Cobalt

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 23, 2021

On a whim during my senior year in High School I took a pottery course to fill an โ€œartsโ€ requirement.  To my pleasant surprise it became one of my favorite classes.  During the semester we were taught to make slab pots, coil pots, and finally wheel thrown pots.  I received praise from the teacher for my innate ability to throw a pot on the wheel on my very first attempt.  Praise gets you every time and I was hooked.  I made most of that that yearโ€™s Christmas presents out of pottery and ended up spending most of my time the rest of the year working in his pottery class.  When I helped my sister with momโ€™s final downsizing last month, I noticed several pots I made were being passed along to me, including a failed slab pot that had split during firing.  The pot was fired with one of my favorite glazes, a cobalt blue.  When I unpacked it, Melissa wanted it, so it now adorns our house.

One of the trending stories on my NY Times news feeds told how cobalt is going to be a key for our eco-friendly future.  Cobalt is used in medicine for imaging, cancer radiotherapy and sterilizing medical equipment.  It is in the rechargeable batteries in smartphones and laptops, and it is a component of the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles and store energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources.  This gives cobalt an essential role in the transition from fossil fuels to green energy.  One report predicts the global demand for cobalt will increase 60% above 2017 levels by 2025.  It is projected that batteries will make up more than half of that use.

When I looked online for information on cobalt, I came across an article by Bianca Nogrady for the online news source ENSIA written on May 14, 2020.  Nogrady reported that as interest in cobalt has grown, so has interest in ensuring that it is ethically produced, minimizing harm to the people who mine it and the environment from which itโ€™s removed.  The problem is people die for this mineral.  Some 60% of the worldโ€™s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where nearly three-quarters of citizens live in extreme poverty.  Around one-fifth of cobalt mined in the DRC comes from small-scale artisanal mines worked by children as young as seven years old.  The miners work without gloves to protect them from contact dermatitis while breathing cobalt-laden dust that is associated with a potentially fatal lung disease.  Most mines have unsafe tunnels that are liable to collapse and bury the miners.  All this occurs in settings that are prone to violence and sexual exploitation.  The mines are also the sole livelihood of the hundreds of families who work them.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  Alternatives to cobalt have been explored to curtail the human rights abuses associated with mining.  Several companies are looking at ways to recycle the cobalt from batteries to reduce the amount of new material needed.  Others have used expended car batteries as viable storage cells for other forms of renewable energy like wind and solar.  A third alternative is to stop using cobalt all together.  Research has found that no transition mineral is perfect; lithium, manganese, nickel, and zinc are all associated with human rights violations.  And to shun cobalt altogether would mean denying a valuable source of income to people who desperately need it.  What we need to do is acknowledged the existing environmental and human rights concerns, and then find ways to work toward an amicable solution.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Season

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 22, 2021

Over the weekend I had to finally admit my vegetables were no longer going to produce more fruit.  I mentioned I removed the tomato plants several weeks ago, but I was still holding out the peppers would give one last push.  The last few cherry tomatoes had finally ripened, and I got a regrowth spurt from both my poblano and jalapeno pepper plants.  With the freezing weather at nights the small peppers had turned soft, and the tomatoes had begun to drop to the ground.  I reclaimed as much of the crop as I could and then pulled the plants out of the ground, knocked off the adhering soil, and threw them unceremoniously over the fence and into the yard.  I was done for the season.

When I looked online, I found the growing season in Arkansas is approximately 200 days.  On average the last Spring frost is around April 14th and the first Fall frost is around October 18, with a 10% chance for frost to occur either before or after those dates.  Knowing the season to plant flowers and gardens has long been the purview of the Farmers’ Almanac.  This annual American periodical has been in continuous publication by Geiger of Lewiston, Maine, since 1818.  The Almanac provides long-range weather predictions for both the US and Canada, and provides calendars, articles on folk lore, natural remedies, and the best days for various outdoor activities.  Predictions for each edition are made as far as two years in advance.  Scientific analyses of the Farmers’ Almanac forecasts have found a 50% rate of accuracy, which is higher than Punxsutawney Philโ€™s groundhog prognostication.  

Publishers of the Farmerโ€™s Almanac point to the fact that “many longtime Almanac followers claim that their forecasts are 80% to 85% accurate” on their website.  Their website also contains a list of the many more “famous” weather predictions they have accurately forewarned of, and it points out that they have been predicting the weather longer than the National Weather Service.  The publishers will only state publicly that their method is an “exclusive mathematical and astronomical formula, that relies on sunspot activity, tidal action, planetary position (astrology) and many other factors”.  The Almanac’s forecaster is referred to by the pseudonym Caleb Weatherbee.  I guess it is better than flipping a coin . . . oh, wait?

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  When Melissaโ€™s succulents faced their first winter season, I got a new perception on the difference between a frost and a freeze.  A frost is visible frozen condensed water droplets, and a freeze is when the air temperature drops below freezing (32F/0C).  There are times when we get frost when the temperatures are above freezing, and we often have a freeze without a frost.  Persi Diaconis is a statistician who grew up in the circus and became interested in analyzing the perception of randomness.  Diaconis states the carnival coin flip is not random.  People, and himself one, can control the coin depending on the way you flip it.  Which side comes up depends on the physics of the toss.  Apparently, probability is not a fact about the world, but a fact about an observerโ€™s knowledge.  Observation can predict our perception of the world.  When we only see or hear a single point of view, we are controlling the outcome of the decisions we make โ€œbased on the flip of a coinโ€.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Fantastic

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 20, 2021

I seem to have difficulty tracking dialogue on movies due to the background music and extraneous noise associated with the sets.  This is compounded by the dialogue and background music often being set at drastically different levels.  To get the words without being blown out by the music is a constant battle.  After being with my mom I realized I could adapt the same way she does, by using closed caption.  When we were scrolling movie apps this last week, I came across one of my favorite movies that I had not seen in quite a while, Fantastic Planet.  The info stated this was remastered in 2016 from the original film.  When I brought the movie up, I could not get closed caption to work.  After several attempts I gave up.  When the movie started to play, I found out why.  It was in French and had English subtitles.

Fantastic Planet (French: La Planรจte sauvage, Czech: Divokรก planeta, literally “The Wild Planet”) is a 1973 experimental adult animated science fiction film, directed by Renรฉ Laloux and written by Laloux and Roland Topor, the latter of whom also completed the film’s production design.  The film was animated at Jiล™รญ Trnka Studio in Prague.  The film was an international co-production between companies from France and Czechoslovakia.  The film is an allegorical story about humans living on a strange planet dominated by giant humanoid aliens who consider them animals.  The film is based on the 1957 novel Oms en sรฉrie by French writer Stefan Wul.  A working title in development was Sur la planรจte Ygam (On the Planet Ygam), which is where most of the story takes place.  The final title (The Fantastic/Savage Planet) is the name of Ygam’s moon.  Fantastic Planet was awarded the Grand Prix special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, and in 2016, it was ranked the 36th greatest animated movie ever by Rolling Stone.  This no doubt led to the remastered version I watched last week.

Fantastic Planet has generally received positive reviews.  Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 91% based on 32 reviews with an average rating of 7.24/10.  The site’s critical consensus reads “Fantastic Planet is an animated epic that is by turns surreal and lovely, fantastic and graceful”.  The release date and acclaim for the film happened during a time when I was coming of age concerned with the environment and questioning the definition of what humans considered โ€œsentient beingsโ€.  The film’s narrative has been considered an allegory on both animal rights and human rights, as well as racism.  Sean Axmaker of Turner Classic Movies referred to the film as “nothing if not allegorical”, writing that “it’s not a stretch to see the fight against oppression reflected in the civil rights struggle in the United States, the French in Algeria, apartheid in South Africa, and (when injustice takes a turn to wholesale annihilation of the ‘inferior’ race) the Holocaust itself”.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  Melissa has never been big on either animated film or subtitles.  She concedes to closed captions because she knows it helps me understand the dialogue and admits it is handy when the characters drop their voices amid the furious action on the screen.  I noticed while I watched Fantastic Planet, Melissa spent most of her time playing a game on her phone.  At the end of the film Melissa said, โ€œI do not get it.  What was that about?โ€  When I explained my understanding of the filmโ€™s allegory for the ethical treatment of animals, it still did not make sense to her.  Our conversation reminded me that how we present the message is sometimes more important than the message presented.  If we want others to listen, hear, and understand the importance, we need to clearly present the message in a way relevant to them.  That means we also need to take the time to listen, hear, and understand what they believe to be important.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Hawk

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 19, 2021

One of the news feeds from my weather app this morning concerned a hawk that had wandered outside of its normal range.  While the bird is generally found in Central and South America, it can be found as far north as northern Mexico.  The article said this spring a single bird had been sighted in Texas and that over the last two weeks the rare hawk sighting has been verified in two different locations around Portland, Maine.  While the hawk usually feeds on small reptiles, it was seen eating a squirrel.  The local ornithologist cautioned birders and the curious to avoid getting too close and disturbing the bird.  That means staying back at least 200 feet.  Good luck with that.

When I looked online, I found the Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which includes the eagles, hawks, and Old-World vultures.  The adult common black hawk is 17โ€“21 inches (43โ€“53 cm) long and weighs 33 ounces (930 grams) on average.  It has very broad wings and is mainly black or dark gray.  The short tail is black with a single broad white band and a white tip.  The bill is black and the legs and cere are yellow.  The adults resemble zone-tailed hawks but have fewer white bars on their tail and are larger in size.  Sexes are similar, but immature birds are dark brown above with spotting and streaks.  Their underparts are buff to whitish with dark blotches, and the tail has several black and white bars.  The article noted this was an immature bird, which probably also accounted for the hawk straying far from its normal range.

I am not sure why, but most of the news feeds automatically sent to my phone by my weather app early in the morning are old news.  When I open the app, I generally cannot find the story I just read, and the news on the app itself is up to date.  That was again the case today.  After reading the story about the rare black hawk sighting, the articles I found online were all dated from 2018-2019, or two years ago.  I had initially fleetingly considered going to my sisterโ€™s house outside of Portland, Maine, to see the bird.  I am glad I did not.  Two years later, the hawk is no longer there.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  When I continued to follow the story concerning Maineโ€™s black hawk, I learned it had been taken to a rehabilitation facility after being found on the ground in Deering Oaks Park during a January 2019 cold snap and snowstorm.  Avian Haven confirmed the bird had frostbite.  The long, bare legs are ideal for chasing prey but are not made to protect the bird from the cold.  Temperatures in Portland had dipped to the low single digits, and even lower with the wind chill.  A final story was posted by Maine Audubon in July of 2020 stating the hawk did not survive.  A bronze statue had been placed near its favorite tree in the park.  The bird is depicted chasing after a tasty squirrel (in bronze on the statue pedestal).  Audubon commented, โ€œThis is the only known statue of a vagrant bird in existence, and a fitting tribute to a beloved visitor.โ€  The year 2020 took so many things from us.  We need to remember these as well, and not just with a bronze statue.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Samurai

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 18, 2021

After watching a movie app last night, Melissa and I turned our viewing back to the regular lineup of cable TV.  One of our go-to shows (aside from sports) is PBS, and we were able to catch the last half hour of Secrets of the Dead, “A Samurai in the Vatican.”  In 1613, feudal lord Date Masamune sent a Japanese diplomatic mission to Europe to negotiate with the Pope and the King of Spain in hopes of opening a trade route with the new world.  The delegation was led by samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga and Franciscan monk Luis Sotelo.  The expedition lasted seven years and traveled one-third of the globe. 

When I looked online, I found that Date Masamune (September 5, 1567 โ€“ June 27, 1636) was a regional ruler of Japan’s Azuchiโ€“Momoyama period through the early Edo period.  He was heir to a long line of powerful daimyล in the Tลhoku region and went on to establish the modern-day city of Sendai.  Masamune expanded trade in the backwater Tลhoku region and encouraged foreigners to come to his land.  Masamune showed sympathy for Christian missionaries and traders in Japan and allowed them to come and preach in his province.  Masamune also released the missionary prisoner Padre Sotelo and allowed Sotelo and other missionaries to practice their religion and win converts in Tลhoku.  Masamune funded and backed one of Japan’s few journeys of diplomacy and exploration in this period when he ordered the building of the Date Maru using foreign (European) ship-building techniques.  While the envoy was to establish relations with the Pope in Rome, Masamune was likely motivated by a desire for foreign technology.  Hasekura Tsunenaga, Sotelo, and an embassy of 180 people did establish relations with the Pope, but the trade agreement was never realized.  At least five members of the expedition stayed in Coria (Seville) of Spain to avoid the persecution of Christians in Japan.  Six hundred of their descendants surnamed Japรณn (Japan) still live in Spain.

From 1613 to 1620, Hasekura headed the Keichล Embassy mission to Pope Paul V and visited New Spain and various other ports-of-call in Europe.  Samurai Hasekura is considered the first Japanese ambassador in the Americas and Spain, despite other less well-known and less well-documented missions preceding his mission.  Although Hasekura’s embassy was cordially received in Spain and Rome, it happened at a time when Japan was moving toward the suppression of Christianity, and the European monarchs refused the trade agreements Hasekura had been seeking and he returned to Japan in 1620.  Hasekura died of illness a year later.  Japan’s next embassy to Europe would not occur until more than 200 years later, following two centuries of isolation, with the “First Japanese Embassy to Europe” in 1862.  Much like Columbus, being โ€œfirstโ€ has a lot to do with advertising.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  Having two advanced degrees in history, with one centered on the European Reformation, I am always surprised to learn what I do not know about the past.  By the 17th century my emphasis shifted to America, and European politics and culture were only a background to what was now my expertise.  Exploring new (to me) ideas and concepts is what makes it fun to be alive in our globalized internet connected world.  There is no way to know everything, but when we browse the surface, we can decide whether of not to delve deeper.  I can find out about a Japanese samurai who made a visit to the pope and how after his death, his wife, son, and even servants were killed for their Christian faith.  With so much information at our fingertips, I am glad we have experts to help direct us.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Lights

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 17, 2021

Melissa has a Lark Sparrow that has been showing up at the bay window most mornings throughout the summer.  While it seems to be attracted by the feeders, it quickly leaves the food and flies to the bay window that projects into the patio.  Since it is morning, the bird is not attracted by the lights.  Rather than attacking the reflection in the pane, the bird will hang onto the screen that covers the bottom half of the window.  He will stay hanging from the screen for several moments.  At times he will flit down to the brick sill below the window, but mostly he just hangs on the screen.  It is a puzzle why the bird participates in this activity.

When I checked online, I found birds fly into windows for three reasons.  The first is they fly into a reflection of a tree or plant thinking its real.  When birds see the reflection of vegetation or they see indoor plants through the glass, they may fly toward at full speed.  Second, male birds attack their own reflections to defend their territory.  These attacks often occur in spring (breeding season) or fall (with migrating birds).  Scientists believe birds attack their reflection in the glass thinking it’s a rival bird.  The third reason is when night-migrating birds become disoriented by lighted windows.  These birds navigate by starlight and artificial building lights can confuse them and divert their migration patterns.  Birds may either collide with the windows or hover around lighted windows until they get exhausted.  A single lighted city building can kill thousands of migrating birds in just one night.

Approximately 1 of every 3 birds migrating through the US in spring, and 1 of every 4 birds migrating through the US in the fall (nearly two billion birds) pass through Texas.  That means protecting birds in Texas promotes conservation of bird populations across the Americas.  Houston Audubon manages a long-running suite of programs to address urban threats to birds, including collisions and lighting.  An estimated one billion US bird deaths occur annually from collisions with buildings and structures, with migratory species at most risk.  Early data collection efforts began ten years ago in Houston, but a major bird collision event involving 400 birds in Galveston in 2017 resulted in a partnership to save the birds.  The effort was aided when Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed their BirdCast migration forecast maps to predict when migrations would occur and identify the greatest risk of collision.  During periods of high-risk, Lights Out Action Alerts are released on social media to government officials, businesses, and homeowners encouraging them to participate in Lights Out.  The Lights Out for Birds program has grown to encompass cities and corporations throughout the state.  This saves birds and electricity.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  The Lights Out for Birds program encourages building owners, businesses, developers, and homeowners to help protect migrating birds by turning off all non-essential nighttime lighting on buildings and other structures from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am each night.  Birds are not only essential to our planetโ€™s ecology, but also support local economies.  Birds provide ecosystem services, act as benchmarks for environmental health, increase livability, and connect people of all ages and abilities to the natural world.  In the Rio Grande Valley alone, Texas A&M found that nature tourism (primarily bird watching) contributes $300 million to the economy and supports 4,407 full and part-time jobs annually.  It is estimated there are 45 million โ€œbirdersโ€ in the US, and 16 million of those traveled at least a mile to see birds (ecotourism).  That means 18% of all Americans are โ€œbirders.โ€  Yet another reason to protect the bird populations.  Follow the Science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Fail

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 16, 2021

I experienced a classic fail today at work.  I spent hours working on a project that needed to be done by Sunday and had finally gotten it to the place where I just needed to make a few final revisions.  I brought up another file I had open and clicked on the closure X in the upper right-hand corner.  Much to my surprise both files closed and even though I had made changes, neither asked me if I wanted to save them.  No problem.  This is the reason we spend money every month for extra storage in the Cloud.  I also knew from experience that my file History would have earlier copies of the file I could bring up and replace if I needed.  When I opened my History it only showed one version of the file, and that was the one I opened when I began work on the document.  To make matters worse, the AutoSave for the document had somehow turned off and the updates I assumed were being copied did not exist.  After trying several other ways to access the deleted document I finally closed my computer and left the office.  I figured I could be frustrated later just as easily as I was now.

I had several errands that needed done so I took a leisurely trip back to the city.  I mailed a package at the shipping store, returned some batteries I no longer needed, and then made my way to the box store to get gas.  Since all these stops were on the same street it made a nice loop as I checked off one item after the next.  Since I was at the box store, I decided to go inside and browse and then pick up a hot dog on the way out.  I meandered around the store not finding anything I โ€œneededโ€, and finally stopped at the counter for my dog.  Rather than taking the dog to my car I decided to sit at one of the tables.  I remembered they had changed the brand of hotdogs served to another brand that is not as good, and this one had set in the bun for too long waiting to be eaten.  I felt like this was another fail.

As I drove home, I passed one of the lakes I like to fish and decided this might be a good time to try my luck.  The weather had turned warm into the 70โ€™sF and I thought it might have gotten the fish moving back along the shore.  I broke out my fly rod and tied on one of the trout magnets that have been so effective lately.  As I prepared to cast, I noticed a man staring at several birds in the top of a tree.  I identified him as a birder by the binoculars he had around his neck.  When I asked, he said while he had not seen many birds, he was from Florida so just being in a new place was interesting.  His comment was, โ€œIt is never a bad day when you are in nature spending time looking for birds.โ€  When he asked how the fishing was, I told him I had not gotten any bites, but โ€œIt is never a bad day when you are in nature spending time fishing.โ€  Both of us had experienced a fail, but somehow it did not matter.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  When I was growing up the way you wore your hair identified you as part of a group.  There were crew cuts, neatly trimmed longer lengths, and the long hair popularized by the Beatles.  Seeing someone with the same length of hair created an affinity and brought a willingness to engage in conversation.  Now that I am older, I have other markers that identify me with a group.  The man with the binoculars identified him as a birder and my fishing pole identified me as a fisher person, and this sparked a willingness to engage in conversation.  While I never learned his name, in a short span I learned where he was from and why he was here.  Both being birders created a quick bond and something to talk about.  We can find similar bonds with strangers if we look for them.  Finding those bonds is what creates unity rather than division.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Gourmet

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 15, 2021

Several weeks ago, Melissa went to visit a friend of hers in the Ozark Mountains.  The friend lives just outside of a small town in a secluded house on a bluff above the White River.  Melissaโ€™s friend also has a key ingredient for Melissa to continue to work from home, highspeed internet.  Over the last several years the friend has begun to focus on preparing and eating nutritious gourmet recipes that are also simple to make.  Melissa enjoyed the solitude and the meals and brought back several recipes to share with me.  We went to the market on Friday and purchased the ingredients to make both dishes.  The first was crispy carnitas and the second was Greek meatballs.   I was looking forward to the weekend.

The gourmet feast began on Saturday with Carnitas Tostados.  Melissa put a 4-pound (1.8 kilogram) pork roast in the slow cooker for 4 hours.  This was simmered with a medium onion, a glass bottle of coke (real sugar), a cup of orange juice, lime juice, and herbs (garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, cumin, and bay leaves).  By the time it was done it was so tender it was hard to get it out of the cooker without falling apart.  We fork shredded the meat and broiled it for ten minutes with a ladle of the juice to help it crisp.  This was served on a fried flour tortilla with the usual tostado toppings.  A form of this dish used to be my go-to meal at a local Mexican restaurant until they changed the recipe and stopped broiling the pork.  While this made the dish easier to make for the restaurant, I missed the crispiness of the broiled pork.  It was nice to enjoy the taste again.  Especially since there was leftover pork.

Now I was psyched to try the meatballs on Sunday.  Rather than making our own, Melissa purchased fresh meatballs from the butcher (not frozen!).  These were sprinkled with a variety of Greek spices and then browned in the skillet along with a thin sliced lemon.  While this was happening, I chopped scallions and green Greek olives to use as garnish.  Then I combined feta cheese, Greek yogurt, and olive oil into a soft paste in the processor.  The next step was to remove the meatballs and lemons and cook the orzo in the same skillet, finally returning them to the orzo mixture with a little more lemon juice.  A layer of feta paste was spread on the plate, the rice and meatball mixture layered over it, and then the olives and scallions as garnish.  Another simple gourmet meal.  I suggested to Melissa that she could make a return visit to her friend anytime she wanted.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  I have mentioned that I rarely use recipes except to spark ideas for dishes I would like to make.  These (almost) always come out tasting good.  I also realize the difference between my simple concoctions and the gourmet offerings we tried over the weekend is the subtly of spices.  While I do get creative and try some spices, things like cumin and cinnamon are rarely on my list.  The expert chefs spend a lifetime learning how to blend the spices to provide the unique flavor that makes the dish gourmet.  Perhaps I should pay more attention to the experts who contrive the recipes.  It is interesting what listening to the experts can reveal.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Groundhog

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 13, 2021

One of my ulterior motives for driving to see the leaves this week was because it is near the outlet tube I like to fish.  The level of water coming out of the tube varies with the amount of rain and downstream needs, so I never know what to expect when I arrive.  When we pulled into the reservoir the lake was up but not high.  We took the winding two-mile road leading down to the tube.  When I got out and checked the water was still down and there was only a small flow from the tube despite the rain we have received.  I went back to the car, and Melissa and I were talking when I looked up and noticed a small brown animal crouched near the fence guarding the tube.  I did not know what it was but as I studied the critter, I realized this was a groundhog.

When I looked online, I found the groundhog (Marmota monax), is a rodent of the family Sciuridae belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.   The groundhog is a lowland creature of North America that is found through much of the eastern US, across Canada and into Alaska.  The name “thickwood badger” was given to the animal in the Northwest to distinguish it from the prairie badger.  Young groundhogs may be called chucklings.  Being a lowland animal, the groundhog is different than other marmots who live in rocky and mountainous areas.  Groundhogs play an important role maintaining healthy soil in woodland and plain areas. The groundhog is considered a crucial habitat engineer when distanced from humans.  Both their diet and their habit of burrowing make groundhogs serious nuisance animals around farms and gardens, as they eat many commonly grown vegetables, and their burrows can undermine building foundations.

The groundhog is considered the most solitary of the marmot species.  Although they live in groups, their social organization varies across populations.  Groundhogs do not form stable, long-term pair-bonds, and during mating season male-female interactions are limited to mating.  Groundhogs in Ohio are different, as adult males and females instead associate with each other throughout the year and often from year to year.  The groundhog is an extremely intelligent animal forming complex social networks, able to understand social behavior, form kinship with their young, understand and communicate threats by whistling, and work cooperatively to solve tasks like burrowing.  The groundhog we saw was a solitary individual away from any grouping.  I watched him for several minutes as he slowly worked his way up the side of the mountain.  He was also watching me to make sure I did not venture too close.  After the groundhog left, I ended up catching six bluegills.  Another good day.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  In the US and Canada, the yearly February 2 Groundhog Day celebration has given the groundhog recognition and popularity.  The most popular of these groundhogs is Punxsutawney Phil, kept as part of Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  The 1993 comedy film Groundhog Day references several events related to Groundhog Day and portrays both Punxsutawney Phil and the annual Groundhog Day ceremony.  The repetition or reliving the same day finally came to an end when Bill Murrayโ€™s character learned from the experience and changed his life for the better.  During the height of the pandemic, it seemed we were caught in the repetitive cycle of the film.  Each day was like the last as we quarantined at home.  As life reopens, I hope we learned something to help make life better.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Leaves

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 12, 2021

Since yesterday was a bank holiday (Veterans Day) we decided to take a drive up the mountains to see the fall colors among the leaves.  Two different friends of Melissaโ€™s who live in the mountains recently commented on how beautiful they were.  We started our journey at an elevation around 450 feet (138.5 meters) and over the hour-long drive climbed to the top of Blue Mountain at an elevation of 2687 feet (819 meters).  That meant while the leaves had not begun to turn in our area, they did as we climbed.  Some areas at the top of the mountain had even dropped their leaves after the storms we have had this week.  We ate lunch at a table overlooking the beautiful leaves that adorned the trees on the mountain slope below.  We were glad we had made it to the leaves in time.

When I looked online, I found there are three main things that give leaves their color.  These are the chlorophyll (green) which is necessary for photosynthesis, the carotenoids (carotene and xanthophylls) which produce the orange and yellow colors (role not entirely understood), and the anthocyanins which give the shades of red and purple.  During summer the plant continually produces chlorophyll to aid production of glucose, and this sugary sap is what feeds the tree.  As the day length decreases in the fall, the tree gradually starts to decrease the production of chlorophyll, causing the veins to the leaves to close off.  What is left in the leaves is the carotenoids and any produced anthocyanins.  Anthocyanins are produced by glucose trapped in the leaves.  These sugars break down in sunlight and produce the red and purple pigments.  Depending on the species of trees and other environmental factors, we end up with a dazzling display of leaves.

While most trees will not leave much glucose in the leaves before completely closing the veins, some do.  The formation of anthocyanin pigments from glucose left in tree leaves is somewhat of an oddity in nature.   It is not known why these trees waste food in the leaves and wasting produced food is rare in nature.  Some botanists believe it helps the trees keep the leaves longer as the anthocyanins lower the freezing point of the leaves.  Others think it is because when the leaves with the anthocyanins fall to the ground and are composted into the soil it helps prevent certain other plant species from growing where the leaves fell.  This makes sure the tree does not have later competition for nutrients in the soil around the tree.  It also makes for great fall displays of leaves.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€:  During High School and entering college I planned on becoming a wildlife biologist and my Senior year in High School and Freshman year in college focused on biology and science courses.  I found that while I was very good at science and biology, that did not include chemistry.  Having struggled through the first two courses and still facing Organic Chem, I changed goals and graduated in sociology and anthropology.  I have come to realize that like the different leaves, each of us are blessed with different gifts and potential.  My niece is good at Chemistry and that was her degree major.  I drifted into the study of people and relationships and that has been my focus.  While I still love science, the intricacies of chemistry are still beyond my grasp.  Like most in the US, I will never truly understand the chemistry behind the vaccines (smallpox, diphtheria, polio).  I have gladly received them all as the risk of disease outweighs the rare likelihood of side effects.  I am not sure why this is different with covid.  Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.