Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Standing on a Glacier




S
tanding on a glacier is a geographer’s dream. It is rather like stepping through a time portal... not like a door that takes you to another age, but one that allows you to observe the scale of geologic time. The earth is constantly in motion, the landscape churns with activity, but we humans cannot see it, not until you stand on atop a melting ice river, and you know what to look for.





Terminal end of Sólheimajökulsvegur Glacier, Iceland

The terminal end of a glacier is much like I imagined it to be, perhaps not much different that the surface of a comet. There is a lot of grit, in this case, black and grey ground from lava and basalt. Moving ice is eroding the sides of this volcaninc range quite effectively. Streaks and splotches interrupt the deep, dull grey with minerals from broken veins, rusty red, vibrant ocre, and turquoise in color.


An iceberg floats along the far end of a small lake. By the glacier, mounds of till merge with geometric ice forms. Glaciers leave behind an assortment of moraines as they fade, hills of cleaved and scoured boulders, pebbles, sand, silt and clays.  Further up the glacier the ice becomes more apparent.  Most is gritty and white, more typical of summer. A few geometric windows of smooth, aquamarine blue peak out from hidden places, remnant shadows of winter ice.



A guide leading a flock sojourners walk past me. Their climber’s gear speaks of adventure.  My desire to follow is just slightly less compelling than my judgement to heed the signs warning of danger.  Despite an apparent solidity, the ice can shift quickly, brittle crust covers pits and chasms. I can’t help myself, I climb a bit further, so that my feet are perched on what looks like ice rather than the sooty regolith. I watch the hikers, in their spiky crampons, claw their way up through a snaking, black gully and disappear.
Though I have read many scientific articles on climate change and ice dynamics, standing on the glacier teaches me new things. The way great ice melts is surprisingly complex and not fully understood. There may be no issue of greater importance, certainly to people who live along the seas and oceans of this world. The ice is melting. I see that now with greater clarity. There is little room for doubt when the heart and mind insruct as one.

As I gaze upon the sculpured landscape, I can see in my mind's eye slabs of ice on rising landscapes growing thicker and heavier from year to year. Their weight lends power to gravity’s everpresent work on the earth. Below, mounds of corrugated regolith line the valley. They brace the ice firmly into the hill creating formidable barriers. I imagine this struggle between friction and gravity, a crescendo of waves, a cycle of forward and retreat. As I peer into the geologic now, I see other variables are also in play. The temperature warms. It rains. Liquid water finds its way through to the boundary of ground and ice and undermines the force of friction, like the slick blades of an ice skater. The ice river flows, faster still.  Solid converts to liquid. Waters warm. Currents go deeper, melting the ice from below. The glacier gives way, slowly, in stages. It calves into more and larger slices, that melt as they float away. Vast volume of land ice pushes into the oceans. The level rises. It is a self-feeding cycle, a feedback, an epic battle between friction and gravity and it is happening in all the icy places of the earth.



Here, in Sólheimajökulsvegur, Iceland, the river of ice receeds, as is the case in more than 90% of the world’s glaciers. To touch the dying glacier, I had to walk a half mile up the canyon, from a parking area that sat next to the ice thirty years ago. It is a relatively small feature, a thin finger of a much larger sheet of ice nestled between mountains. It will likely melt fully in my lifetime. Nine percent of the planet is still covered by ice, a remnant of the last glacial maximum that occurred roughly about twenty thousand years ago. Many times in the last three million years the seas rise and fall by several hundred feet. Though it generally happens over millenia, there are also rapid pulses, in the scale of decades, when the waters diluge the earth's shores.

I see my son exploring on the edge of the scree and time shifts back this more human scale. It is almost time to go. I press the tips of my fingers against a streak of aquamarine ice shaded from the everpresent rays of the Islandic solstice sun.  I feel the heat of my skin softening the crystal matrix just ever so slightly.
Ice melts in surprising ways, it seems. There are many variables to consider. It is the anthropocene, the age of humanity a new chapter. Standing on a glacier, I see myself and everyone I know as a part of it all.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My own Search for Spock

Source: Nasa.gov


If you really want to know...


I'm a very flighty person, never satisfied with the view.  I like to explore, look beyond the next hill. That's why I became a geographer. This is particularly true of the mental realm, the landscape of ideas. It's gotten me in trouble.



The problem is, unlike the material world where the ground feels solid beneath me, it didn't take me long to realize the landscape of my mind is quite different. I can simultaneously be situated in completely contrary ideas and not even know it for years.  When I discovered this apparent flaw, I didn't take it well.
Most of my really important finds, have come in stages, like for example, the notion that belief itself has much to do with the physical.  My body, through feelings and emotions, shapes my thoughts in a way that counter what I was taught in school. The physical and mental, are not separate realms, rather they connect through my body. To live and be healthy one needs certain things from the physical world.  Science tells us the human mind developed as an evolutionary strategy to insure those needs are met. My feelings (pleasure, discomfort) and emotions (desire, fear) shape my beliefs far more powerfully than I ever imagined. Yikes!
My initial understanding of the biology of mind made me question many things. Our society, economics, politics, the law, science are based on the premise that we are fundamentally rational beings.  I asked myself, is a search for pleasure and comfort all there is? Is rational free will largely a cruel delusion?
There had to be more to life than a self-serving venture aimed at survival and comfort. I dove head first into religion and spirituality... a search for meaning.  Being quite the science geek, a problem arose right off the top.  I had no idea how to reconcile spirituality and science. My only option was to leave the latter behind and go off half-cocked into the realm of the metaphysical.  I can't tell you how much fun this was - ESP, ghosts, higher beings, and of course, God. I was raised Catholic but because of my flighty nature I had to seek out as many gods as possible. What a wild ride.
In the mental landscape of religion and spirituality there are many countries and many continents. My search began in the capital cities: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc... Not having much luck, I broke orbit and headed for the realm of the occult, spirit healing and ultimately mysticism. Somewhere along the way I rediscovered earth, that is, I began to embrace science again. This time, however, I felt more optimistic that it was possible to bridge the gap, to reconcile science and spirituality.
It has been my own personal search for Spock. Did I mention in all that time I never stopped being a geek? For those of you who don't share that predisposition, Spock's rebirth represents an integration of the logical and the mystical.
At their best, science and mysticism are both transcendent endeavors. Through exploration and the acquisition of knowledge, they take us beyond the self and help us embrace greater realities. They are both ultimately interested in fundamentals, in truths.  Their seeming incompatibilities mostly come from method and the way knowledge has been categorized historically.  Using slightly more erudite lingo, the reductionist/holism paradigm stems from a false dichotomy that established itself in Western thought as science challenged the hegemony of the Church. (please excuse the jargon).
If you want my advice, don't get hung up on the terms god, spirituality, logic, rationality or whatnot. These concepts are like imposed national borders on an integrated biosphere. Their only purpose is to divide for political and administrative reasons.  Like any boundaries, you can't simply ignore them, but I suggest paying at least as much attention to the view of the astronaut gazing at the earth from high above.
And in that spirit, I hope you enjoy this blog, the Wonders of Nature.




Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The politic of nature




   With Facebook memes, smartphone cameras, blogs and 24/7 instant news, we are now fully witness to the folly, the craziness and the cruelty that underlies our economics and our politics. We are all the more aware of the problems facing us. Our world seems to be at a critical stage, some of us are disillusioned and some feel an urgency to move in a new direction.  

   I have seen a lot of political posts regarding what’s best for society, be it capitalism, socialism, or some combination thereof.  For some, it is about salvation and God’s mercy, while others place their faith in new technologies.  

   All of these human models have been tried before, in multiple means and ways, and yet we are left wondering if we have reached a precipice, an ending. Many simply want change, to throw out the old and corrupt without much thought about what comes next.  Yet, there are some who believe we should shape our politics and economies in a way that syncronizes with the organizing principles found in the natural world. After all, over the long-haul, the really long-haul it is nature that has created and sustained us.

   Compare modern society with the workings of nature and you will find fundamental dissonance. Our human systems are linear, wasteful and disparate, while nature is cyclical, self-sustaining and interconnected. Nature self-regulates through chaos and harmony -- a marvel as orderly and nurturing as it is chaotic and destructive. Nature is holistic, interdependent, composed of timeless cycles. Whereas in human models decline and chaos are the enemy. The focus is on the components of society like security, economy, education, health care and so on. Management is forward-looking and teological, purposed to create order and engineer discrete solutions. 

   Thus to use nature as a model is a solution that requires a radical rethinking of our selves, our communities and our place in the cosmos. Natural systems appear balanced and harmonious, but cycles of creation and destruction underlie it all.  Nature works because of the chaos, not in spite of it. Decay, turmoil and death are fundamental to the creative impulse of life. On the bright side, ecosystems arise and thrive for thousands, even millions of years. Our civilization could do as well.

   I'm not sure if we can make this shift or how such a society would function.  It will take courage and imagination. In the end it may be our only choice. Our home is a finite sphere in a vast, cold universe. Humanity continues to grow, expand and consume the natural base that sustains us.  Once you truly ponder this predicament it becomes very clear that the only lasting solutions will arise through an alignment with natural systems. 

   Environmental stewardship, considered a side-issue by most, is really at the core, and where we must begin. Keep than in mind this election cycle.



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ashfallen

        Thank you all for reading my posts these past few years. I hope I have conveyed my love of the natural world and the cosmos to you.  If you've enjoy my writing please see my latest novel on joeocchipinti.net.  I would appreciate it if you take a moment to look:  




                  Alone in the ashen plains, a girl searches for the enigmatic nomads of Od-Siing, but the atmosphere proves too harsh for the young seafarer. Krynna is unconscious and dying when found by the twins, Durai and Quan. Durai falls in love with the girl from a distant ocean world but believes she is a star spirit and shies away. While recovering, the young emissary is shown writings that could help free the nomads from a brutal occupation. A surprise raid separates Durai from Krynna and his sister who then flee to distant asteroid station, where a young prospector has seen the same ancient script. A holy man named Aicobo, a pilgrim from the ocean world, takes the heartbroken Durai to find his two loves. They join Krynna in her pursuit of a truth so powerful it could not only transform the struggle against the totalitarian League, but alter the very meaning of existence for the disparate people of the three suns.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dunes of Sand and Ice


I plan to take a Sunday morning stroll and found myself on Crane's Beach, on one of Massachusetts long, sandy beaches framed by dunes and estuaries. It turned into a four hour hike along the ocean shore and  miles of trails that wound through richly adorned bank of coastal dunes.


Not many visit the beach in winter. Drifts of hard, crusty snow from the last nor'easter adorned the beach along the tidemark, where one normally finds shells and seaweed. On this early March day, I only saw a handful of people jogging and walking their dogs along the wet and icy sand. I felt that sense of freedom as one can only experience listening to the rich sounds of the ocean. After a mile or two I began to jog for a while in order to warm up.


Piping Plover by Glenn Tepke

From time to time, I would stop and walk, particularly when I ran into small flocks of tiny seabirds called piping plovers. The beautiful creatures nearly became extinct in the 19th century, prized for their eggs and feathers across Europe. Today they remain endangered, and Crane's Beach is one of the world's most important protected nesting sites. Each time, I approached them softly, keenly aware of the need not to frighten them as they foraged for food.


After a few miles or so, I finally rounded the southern end of Castle Neck Peninsula and found myself alone in the tall, marsh grasses of the Essex River estuary. There was a well-marked trail that entered the landscape of tufted dunes I remembered as a child.  I rounded a hill and looked back at the ocean one last time.  Braced against the cold, northeast wind I could still hear the surf smashing against the sand. Somehow it seemed as loud as when I felt spray in the air, my feet inches from the water.




As I got deeper within the landscape of shrubby dunes, the ocean sounds faded away, and there was nothing left to hear.  Even the wind stopped speaking.  Sheltered behind a tall dune, I sat and closed my eyes, reveling in the silence. A sense of peace washed over me as if a wave, and I wondered if these dunes were any different than the lapping waves.  They come and go as well, I thought, only in a different scale of time.  





I felt myself as ephemeral, and I wondered what of nature isn't a wave that rises, crests and falls? In my travels along the dune trails I lost my way a time or two, once finding myself back on the shore on the estuary side. The tide had risen and the bank of ice that once rested by the water's edge had turned to tiny icebergs drifting to and fro. 


I sat, rested, and took out my phone to determine where I was; I had taken a picture of one of the posted trail maps. I walked back along the marsh, avoiding the high waters, traversed the top of a particularly tall dune, and headed up Wigwam Hill, where the vegetation began to thicken.





After a few hours of hiking along trails of crusted snow, ice and sand, the landscape held a final surprise; I found myself in the middle the largest pitch pine forest on the north shore of Boston. The texture and smells of the pine grove could not have provided a more pleasing way to end my small adventure.






I don't have to tell you, I plan to be back, and next time perhaps I'll bring some friends.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Wolves Change Rivers

Scientists unravel mystery why wolves cry

Each and every action has unknown consequences. Everything in nature is interconnected in ways that seem hard to imagine until seen and experienced.  The natural processes of Yellowstone National Park provide lessons for how we comport ourselves in this world. We must strive to be conscientious at every level of life, from the deeply personal to the global. Watch the wolves and understand the wonders of nature...


Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Living Color






Color will catch most everyone's eye from time to time.  It can't be helped as our eyes are designed to perceive the spectral wonders of the natural world.  It is one of those phenomenon that is so common most of us hardly give it any thought --

-- unless, of course, you are an artist, gardener or chromatographer.



The sun emits an amazing  range of energy in the form of particles or waves (wave/particle duality will have to wait for an upcoming blog).  The colors we see in nature are a tiny part of that energy called visible light; science refers to the whole affair as the em (electromagnetic) spectrum.

One em wave can span galaxies or be so short that a million times a million waves could fit in a spoon. To us humans, color is a ridiculously tiny part of that range with wavelengths from 390 (violet) to 700 millionth of a meter (red).   That range just so happens to be the frequencies of light most emitted from our sun.  (Can you guess what color shines most from the sun?  Hint, think of photosynthesis and the amazing adaptive powers of nature.)

What would the world look like if our eyes could see beyond that limited range?  To have an idea check out false color images from satellites or put on a pair of infrared goggles.

We see colors because it serves us to do so.  We are hunters and gatherers by trade, been doing it for millions of years. The retinas in our eyes are filled with cone cells sensors, and adaption that has allowed us to thrive as a species.   Our physiology only partially explains the way we perceive colors, however.  We find a sunrise beautiful and, from an evolutionary perspective, its hard to explain why that is so.




Aside from picking the right color berries to survive in the wild and the aesthetic considerations of our artistic selves, colors extend into our lives in so many other ways.  They are a part of our consciousness and our very nature as we ourselves are nothing more than living color.  The notion that we are beings of light may sound like a New Age mantra, but it is substantiated by science (for more on that look for an upcoming post on awarescape.com).  It is simply a matter of perspective.




In the meanwhile take the time to enjoy the wonders of color. See more images on my pinterest or look out your window.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

AwareScape

Joe went for a walk...
a guide to mind/body awareness through landscapes of consciousness


Walking along the beach conjures in me an intangible and immeasurable sense of peace and contentment.  I feel the wind, take in the rich smells of the ocean, and hear the sound of the surf.... read on


The art of being mindful 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Water Falling in the White Mountains



Water falls by way of gravity, making its way back to the ocean and leaving behind scenes of beauty like this clear mountain river in Jackson, NH.






I walked another trail to Diana's Baths, a splendid series of waterfalls and elegantly carved stone. As I sat by the rush of water over hard fissures and rounded swirls of rock, I felt a sense of timelessness.

What does it take, I thought, to break such hardness into progressively smaller stones, to carry all of that material downward and cover valleys with nourishing soil?  In turn, even the valleys disappear as all of the land is taken.

What does it take to remove a mountain from the earth and cover the bottom of the ocean with its remains? Such a thing transcends me.

The water flows and carves, giving no heed to the scale of human notions.  The White Mountains, like the rest of the Appalachians, are hundreds of millions of years old.  Once as tall as the Rockies, perhaps taller, they have been eroded down to nobs of hard granite.  And like these images, these splendid, rounded mountains too are only a snapshot in the eye of unimaginable geologic time.



More Images

Friday, July 19, 2013

Calcium Carbonate by the Seashore










We humans have been collecting sea shells for a very long time.  They have been used for tools, art, adornment, musical instruments, currency, religious and spiritual practices, and mixed with dry fish they make tasty chicken feed. Sea shells, protective outer layers made by a host of sea creatures, are composed of calcium carbonate, found in our homes as wall board and antacid tablets.


The White Cliffs of Dover
Aside from feeding chickens and relieving gas pains, calcium carbonate is utilized by a great number of living creatures. The White Cliffs of Dover, for example, are not only lovely, they made a great barrier against European hordes.  The Brits are quite fond of them, but the Coccolithophores that made them hardly get any credit. The cliffs are the remains of planktonic algae, creatures of microscopic size that excrete and live within a hard matrix of calcium.


There is a great abundance of shells, from microscopic to hundreds of pounds, lining many parts of the ocean bottom.  The diversity, texture and patterns of shells is simply astonishing. There are many exotic examples one could choose to illustrate just how aesthetically pleasing they can be – true works of art. In my estimation, however, the simplest of shell is a wonder of nature.  If you don’t believe me just take a few minutes to really look at one.

...more images


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Looking at Clouds

courtesy of Joe Brown Digital Photography




Blending the elements of water and air into texture and form, clouds can seem as much a process of the imagination as they are one of nature.  When looking at the shifting shapes of cumulus clouds, I often wonder, am I seeing a reflection of my hopes or my fears?  Is this a heart I see heralding good things to come, or is it a horned face of a devil warning of future woes?  But such musings are as ephemeral as the clouds themselves, and my mind soon turns another kind of wonder, the workings of our atmosphere.


NASA Image
In meteorology, clouds are classified by form  -- wispy cirrus, blanketing stratus and billowy cumulus, and by height -- low, middle and high. Some clouds simply adorn the sky, while others portend precipitation.  The word nimbus is added to the rain-makers; cumulonimbus clouds, more commonly known as thunderheads, can rise to great heights and bring the most extreme weather.   In combination, there are dozens of sub types of clouds, and truly, to the eye, each formation seems as unique as the crystal lattices of snowflakes.


That clouds are composed of gaseous water vapor is a common misunderstanding.  They are actually made of tiny droplets of liquid water, falling ever-so-slowly back to earth.  The height of the clouds is the place where those droplets evaporate back into gas as they fall.  If that happens to be at the surface it is commonly called fog.  Clouds blossom when the atmospheric conditions are such that more droplets are created through the condensation of water vapor than are lost to evaporation.

NASA Image

This blossoming would not be possible without the wondrous property of water to absorb and give off large amounts of energy when it changes from one state of matter to another.  The energy is locked into the molecules of water themselves, and for that reason, it is referred to as latent 'hidden' heat.  This phenomenon is why sweating helps us shed heat -- when the perspiration on our skin evaporates it draws the heat from our skin, causing a cooling effect.  In contrast, when water vapor in the air condenses into tiny water droplets, that stored 'latent' energy is released and results in clouds and storms.


Next time you look up at the clouds, stop for a moment and wonder.  No matter how one looks at them, whether through the spark of imagination or scientific fascination, clouds are truly a phenomena worthy of our musings.









Friday, March 29, 2013

The Feel of Early Spring



by Glen Tepke

Early spring is a sensual experience of the grandest scale. As the days grow longer, there is a feeling of change in the air. In northern climes, the sun begins to warm your skin despite the winter chill that remains.  Most everywhere, the beginning of spring is marked by the natural alterations of the ecology -- the budding of trees, the early flowers breaking through the ground, the sound of birds singing, even the changing smells of the land. Spring is simply one of the great wonders of nature, and it is made possible by the incredible interplay between the earth and sun.


Yachaks  in Ecuador


Spring is indeed an experience of the senses, intimately linked to our sense of self as well our communal spirit.  From Easter celebrations to druidic rituals, all cultures, in one way or another, have imbued the dynamic arc of the sun across the sky with purpose and meaning.





NASA Image Earth and Sun


It is a time when days turn longer than night -- a central moment in all solar calendars. The relationship between sun and earth governs the amount of solar energy any given place receives, and in turn, the sunshine waxes, nudging the patterns of clouds, wind and rain towards nourishment. Spring is a time of blossom, of planting crops, and of new life.





The vernal equinox inspires feelings of renewal and rebirth for the land -- it does for us as well. It is a time to reexamine our lives, to clean and purge ourselves of the old and make room for the new.  It is a time for spring cleaning.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Watch the Sun Erupts in a Rain of Fire


Witness the spectacular display of a solar eruption.
Allow yourself to imagine the scale of it.
Experience the power of nature
and know yourself in it.
A revelation.


 

NASA | Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun



Friday, February 1, 2013

The Emergence of Birds in the Sky and Such

Image from Physics World

Have you ever watched a large flock of  birds create beautiful patterns in the sky and wondered how it all works? Curiously, there seems to be no time lag between the movements of each individual. How does each bird know when to turn and where to go?

People have wondered about this perplexing behavior for centuries.  Perhaps, as the ancient Romans thought, it is an expression of the will of the Gods.  Early scientists could not fathom the reason for such coordination, and some even suggested some kind of natural telepathy could explain this phenomenon.  Recent studies using high-speed cameras and computational models suggest that it is all due to the simple behaviors of individuals.  Yet, even these studies have raised questions that are difficult to answer.  See Explaining Bird Flocks in Audibon Magazine.

I believe we need to look to the inherent wholeness in nature to understand why birds flock the way they do.  An ecologist understands nature as a web of interdependent systems -- a holistic process that goes far beyond simple cause and effect explanations.  In fact, the more complex and diverse a system, the hardier and healthier it becomes.  When it comes to flocking birds, perhaps there is something to the way nature works that we are only beginning to understand.

Termite Mound by Razmataz
How do those wondrous, crystalline patterns form within a snowflake? How does a termite colony know how to build tall, palatial mound with no centralized control?  How do a meager 24,000 genes create the incredible human complexity made of trillions of interdependent cells and millions of interellated processes, including the ability for you to read and make sense of this blog?

The answer may be found in the principle of emergence -- how complex patterns arise from many simple interactions and seem to create something greater than the sum of it's constituent parts. This feels rather metaphysical, and so there has been resistance to this concept within science. But no reliance on magic is needed. To understand the world this way requires a radical change in thinking, a paradigm shift one might say.  Look for it, it's everywhere.

I think I will post these thoughts in a complex system with no central organization or governance that is fundamentally altering the nature of our global culture and economy, helping nations rise and fall, and shaping human socialization like never before.  Just a bunch of connected users and computers really.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Walking the Dog on Mars

Lunar Eclipse by Glen Tepke


Some of our most most profound moments arise when we are mindful of the ordinary, everyday happenings in the natural flow of our lives. A wondrous thing can occur when we look with fresh eyes...  we experience reality anew.  An honest and open look may throw us into confusion at first, but then there's always the potential for that "ah" moment when our understanding of nature deepens, and our conceptual world broadens... a moment of profound satisfaction.

That's what happened to me last night as I walked my small pet beagle, and  I looked up at the moon.

I tilted my head, and the shape of the craters and lunar seas took on the form of a rabbit, but that was not the surprise.  I've traveled the southern hemisphere where the rabbit on the moon resides.  I saw myself standing on the surface of the earth, nestled within the thin sliver of blue atmosphere that shelters all life as we know it.  The moon stood far beyond that safety, beautiful, cold and sterile.  The stars around it felt even further, beyond my imaginings...  I experienced a brief moment of fear.  The earth, my very existence, seemed fragile, a tiny sphere lost in an immense universe as lifeless as the moon.

NASA Illustration of Curiosity
How outrageous we humans are, I thought.  Half a century ago some of us went to the moon... how outrageously curious and bold.

It occurred to me that as I stood there, at that very same moment, on the surface of Mars several machines of our making roamed. My eyes scanned the sky for that tiny reddish tinged light in the sky and found it.  I felt a pull on the leash and noticed my dog sniffling around a bush hoping to find something.  There was an excitement to him.

I pictured Curiosity, NASA's latest rover, sniffling here and there, not so different from the efforts of the beagle at my feet.

It was an uplifting feeling, an ah moment, not so much about the moon but about ourselves.  The image of Neil Armstrong climbing down the ladder of the lunar lander stood sharply in my mind.  No matter the cultural and political constraints of the day, I mused, we will always be excitedly searching.  We will always be venturing forth because that is who we are....

Monday, November 19, 2012

Winds of Life

Pomarine Jaeger by Patrick Coin
Birds often get caught by the fierce winds of hurricanes, finding shelter in the eye and riding a tropical cyclone, sometimes for thousands of miles.  Some storms make landfall and travel far inland, and wayward sea birds settle on foreign coasts or in lakes and ponds.


After the Superstorm Sandy, pomarine jaegers were found in many places as unlikely as Pennsylvania. Rescued pelicans in Rhode Island were flown back to a place more like their natural home, Florida.


Birds of all stripes follow the wind during their yearly migrations.  Sometimes the process is interrupted by violent events like Sandy, and they may end up far from their preferred habitats.  There were many such sightings after that massive northeastern hybrid storm: a Ross gull from the arctic turned up in Upstate New York, for instance, and in New Jersey a red-billed tropicbird was spotted.

Sandy is an example of how life itself is guided by the ubiquitous winds that move and shape clouds and weather.  Sometimes the effects are gentle as well as beneficial.  Throughout the world, the winds bring essential rain far inland, to places that lack their own source of moisture.  The breezes of the earth disperse seeds so many species of plants need to propagate.

See the relationship of wind and current in this NASA Scatterometer Image.
The effects of the wind on the biosphere are great and small.  The prevailing winds push on surface water creating great oceanic rivers, like the Gulf Stream; currents that in turn circumnavigate the globe and help spread the excess, equatorial heat from the direct sun to the rest of the earth.  Without that process the tropics would be scorched of life, and great masses of ice would abound in much of the rest of the planet.

The wind... although we can’t see it, we can feel it as an ever-present force.  Like with Sandy, it reminds us that in life everything changes.  The nature of the wind is written into our very thoughts and words.  If change is near we say there something in the wind.  Unpredictable people are said to be as fickle as the wind.

And on this earth the winds of change forever blow, reminding us nothing is permanent, not even the mountains that over geologic spans of time are beaten down by the wind and rain, and like great swells ultimately return to the waters of the ocean.

Monday, November 5, 2012

White-headed Capuchins of Central America

White-headed Capuchin by JoeOcchipinti
White-headed Capuchin, a photo by JoeOcchipinti on Flickr.


As New World monkeys of Central America, white-headed capuchins are perhaps one of the most recognizable of all primates, best known as partners of the street-performing organ grinders of early 20th century New York City. White-faced Capuchins are known to be very clever and can easily evade capture. In fact, they are so intelligent that they are sometimes used as animal helpers for  people who are paraplegic.

White-faced Capuchin MonkeysIn our travel to Costa Rica we were fortunate enough to observe two different troupes of Capuchin, one in a mangrove forest and another near our beach hotel.  In the mangroves, they were wary of us and posturing for us to leave (above), while by the beach resort they couldn't have cared less, and happily socialized with each other (left).  I will long remember the day when standing in the growing shadows of tall palms, we watched these wondrous creatures until the sun set into the Pacific.

I can tell you, it is truly amazing just how human-like these creatures are.  In the wild these amazing animals employ the use of tools to access and gather food, and have been known to use plants medicinally.  Capuchins have been seen rubbing citrus fruits and vines on their fur, perhaps in an effort to rid themselves of parasites or as a way to scent themselves. On a few occasions, researches have observed them armed with sticks for protection.  There is one story of  mother frantically hitting a snake so it would let go of her infant.

These arboreal creatures are very social and like to live in large groups, often establishing alliances with each other. Kinship is important, particularly female to female bonds.  Females are pregnant for about five months and usually bear a single young. Mothers share parenting duties.

Like humans the young mature slowly, usually weaned in about a year, and remain adolescents for several years.  They have been known to live to fifty years and beyond.

Click here to see more capuchin images from our trip to Costa Rica.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Will Sandy be a turning point?


When facing illness we give consideration to our health and to our bodies, but before then we take our health for granted.  Sandy has engendered a moment of clarity for all of us.  Our relationship with the natural world is as intrinsic and as fundamental.  As with our own health, we often don’t give it much thought until crisis comes.

Earth is our home.  We have no other. 

Sandy's aftermath
Sandy is only the latest example of a rapidly changing climate.  We can now see and measure the effects; changes like the radical disappearance of the polar ice cap, the increased frequency of droughts and forest fires, and the rise in sea level.  These things are no longer a matter of speculation.

Let us see clearly… Taking care of our planet is the defining issue of our times.


As a civilization, we are beginning to understand many of nature’s wondrous mechanisms, including those that have shaped the evolution of our atmosphere and climate.  We can point to many factors of natural climate change, like the moving of continents and rising of mountains, like earth’s fluctuating relationship with the sun.  We also know the greenhouse effect (the collection of gases that act to keep the earth’s heat trapped in the atmosphere) is a natural process, and makes our planet more hospitable for life; without it, all of the world’s oceans would be frozen over.  Natural processes shape a perpetually changing climate, from global tropical conditions to ice ages
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The earth’s biosphere has adapted accordingly.  Nature endures, will we?

The same cannot be said for the civilization we humans have created.  We have harnessed the power of fossil fuels, and in doing so have inserted ourselves as shapers of climate change.  Nature has kept CO2 gas in check by drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and turning it into buried coal, oil and gas.  What took nature hundreds of millions of years, we are undoing in a matter of a few generations by releasing all of that carbon back into the air.  It is the main way we are altering the chemistry of our atmosphere, and the climate is beginning to respond.  We are now feeling the consequences, but is only the beginning.

It is clear: We must find a better way. We too must adapt.

When other problems arise, like a bad economy or a blossoming federal debt, the environment takes a back seat, as evident by the fact that climate change was hardly mentioned in the 2012 presidential campaign. We can argue about the role of government, but even those who give voice to small government believe the fundamental role of the State is to protect the people from harm.
 
A destabilizing global climate is the biggest threat we face.

Each one of us has the responsibility to act in whatever way we can.  It starts with electing people who understand what we face, but it does not end there.  We must educate ourselves and find a way to make a difference.

It is our clarion call.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A sand berm disappears and waves crash seawall


nearby seawall


Images and video of Dane Street Beach in the early part of the storm.  Northeast Massachusetts coast.

When we arrived
half an hour later