Reub's journey

17 July 2017

When John is gone


John returned from Borneo some days ago, full of stories about his students and the places they went, the things they learned. The tropical forests of Malaysian Borneo are some of the last great pockets of diversity on the this planet, and his class was lucky to be able to be there for 3-plus weeks this summer.

He has the best pictures! I'm pretty jealous of his photos.

While he was gone I managed to entertain myself quite nicely. I saw Wonder Woman with a book enthusiast who had also enjoyed The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. I cooked. I visited a vineyard and had sci-fi-night  with my son-in-law. (Black Mirror is stunning. So are the old Twilight Zone episodes.) I figured out how to use an electric drill. Mowed the yard twice. Went running. Did yoga. Planned a sewing project. All of these things are quite laudable, right? But when John goes off for long periods of time, I tend to strange acquisitions.

Once when he was gone I adopted a black lab. This time was different. Will you hold it against me if I start to talk about... bugs...really large insects?

Because while John was gone exploring one of earth's most exotic places, I acquired one of earth's most spectacular insects: Extasoma tiaratum, "Macleay's Spectre," or the "Spiny Leaf Insect," native to Australia. Her legs look like leaves.

Of the planet's wildly diverse collection of creatures, some 90 percent of species are reckoned to belong to the class Insecta.  It's good to get to get to know just one of them, and the chance presented itself. I named her Phyllis. She is a Phasmid, from the family Phasmatidae, the stick insects who are closely related to leaf bugs. As an aside I want to add that leaf bugs were first noted during Magellan's voyage around the world. His naturalist, Antonio Pigafella, while in the Phillipines, wrote:

 In this island are also found certain trees, the leaves of which, when they fall, are animated, and walk. They are like the leaves of the mulberry tree, but not so long; they have the leaf stalk short and pointed, and near the leaf stalk they have on each side two feet. If they are touched they escape, but if crushed they do not give out blood. I kept one for nine days in a box. When I opened it the leaf went round the box. I believe they live upon air.


Phyllis is gentle. She doesn't want to hurt anything, and cannot bite or sting.  She does have a complicated mouth, and makes neat work of eating hawthorn, blackberry, and oak leaves. She pretends to be a scorpion when she is afraid, and when really threatened, exudes the scent of... toffee? I haven't witnessed this yet, but that's what they say. Toffee. It is difficult to fear toffee.


She spends her days sleeping, pretending to be a bunch of leaves, occasionally swinging in a make-believe breeze. She seems to know me and I'm astonished by her awareness.


Most of Phyllis's kind are females. They do not need males to procreate: parthenogenesis is the name of the game, and Phyllis has begun to lay eggs. They take nine months to hatch, just like a human. Just one or two a day, which I don't keep.  I'm in this for the short term, I guess.


03 May 2017

Malheur

 I have just returned from a trip to central Oregon, the northern Great Basin.



 This is a place of high desert, very cold at night. There was snow when we awoke on Friday morning, April 28.



The place where we stay is certainly not fancy. If you are interested, please visit the website of the Malheur Field Station, and if you go, take a sleeping bag, food, and your own gear. The field station seems to be trying to return to the elements much faster than anyone has the money or time to prevent.



 After all, that is the history of others who have tried to exist in this harsh and wild environment that was once the domain of the Paiute tribe.



The Malheur area has been managed by a collaboration of local cattle owners, refuge managers, Paiutes, environmental groups  (the Audobon Society), and others. The refuge was a good example of working things out between federal government and local interests; it was not a "land grab" and should never have been the center of violent protest on the part of the Bundy family in 2016.




Harney County is still healing from the Bundy's armed occupation of early 2016.



  But what a place. There are close to 200 thousand acres of wetland in this high desert basin, and every bit of it is crucial to migrating birds. Here is our list of 85 species spotted in 4 days. By "our" I don't mean "me;" I mean the actual bird watchers I was tagging along with: they have the most acute eyes, ears, and memory of anybody I've ever met.


However, birds are only a part of the draw. This is a Side-Blotched Lizard, a little guy who has to watch out for many predators.


A buck rub; it is time for itchy antlers to come off.


A freshly dug badger hole. Badgers can dig down pretty far in just 30 seconds, searching out ground squirrels to eat.



This sphere is comprised of hundreds of little twigs: a magpie nest.



Decades ago there were a number of drainage ditches dug; they are running full right now because of the wet winter.



Tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage was done to Malheur headquarters by self-branded "patriots" in early 2016, and when we visited last year it was closed. Thanks to local volunteer efforts, it looks good now.



Is there a wetland near you? Try to visit it in the next few weeks. Take some binoculars, and be willing to sit and listen for awhile.



Back home now in my warm house and easy life, there is a small part of me that remains behind. Certainly I will go back, but for now it is enough to gratefully remember the solitude and beauty.

22 April 2017

Fear less

 I had never seen a drone before Saturday afternoon. From down below it sounded like a yard tool. But up above in the temporary blue sky, it was beautiful, flying above the people gathered to walk the streets of Corvallis to support science on Earth Day.



 There were at least 3,300 people gathered around the courthouse. Wow. That is quite a few for a town this size.




 
 Science should not be a partisan thing. No scientists want this. Yet, unfortunately, our current leadership is forcing science into the political arena.



 And so there will be demonstrations.


 
 There are many angry Americans.



 This lady was on oxygen, doing the best she could to support the science that she depends upon. Why is our leadership defunding science? She wants to know. Her participation makes her feel energized and hopeful for change.



I have climate change doubters in my family. I love them dearly. They know the climate is changing (duh), but do not believe that it is anything more than "weather."  I do not know how to tell them otherwise because they will not listen, despite mountains of data that shows the unprecedented velocity of global warming due to human activity.




 Marie Curie: Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.



 I do fear this. There are things we can do. But our government goes in the opposite direction, and there are many who support it.




 God bless the nerds. They may be our salvation. He stood there all by himself.




And the kids; they bring hope. She was dressed as a butterfly and talked extensively about them. There will be no stopping the kids. Happy Earth Day. May we all have cause to fear less.


30 March 2017

Respite




We just returned from a brief respite at a favorite spot in the central Cascades of Oregon, a place we often visit as the seasons change in March and September.  This year it has been a long winter, and the snow and ice linger.



 What a good place to think, just at the turning of winter. A quiet place, disconnected from the internet and no phone or television connection.




 The edges of things are interesting. Edges and corners are places where you must stop and consider.  What to keep, what to let go, what to change, what to defend.




 There are choices, very different directions. Man, everything seems like politics these days.




 What a beautiful country we live in. May we find our way to peaceful resolutions of difficult problems in a world that is complicated and ever-moving. May it be so.




22 December 2016

Playing the elf

I love Christmas. I like the hubbub of it: cookies baking, the warm house aglow with lights, the fresh tree in the living room. I love the generous spirit which never lasts long enough.




I've been playing the elf, making things for 3 small grandsons. Here is a campfire created out of felt and paper for the oldest, who just turned five.


Detachable flames! Why not. And of course, marshmallows.




For the 2 1/2 year old:  fish, with metal rings and paperclips sewn into their mouths.



 Because if your only lure is a magnet, how else can you catch them?



 
A fish pond.




For the youngest: wee blueberry muffins to "bake" in his little kitchen.



 He needs ingredients. Here is some pasta and broccoli. Had to stitch the noodles together so they wouldn't end up all over the house.



The process is closely regarded.




 Potatoes.



Finally, a bunch of carrots, a few eggs, and a little shopping bag to keep things in. I might be done.

The making of all of this stuff has been great entertainment. Not sure how it will go over. "Wahooo I got some potatoes!!!" said no one ever. But it really doesn't matter because I've had my own fun with it. And that's good enough for me.


17 December 2016

A winter's gift


We don't get a lot of snow here in western Oregon, but when we do, it is usually a gift. Today, after a recent snow, John and I spent some time with friends on their property north of town. Much of it was about looking at tracks. Who had passed through in the last two days? Cougar and deer.




Bobcat and cougar, crossing the narrow plank bridge over a creek. Given a choice, cats of all sizes daintily avoid stepping in water, don't they?


More than one cougar had been poking around. One big kitty had 5 toes.



That's right: take care not to step on the ferns.


Turkeys.


Cougar hunt deer, and the tracks mingle.


A mouse, wishing to avoid detection, tunnels beneath the snow's surface, then pops up for air.


A mouse above the snow: hopping south on the left, north on the right.  See the tail?


A bobcat, leaving a circle of snow all around her furry foot.


When did the bobcat pass through? There are crystals covering her print, telling us that it wasn't this morning.



At last we left the snowy, tangled woods,


stepped over the icy art on the path, and went into the cabin for soup and a warm fire. All of it a winter's gift.