree in an abandoned ship. I think that would be very satisfying.

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Nature Gets Another A+

We humans are sooooo smart. Like, we invented the gear and all. This is what separates us from the animals.

Without gears, my drawbridge would be incapable of rising up, and I’d be out of a job. Without gears in my car’s transmission, I wouldn’t even be able to drive to the job. I also couldn’t take a bicycle. And on and on.

Gears are nifty. Whether you realize it or not, you can’t get through a day without a gear doing something or other for you. When’s the last time you used a can opener? Way to harness the world, mighty humans!

Um… except that we didn’t invent gears after all. Nature came to the same conclusion about the niftiness of gears long before we ever did. And we only found this out in 2013.

May I introduce you to Issus coleoptratus? Call him planthopper for short. He’s an insect that’s found in Europe and North Africa, and in his adolescent form, he has natural gears in his hind legs. The gears even have tapered teeth just like the gears we humans invented, and for the same reason: to prevent wear and tear.

These gears allow both of his hind legs to act in unison, so that he always hops in a straight line. That’s a useful tool for a planthopper to have. And the cool thing about these gears is that they’re only engaged when he’s planning to hop. It’s really quite fascinating to contemplate. Learn more about it by reading this article.

And this amazing design is left behind when the bug becomes an adult. Apparently adolescents can shed and regrow gears multiple times, but adults can’t, so if one of the teeth on their gears were to break… disaster. Nobody likes a hop-less planthopper.

So there you have it. Yet more evidence that nature is AWESOME, and that we humans need to be a lot more humble.

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Meet Jonathan

Jonathan was born in 1832, give or take a year. He can be forgiven if, after 189 years of walking this earth, he’s a little vague on his exact “hatchday”. He’s the oldest known living terrestrial animal in the world. (Heaven knows what’s floating down there in the depths of the ocean, though.) Jonathan is a Seychelles giant tortoise.

Imagine all the history he’s been around for. He was born before the American Civil War, before planes and telephones and moving pictures. He has probably borne witness to a lot of tortuous women’s fashions. And the fact that he still could care less about any of that stuff is part of his charm.

When he was about 50 years old, he took an epic journey. One can assume that no one asked his permission to uproot him. (What nerve.) He went from the Seychelles Islands, which are in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa, to Saint Helena Island, where he lives now, which is in the South Atlantic, off the west coast of Africa. As the bird flies, these two islands are 4,223 miles apart, but since planes were still the stuff of fantasy, his trip would have been a long, slow one, most likely by boat around the tip of Africa.

I wonder what he made of that. We’ll never know. Jonathan tends to keep his own counsel.

Poor Jonathan didn’t get a name until the 1930’s. The governor of Saint Helena named him. That kind of makes sense, since he’s been living on the grounds of the official governor’s residence ever since. I’m glad he got a dignified name. A guy this old shouldn’t be called Pookey or Torty McTortface. Before that, I guess he just responded to “hey you”.

Hard to say how much longer Jonathan will live. One tortoise was rumored to have lived for 255 years, but there’s no actual proof. Hard to say how far he has advanced into his geezer-hood. He is blind from cataracts and no longer has a sense of smell to find food, but he has excellent hearing and seems to be well taken care of. He still likes to breed. More power to him.

He has also been honored with his picture on the back of the Saint Helena five-pence coin. That’s the least we could do for our terrestrial animal patriarch. May he live many more happy years.

And say what you will about this old guy, he still has a stronger chin than Mitch McConnell.

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