Thursday, August 30, 2012

where are you?

Fork Ridge Trail: Great Smoky Mountains NP

"You can't know who you are until
you know where you are."

- Wendell Berry, writer, poet, essayist, Kentucky farmer

Even though I may be laid up for awhile,
that doesn't stop you.
Get out and explore the world around you.
Go to one of your favorite green places,
or seek a new one and make it your own.
Find a park or path, puddle or pond
and take up ownership; get to know your bioregion.
Breathe in deep; let the senses imbibe.

You do not have to go to the other side of the world
to find peace and harmony,
they reside somewhere near you.
After all, it's internal, a way of mind.

Recommended reading: 
The Nature Principle: Reconnecting to Life in the Virtual Age 
by Richard Louv.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

the poem of life

My deepest heartfelt thank you
—and in this case I'm being quite literal—
to UT Cardiologist, Dr. Raj Baljepally, who, 
at this hour one week ago today,
had maneuvered a catheter into my chest to investigate 
the mysterious source of my discomfort.
He soon discovered I was having
a "widow-maker" heart attack:
the occlusion of the left anterior descending artery.
(Until then, I had no idea I had such a thing.)

Widow-makers are over 90 percent fatal, 
but Dr. Raj was in the right place at the right time 
to reopen the vessel just after it closed 
and stent it to remain freeflowing.

Thanks also to Dr. Katherine Hall, 
the nurses and CNAs on UT's cardio floor 
and ICU for their kind attention. 

And special thanks to Ijams coworkers 
Peg Beute and Kara Remington who promptly 
covered for me and delivered me to the ER 
when the whole adventure began.

This was my closest brush with the grim reaper, 
but perhaps I'm not ready to cross over just yet; 
I saw no bright lights.
There are too, too many things I would miss.

Now, that I have returned,
 Brisa reminded me of these lines from poet Wallace Stevens: 

"There were those that returned to hear him read 
from the poem of life,
Of the pans above the stove, the pots on the table, 
the tulips among them.

They were those that would have wept 
to step barefoot into reality,
That would have wept and been happy, 
have shivered in the frost
And cried out to feel it again, 
have run fingers over leaves"

 Indeed, I would cry out to feel frost with my toes.
Today? At home recovering,
slowly beginning to step barefoot back into reality.

Friday, August 24, 2012

constantly being amazed


"Our goal should be to live life 
in radical amazement, 
to look at the world in a way that takes 
nothing for granted. 
Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; 
to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed."

- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

albino hawk?

My friend and Ijams volunteer Cathy Nipper sent me this remarkable photo.

She writes, "I was visiting my family in Mt. Juliet, TN when my brother called to tell me that a hawk was in his neighbor's yard. They believe it had a run-in with the power line, and I took this photograph after it had flown into a nearby tree. I was not exactly sure what species of bird it might be, but it was suggested to me that it could be an albino red-tailed hawk. I wanted to send it to you to see what you might think."

Red-tails are more common, but something about the placement of spots on the chest and throat and hints of blush color suggest to me that in may be an albino red-shouldered. 

Go here: red-shouldered

Thanks, for sharing Cathy!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

devil's guts?

Beaked dodder (Cuscuta rostrata)

And there it was, beaked dodder growing on both sides of Clingman’ s Dome Road in the Great Smokies.

Could there be a spookier plant? A more devilish succubus?

Also known as devil's guts, devil's hair, golden thread, hair weed, hellbine, strangleweed or witch's hair—now, there’s a collection of memorable names that H. P. Lovecraft would have loved—dodder is a parasitic plant. Its orange tendrils slowly reach out and attach themselves to healthy, green plants. At first, it's like a gentle caress.

But here’s what happens next. Are you sitting down?

After a dodder attaches itself to a plant, it wraps around it tighter and tighter. If the host contains food beneficial to the dodder, it produces haustoria (essentially roots) that insert themselves into the vascular system of the host. The original root of the dodder in the soil then dies. It’s no longer needed. The dodder can grow yards and yards long, latching itself onto even more plants. In this way, the dodder slowly spreads in all directions, feeding on the plants it has entwined.

This sounds like something out of a George Romero movie, night-of-the-living-dead kind of stuff. Although, perhaps it’s even creepier because it is real and we all know that zombies are not. Right?

Wait a minute! Did I just hear something gently scratching on my window?

Devil's guts spreading in all directions. Creepy!!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

post-coital consumption

Spined Micrathena female

Before we leave the topic of Micrathena spiders altogether, I was somewhat surprised to learn that there are only three species in this Genus in the eastern United States. I would have thought there were oodles.

The black and white, spined micrathena, M. gracilis, is the one I most often see out and about.

If the wiki entry is correct, and I assume it was written by an expert in spiderlogy, then the female does the elaborate orb-weaving. 

The male? Well, "They tend to be only half the size of the females. Also, they have fewer spines, a flatter abdomen and a slightly lighter tone. Although males can produce silk, they mostly use it in the mating ritual, which frequently also proves fatal." 

In this case, she eats he. (I've had a few harsh dates in my life but none that ended this mean-spirited. Talk about a blow to one's confidence.)

To me, a female spined micrathena looks fierce, Wagnerian intense, so you have to give him kudos for even broaching the topic. Brave little guy. It would be a bit intimidating to mate with something named in honor of the Greek goddess of heroic endeavour. (See last post.)

In humans, post-coital tristesse (PCT) is a feeling of melancholy after mating. It's more common in males than in females. As far as I know, post-coital consumption (PCC) of your paramour is confined to the world of insects and spiders, and Wagnerian operas.

As far as I know.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

heroic weaver

O, the work that goes into one of these! It's heroic. 

Micrathena, perhaps M. sagittata, the arrow-shaped micrathena, is a woodland orb-weaver; and by the tightness of the warp and weft, she's a specialist. 

My grandmother Pearl, who knew her way around a loom, would have been envious of her

The name comes from the prefix
Micro- meaning "small" and Athena, the Greek goddess of heroic endeavour who wore armor and was also a superb weaver.  Perfect moniker.

Micrathena sagittata

Friday, August 10, 2012

one sip too many

Filmy angelica is a robust wildflower that grows at the high elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains. (The photo was taken at Indian Gap.) Although angelicas are in the culinary herb parsley family, by contrast, they are dangerously poisonous. Despite the angelic name, they do not belong anywhere near your kitchen.

Bees and wasps apparently become intoxicated after feeding on the toxic flowers. It is reported in “Wildflowers of the Smokies” that they have been observed behaving crazily after a visit to angelica.

We didn’t hang around long enough to notice any odd insect behavior because could there be anything more agitating or agitated than a drunk bee? Or, in this case, a drunken wasp?

Don't worry about the little drunkards finding their way home. I've heard they can become so drunk, the inebriated insects spend the night clinging to the flower.

Could this be the origin of the term “getting a buzz on”?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

a rich jewel

“Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear; Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!”

For some reason, when I first downloaded this photo, that famous passage uttered by Shakespeare’s Romeo as he watched Juliet on her balcony came to mind.

A buttonbush flower looks like a globular star cluster rotating slowing out in space, a rich jewel.

Buttonbush or Cephalanthus gets its botanical name from the ancient Greek: "cephalo" meaning head and "anthus" meaning flower. Head flower? Those Greeks must have had spiky looking heads.

The species found in our part of the world is Cephalanthus occidentalis. (Occidentalis means "of or from the west" as opposed to the east where the Ethiops live.)

It’s a deciduous shrub that likes to grow in wetland habitats including swamps, floodplains, mangroves, riverbanks and moist forest understory. The shrubs are now in bloom locally at places like Ijams Nature Center and Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge.

Monday, August 6, 2012

sunshine part 2

I cannot help myself: one additional look at the sun. Well, it's a quick look, we do not want to burn our retinas.

Last time, I reported the temperature on the surface of the Sun. 

Deep inside, in the Sun's core, the temperature goes up to 27,000,000º Fahrenheit—that's habañero hot. Here, the plasma is six times denser than gold. Under this tremendous heat and pressure, hydrogen atoms are fused together to produce helium atoms. As a byproduct, photons are released and it takes over 100,000 years for them to bounce through the densely packed matter like an arcade pinball and work their way to the surface, yet only eight minutes for these wayward photons to reach us in the form of sunshine.

Wow. And again, this happens a gazillion times, each and every day. If you need to look to the heavens for miracles, here's the first and most obvious.

Here's another bit of John Murphy music from the Danny Boyle movie: Sunshine.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Filaments of solar plasma, which are not a solid, liquid or gas; they're a state-of-matter all their own. Kinda like a gas that can have structure. Wow!

It's summer. It's hot. Day after day after day. 

Of course our heat comes from the Sun just 93,000,000 miles away where today the surface temperatures will reach a balmy 5,400º Kelvin or roughly 9,980º Fahrenheit with not a cloud in the sky. No rain, no water, no condos on the beach; just a bunch of hydrogen atoms slamming into one another making helium. Day in and day out; 4.57 billion years of it. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Basic nuclear fusion, no big deal except for the heat and light it generates. You'd hardly notice.

Just so you know, because it passed quickly in the closing credits, the music played in the video in my last post is called Kaneda's Death (Part 2) Adagio in D Minor by John Murphy. The outstanding piece was used in the movie Sunshine by Danny Boyle (of Olympic Opening Ceremony fame).

Here's a link to hear it in its entirety: