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Posts Tagged ‘Animals’

Happy Endings

My hair stylist of the last dozen years has retired early, for interesting reasons. When I met her, she was in her early 20s and newly married, but her doctors told her she was unable to have children. Except — oops — she turned up pregnant.

But complications arose. She had several scares when her blood pressure tanked. She almost died during delivery, and the baby was premature. But mother and son eventually recovered.

Two years later, against the advice of her doctors, she got pregnant again. After a difficult time and another scary early delivery, she and her second boy rebounded, albeit slowly.

Two years ago, against the advice of doctors, family, and friends, she became pregnant again. But this time, the pregnancy was textbook normal. No health issues whatsoever. After a full nine-month term, she delivered a healthy girl without incident.

My friend is now a stay-at-home mom, home-schooling the two boys. I see the family around town sometimes. My back-up hair stylist is now the primary.

This story makes me happy.

Pandemonium

A dramatic incident occurred recently in my usually quiet life. It consisted of 10 seconds of utter chaos, an episode that is etched forever in my memory banks. I chuckle out loud each time I mentally replay the scene.

Not long ago on a morning walk, my dog Jake surprised a squirrel — surprised as in met it eyeball to eyeball as we rounded the corner of an old shed. The startled squirrel leapt into the air, bounced off the side of the shed, zipped across Jake’s back, and scrambled up to the shed roof.

But the metal roof was steep and slippery, and the squirrel’s claws found no purchase. Running frantically, but sliding steadily backwards, the squirrel fell to the ground, landing at Jake’s feet.

Barely eluding Jake, the squirrel bounded into a tree, ascended to the uppermost branches, flung itself into the air, and landed with a thunk on the roof of a nearby house.

Fortunately, the roof of the house was not metal, and the squirrel made its escape.

The Rest is Cake

Becca Lawton, a river guide at Grand Canyon during the 1970s and 80s, has written several books about life as a boatwoman. In her most recent, she nicely sums up life in the inner canyon and how being on the river can affect you. As I can attest, the influence of the place is real and powerful. Becca wrote this…

The Canyon may appear vast and overwhelming when seen as a whole, especially when viewed in the mere 17 minutes the National Park Service notes as the average tourist’s visitation time to the rim.

What the mini-visitor doesn’t grasp in that time are the pockets of sanctuary tucked everywhere in the Canyon’s recesses. Deep green waterfalls. Pockets of shade and cool. Pools in red rock. Ferns, monkeyflowers, cottonwoods, willows.

You only have to get them there,” Canyon guide Louise Teal says. “The rest is cake.” Get people to the river, earn their trust, and take them deep into what Louise calls the “zillion-year-old rocks.” She and I were passengers before we took up guiding. Then we never wanted to be apart from the Canyon’s soul-stirring sunsets, embracing rock walls, and endlessly flowing water.

Those we guided, too, found it a beautiful, intense, and, in Louise’s words, “completely fulfilling place.” It is — a place out of time and out of overwhelmed mind.

So take me to the river. Drop me in the water.

Experts say it usually takes about three days for a trip passenger to fully “arrive” on the river and mentally disconnect from their outside lives. Honestly, I don’t think it ever took me three days.

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NAPLES, FLORIDA — Biologists have captured an 18-foot Burmese python in the Florida Everglades that weighed 218 pounds, the heaviest on record.

Burmese pythons are an invasive species from Southeast Asia first found in the Everglades in the 1990s. The snakes have no natural enemies and threaten a range of native mammals, birds, and reptiles.

The captured snake was a female carrying 122 developing eggs, which were destroyed along with the mother. A postmortem showed that the snake’s last meal was a whitetail deer.

Importing the pythons was banned by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2012, but the snakes thrive in the South Florida wetlands. Their current population is about one million.

Over 1,000 Burmese pythons have been eliminated in Florida since 2013. Typically, biologists implant radio transmitters in male snakes, which always seek out the largest females, and follow the signals. Eliminating females is considered the best way to interrupt the breeding cycle.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — A South Korean software engineer marked the demise of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s much-maligned browser, by erecting a tombstone with the epitaph, “He was a good tool to download other browsers.”

The engineer said Explorer was “a pain in the ass,” but he was forced to use it because Explorer was the default browser for so many government and business offices.

Explorer was launched in 1995. It came pre-installed on billions of computers equipped with the Windows operating system and quickly became the world’s leading browser. But many considered Explorer to be sluggish and flawed, and by the late 2000s, Google Chrome took over as the top browser.

In June, Microsoft retired Internet Explorer to focus on the Microsoft Edge browser, which was released in 2015.

“I won’t miss it,” the software engineer said of Explorer’s passing. “Its retirement, to me, is a good death.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND — The government of New Zealand and the country’s agriculture industry have jointly agreed to a tax on methane emissions by sheep and cattle, to be paid by farmers and the farming industry.

Currently, agricultural emissions are exempt from such taxation, and pressure has increased for industry and the government to take action.

New Zealand, population five million, is home to 26 million sheep and 10 million cows, which are the source of about half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The plan hopes to reduce methane emissions at manure treatment facilities as well as from the belching of farm animals.

Under the plan, farmers and agricultural businesses can reduce their methane taxes via such methods as using feed additives that minimize belching and placing covers on manure ponds.

Worldwide, agriculture is the largest source of methane emissions caused by human activity. In the U.S., agriculture causes about one-third of total methane emissions, and the oil and gas industry causes another third.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Pink Floyd’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon was so popular, it remained on the record charts for 962 weeks — over 15 years.

● Six of the eight planets in the solar system rotate counter-clockwise, the same as the Sun. The exceptions are Venus, which rotates clockwise, and Uranus, which rotates clockwise while tilted on its side. For the record, the former planet Pluto also rotates clockwise and tilted.

● Disney World has 46 rides.

● Dolphins have the ability to go without sleep by resting half of their brains while the other half remains on duty. The halves then switch places. Studies have shown dolphins doing the resting thing for as long as two weeks before taking an actual full-on snooze.

● When the piano was invented in Italy in 1698, it was called a fortepiano or pianoforte. In Italian, piano and forte mean soft and loud, respectively, a reference to the volume level depending on how hard the keys are struck.

● In the 1963 film Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor changed costumes 65 times.

Nephophobia is the fear of clouds. It usually manifests after a scary incident involving a storm, hurricane, or tornado. Nepho is Greek for cloud.

● On average, an ear of corn has 800 kernels arranged in 16 rows. For reasons undetermined so far, the ears almost always have an even number of rows. An odd number is rare.

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The Chaos of Evolution

Science, as you know, is willing to change its conclusions as new evidence warrants. Well, while I wasn’t paying attention, science made a whopper of a change about the nature of evolution.

As Darwin explained, evolution occurs through the process of natural selection. Namely, the fittest organisms survive, reproduce, and pass on their traits to the next generation. The idea also took root that the process unfolds as a rather neat and orderly progression, as if the species is changing by climbing a ladder, moving onward and upward.

That concept — that evolution is largely progressive — is now out the window. Instead, experts think evolution is less like a ladder and more like a big, gnarly tree, with lots of branches and numerous dead ends everywhere.

The new thinking is that a species evolves to adapt to a specific, immediate environment. For example, researchers once believed that the first horses had four toes, then evolved to three, then two, and finally to hooves.

More likely, toed horses evolved as more suitable in various marshy habitats, and hoofed horses evolved to navigate dry, rocky ground. Maybe one evolved from the other, maybe it didn’t. Think chaos, not orderliness.

Learning this made my head swim, but it makes sense. And it’s wonderfully objective.

I love science.

The Chase

My dog Jake sees deer all the time as they pass through the woods behind our house. It’s a thrill for him, but he’s inside a fence. You can bet he aches to be free, to give chase as nature intended, galloping in pursuit through the trees, unrestrained by fence or leash.

Not long ago, he got his wish. He and I went walking at Jefferson Elementary School on a Saturday, when he could go off-leash. The school property backs up to a multiple-acre woods.

As we walked along the edge of the woods, Jake suddenly froze and stared into the trees. Seconds later, a deer bolted and took flight. In a heartbeat, Jake was after it.

The chase lasted 10 or 15 seconds. Ultimately, 75 or so yards away, the deer leapt a fence into the safety of someone’s back yard. The drama was over.

When Jake came trotting back out of the woods, he was panting with excitement and exhaustion. A beaming dog smile was on his face.

Chickens

The chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) is the planet’s most common bird and one of the most widespread of domestic animals. More than 50 billion cluckers are raised annually as a source of meat and eggs. They are a crucial and relatively low-maintenance food source worldwide.

The modern chicken is a descendant of junglefowl that evolved on the Indian subcontinent about 8,000 years ago. Man has raised domestic chickens since the time of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.

Early ocean-going explorers, including the Vikings, helped introduce chickens to all parts of the world. Typically, live chickens were kept on ships as part of the crew’s food supply, and the birds often were traded in foreign ports for needed supplies.

The origin of chickens in the Americas? Christopher Columbus introduced them here on his second voyage in 1493.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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If a genie appeared and offered me one wish, and I were a better man, I would ask for world peace, or to end hunger and poverty, or for all Republicans to be raptured into the sky, never to be heard from again.

But no, I would ask to be 22 years old again, tall and handsome, financially secure, and with an IQ of, say, 200.

If the genie offered me a second wish, I would ask to be able to converse with my dog Jake.

I suppose it would have to be telepathic, since dogs haven’t evolved to speak. I’m fine with telepathic.

As it is, I talk to Jake constantly. But he only comprehends my tone and certain key words. I would want the genie to allow genuine two-way communication.

Jake and I understand each other pretty well, despite not being able to have conversations. As roommates of long standing, we know the other’s likes, dislikes, and boundaries. We have our routines and rituals, most of which occur smoothly.

But there is so much more I wish we could share.

I wish I could tell him, “Jake, we can’t go for a walk this morning because I have a haircut appointment. We’ll go walking after lunch, okay?”

And “I’m sorry, buddy, I can’t share these cookies with you. Chocolate is harmful to dogs. I got you some Alpo treats instead.”

And “Dude, I’m going on a road trip, and you’d be cooped up in the car all day. I’ll leave you at the kennel so you can play with the other pooches. I’ll be back before you know it, I promise.”

And “I know the thunder is scary, but it’s only noise. And it’s a long way off. It won’t hurt you, honest.”

And “Look, pal, when I sneeze, I’m not mad and yelling. It’s an involuntary reaction to a tickle in my nose. You sneeze, too, right?”

Jake also has information to share.

Such as “Rocky! We need to go out to the front yard, right now! A cat is out there! I saw it through the window!”

Or “Okay, this isn’t complicated. Leave the toilet seats up.”

Or “Look, you don’t have to keep me on a leash at the city pond. I know I get excited around the ducks, but would I chase one down and hurt it? Don’t be silly.”

Or “Uh… I ate some stuff outside, and I don’t fell so good. I think I’m gonna be sick.”

Anyway, I’ve given this considerable thought. I would be ready, if a genie appeared.

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Corvids

One special memory of my raft trips down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon is the behavior of the ravens living along the river. When we camped each night, their goal was to steal food, and they often worked in pairs to do it. Several times, I saw a raven dance and squawk to draw attention while another bird snatched unguarded food.

Ravens are members of the corvidae family, as are crows, rooks, jays, and magpies. Most experts consider corvids, especially crows and ravens, to be the most intelligent of all birds.

Scientists say that, despite having a brain the size of a pecan, they possess the reasoning ability of a seven-year-old human. True, one’s reasoning ability at age seven is a work in progress, but that’s still impressive.

In several experiments, crows quickly learned to drop stones into containers of water to raise the water level, either to get a drink or to bring food into reach.

They also regularly use twigs or sticks as tools, and they will drop nuts onto a highway so passing vehicles will crack the shells.

A family of crows usually consists of about a dozen birds. They are highly social and use a variety of caws and clicks to communicate. They use separate calls to tell their fellows that a threat is from a person, cat, hawk, or whatever.

Crows not only can recognize individual human faces, but also have the capacity to inform later generations about known threats.

In 2011, a team at the University of Washington trapped a dozen crows while wearing “caveman” masks. The crows were tagged and released and thereafter left alone.

For the next five years, researchers walked a designated route near the trapping site, some wearing the caveman masks and some not.

Initially, the team noted that the crows showed alarm and scolded people wearing the caveman mask 26 percent of the time. After 15 months, the figure was up to 30 percent. After three years, it rose to 66 percent. The researchers concluded that the crows were informing their peers and offspring that caveman humans are dangerous.

Conversely, crows will be nice to you if you’re nice to them. Instances have been recorded of crows bringing gifts — pebbles, sticks, etc. — to people who feed them.

Some 40 species of crow exist around the world. The one you’re familiar with probably is the American crow, although the fish crow and Tamaulipas crow also live in North America.

Thanks to their brain power and adaptability, crows are doing quite well as a species. Experts say their numbers over the last 40 years grew about 20 percent per decade. Their estimated breeding population now stands at some 27 million.

Impressive and interesting animals. And certainly not birdbrains.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Thomas Edison held a total of 2,332 patents worldwide. Today, the president of a semiconductor lab in Japan holds the world record — 5,843 patents and counting.

● English has more words than any other language.

● The average human sheds some 600,000 particles of dead skin per hour, or about 1.5 pounds per year.

● When viewed from the Earth, the Moon goes through eight phases as it progresses from new moon to full moon and back to new moon, as shown below. (The word gibbous refers to being more than half lighted, but less than full, which is the opposite of a crescent.)

● British author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) featured her famous detective Hercule Poirot in 33 novels, 50 short stories, and one play. Christie was honest about the character. She once described Poirot as “a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.”

● The word karaoke comes from the Japanese words karappo, which means empty, and oke, a shortened form of okesutura, which means orchestra.

● July 4 is the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. However, the vote to do so took place on July 2. John Adams and several other founding fathers believed that we chose the wrong day to honor.

● The average adult bald eagle weighs 14 pounds and is about three feet long. Its wingspan, however, is a full seven feet.

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All in the Family

Among the memorable early Romans was Julia Agrippina (15-59 AD), described by history as smart, ambitious, and calculating. Not to mention lethal, allegedly.

Agrippina was the daughter of Germanicus, a Roman general, and the granddaughter of Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

The second Roman emperor was Tiberius (brother of Augustus, uncle of Germanicus). Germanicus hoped to succeed Tiberius, but instead, Caligula (son of Germanicus, brother of Agrippina) was named emperor three.

Caligula was assassinated, and Claudius (brother of Germanicus, uncle of Agrippina) became emperor four. Claudius then married his niece Agrippina and adopted her son Nero, whose father Domitius had died suddenly when Nero was two.

Claudius, incidentally, was Agrippina’s third husband. Her second husband Passienus had died a few years earlier, by some accounts poisoned by Agrippina.

Agrippina wanted her son Nero to succeed Claudius so she could retain her power and influence. Soon — oops — Claudius was poisoned, and Nero became the fifth Roman emperor at age 16.

As Nero matured, Agrippina’s influence waned. Ultimately, a nasty power struggle ensued between mother and son, ending in Agrippina’s death at age 44. Nero almost certainly was responsible, but conflicting historical accounts make the truth elusive.

To sum up, Agrippina was at various times the granddaughter, great niece, niece, sister, wife, and mother of the first five Roman emperors. Plus, all three of her husbands died early and mysteriously. Wow.

Equine Slumber

If you’re a horse, you have a unique sleep problem. Namely, you aren’t built to lie down and get back up easily. You do so with great difficulty and are left vulnerable to predators.

As a result, horses have evolved special sleep behaviors. First, they take naps several times a day while standing. This is made possible by specialized tendons and ligaments that allow the horse to lock the major joints of its legs, so it can snooze without toppling over.

But horses also need deep sleep — REM sleep — just as you do. For that, they lie down and recharge for real, usually in short intervals totaling several hours a day.

Yes, they are vulnerable while lying horizontal and unconscious, but other horses always remain awake and on sentry duty.

Whack

Most of the time, my dog Jake is calm and mellow. He gets excited, of course, on such occasions as our morning walk, or when he lights out after a cat, but otherwise, his world is pleasant, and life is good.

There are, however, exceptions. Occasionally, a local redneck goes hunting in the woods, and we hear gunfire in the distance. In which case, Jake’s happy face disappears, and he retreats to the back of my bedroom closet. He won’t come out until the noise stops.

His reaction is the same with fireworks and other loud noises. At the first boom, he heads for the sanctuary of the closet.

Furthermore, he dislikes/fears my flyswatter. If a fly lands somewhere and I whip out the flyswatter, Jake exits the room as soon as he sees it. Apparently, he is upset by my display of violence and the loud whack as I dispatch the fly.

I usually can conceal the flyswatter from him, but the telltale whack can’t be disguised.

Although I feel bad for Jake, the flyswatter is here to stay. And frankly, I find the whack to be oddly satisfying.

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