Category Archives: Nature

Hummingbird miracle

We feed hummingbirds.

It’s an easy thing to do and provides hours of viewing pleasure. I got to thinking about the mechanics of a hummingbird and had to wonder about some of the factors that go into allowing such a creature the ability to do what they do.

For reference, a human eye-blink takes about 1/3 of a second, ~300 milliseconds of time. And this, it turns out, is about the reaction time of a human. BANG! goes the starting gun and 1/3 second later we’re off the block.

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(Creative Commons image)

For a hummingbird, this reaction time is cut by about 100 fold. Within three to five milliseconds, a hummingbird can interpret an oncoming obstacle, a branch say, process this image as a threat, send a signal to its wing muscles, adjust its flight and avert disaster.

There are a few aspects that make this possible. One is its brain and ocular processing. A hummingbird has special processing which is especially evolved to instantly identify oncoming threats. How a thing changes observable size — the closer the bigger — is the trick there. Another, more important, is the creature’s size. Electrical signals, traveling through neurons, takes time. The shorter the distance, the faster the reaction. If a hummingbird were the size of a crow or eagle, or human, the distance to send a “TURN RIGHT OR DIE!” command would grow and take a proportionally longer time. Additionally, its size constrains its weight which being slight, allows it to instantly change course — less weight, less inertia, easier vector changes.

We don’t often think about milliseconds in nature, but the hummingbird personifies such measurement. It’s truly a wonderment of evolution, a miraclulous biological machine.

 


Your ancestors survived

Yeah, when you think about it, your ancestors had to survive. But consider their lives, lives directly connected to you.

The probabilities are extremely high that at least one of your:

  • grandmothers died in child birth,
  • grandfathers was killed by a wild beast,
  • ancestors killed another human,
  • ate mammoth, giant sloth, or wild auroch,
  • slept in a cave for most of their lives,
  • migrated over vast stretches of land,
  • suffered wicked injury and inhuman depravity,
  • survived famine, flood, fire and feud,
  • and in the end, produced you.

~~~

Addendum…

I went seeking historical causes of death throughout human history and ended up deducing the following. This applies to the approximately 100 Billion souls calculated to have lived and died thus far.

• Approximately 1/3 of all humans who have ever lived probably died from Malaria.

• Another 1/3 died from infectious disease (Tuberculosis, Pneumonia (Influenza), Cholera, Typhoid, Plague, etc.).

• The last third died of the remainder of dominate causes of death divided into a number of categories:

1/10th of 1/3rd (~3 billion people) died each from:

  • Religion/War
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Infection (septicemia)
  • Homicide/suicide
  • Fire, flood & famine (natural disasters)
  • Personal accidents
  • Neonatal (before age 1)
  • Old age
  • Misc. (snake/insect bites, predation)

The numbers are fuzzy of course. No one can possibly ever know the truth. But this rough guide might be handy at a cocktail (or Halloween) party.


Twenty pounds of acorns

UPDATE: 30 hours later and all the acorns are gone; squirreled away into every orifice the land and forest can offer. The juniors, naively, try to bury what they steal from the pile in the yard, directly. Pat, pat, tuck, tuck, their little paws smooth the ruffled grass and earth in the pretense of an undisturbed, you-didn’t-see-anything condition. Were humans to vanish this instant from the area, no doubt, in a year we’d have oak-sprouts bursting forth. In 20 years, a new forest would emerge. But, alas, we, nature’s infidels, persist. Hopefully, some of those luscious nodules find their way into those furry rascals’ bellies, come spring.

Brooke Breazeale bet me 5 pounds of chestnuts I couldn’t find 20 pounds of acorns. So I had to show her up.

I rigged a bag-on-a-hanger and a broom and, ahem, cleaned up.  Boy, are our squirrels gonna love that pile!

Over near where I now work (woohoo, 5 weeks down and 500 more to go!) are acres of massive oak trees that drop the most gorgeous, plump acorns. The “mast” have pale yellow flesh and I find myself wanting to chaw down on a few of the lovely specimens. Of the local tribes of the Willamette Valley, the Kalapuya, who claimed this area before Lewis & Clarke and John Astor showed up (John Jacob Astor is the namesake of Astoria — and a member of the Waldorf Astoria family hotel chain), used to harvest these seeds, shell them, leech them to remove the testas (which contain bitter tannin), and then mash them up to make meal for flatbread. I have considered replicating their process, but, alas, Dave’s Killer Bread is a lot more easily come by…

If you’re not familiar with the Willamette Valley — it’s the reason the Oregon Trail was created.

Enjoy you rambunctious tree rats, you.


Squirrels Love Dave’s Killer Bread

Dave’s Killer Bread vs Acorns.

Here you will witness an experiment. Below you will find an array of acorns matched with a line of Dave’s Killer Bread.

Now, truth be known, EVERY squirrel in our back hard loves DKB. They eat it out of our hands and fight over it like demons.

However, notice the progression of missing nuts. Below you you will see one larger, wiser squirrel FORGO the bread in lieu of the acorns — every time he comes back (yes it’s a he). He comes back TEN times to take every nut.

Yet the younger, adolescent squirrel, will take the bread — every time — ignoring the nuts. In fact, we had two youngsters bopping up and taking bread while the older squirrel sequestered every nut on display out into the yard.

I opened the door and sat their trying to capture photographs of these guys. (Look at the size of those acorns!) This was about 18 inches away. The big fellow came in and gave me a sniff once, but opted for — you guessed it — another acorn.

The bread is this nutty, heavy protein stuff that the tree-rats beg for on a daily basis. To actually ignore it is an amazing feat of dedication vs temptation. The wee squirrels didn’t give a fuck about the future, “gimme my daily bread you damn humans!” The adult had one thing in mind, take every nut and save it. It was a stunning example of the dichotomy of youth vs elders.


Adolescent squirrels are spastic

That big Douglas Fir tree there was covered with cones. Two or three Energizer squirrels, young ones with apparently nothing better to do, cut down every cone they could reach. The cones littered the lawn and the mower does not care for them. So I had to collect them. Here you see three bins filled and then dumped back into a pile in the woods/park behind us. These were the cones found only in the yard. The balance the little devils had squirreled away in whatever nook and cranny they could find.

What’s curious is it’s only the young squirrels that do this. The adults? They know there’s nearly zero nutritional value in a fir cone. Within the cones exist tiny seeds the size of sesame seeds, attached to wings that flutter out once the cones have dried to brittle.

But, since they think there’s value in them, I decided not to pitch them. If they get desperate then they’ll find the hundreds I dumped in a pile.

 


Baskets are easy and fun

Here’s another basket woven from trailing blackberry vine. I take these and stick them into nooks in trees as “AirBnB’s” for birds. Literally. They’re fast and entertaining to make. The key is starting with an odd number of spokes. Remember that. Odd. Spokes.

This one took about 20 minutes to weave. Some bird will thank me, someday, maybe.

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The bright green one is a nine spoke version (as opposed to the seven spoke one there and above). That old thing there was a five minute job I made while walking through the woods and stuck in a branch and fell out during the winter. And those are the vines used, stripped of their leaves (and some of their thorns).

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A bramble vine basket

Humanity evolved creating stuff.

Everyone in a tribe or clan contributed to the group’s survival. If things needed to get made, everyone (I imagine) pitched in. Sure some segregation of tasks took place, but I suspect most jobs were shared across gender, age and ability.

Here you see a simple bramble vine basket I made just for fun. (I later hung this up in a small tree in the woods thinking it might become a nest for some woodland bird.)

BrambleVineBasket

The thing is utterly simple yet effective. Crude but serviceable. Just what, we could imagine, some bygone set of folks traversing the hills and valleys of ancient lands — eons ago — might make, on the spot, to help them gather berries or herbs or for ceremonies to honor deities and spirits they found compelling.

It probably took me 30 minutes to weave from wandering bramble vines I found in the backyard. The effort was thoroughly fulfilling. Taking a weed and turning it into a functional tool easily cast my psyche back to a time I know our ancestors found invigorating.

In those times, everyone (I’m sure) participated in the survival of the People. Sharing was a built-in response to everything that was done. If you had two, you gave one away to another in need. Of course you did. And you did this knowing when they had two, they would do the same for you.

The unit of survival was the group, the tribe, the clan. Your kin were all those people around you who knew you and protected you — and you protected them. When the group needed housing you all pitched in. When the clan needed to process an animal — all were on deck. When you found a cache of vines to make baskets, you picked all you could, shared the resource and if you wove many, passed them out without expectation of recompense (not entirely, but the spirit was there).

I think we’ve lost that altruistic sense of collective prosperity — enacted on a daily basis. Giving when you can. Accepting kindness when you can’t.

A simple, empty basket seems the most unlikely symbol of charity, don’t you think? But, filled with wild-picked berries, you can see what a gift it might be.