Megalonyx

One of the very first things you see when you enter the Highline Heritage Museum is a replica of a Megalonyx skeleton that was found when they were constructing a runway at the Sea-Tac Airport south of Seattle, Washington.

At nearly 10 feet, it towers above you. One of its claws is as big as your hand. It looks quite fearsome, but in fact it’s a giant ground sloth, and it ate only plants.

When Thomas Jefferson was presented with a few of the claws from one of these creatures, he assumed it was a large lion and named it Megalonyx, which is Greek for “Large Claw”. He also assumed that these animals were still living somewhere in the wilds of unexplored America, and asked Lewis and Clark to keep their eyes out for them during their travels (as if they didn’t have enough to stress out about).

Thank goodness Megalonyx actually lived 13,000 years ago, because if I saw something like this wandering about in my back yard, I’d freak out. My little dachshund would probably attack its ankles, and the thing would look at him quizzically and slowly, very slowly, flick him aside like a gnat.

Check out this little video about how sloths evolved from being these giants to the cute little guys we see today. It makes me wonder what the world will be like 13,000 years from now.

Megalonyx
Megalonyx replica at the Highline Heritage Museum

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The Dark of December

We are approaching Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It falls on December 21st, and when it finally arrives, I always feel like I’m coming up for air for the first time in months. It’s as if I’ve been walking through J.R.R. Tolkein’s Mirkwood in The Hobbit, and just as I am about to give up hope, I see light in the distance. I’m halfway there. I can do this.

If I can survive the fact that, here in the Pacific Northwest, the sun that day won’t come up until 7:54 am and will be back down at 4:20 pm, I can survive anything. I view that as a triumph.

And after that day, I have slightly longer days to look forward to. More room to breathe. Less time in front of my SAD light. Less time to feel sad. More hope.

I definitely feel an emotional difference with the seasons. It’s hard to take, being plunged into ever-increasing gloom, and having no real control over it. We are all enslaved by the sun, and its indifference and neglect in winter is a bit of a challenge. It’s hard not to take it personally.

But Spring is coming. Glorious, glorious spring! Enduring the dark winter makes me appreciate the rest of the year all the more.

I’ll leave you with this poem. It’s a life raft in the dark. All we have to do is hold on. Light will soon return.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
– Oliver Hereford

On a Dark Trail

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What the Hail?

A few days ago I was sitting in my living room, cuddling my dog and just generally goofing off, when I experienced what I briefly thought might be the end of the world. One minute, it was your typical Pacific Northwest midwinter’s day: kind of grey, kind of drizzly, kind of cold, but not extreme in any of those categories. Just your basic meh.

And then. And then I heard a plink. And then another. And another. And then the sky opened up to a downpour of epic proportions. I couldn’t even see the back fence in the yard. But as the squall became louder and things began bouncing off the windows and every flat surface, I realized that this wasn’t rain. It was hail. Hail the size of garbanzo beans. And it kept coming.

I just stood there, well back from the window, clutching my freaked out dog, with my mouth hanging open. I’d never seen anything like this in my life. Oh, I’ve seen hail before. Sometimes the size of golf balls. But it never came down this densely or for this length of time. This storm lasted 10 minutes, at least. Long enough for me to wonder if it would ever end.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a video of it. Here’s one from Youtube, of the same storm, but it must have thinned out considerably before it reached this person’s street, because this doesn’t do it justice.

I did take the two pictures below of the aftermath. Before the storm the yard was green. It took three days for this hail to melt away completely. My dogs found it rather fascinating, once it was on the ground.

Afterward, I drove the neighborhood to see what things looked like when blanketed in icy balls. Oddly, it only covered a few blocks in radius. Beyond that, nothing. It was our own tiny little frozen pelleted apocalypse.

I’m glad it didn’t catch me outside. I’m sure it would have hurt. Fortunately I didn’t note any property damage.

It always rattles me when nature does something I don’t expect. Thanks to climate change, I’m sure I’ll have these experiences with greater frequency. Here’s hoping they do us no harm.

 

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When Will We Get the Message?

I just read a bitterly ironic news article entitled “Italian council is flooded immediately after rejecting measures on climate change”.

It seems that the far right members of the council decided that there was no need to fund renewable resources, green busses, and plans to reduce plastics. And then, as if the universe was weighing in on their arrogance, the water came pouring into the council building for the first time in history.

Venice, the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in my life, got hit with more than 6 feet of water. It’s the worst flood there in 60 years, and a lot of its damage will be permanent. My heart breaks for the city, and I wonder what I’ll see when I visit next spring.

So many disasters keep occurring due to our hubris. Mega-storms. Fires. Floods. Droughts. Saltwater intrusion. Sea level rise.

None of this is normal. The alarms keep ringing. But no one seems to want to listen.

It will be horrible karma if we kill off this planet and our last thoughts are that we should have done something, but couldn’t be bothered.

It makes me want to slap a whole lot of people upside the head.

Climate Change

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A Newfound Respect for Spiders

I just read a fascinating article entitled “Spider silk ‘library’ could hold secrets for new materials”. It was quite an education. I had no idea how complex spider silk was.

Did you know that some spiders can produce multiple kinds of silk? Think about that for a minute. Can you push something out of your body that’s specific to one task, and then switch over to another end product that does something entirely different? I can’t. What amazingly complex creatures! And we think we’re so superior.

According to this article, “Some silk types can be stretchy, others stiff. Some dissolve in water, others repel it.”

It goes on to say that Orb-weaving spiders produce seven types of silk including one that “has a sticky glue to catch prey. Another is tough but stretchy to absorb the impact of flying insects. The spider dangles from a third type that’s as tough as steel.”

And that’s just one spider out of 48,000 species. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what spiders are capable of producing. And properly imitating those products could help us produce bulletproof vests, pesticides, space gear, biodegradable fishing lines, and fashionable dresses. (See my post on Ghost Fishing to understand how valuable those biodegradable fishing lines would be!)

Scientist Cheryl Hayashi, of the Museum of Natural History in New York, is hard at work sequencing the DNA of the infinite variety of spider glands that produce these unique types of silk. It sounds like an exacting, time consuming job, but I can see why she finds it so absorbing. I mean, here are flexible building blocks, produced by bodies, that we’ve mostly been sweeping away with dusters, or shuddering at when we’ve accidentally walked through them.

It really makes me wish, once again, that I had majored in science.

Spider Silk

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Plant Panic

I just watched an interesting video, 41 seconds long, entitled, “Scientists Discover Plants ‘Panic’ When It Rains”.

It says that droplets of water, containing bacteria, viruses, or fungal spores, are the main cause of disease spreading among plants. For that reason, when it rains, plants release a protein that causes the plant’s genes to prepare to defend themselves. So it’s kind of like human panic. Red alert, all hands on deck!

Nature is amazing. I’m impressed that plants have this coping mechanism. Anything that allows them to thrive is spectacular.

But it also makes me sad, because one of my favorite things to do is water the plants in my garden. I know I have a tendency to anthropomorphize things, and that’s a bad habit, but as I water my plants, I’ve always imagined them thinking, “Ahhhh, that feels good. Sweet relief. I was thirsty.”

Now I get to think that I’m freaking them out.

The last thing I want to do is cause my plants distress. At the very least, I’ll be directing my water stream at the roots as much as possible from now on, in hopes of maintaining a peaceable kingdom. I’d like my garden to be as Eden-like as possible.

garden-of-eden

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Fire Drill Fridays

I think the first time it really dawned on me that otherwise perfectly reasonable (to my mind) people had extremely different worldviews than I did was when I was 22 and working at a video rental store.

A customer asked me if we had the movie Electric Horseman. I had to ask my boss. She said, with tight lips, that they didn’t carry any Jane Fonda movies. I thought, “Why not? I love her movies.”

I had no idea about her visit to Hanoi, or even what that meant, really, because I was 10 years old when Saigon fell. The Vietnam war was a very confusing, very distant blip on my radar as a child, so one woman’s visit there, and the controversy it stirred up, was something I only learned about later in life.

I’d like to think, though, that if I had been an adult at the time, I’d have been protesting the war, too. Would I have gone about it the way she did? No. Even she admits she has regrets about that now. But I genuinely believe that her intentions were good, and that the mostly debunked rumors surrounding her actions have gotten things so twisted that the truth will never be known.

Love her or hate her, you have to admit that Jane Fonda has lived her beliefs her whole life. She has been an anti-war, pro-feminist, environmental activist, and worked tirelessly for those causes for as long as I have drawn breath.

I really can’t understand people who are against these causes, but I’d at least respect their integrity if they were as devoted and outspoken as Fonda has been. Anyone who puts their convictions into action, and tries so hard to do what they feel is right, is pretty darned impressive. More power to them.

As you read this, Jane Fonda is most likely getting arrested for the 5th Friday in a row as part of her Fire Drill Friday protests for environmental change. She intends to do this every single Friday through January, and actually moved to Washington DC to do these protests on Capitol Hill, to raise awareness in our politicians about the climate emergency we are now in.

As polarizing as she may be, I stand with Jane Fonda in her efforts, and hope you will as well. The health of this planet and all its inhabitants are at stake. There should be no controversy in that.

First Fire Drill Friday in Washington DC

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