Purslane

October 03, 2022

Last week I noticed a beautiful flower had bloomed amid the weeds I have allowed to serve as groundcover in the mailbox planter.  The bed has been planted with types of bulbs that sprout and flower at different times of the year.  With the hot summer most of the cover (including weeds) had died back.  I kept thinking I needed to plant something, but I have also watched as other house owners in the neighborhood had been planted annuals.  They never lasted more than a couple of weeks before they died.  The weeds that are taking over in my planter appeared to be succulents, and I was surprised Melissa did not like them.  When I asked, the reason was that they had not been planted by her (or her mom?) and just grew on their own.  She knew exactly what the plants and the flower were, purslane.

When I looked online, I found Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also known as little hogweed, is an annual (tropical perennial in growing zones 10 – 11) succulent in the family Portulacaceae.  The species was recorded in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in Species Plantarum.  Due to the great variability, of the species many of the subspecies and varieties have been instead described as separate species, but other publications list them all as variations.  The plant may reach 16 inches (40 cm) in height.  It has smooth, reddish, mostly prostrate stems and the leaves, which may be alternate or opposite, and are clustered at stem joints and ends.  The yellow flowers have five regular parts and are up 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) wide.  The flowers can appear at any time during the year depending on rainfall and open singly at the center of the leaf cluster for only a few hours on sunny mornings.  Purslane has a taproot with fibrous secondary roots and can tolerate poor soil and drought.  The fruits are the many-seeded capsules, and one plant can develop up to 193,000 seeds.  It is no wonder these succulents take over.

While purslane is best known as a weed it is also an edible and highly nutritious vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked and contains about 93% water.  It has a slightly sour or salty taste, much like spinach and watercress.  Purslane can be found at farmers markets for use in crunchy salads or ethnic cuisine, and it can be cultivated for ornamental use.  Archaeobotanical finds of purslane are common at Mediterranean prehistoric sites.  Historically, , seeds have been retrieved from a protogeometric (1040 – 900 BCE) layer in Kastanas, Greece, as well as from the isle of Samos dating to the 7th century BCE.  In the 4th century BCE, Theophrastus names purslane (andrákhne) as one of the several summer “pot herbs” that needed to be sown in April.  The healing properties of purslane during antiquity were thought to be so reliable that Pliny the Elder advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.  Purslane is high in many nutrients while low in calories, making it one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.  I do not think I can convince Melissa to eat any of these weeds.

THOUGHTS:  Like many species of plants purslane is both a weed and miracle food.  The internet sites I found alternated between how to get rid of the plant and where to get the best price on seeds.  It all depends on the beholder and what you are accustomed to.  Migration is often treated in the same manner.  While some are moving into the suburbs, others are moving into urban areas, and both are creating diversity in what was perceived to have originally been homogeneous communities.  How change is perceived depends on the beholder.  The right to live where you want should not be afforded to only the elite.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Treat Man

October 01, 2022

Yesterday I was able to take Zena to the trainer for a lesson.  We call him the “treat man” because she gets copious amounts of treats as rewards for doing what she is supposed to do.  She had not been to train in several weeks due to a variety of issues and I was hoping she would do alright.  I walk her in the mornings and although I know she has done fine by my standards, these were below the expectations of the trainer.  We showed up right on time and he was waiting in the drive of his house.  He told me to follow him, and we took off for the park.  Today’s lesson was going to be walking outdoors and encountering other people and dogs.  This is an area Zena and I have struggled with, and I was anxious to see what the treat man would do different than me.

When we arrived at the park we went to a fenced playground.  This was not gated but it was closed on three sides with a wide opening at the walkway entrance.  The treat man had brought his long leash and allowed Zena to run free will with the leash attached and dragging behind her.  That way we could catch her if she took off, but she would still feel like she was on her own.  Zena snuffled around until she got comfortable with her surroundings before he started the training.  She would run around the yard and then look back to check if he was still there.  That is when he would tell her to “come”, and when she did, she received a treat.  After working on this command for ten minutes Next Zena worked on paying attention to him as several dogs and people walked by on the other side of the gate.  Again, she did well but there were not too many people or dogs to distract her is this section of the park.  He decided to up the test and we moved to the other side of the park that had a walking trail around a small lake.  He assured me this would be more of a test.

The lake we went to had one of the community fishing lake signs posted by Game and Fish.  These small lakes are in urban settings and stocked with catfish four times a year.  Several also have trout stocked during the winter.  Every one of these signs is the same, listing the fish and creel limits for the lake.  Although they all list bass on the sign, I have never caught (or seen) a largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) at any of the lakes.  I laughed and told the trainer, but he contradicted me.  Last year he had caught a 6 inch (15 cm) crappie (Pomoxis annularis) and when he was reeling it in, it was engulfed by a five pound (2.3 km) bass.  The hook caught in the bass’ mouth, and he was able to reel them both in.  I do not know if this was just a fish tale, but they stock bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) and not crappie in these community lakes.  Sour grapes, maybe the treat man was just a better fisher person than me.

THOUGHTS:  We finished Zena’s first three sessions with the treat man last spring and then took the summer off because it was so hot.  He was apprehensive about the restart not knowing if we had kept up the drills.  We had and Zena took up where she left off this month.  She still picks up the commands quickly and remembers them (when she wants to).  Even the treat man has commented on how smart she is.  Intelligent dogs are a lot like people.  They know what you want them to do, it is just a matter of whether they decide to do what you want.  The trick is to make doing the right thing in their best interest.  Treating others with justice is the right thing for them, but also is for you.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Rattlesnake

September 30, 2022

𝘱𝘩𝘰𝘵𝘰 𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘵: 𝘋𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘪𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘦 𝘓𝘢𝘥𝘯𝘦𝘳

The Nation & World page of my local newspaper carried a USA Today article about a white rattlesnake on display at the Natural Science Museum in Jackson, Mississippi.  This is one of the rarest rattlesnakes most people will ever see.  Jamie Merrill, conservation associate biologist with the museum, said the snake has a genetic condition called T-positive, which is a reduction of pigment and not a total loss of pigment.  He is off-white with tan chevrons.  T-negative would be a total loss of pigment, which is a little rarer than T-negatives.  Herpetologist Terry Vandeventer of Jackson said the fact this rattlesnake survived to adulthood is so rare it cannot be calculated.  One out of several thousand timber rattlesnakes are born T-positive.  The odds of a normal juvenile rattllesnake living to adulthood in the wild are already low, but a T-positive snake not having camouflage to protect it from predators make the odds of survival considerably lower.  This snake survived to adulthood, was captured, and was relocated to the museum where it is now on display.

When I looked online, I found the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), also called the canebrake rattlesnake or banded rattlesnake, is a species of pit viper widespread throughout eastern North America.  All pit vipers are venomous, but this species can be highly venomous.  The timber is the only rattlesnake species in the heavily populated Northeastern US and is second only to only the prairie rattlesnake as the most northerly distributed venomous snake in North America.  Adults usually grow to the length of 36 to 60 inches (91 to 152 cm), with most adults measuring less than 45 inches (115 cm) in length and weighing between 1.1 and 3.3 pounds (500 and 1,500 g), and often towards the lower end of the range.  The maximum reported length is 74.5 inches (189.2 cm) and large specimens can reportedly weigh as much as 10 pounds (4.5 kg).  The back (dorsal) of the rattlesnake has a pattern of dark brown or black crossbands on a yellowish-brown or grayish background while the underbelly (ventral) is yellowish and either uniform or marked with black.

The white rattlesnake was discovered by Danielle Ladner of Yazoo County Mississippi as she was gathering muscadines (wild grapes) to make jelly.  She was about to leave and bent over to pick some of the muscadines she’d gathered and realized the snake was 2 feet (30 cm) from her face.  Ladner initially screamed and ran away, but she went back and photographed it.  After sharing the photos with a herpetologist, she realized the snake was a rarity and called the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.  Personnel from the agency captured the snake and took it to the museum.  The snake went into a reptile form of hibernation (brumation) where it did not eat for several months.  Once it began eating regularly, he was placed on display.  Ladner took her children to the museum to see the rattlesnake.  “We were excited.  I felt like he’d put on a good bit of weight.  He looked really good and healthy.  I’m not a snake person and never have been, but he’s a special snake.  I’m glad he’s safe and everybody can come see him.”

THOUGHTS:  When I directed the camp in Kansas, we had areas of timber and tall grass conducive to snakes and their prey.  Guests would often tell me about snakes they saw and expect me to “do something”.  When I researched, I found the area of Kansas where we were was unique in there were no venomous snakes in the county.  While different species of rattlesnakes and copperheads are common on the Kansas prairie, their range does not tend to overlap, and we sat right in the middle.  The rat snakes and black snakes that were reported may have looked ominous but were beneficial pest control.  I recall one old-timer telling me, “You don’t need a cat.  You’re better off with a black snake in the corn crib.”  I made a pamphlet on venomous snakes in Kansas to ease their fears.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Bacteria

September 29, 2022

As the Hogs prepare for a top 20 showdown with the Tide, I was drawn to an article in my local newspaper about research done by the University of Alabama on bacteria and the origin of life.  This highlighted a professor who specialized in the “esoteric field of biomineralization”.  Alberto Perez-Huerta discovered a way to use a Local Electro Atom Probe (LEAP) to analyze a specific mineral in ancient rock that could only have been generated by a living bacterial organism.   Rock samples from about 3.5 billion years ago are known to bear a particular crystal that is only 60-80 nanometers in size, but no one could determine if the crystals were geologically formed or biologically formed.  Crystals formed by bacteria leave traces of organic components (carbon and nitrogen) that show they are biological.  Using a LEAP, he looked inside the crystals and found those made from bacteria have traces of organic compounds while crystals formed in the lab by non-biological processes did not.  This research lays a foundation for other scientists to build more accurate theories about early life.

When I looked online, I found bacteria (singular bacterium) are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one biological cell lacking a nucleus or membrane-bound organelles.  They are typically a few micrometers in length and were among the first life forms to appear on Earth.  Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep biosphere of Earth’s crust.  Bacteria are vital in many stages of the nutrient cycle by recycling nutrients, including decomposition of dead bodies.  Bacteria live in symbiotic and parasitic relationships with plants and animals and humans carry millions of bacteria.  Most are in the gut, but others are on the skin.  Most of the bacteria in and on the human body are harmless or rendered harmless by the immune system, and many are beneficial, particularly the ones in the gut.  Several species of bacteria are pathogenic and cause infectious diseases, including cholera, syphilis, anthrax, leprosy, tuberculosis, tetanus, and bubonic plague.  The most common fatal bacterial diseases are respiratory infections.

Antibiotics have been used against virulent strains of bacteria since ancient times.  Ancient notes on the beneficial effects of a topical application of moldy bread are found in Egypt, Nubia, China, Serbia, Greece, and Rome.  The first person to directly document the use of molds to treat infections was John Parkinson during the early 17th century.  Antibiotics revolutionized medicine in the 20th century.  Alexander Fleming discovered modern day penicillin in 1928 and widespread use proved beneficial during wartime.  However, the effectiveness and easy access to antibiotics have also led to their overuse and some bacteria have evolved a resistance to them.  The World Health Organization has classified antimicrobial resistance as a widespread “serious threat [that] is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country”.  Global deaths attributable to antimicrobial resistance numbered 1.27 million in 2019.

THOUGHTS:  There has been extensive use of antibiotics in animal husbandry despite legislation limiting its use.  In the US, the question of emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains due to use of antibiotics in livestock was raised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as far back as 1977.  The antibiotics used against bacteria in food animals are producing resistant bacteria, and both the antibiotics and resistant bacteria are passed through human consumption.  Abuse of the latest cure frequently leads to creation of its own pathogen.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Paris

September 28, 2022

We have a family tradition of doing something special for birthdays.  When my brother turned 60, he played 60 holes of golf in one day.  Another brother ran a marathon distance on the day he turned 60.  This has trickled down to the children and my son would climb one of the tallest mountains in the state on his birthday and a nephew ran another marathon distance when he turned 40.  He was joined by his father for the last five miles and his 6 year old daughter for the last mile.  As only a child can do, she sprinted to the finish and told him she had won.  This year Melissa turns 60 and I told her we would do something special for her birthday.  It turned out we were able to book a trip that includes several days in Paris, France.  While this is not on her birthday, I told Melissa I was taking her to Paris for her birthday.

When I looked online, I found the area that became Paris, Arkansas, began in 1820 as pioneers settled along the Old Military Road between Little Rock and Fort Smith, and 5 miles (8 km) south of the Arkansas River.  Paris was named after the French capital in 1874 and became the Logan County seat, being incorporated on February 18, 1879.  Paris was a bustling city of 800 in the 1890’s and boasted two newspapers, a bottling-works company, nine general stores, and the Paris Academy of Arts.  By 1917, coal mining had become the community’s main industry, but this had declined by the 1960’s.  The town decided to widen its economic base and today has manufacturing facilities making parts for the automotive and aerospace industries.  Farming and ranching remain among the largest industries in the county, and tourism got a boost with the construction and opening of a 60-room lodge and guest cabins on the top of Mount Magazine, which is 18 miles (29 km) south of Paris.  An estimated 400,000 people a year travel to Mount Magazine.  Melissa and I turned around at Paris.

As her real birthday approached Melissa let me know the trip to Paris did not mean we would not celebrate the actual date.  She took the day off with my promise of a magical evening.  I had planned to take a scenic trip through the Arkansas countryside with the top down in the Benz, but the 100F (37.7C) temperature waylaid that idea.  We instead made an hour long scenic drive with the windows up and the AC on, and Melissa wondering where we were going the whole way.  Just when she thought she had figured out where we were going, I unexpectedly stopped just on the outskirts of a small town and exclaimed, “I told you I would take you to Paris for your birthday!”  We were in Paris, Arkansas.  The look on her face was priceless.

THOUGHTS:  The name ‘’Paris’’ originated from the earliest inhabitants of the region (the Parisii tribe).  The city is also known as the ‘’La Ville Lumiere’’ meaning ‘’the City-of-Light’’ because it is the first big city in the continent to have gas street lighting, and it also played a major role in the era of Enlightenment.  The city’s streets and boulevards were illuminated by 56,000 gas lamps in 1857.  The name Paris can be found in 48 places across 17 countries, with 22 located in the US.  I grew up in Manhattan, Kansas.  Manhattan was founded by settlers from the New England Emigrant Aid Company (central New York State) as a Free-State town in the 1850’s, during the Bleeding Kansas era.  Manhattan is nicknamed the “Little Apple” in reference to the Manhattan borough of New York City.  Small towns are named to reflect their heritage, the origin of the founders, or with the hope they will flourish like their namesakes.  While few achieve these lofty goals, they hope the name provides lives on.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Stink

September 27, 2022

When I opened my News Break app the lead story concerned a bug rapidly multiplying throughout the US.  Now with winter fast approaching the bugs are going to be moving inside your home.  The insect is originally from Asia and researchers think it came over on shipping crates from China or Japan.  It was first spotted in 1998 and has already taken over 44 states (including Arkansas) and four provinces in Canada.  Even though they do not bite, they are a nuisance when hundreds or thousands of them come inside your house.  The bug survives the winter as an adult by entering houses and structures when autumn evenings become colder.  In one home, more than 26,000 stinkbugs were found overwintering.  While we have a few hundred different indigenous species of stink bugs these are different.  If you try to kill, squash, or even vacuum them they will spray and make a vile smell.  The brown marmorated stink bug is more likely to invade homes in the fall than others in the family.

When I looked online, I found the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) is an insect in the family Pentatomidae, native to China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian regions.  The adult brown marmorated are approximately 0.67 inches (1.7 cm) long and about as wide, forming the heraldic shield shape characteristic of bugs in the superfamily Pentatomoidea.  They are generally dark brown on top with a creamy white-brown underside, but individual coloration may vary.  “Marmorated” means variegated or veined (like marble), which refers to the unique markings to this species that include alternating light-colored bands on the antennae and alternating dark bands on the thin outer edge of the abdomen and brown legs with faint white mottling or banding.  The nymph stages are black or dark brown with red husks (integument) between the body plates (sclerites).  First instar nymphs (larval stages) have no white markings, but second through fifth instar nymphs have black antennae with a single white band.  The nymphs’ legs are black with varying amounts of white banding.  Freshly molted individuals of all stages are pale white with red markings.  Eggs are laid on the underside of leaves in masses of 28 eggs.  They are light green when laid, slowly turning white.

Like all stink bugs, the glands that produce the defensive chemicals (smell) are located on the underside of the thorax, between the first and second pair of legs.  The species was first collected in the US in September 1998 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where it is believed to have been accidentally introduced in shipping crates.  The nymphs and adults of the bug feed on over 100 species of plants, including many agricultural crops.  By 2010–11 the bug had become a season-long pest in orchards in the Eastern US.  In the Mid-Atlantic States during that year, US$37 million in apple crops were lost, and some stone fruit growers lost more than 90% of their crops.  This stink bug is established in many parts of North America and has recently become established in Europe and South America.

THOUGHTS:  Several wasps and predators indigenous to North America and Europe have been reported to attack stink bug eggs, nymphs, and adults.  Researchers have experimented with predators like the spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculate), the spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) who is another stink bug species, and the common green lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea) in the US.  The Samurai Wasp (Trissolcus japonicus) is the primary predator of the bugs in China and the species has self-introduced to North America.  The Joro spider is another invasive Asian species, and a natural predator of the stink bug, and was identified in Georgia in 2015.  It seems invasive predators attacking invasive pests is the approach taken by researchers.  What happens after the “spider swallows the fly.  Don’t ask me why”?  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Re-cover

September 26, 2022

It is just under one year since I wrote about our decision to place the cover over the pool in our back yard.  While this had been a request from our lender, I figured it was not a bad idea.  The cover is designed to keep the leaves out (which are again starting to fall) and serve as a deterrent to people inadvertently walking into the open pool (pay attention!).  After some initial delays (supply chain, not my problem) we were able to get the cover and the water bags that hold it in place on the pool.  This worked well although I needed to buy a sump pump to keep the rainwater from filling the cover and pulling it into the pool.  That was until the arrival of Zena.  The covered pool became an instant attraction to our puppy, and she would jump into the pool to swim.  She later began to attack the orange caps on the blue water bags (she loves plastic).  I pulled the tarp out of the pool last week to let it dry and today was determined to re-cover the pool in a way Zena could not compromise.

While the easiest way to re-cover the pool was to reset the water bags, 6 of the 12 bags now had the orange caps chewed off.  I thought about placing some of the bricks stored near our shed around the outside of the tarp but knew these would not last long.  Zena loves to carry any bricks she finds on the back patio and even throws them over her shoulder (yes, I am talking a full sized brick).  I had thought of bundling several bricks together, but again figured Zena would find a way to chew off any ties I used.  That is when I hit on the solution, concrete blocks.  The dimensions for a Standard Cored Concrete Block are 8-in W x 8-in H x 16-in L (20.3-cm W x 20.3-cm H x 40.6-cm L) and weighs about 30 pounds (13.5 kg).  While this might tear the cover, it will be more effective against the cover being drug into the water by the weight of the rain.  Another plus was Zena would not be able to carry the blocks around (I hope).

I purchased ten blocks from our local hardware store and placed them around the pool.  Melissa and I got on opposite ends of the cover to stretch it tight and placed a block on each corner.  Several more blocks were added to each side, and it was ready.  We stepped back to admire our work.  During this whole time Zena had been wildly racing around the pool cover as she does with unknown objects.  No doubt remembering her times as a puppy, she launched herself into the middle of the cover.  Of course, it collapsed under her weight (60 pounds/27 kg and she is a puppy) and she and the cover went into the water left in the bottom of the pool.  Zena immediately scrambled for the steps but could not find traction for her wet feet.  After several lunges (and shouts from Melissa) Zena made the step and was able to leap out of the pool.  We decided to re-cover the pool by wrapping the cover around each block.  Zena is good at respecting barriers, and this made an eight-inch (20.3-cm) high barrier along both sides of the pool and with a discernable break on both ends.  When it rains, I will again need to break out the sump pump.

THOUGHTS:  While we were trying to re-cover the pool a second time, Zena was cowering in the doorway of the patio.  She had shaken the water off herself several times but was still visibly upset from falling into the pool.  After we finished the re-cover, I was standing by the pool and called Zena over, but she was reluctant.  It was not until I stepped away from the pool that she finally came.  This might have been a good lesson learned to help keep her safe in the future.  We can all recall a time when we leapt without thinking.  When we survive, these may become life lessons.  If we choose to ignore these lessons, we are what Darwin might have called “natural selection”.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Tomato

September 24, 2022

This year’s warm summer really decimated the tomato plants I put in the containers.  They did not produce much fruit and then all the lower stems withered and died and all six of the plants are looking bad.  When I researched how to prune a tomato two years ago it suggested not to prune at all if they were a determinate (stops at certain height) but pruning an indeterminant will cause the plant to quit producing stems and start producing flowers.  I knew the tomato plants I have put in the containers over the last three years were indeterminants. I had never pruned them, and they had never grown much above the tall cages (4 feet/1.2 meter) I use to support them.  This year the plants were short on production but had all outgrown the cages by several feet.  Since it is getting cooler, I decided to prune the dead stems and see if they would make a final push at production before the frost.  As I worked, I pondered why the tomato is referred to as both a fruit and a vegetable.

When I looked online, I found it the double reference for the tomato is based on context.  The Encyclopedia Britannica states a tomato is a fruit but is labeled in grocery stores as a vegetable because of their taste and nutritional purposes.  Botanically, a tomato is a fruit (a berry), consisting of the ovary and its seeds, of a flowering plant.  The tomato is considered a culinary vegetable because it has a much lower sugar content than culinary fruits.  The tomato is also more savory in taste than sweet and is typically served as part of a salad or main course of a meal rather than as a dessert.  Tomatoes are not the only food source with this ambiguity.  It turns out bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, avocados, green beans, and all kinds of squashes (such as zucchini and pumpkins) are all botanically fruit yet cooked as vegetables. 

The confusion over culinary verses botanical difference of tomatoes as fruits or vegetables led to a legal dispute in 1887.  Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893), was a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court that, under US customs regulations, the tomato should be classified as a vegetable rather than fruit.  John Nix founded the John Nix & Co. fruit commission in New York City in 1839 and became one of the largest sellers of produce in New York City at the time.  Nix & Co. was also one of the first companies to ship produce from Virginia, Florida, and Bermuda to New York.  Edward Hedden was Collector of the Port of New York who applied the tariff.  In a unanimous decision, the Court’s opinion held that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of “fruit” and “vegetable”, instead of the technical botanical meaning.  The holding of this case was said to apply only to the interpretation of the Tariff of 1883, and the court did not claim to reclassify the tomato for botanical or other purposes.

THOUGHTS:  While the tomato may generally be served with dinner and not as a dessert, there are many recipes for tomato cakes, pies, and especially gelati and ices.  Likewise, the only way I have ever eaten pumpkin is in a pie.  Does this mean both are culinary fruits as well as botanical fruits?  Words and their definitions are an important part of communication and culture and what we intend to mean can be understood differently by others.  Communication requires people to speaker and listen in a way others understand.  Otherwise, it is just noise.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Center

September 23, 2022

Inside my local newspaper was an AP article on a shift in the population center of the US.  This calculation is preformed every ten years after completion of the survey by the US Census Bureau.  For the next ten years this honor belongs to the town of Hartville with a population of 594 residents (as of 2020).  Missouri has been the population center of America since 1980.  Since the 2010 census identified Plato, Missouri, as the population center it means this decades’ shift was 11.8 miles (19 km).  This is the smallest distance shift in 100 years and the second smallest in US census history.  Dignitaries from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Census Bureau were present to officially debut the red granite marker topped with a tripod.  According to the Census Bureau this “spot would be the ‘balance point’ if the 50 states were located on an imaginary flat surface with weights of identical size – each resenting the location of one person – placed on it.”  Sounds like someone has a lot of time on their hands waiting ten years for the next census.   

When I looked online, I found the center of the US has also been calculated geographically as well as by population.  The geographic center of the US is northeast of Belle Fourche in Butte County, South Dakota (with coordinates: 44°58′N 103°46′W).  The geographic center of the contiguous 48 states (minus Alaska and Hawaii) is near Lebanon in Smith County, Kansas (with coordinates: 39°50′N 98°35′W).  Although the designation has no official status, the geographic center of North America is in the US and was thought to lie near Rugby, North Dakota (with coordinates: 48°10′N 100°10′W).  In 2017, a new calculation of the geographic center of North America placed it near the town of Center, North Dakota.  The change occurred because of rising sea levels because of climate change and from a shift in the calculation measure itself.

For years the cities of Center and Rugby have contested which is the actual geographical center of North America.  Different scientists have used various methods to determine the geographical center of the continent.  Now, changes in sea level due to glacial melt have resulted in a shifting in its position.  The lack of a clear definition of what constitutes a geographic center also contributes to its varied identification.  The debate between the two cities officially ended recently with the accurate calculation of the exact geographic center of North America by University of Buffalo professor Peter Rogerson.  Appropriately, Center, located in Oliver County, North Dakota, is the new geographical center of North America.  Rogerson used the azimuthal equidistant projection method to determine the geographical center.  Based on his calculations he concluded the geographical center was in the middle of the city of Center, 145 miles from the previous geographical center in Rugby.  The findings are more accurate as the azimuthal equidistant projection method considers the Earth’s curvature.  Both have commemorative markers and still claim the title of North America’s center.

THOUGHTS:  Although my memories are vague, I still recall our family visit to the geographical center located near Lebanon in Smith County, Kansas.  I believe this was on the same trip where we visited the Farm and Ranch Museum in Gering, in western Nebraska.  The mission of the museum is, “To preserve and interpret the agricultural heritage of the High Plains.”  The wonder of these odd trips was passed on to me as an adult.  Our first vacation (after the honeymoon) as a tour of the small towns and attractions of western Kansas.  The common “wonders” in rural areas still hold an appeal.  How we lived and survived the rigors of the past are a road map for the future.  Hopefully, we will learn from the pandemic as well.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Esoteric

September 22, 2022

While coming back through town from the recycling center yesterday I was on the side street waiting to pull onto the main drag when a car with a large AEL emblem emblazoned on the side door drove past.  I pulled into traffic and noticed a smaller version of the emblem was also on the rear panel.  I had never seen the acronym before and wondered what it stood for.  When we stopped at a traffic light, I got close enough to read the small print beneath the emblem.  It said, American Esoteric Laboratories.  I did not know what that meant but thought that either someone had a good sense of humor or medicine was finally being honest.  It was neither and was not as esoteric as I thought.

When I looked online, I found esoteric testing is the analysis of ‘rare’ substances or molecules that are not performed in a routine clinical laboratory.  Esoteric tests are “niche” assays and often require specialized personnel.  Some of these tests have been or are currently being analyzed using RIA (radioimmunoassay) technique which is both costly and time-consuming.  Esoteric laboratories are beginning to benefit as test volume increases due to population growth and the aging population, an increase in the number of tests per patient, and an increase in esoteric and genomic tests which are part of the trend to customize treatments.  Esoteric tests are generally considered to include Biochemical Genetics, Cytogenetics/FISH, Flow Cytometry, Microbiology, Molecular Genetic Pathology, RBC, Special Studies, Special Coagulation, and Virology.  The tests do seem esoteric.

American Esoteric Laboratories (AEL) is a regional provider of esoteric and clinical laboratory services.  The laboratory offers an extensive test menu of both routine and esoteric testing.  AEL testing locations in Tennessee include the core laboratory in Memphis and AEL East in Knoxville.  Additional AEL laboratories are in Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, and Arkansas.  AEL also operates convenient patient service centers throughout Alabama, Arkansas, the Florida panhandle, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.  AEL is the MidSouth Division of Sonic Healthcare USA.  Sonic Healthcare is a global healthcare company with headquarters in Sydney, Australia, that has grown to become one of the world’s leading healthcare providers.  Sonic has operations in Australia, the US, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland, and New Zealand.  This is truly a globalized medical operation.  Like much of big medicine, I had never heard of it.

THOUGHTS:  When the pandemic began spreading early in 2020 virus testing was done by sending the sample off to an esoteric laboratory.  The word esoteric means obscure or puzzling, and at the onset that was what the virus was.  These specialized laboratories analyzed the rare substances or molecules associated with it.  As testing became more common local labs began to perform the tests, and now over the counter self-tests are readily available.  While there is still much to discover, the virus is no longer seen as obscure and puzzling.  It is something to be tracked, studied, and ever more understood.  Now the esoteric part is why there are still those who deny it exists.  Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.