Study of a Tree

Georges Michel (French, 1763-1843)Georges Michel (1763-1843)

 

by Hope Jahren

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting.
What each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince the seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance–to take its one and only chance to grow.
. . . .
When you go into a forest … you probably don’t look down, where just beneath your single footprint sit hundreds of seeds, each one alive and waiting. They hope against hope for an opportunity that will probably never come. More than half of these seeds will die before they feel the trigger that they are waiting for, and during awful years every single one of them will die.
. . . When you are in the forest, for every tree that you see, there are at least a hundred more trees waiting in the soil, alive and fervently wishing to be.

A coconut is a seed as big as your head. It can float from the coast of Africa across the entire Atlantic Ocean and then take root and grow on a Caribbean island. In contrast, orchid seeds are tiny: one million of them put together add up to the weight of a paper clip. Big or small, most of every seed is actually just food to sustain a waiting embryo. The embryo is a collection of only a few hundred cells, but it is a working blueprint for a real plant with a shoot and a root already formed.
When the embryo within a seed starts to grow, it basically just stretches out of its doubled-over waiting posture, elongating into official ownership of the form that it assumed years ago.
. . . .
After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell.


With gratitude to Nicolas Silver for presenting me with the book from which this incomplete excerpt is lifted.
“Lab Girl” is a 2016 memoir by American geochemist, geobiologist, and professor Hope Jahren.

See also:

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/in-our-hands-forests-sleep/

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/the-seed-shop/

 

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Letters on the Natural History of the Insects Mentioned in Shakspeare’s Plays

mothOrder 3. Lepidoptera
William Bartram (1739 – 1823)

 

“Robert Patterson (1802-1872) was a remarkable naturalist you’ve probably never heard of. At the age of 19, he co-founded the Belfast Natural History Society. He also wrote a number of zoology texts and designed a series of zoological diagrams for use in schools. In 1857, he posted a ‘real Irish Rabbit’ across the Irish Sea to Charles Darwin, at Darwin’s request.”
Manu Saunders, https://ecologyisnotadirtyword.com/

Manu Saunders introduces Robert Patterson irresistably, and so caused me to seek his book online–where I found it!
But the introduction and table of contents were so charming: intermingling the science, the poetry, the observations of human as well as insect life, that I have yet to work my way through to the actual body of the book itself.
Here is some of what snared my attention, broken up, and sometimes re-punctuated, by me:

Letters on the Natural History of the Insects Mentioned in Shakspeare’s Plays.
With Incidental Notices of The Entomology of Ireland.
by Robert Patterson

Contents

LETTER I. INTRODUCTORY EPISTLE.

Ennui occasionally experienced while residing in the country.
Its cause. (Originates in a defective system of education.)
Proper meaning of the term Naturalist. The legitimate objects of his inquiry.
Periodical changes in the aspect of the external world.
Pleasures which the study of Nature affords; mental effects of such pursuits.
Poetry and Natural History might “each give to each a double charm.”
Inquiry proposed with regard to the knowledge of Natural Phenomena, exhibited by some of our most admired Poets.
Shakspeare “the Poet of Nature.”
Opinion of Dr. Johnson.
Remark of the late John Templeton, Esq.
Shakspeare, in accurate observation, superior to Milton.
Illustrative extracts from ” Lycidas” and the” Winter’s Tale.”
Number of the notices of natural objects in the Dramatic Works of Shakspeare.
Their investigation, why interesting . . . page 1

 

LETTER II. ENTOMOLOGY RECOMMENDED.

Solace which the study of Natural History affords to the man
of business. The benefits it confers on the man possessed of leisure.
The study of insects proposed. It should not be deemed frivolous, because the objects are diminu-tive. They are a portion of the works of God. Their diversity and beauty.
Peculiar advantage enjoyed by the Entomologist.
Numbers of insects.
Importance of a knowledge of their habits.
Their destructive powers. Benefits they confer . . . page 13

 

LETTER III. LARVAE AND PUPAE.

Advantages which may be anticipated from the proposed in-
quiry. Subject of the present Letter — Insects in their
early or imperfect states.
Expression used by Hamlet, “If the sun breed maggots in a dead dog.”
Distinction between the vertebrate animals and insects.
Destructive powers possessed by caterpillars; frequently mentioned by Shakspeare.
The pupa state. “There is a difference between a grub and a butterfly.”
“The smirch’d moth- eaten tapestry.”
“The worm i’ the bud ;” “the canker.”
Cocoon of the silk-worm; its value. “The worms were hallowed that did breed the silk.”
“An empty hazel nut.”
“The old grub.”
“Your worm is your only emperor for diet.”
Different meanings of the word “worm” in Shakspeare . . . 27


There is more–much more. I don’t want to overload anyone’s attention, but allow the words and ideas to stay lively as you take them with you.

I may not be able to resist sharing more at some other time.

 

Thorns

acacia
Acacia
John William Lewin (1770 – 1819)

 

The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.

John Muir  (April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914)

 

 

Joy, Musike, Cloves

Vintage Crocus Botanical - Google Search
Crocus speciosus M. Bieb.
Sarah Anne Drake (1803–1857)

 

A Briefe Epitome
Katarzyna Lecky

Unlike many large botanical herbals, which boasted elaborate frontispieces and pages filled with engraved plates of flora, whose size and preciousness made them objects to be admired and treasured, pocket herbals were everyday objects printed cheaply and scribbled in extensively by all sorts of people.

Rams little Dodeon: A briefe epitome of the new herbal, or history of plants, was published in London in 1606 by William Ram. The text is an abridged version of Henry Lyte’s popular A new herball, or historie of plants (1578).
It was a sound sales tactic: Lyte’s English translation of Rembert Dodoens’ 1554 Cruydeboeck had already seen four editions in as many decades, while Dodoens’ herbal would continue to be a seminal text for botanists for at least another century.
But whereas Lyte’s thick quarto was, like Dodoens’ Old Flemish original, an unwieldy reference for the typical herbalist (who in seventeenth-century England was more likely to be an unlicensed practitioner than an certified doctor or academic scholar), Ram claimed that his “briefe and short Epitome” is a “very small volume. 
So as where the geat booke at large is not to be had, but at a great price, which canot be procured by the poorer sort, my endeuor herein hath bin chiefly, to make the benefit of so good, necessary, and profitable a worke, to be brought within the reach and compass as well of you my poore Countrymen & women, whose liues, healths, ease and welfare is to be regarded with the rest, at a smaller price, then the greater Volume is”

Although he names Dodoens’ herbal as his source text, Ram qualifies that the structure of the book is more intertextual:
“the first page of euery leafe being opened, contayneth the practice of M. R. Dodeon:
And that the second opposite page, vnder the Title Incidenta, contayneth the practices of others for the same Physike helpes, collected and inserted by the Author of this Treatise”

Moreover, these cobbled-together recipes are not always strictly herbal.
Under “Good for heart” are listed “Saffron, Bourage, Laughing, Joy, Musike, Cloves”.
The things that encourage or signal delight are intermingled with heart-healthy simples– all are similarly remedies.
The things bad for the heart, meanwhile, include “Anger, Dread, Too much heauinesse”

 

https://collation.folger.edu/2018/03/small-format-herbals/
Katarzyna Lecky is an Assistant Professor of English at Bucknell University.

Her first book, Pocket Empire: Portable Maps and Public Poetry, 1590-1649 (forthcoming from Oxford UP), uses small-format cartography to study how poets writing for monarchs and magistrates drew from cheap print to chart Britain as the property of the commonwealth rather than the Crown.
She has also published in Exemplaria, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Philological Quarterly, Reformation, Studies in English Literature, and Spenser Studies, as well as edited collections, and has earned fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Renaissance Society of America, and the Folger Shakespeare, Huntington, and Newberry Libraries, among others. 

The Song of Sleep

Crane Fly and Ants
Joris Hoefnagel, illuminator (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 – 1600)
Georg Bocskay, scribe (Hungarian, died 1575)

 


By Jason G Goldman

“Almost all other animals are clearly observed to partake in sleep, whether they are aquatic, aerial, or terrestrial,” wrote Aristotle in his work, On Sleep and Sleeplessness.
In The History of Animals, he wrote: “It would appear that not only do men dream, but horses also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all viviparous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep.”

Researchers can now humanely peer into the electrical and chemical activities of brain cells in animals while they sleep. In 2007, MIT scientists Kenway Louise and Matthew Wilson recorded the activity of neurons in a part of the rat brain called the hippocampus, a structure known to be involved in the formation and encoding of memories. They first recorded the activity of those brain cells while the rats ran in their mazes.
Then they looked at the activity of the very same neurons while they slept and discovered identical patterns of firing during running and during REM.
In other words, it was as if the rats were running the maze in their minds as they slept. The results were so clear that the researchers could infer the rats’ precise location within their mental dream mazes and map them to actual spots within the actual maze.

University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash looked into the brains of zebra finches and discovered something similar.
These birds are not born with the melodies of their songs hardwired into the brains; instead, they have to learn to sing their songs. When they’re awake, the neurons in part of the finches’ forebrain called the robutus archistriatalis fire following their singing of particular notes. Researchers can determine which note was sung based on the firing patterns of those neurons. By piecing together the electrical patterns in those neurons over time, Dave and Margoliash can reconstruct the entire song from start to finish.

Later, when the birds were asleep, Dave and Margoliash looked again at the electrical activity in that part of their brains. The firing of those neurons wasn’t entirely random. Instead, the neurons fired in order, as if the bird was audibly singing the song, note for note. It might be said that the zebra finches were practising their songs in their sleep.


http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140425-what-do-animals-dream-about

 

Ants are good sleep research subjects, as they live underground. Most ants get exposed to sunlight only very irregularly, so a sleeping rythm based on a photo period like ours would not be very useful. Because of their social and subterranean lifestyle, one might expect that sleep periods of ants are more dependent on the tasks at hand than on light/dark periods.

This is indeed what Deby Cassill and collaborators found. Queens of the fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) have an average of 92 sleep periods per day, lasting for about 6 minutes each (for a total of 9.4h of sleep per day). Workers are very different from this, as they had 253 sleep episodes on average per day, each lasting about 1 minute, for a total of 4.8h sleep per day, meaning they sleep more often, but less long. At any time of the day, about 80% of the work force was actually working instead of sleeping, which is an efficient pattern.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the phase where we ‘blink’ our eyes often, and it’s the phase where our dreams are the most vivid; the dreams we actually remember occur during this sleep phase.
Ant queens show a similar behaviour when they’re fast asleep. Instead of their eyes, they twitch their antennae, resulting in so called ‘Rapid Antennal Movement’ (RAM) sleep.

 

Cassill DL, Brown S, Swick D, Yanev G (2009) Polyphasic wake/sleep episodes in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Journal of Insect Behaviour 22:313-323
https://antyscience.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/what-do-ants-dream-of/

 

Tempera Wind

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917 – 2009)
detail

 

Published in: on July 23, 2017 at 1:24 am  Comments (2)  
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The Colours of The Winds

detail, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)

 

from the 
SALTAIR NA RANN
attrib. Oengus the Culdee, ninth century

 

King who ordained the eight winds
advancing without uncertainty, full of beauty,
the four prime winds He holds back,
the four fierce under-winds.

There are four other under-winds,
as learned authors say,
this should be the number, without any error,
of the winds, twelve winds.

King who fashioned the colours of the winds,
who fixed them in safe courses,
after their manner, in well-ordered disposition,
with the varieties of each manifold hue.

The white, the clear purple,
the blue, the very strong green,
the yellow, the red, sure the knowledge,
in their gentle meetings wrath did not seize them.

The black, the grey, the speckled,
the dark and the deep brown
the dun, darksome hues,
they are not light, easily controlled.

King who ordained them over every void,
the eight wild under-winds ;
who laid down without defect
the bounds of the four prime winds.

From the East, the smiling purple,
from the South, the pure white, wondrous,
from the North, the black blustering moaning wind,
from the West, the babbling dun breeze.

The red, and the yellow along with it,
both white and purple ;
the green, the blue, it is brave,
both dun and the pure white.

The grey, the dark brown, hateful their harshness,
both dun and deep black ;
the dark, the speckled easterly wind
both black and purple.

Rightly ordered their form,
their disposition was ordained ;
with wise adjustments, openly,
according to their position and their fixed places.

The twelve winds,
Easterly and Westerly, Northerly and Southerly,
the King who adjusted them, He holds them back,
He fettered them with seven curbs.

King who bestowed them according to their posts,
around the world with many adjustments,
each two winds of them about a separate curb,
and one curb for the whole of them.

King who arranged them in habitual harmony,
according to their ways, without over-passing their limits ;
at one time, peaceful was the space,
at another time, tempestuous.

 

Translations from Irish Gaelic Poetry into English Prose and Verse 
SELECTED AND EDITED BY ELEANOR HULL, 1912
To Miss Eleanor Knott I am indebted for valuable help in the translation

 

 

[with thanks to  for twitter discussion of wind-color]

Stones of Ochre

Visita Allo Studio, Odoardo Borrani
(1833 – 1905)

 

by Sarah Cascone

Porc-Epic is a cave that, for 4,500 years, was used to produce ochre, a brownish-yellow pigment often used in prehistoric artwork.

The Porc-Epic cave was discovered by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Henry de Monfreid in 1929 and is thought to date to about 43,000 to 42,000 years ago, during the Middle Stone Age.
At the site, archaeologists found a stash of 4213 pieces, or nearly 90 pounds, of ochre, the largest such collection ever discovered at a prehistoric site in East Africa.

Ancient visitors to the site processed the iron-rich ochre stones there by flaking and grinding the raw materials “to produce a fine-grained and bright red powder.” The ochre stones can be used to produce powders of varying coarsenesses, in shades of yellow, orange, red, brown, and gray.

Ochre powder could be used medicinally or for other purposes, but this production is “most consistent with symbolic activities, such as body painting, the production of patterns on different media, or for signalling.”A pebble half coated in ochre, for instance, could have been used as a stamp to apply the pigment to soft surfaces. The researchers also compared pieces with long pointy ends to ochre “crayons.”

Apparently the local community relied on Porc-Epic for its ochre needs for millennia, the cave essentially serving as a studio for artists.

 

On May 24, 2017 researchers Daniela Eugenia Rosso of the University of Barcelona and Francesco d’Errico and Alain Queffelec of the University of Bordeaux in France published a paper, “Patterns of change and continuity in ochre use during the late Middle Stone Age of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record,” in the PLOS ONE journal.
A similar find was discovered in a 100,000-year-old cave in South Africa in 2011.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/worlds-oldest-art-studio-discovered-ethiopia-979637?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=June%202%2C%202017%20artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20ALL&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE

Money On The Sun

Stereoscopic Photograph of Victorian Greenhouse

 

by Heather Rogers, for The New York Times

At the turn of the 20th century, when Thomas Edison–who made possible the near-universal use of electric light and power utilities, sound recording, and motion pictures, all of which established major new industries worldwide–was at the height of his career, the notion that buildings, which now account for more than a third of all energy consumed in the United States, would someday require large amounts of power was only just coming into focus.
Where that power would come from — central generating stations or in-home plants; fossil fuels or renewable resources — was still very much up for debate.

A 1901 article about Edison in The Atlanta Constitution described how his unorthodox ideas about batteries could bring wattage to the countryside: “With a windmill coupled to a small electric generator,” a rural inhabitant “could bottle up enough current to give him light at night.”
The earliest wind-powered house was fired up in Cleveland in 1888 by the inventor Charles Brush, but Edison aspired to take the technology to the masses.
He made drawings of a windmill to power a cluster of four to six homes, and in 1911 he pitched manufacturers on building a prototype.

Edison’s batteries also fueled some cars and trucks, and he joined forces with Henry Ford to develop an electric automobile that would be as affordable and practical as the Model T.
The Constitution article discussed plans to let people recharge their batteries at plug-in sites along trolley lines; the batteries could also be refreshed courtesy of the home windmill.

Edison also, like other scientists of his day, was beginning to understand even then that fossil fuels wouldn’t last forever.
In 1913, Scientific American published an issue on energy problems, observing: “The question of the possible exhaustion of the world’s oil supply deserves the gravest consideration. There is every indication that we are face to face with this possibility.”
Articles delved into technologies to capture the power of the sun, the wind, the tide and even the earth’s rotation.
Inventors like Edison were modernizers who couldn’t bear the inefficiency of letting an abundant energy source like wind go untapped.

In 1912 Edison unveiled an energy-self-sufficient home in West Orange, N.J.
Billed as an experimental “Twentieth Century Suburban Residence” and designed to showcase his batteries, it bulged with luxuries like air heating and cooling units, a clothes-washing machine, an electric cooking range and, of course, plenty of light bulbs.
Completely off the grid, the house received its juice from a generator that charged a bank of 27 cells in the basement. For this first attempt, Edison used a gas-run motor, but evidence suggests that he hoped to hook up to a wind turbine.
The system would allow the prospective homeowner to be, according to The New York Times, “utterly and for all time independent of the nearness or farness of the big electric companies.”

The conglomerates struggling to control the nascent energy sector regarded that as precisely the problem.
For them, a world of independence, in which householders created their own power using renewable resources, was a nightmare.
The companies’ profits depended on electricity from power plants run on cheap fossil fuels.
In the end, Edison’s proudly free-standing Suburban Residence was hooked up to the grid, and neither his in-home wind-generated electricity plant nor his battery-powered vehicles ever reached the mass market.

In 1931, not long before he died, the inventor told his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Naturalis Historiae

Václav Hollar (1607 – 1677)
The Battle of White Mountain

 

WE are now about to speak of metals, of actual wealth, the standard of comparative value, objects for which we diligently search, within the earth, in numerous ways.
In one place, for instance, we undermine it for the purpose of obtaining riches, to supply the exigencies of life, searching for either gold or silver, electrum or copper.
In another place, to satisfy the requirements of luxury, our researches extend to gems and pigments, with which to adorn our fingers and the walls of our houses: while in a third place, we gratify our rash propensities by a search for iron, which, amid wars and carnage, is deemed more acceptable even than gold.
We trace out all the veins of the earth, and yet, living upon it, undermined as it is beneath our feet, are astonished that it should occasionally cleave asunder or tremble: as though, forsooth, these signs could be any other than expressions of the indignation felt by our sacred parent!
We penetrate into her entrails, and seek for treasures in the abodes even of the Manes, as though each spot we tread upon were not sufficiently bounteous and fertile for us!

IT now remains for us to speak of stones, or, in other words, the leading folly of the day; to say nothing at all of our taste for gems and amber, crystal and murrhine vases.
For everything of which we have previously treated, down to the present Book, may, by some possibility or other, have the appearance of having been created for the sake of man: but as to the mountains, Nature has made those for herself, as a kind of bulwark for keeping together the bowels of the earth; as also for the purpose of curbing the violence of the rivers, of breaking the waves of the sea, and so, by opposing to them the very hardest of her materials, putting a check upon those elements which are never at rest.
And yet we must hew down these mountains, forsooth, and carry them off; and this, for no other reason than to gratify our luxurious inclinations: heights which in former days it was reckoned a miracle even to have crossed!


Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79)

tr. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. (baptised 29 June 1773, died 6 August 1846)
Henry Thomas Riley (1816–1878)