Intelligent Beings


Tonight the program Nature on PBS asked questions about animal intelligence as compared to humans.  This list portrays some of the things I learned, some new, some I remembered from past readings or other Nature programs:

-A few other animals besides humans recognize themselves in a mirror.  This list includes elephants, dolphins, and chimps.  Actually, humans do not demonstrate this ability until they are about 18 months old.

-Only a few species studied demonstrate a sense of social justice.  If they think they are being treated unfairly, they get mad and sometimes have a little fit.  This includes monkeys and dogs.

-Only one species studied demonstrated overt altruistic behavior and a sense of social justice toward others, the bonobo.  Of course, others may but have not been studied yet. Notably this is the same species that resolves social tension and conflict with sex rather than fighting.

-Humans grieve.  Many other mammals grieve immediately after the deaf of a loved one, e.g. their own young offspring, but few recognize the bones of long deceased members of their species.  The exception is elephants.  Elephants not only recognize the bones of other elephants, they frequently nuzzle them with their trunks and stay with them a while.

-Dolphins may seek out help when they need help.  The program showed a diver who was not looking for dolphins at all.  A dolphin who had a fish line and hook stuck in his side approached the diver and managed to stay very still while the diver removed the hook.  This took nearly ten minutes.  Of course, no one knows whether the dolphin was actually seeking help or simply stayed still when help was available.

-Chimps possess another behavior similar to humans, the ability to purposefully deceive.  A less dominant chimp was shown where a banana was hidden from a window outside an enclosure.  She and a more dominant female chimp were released into the enclosure at the same time.  The first chimp did not rush to the food.  Oh,no.  She waited and watched, played it cool,  and when the other chimp wandered off to the other side,  ran and ate the banana.

It is difficult to get inside of the mind of other animals.  Anyone who has pets thinks they are smart or at least dogs and cats seem to demonstrate considerable intelligence.  Horses do as well.  And yes, I have seen horses grieve.  When one of my horses died in a terrible and rather bizarre accident a few years ago, the other horses stood for hours in the place where the deceased horse had died.  They did not even leave to eat their alfalfa, a food they loved and always ran to.

I even think animals, in particular mammals,  know when they are headed to slaughter.  I think those who kill them know this but to admit it would be too painful.  They certainly know the smell of blood.  It incites terror.  Certainly animals can suffer at the hands of cruel humans.  Do animals besides us deliberately hurt others for the sheer, sick pleasure of it?  If there is a study regarding this topic, I have yet to see it.  I wonder.

 

Earth Day


Sometimes when you love nature, the environment, wildlife, wild places, it is easy to become extremely discouraged.  News about the dramatic increase in poaching in Africa condoned by some governments there does little to help.  Data illustrating how the United States is a hub for wildlife trafficking, the push to kill wolves, big oil’s persistence to explore and open fields in the Arctic and other more delicate environments, water waste, climate change denial, a seemingly endless lists of negatives, can make one think about giving up.  The Colorado River is under siege.  The drought ridden Southwest of which I am a part has too many people fighting over too little water. The EPA just approved a new pesticide known to kill bees which are already disappearing, posing a huge threat to our food supply (see a previous blog highlighting how our food supply depends on these same rapidly disappearing bees).  Another mountain top removal coal mine is being proposed in Kentucky and it is next to a school.  The US Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit.  I could probably spend this entire evening adding to this list of negatives.  I could give up, but I never do.  I keep looking for positives and for changes created by people who care.

 

In honor and praise for those who care and for the positives occurring, I am creating another list:

-Ralph Maughan, an Idaho native, continues to work on the saving the pristine wilderness of the River of No Return Country.  He wants to save wolves in a state where politicians have proposed a law to kill 60 per cent of the state’s wolves.  The Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans to professionally exterminate them so there will be more elk for hunters.  No, I did not make this up.  Maughan says, “the wilderness is supposed to be a place where large carnivores, like wolves, grizzly bears, and mountain lions can exist as they did before humans arrived.”  Now the agency wants to come into a proclaimed wilderness to suit their own purposes. This fight continues.

-In Hawaii many housetops and businesses now glitter with solar panels.  Isaac Moriwake’s consumer advocacy efforts support consumers who want to generate their own electricity through clean energy.  Solar panels totally cover the roof of the new parking garage at the Kapl’olani Medical Center in Oahu.  Hawaii has been able to create a clean energy framework with considerable solar success in spite of traditional utilities’ efforts against it.

-In more remote places like Nepal the WWF helped locals replace wood burning stoves with biogas burners so they would not have to cut down their forests for fuel.

-As Myanmar develops economically and joins the international stage, huge areas of prime forests and native animals are at risk.  Conservationists work with the new government to create national parks and other areas to preserve Myanmar’s rich biodiversity and to listen to local wishes as to how to preserve their valuable natural heritage.

If I wanted to stay up half the night, obviously I could add more and more to each list.  And it is easy to wonder just what can one person do.  For starters, use less water, get rid of all the junk mail that arrives–a later post will describe methods to do this–so it will not add to the landfill and the demise of trees, do not buy furniture made from slow growing tropical wood, adjust your thermostat to warmer in summer and cooler in winter, carry your own bags so you won’t have to use the plastic ones at the store, become politically vocal about conservation.  If you wonder is all this effort worth it, take a walk in the woods, along a beach, through the jungle, on a desert path; fill yourself with wonder.

 

Trivia


This marks week one of my commitment to write for at least twenty minutes every day.  A good way to “force” myself to do this is to blog daily.  In this past week I have heard from new people and received more comments than usual.  I had something already written out and then decided against posting it.  Because I am at least one hour behind on what I planned to do when I arrived home from work, this blog may be a bunch of trivia, depending on what you consider trivia.

I had not planned on cleaning my barn in preparation for fifty 100 pound bales of hay, but when they told me they would deliver Wednesday instead of Friday, it changed this evening’s plans dramatically.  I had to move the remaining hay from last November’s delivery to a different spot because I do not want “old” and “new” hay mixed.  100 pound bales do not weigh all that much less than I do so moving them is not all that easy.  Once moved, I sweep the loose hay up, lay down pallets, and sweep up everything.  I do not like hay to lay directly on the cement floor of the barn.  All that took over an hour.  Then it dawned on me that I should probably eat something.  Time mandated simplicity so I made a salad. Suddenly it reminded me of salads Gaston used to make.  Gaston lived with me for six months–a handsome exchange student from Argentina, who rode horses, played the piano while I cooked dinner, and then when I gave the word, made beautiful salads, kaleidoscopes of color, orange, red, green, yellow, purple.  Tonight, in a rush, I finally managed to make a salad as beautiful as Gaston’s.  In addition to his other assets, Gaston’s name is a song for the ears and the heart:  Gaston Luis Zulaica del Sueldo.  I love his name so much that it is the title of one of the poems in my new book of poetry, “On the Rim of Wonder”.  His counselor at school here loved it so much that she insisted on practicing it over and over and over to get it right when she announced it at graduation.

Salad eaten, once this post is complete, I must finish the baby blanket I promised today to deliver tomorrow.  More than eight years ago, I taught freshmen English.  One of my students, who has since gone to college, graduated, and now works for the school district where I work will soon be a father.  His wife, through her work as a neonatal ICU nurse, became a good friend of my daughter’s.  Their baby is due in a week or so.  I am running out of time.  I MUST finish this tonight.  Since I have to get up at 5:30 to get to work on time–I work 25 miles from where I live–it would seem that since it is now 7:49, I had better quit writing this and get to work.  Tomorrow I promise more exciting material.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Five: Civilizations Fall


Whether it is my innate ambition, something my parents instilled in me, or something else unknown, I try to learn something new every day.  Craig Childs starts this chapter of his book by talking about a Phoenix landmark.  Back when I travelled to Phoenix regularly, I knew this place as Squaw Peak.  Now its name Is Piestewa Peak.  The name change is probably a good thing.  I never knew before reading this how dreadfully pejorative the word squaw is.  Basically, it means Indian bitch as well as other things related to the privates of women.  All languages seem to possess an accumulation of dreadful words geared to putting women down one way or another.  Slang words for the private parts of a man rarely mean anything pejorative, at least not that I know of.  The new name, a Hopi name, a blessing word, is a word that calls water to this place.  Not a bad idea in Phoenix or most of the Southwest for that matter.

The name Phoenix fits.  Underneath modern day Phoenix, an ancient city lays buried, a quite sophisticated city with ball courts, temples, irrigation canals.  This city existed at least a thousand years ago.  Its inhabitants grew corn, cotton, beans, and agave.  Farmers, hunters, carvers, all sorts of artisans and merchants apparently lived there.  Now they are called Hohokam taken from an O’odham word meaning “ancestors”, the “ones who have gone”.  We find forgotten cities all over the world, Palmyra, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat.  What causes these sophisticated civilizations to fall?  If you read a bit, look further, you find common themes:  environmental decay, resource depletion, conflict, disease, social problems.  Angkor Wat fell because it could not maintain its complex irrigation network.  Ur in Iraq fell because a drought caused its port to dry up.  Usually, the demise of particular civilizations occur over time, e.g.Rome.

Childs notes that human patterns often follow animal patterns, or at least mammalian patterns.  For example, when over population occurs, behavior changes.  Parental care and cooperation become replaced with aggression, violence, competition for resources, dominant behaviors.  These types of behaviors are particularly detrimental to females and the young without whom the society (or animal population) cannot replace itself.  Generally, in animal populations, when this occurs, reproduction slows for several generations and the imbalance corrects itself.  For humans, it is not so simple.  Hohokam bones indicate mass starvation and malnutrition.  Other civilizations, e.g. the Anasazi, seem to have disappeared without a trace.

Today, most of the world’s largest cities have immense infrastructures that keep them going, miles of underground sewage tunnels, water mains, etc.  Here in the US in our oldest cities, much of what we take for granted is very old and deteriorating.  New York City and Chicago have water main systems that some experts claim are near collapse or at the very best badly in need of repair.  Doubtless such conditions exist in old cities throughout the world, most of which are much older and larger than the majority of cities in the US.  Yet, they continue to prosper.  Have we passed a point when civilization cannot fall?

Childs completes this discussion by describing his visit with his wife to Guatemala.  They visited all the best known Mayan sites, visited with natives.  His wife managed to get invited to a Mayan fire ceremony, a renewal ceremony.  History books tell us the Mayan civilization is dead, ended.  But it is not.  The Mayan culture still exists.   At least six million still live in the Central America.  What would have happened to Mayan cities if the Europeans had not brought epidemic diseases and better fire power?  We will never know, of course, but no matter how many civilizations rise and fall, change continues and humans continue to inhabit the earth.

The new question is this:  can this planet we live on sustain the ever increasing numbers of humans who inhabit it??

Sacred Corn


SAM_0035   In the summer on hot, humid nights, you can hear the corn grow.  My great grandfather, my grandfather, and my father grew corn.  I grow corn in that same rich loess soil of Northwestern Missouri.  Soil laid down by Ice Age glaciers thousands of year ago.  Only on a few hill tops, here and there, will you find non glacial soil. Repeatedly, daily, I walk by the sacred corn plant of life painted on my hall corner.  This sacred corn corner houses three corn maiden kachinas and a drum decorated with corn maidens.  I give thanks to corn for my house and the life I lead.

Corn Song

I sing the song of ancients:

pueblo peoples,

Anazazi, Hopi, Zuni.

I sing the song of an America long gone.

Maya, Aztec, Tolmec.

I sing the song of life:  colors of the rainbow

golden, red, white, blue.

I sing the song of now:  thick, endless

identical rows.

Pioneer, Monsanto,

anhydrous ammonia,

atrazine.

I sing the song of hope and joy:

an ancient reclaiming,

a klaidescope of colors,

butterflies and fireflies.

I sing the eternal human song.

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This is a Navaho kachina.  Kachina are actually Hopi, but Navaho artists now make kachinas as well.  The first corn maiden kachina I bought.

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Spotted corn kachinas, on the left, are unusual.  It took me years to find one.  The kachina on the right was created by R Pino, who is both Hopi and Navaho.

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Every year Pendleton runs an art contest among Native American students.  The winner’s art work is transformed into saddle blankets.  This design, created by Mary Beth Jiron, is the latest in this Student Series. There are three corn  maidens  on each side of the blanket, representing the different varieties of corn grown by native peoples, yellow, red, blue, white, black, and spotted.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Four: Seas Rise


As I write this title, it seems a bit counter intuitive that one of the first things I saw this morning was a newspaper discussing many small cities around the Texas Panhandle which are running out of water.  And on the TV news as I write this, the city of Amarillo announces measures being taken to curtail water use, followed by a detailed discussion, explaining how one of these smaller towns plans to address the lack of water.  Drought expands while ice melts and seas rise.

Childs explains sea behavior by comparing it to pouring water back and forth among a bunch of pans.  Ocean behavior varies from place to place.  Louisiana has been losing seacoast at the rate of twelve meters per year and large parts of the Nigerian coastline has lost as much as thirty meters per year, one of the fastest losses on earth–erosion.  The moon causes tides twice a day changing sea levels on the average of two meters each time.  Historically most sea level changes are long term changes.  A major cause of sea level change is temperature.  Half the current sea level rise can be attributed to thermal expansion.  Water warms and spreads out.  Not only does heat expand near the sea surface, but now also expands into depths not previously affected.  Findings by two oceanographers, Purkey and Johnson, indicate an increase in ocean heat 16 per cent greater than previously thought.  Oceans are the largest reservoirs of heat on earth.  Once heated, their size makes them slow to cool.

Purkey also notes that even in the depths of the seas, waves transfer heat.  However, because of the size of the Pacific, an event that occurred forty years ago in the southern Pacific will not reach the northern Pacific for approximately those forty years.  Thus, the warming and subsequent ice melt we see in the north Pacific started in the south Pacific forty years ago.  Another scientist, Carl Wunsch, notes that earth changes remarkably without human intervention.  Nevertheless, he recommends humans do something to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as a precautionary measure in addition to discouraging people from settling in low lying areas.  Unfortunately, rising seas do not bode well for much of the earth’s population who live in exactly these low lying areas:  all of Bangladesh, Venice, Shanghai, New Orleans, Bangkok, the Marshall Islands, and many US coastal cities to name just a few places.

St. Lawrence Island north of the Aleutians provides a perfect example of what is happening.  Sea ice breaks up too early, fish species they used to see are gone replaced by new ones they never saw before, and the population of seals and sea lions has altered.  Cancer rates in the villages there have risen dramatically caused in part by the toxic poisons concentrated in the meat of the seals, whales, and salmon they harvest from our polluted oceans.  In 2008, they brought a lawsuit against Exxon, Chevron, and Mobil, claiming that these companies are the world’s major contributors to global warming.  They want these companies to pay for moving their villages to higher ground.  Sea rise necessitates the move.  They lost in District Court, but the case is under appeal.  The court cited that the chain of events causing their predicament is too long to lay blame in one place.  Childs notes that we really need such places to endure, places where people know how to lead minimalist lives, places where people know how to survive.

R-R-R-Rejected!


Juliana Lightle:

Lynette Noni writes about rejection applied to writers. However, I am reblogging this because what she says about rejection applies to most forms of rejection. I received a rejection email this week regarding a poem I submitted to a journal, some of you might have received some other form of rejection. If anyone rejected something regarding you this past week, take a look at what Lynette has to say.

Originally posted on Lynette Noni:

rejection-letter1

Rejection sucks. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. In any area of life, rejection – in one form or another – is crushing. It hurts. It chips away at our self-esteem, it kicks the metaphorical spleen of our pride, and it shreds the lingering vestiges of our hope. It’s just plain uncool.

But you know what?

Rejection is also one of the best things we can ever experience.

Without feeling the sting of rejection, we would never have the opportunity to become more than what we are. We’d never need to make the tough choices in life, the decisions addressing what matters most and what price we’re willing to pay to see our dreams come to pass. We would never get to ask ourselves, “What am I truly passionate about?”

We would also never have a reason to then ask, “Are my dreams worth my blood, sweat and tears?”

And…

View original 1,197 more words

Apocalyptic Planet–Part Three: Ice Collapses


It may be difficult for some to believe, but over the last three million years ice dominated earth’s climate. We remain in that long ice age; widespread glaciers still exist.  For most of earth’s long, long existence no ice existed anywhere.  Currently, we are in an interglacial period in which ice has retreated back to the poles and the highest mountain reaches.  Earth as we know it has been shaped primarily by ice and to a lesser extent by volcanoes.  Once ice lay hundreds of feet deep as far south as Chicago and London.  What caused this see saw between Ice Ages and warm, wet periods where the ice retreated or disappeared entirely?  The changing tilt of the earth’s axis. Currently, the earth’s tilt is 23.5 degrees or so.  This tilt causes the seasons in non tropical areas.  Earth’s tilt changes a degree or so over time, causing the alternating periods between extreme ice coverage and warm periods.  At times the change has been so great that no ice remained even on the poles.  Usually, these changes are very slow, over thousands of years.  No longer.

Equatorial glaciers once common in the high equatorial mountains, e.g. Andes, Himalayas, a century ago no longer exist.  Ernest Hemingway once described the glacier on Kilimanjaro as “wide as all the world”.  Now nothing but a few patches of hard snow remain.  The once giant ice fields in northern Patagonia in Chili and Argentina currently lose volume at an ever accelerating rate.  While hiking and kayaking with a filming crew in this area, Childs saw just how rapidly this ice loss occurs.  In one instance a huge ice lake run off from one glacier totally disappeared in two weeks.  In Greenland an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan floated off in 2010 and finally melted in the Gulf Stream.  It narrowly missed shipping lanes and offshore oil wells.  The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica the size of Yosemite National Park and 700 feet deep had been stable for more than 12,000 years.  It started coming apart over a decade ago.  It eventually floated off and melted.

Why does any of this matter?  Ice keeps the planet cooler.  Solar radiation bounces off into space.  Currently, ice reflects approximately 30 per cent of incoming sunlight.  Few present animals and people are prepared for the hothouse that would exist if much more ice melts.  This is in spite of the fact that radiation from the sun has actually gone down in the last fifty years.  As the planet warms, more ice melts, more heat remains on earth, more ice melts and the cycle continues.  The current acceleration of ice loss causes many scientists to question:  where is the tipping point?  How can we stop this rapidly accelerating ice loss?

Humans are increasing carbon dioxide levels ten thousand times faster than they changed over the last 65 million years.  Our globe is warming; all climatologists agree.  At what point will it be too late to turn this around?  Indeed, can we turn this around?  And if we do, will some of the ice return?  No one knows.  Nothing like this has occurred before in human history.  All this melting ice causes sea rise.  At the current rate a one meter sea rise by the end of this century is plausible.  Many of the world’s largest cities already have a sea level problem e.g.Bangkok.  Furthermore, the water supply for much of southern and southeast Asia depends on water from rivers and glaciers in the Himalayas.  The world’s largest supply of fresh water depends on this system.  Are we ready for a hotter, drier earth?

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Two: Hadley Cells, Weather and Drought


Hadley cells, the wind systems in each hemisphere , form patterns of atmospheric circulation in which warm air rises near the equator, cools as it travels poleward at high altitudes, sinks as cold air, and then warms as it travels back to the equator.  They are named after George Hadley, an English scientific writer.  Tropical regions receive more heat from solar radiation than they radiate back to space and such areas have constant temperatures.  More simply, warm air rises (heat rises) and then flows poleward at high altitudes, cools, drops, and flows back toward the equator at lower altitudes.   Then the process repeats itself.  When the air rises and leaves these tropical areas, it loses moisture as it heads to subtropical areas.  The majority of the worlds large deserts lay in these subtropical areas.

Hadley cells are expanding.  Precipitation has declined in tropical areas since 1970.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Southern Asia, the Sahel, Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, and the US Southwest are getting drier and drier.  Even wetter areas now experience long dry spells between extreme events of rain and snow.  Examples in the US include the cold and snowfalls in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard this past winter.  Texas and New Mexico continue to experience a prolonged drought.  In the next thirty years scientists predict a 30 per cent decline in water resources.

In some places both governments and individuals create innovative and sometimes simple measures to counteract desertification.  In India near the Thar Desert, the government mandated the dispersal of grass seed to hold the ground.  Studies indicate that the grass seed grew better when planted by hand than when dispersed from airplanes.  Also in India orans, small sacred groves, have helped preserve shrubs and grasses and even trees, a genetic bank that would otherwise have been lost.  Childs describes how his friends who live on the outskirts of Tuscon have coaxed their water table fifteen feet higher, using ordinary shovels and hard work.  They built contour traps and “massaged” the ground.  Hardly worth noticing except when it rained, the rain sank into underground catches.  Their properties now look like small areas of refuge in the vast desert.  In some areas of the Sahel people have been able to plant and nurture trees in such a way that areas of green exist where they had disappeared.

Archeologists and geologists know that periods of drought occurred repeatedly for millions of years.  For humans and the animals we know, drought has never been easy.  Large areas of civilization cannot exist without water.  We can affect our future in positive ways and prepare ourselves if we choose.

Apocalyptic Planet–Part One


Usually I read only one book at a time.  Lately, I am reading several, one of which is Apocalyptic Planet:  Field Guide to the Future of the Earth by Craig Childs.  Childs is a sort of combined explorer/adventurer/scientist.  He goes to places few go to see what occurs there, the wind, the flora and fauna, the weather, the climate.  The next couple of days I intend to share some of his most pithy observations and ruminations.  We will start with the desert.  He and a friend literally wandered around the most arid and hostile portion of the Sonoran Desert in northwestern Mexico.  This desert has enlarged and become more arid due to an extended drought.

Deserts come and go.  If you live in a lovely lush green landscape, wait long enough and it, too, may become a desert.  Six thousand years ago lakes, marshes, and grassland lay where the Sahara is today.  A slight orbital change in earth’s relation to the sun caused nearby oceans to heat up, changing atmospheric conditions.  Humans living there had no choice but to move.  Forty per cent of the earth’s population lives in semiarid regions.  Even a small drought changes survival chances for the people who live there.  The Sahara, the Gobi, and the Taklimakan are growing, arable farmland decreasing.  Vulnerable areas include southern Spain, Greece, Bolivia, Australia, central Asia, and our own West.  The entire American High Plains (I live in the southern part) sits on top a giant desert.  Without pivot irrigation, only grass grows here.  In the last decade many irrigation wells have dried up or gone too saline.  The giant bulges you see in places like the sand hills of Nebraska are really a sand dune sea covered with grass.  Take away a little rain and here comes the desert.

Childs and his friend carried water with them and buried them with markers in the sand so they could find them later.  As the desert grows in parts of India, women carry water farther and farther, an average of six miles a day, four gallons at a time.  In the Sahel just south of the Sahara a difference in rainfall of just an inch or two can mean the difference between survival and starvation.  Without water, there is no civilization.

What causes these changes?  Human behavior and the increase in greenhouse gases are  part of the reason.  Humans are creating enough changes that we are moving toward more deserts, not fewer.  One climate expert, Jonathan Overpeck, thinks we are seriously underestimating the severity of drought we will face in the not so distant future.  Forget five and seven year droughts and think fifty years.  Hadley cells also affect climate change.  Tomorrow I will explain Hadley cells and how they affect our weather.

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Northern Arizona

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Eastern New Mexico

 

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Texas Panhandle