Chapter II, The Sixth Extinction (The Discovery of the Mastodon)

What a superb storyteller Elizabeth Kolbert is! To think self only heard about her books from reading the Contributors Notes for a back issue of The New Yorker. She wasn’t even aware that The Sixth Extinction won the Pulitzer in 2015.

from Chapter II:

  • The first mastodon bones subjected to what might, anachronistically, be called scientific study were discovered in 1739. That year, Charles le Moyne, the second Baron de Longueuil, was traveling down the Ohio River with four hundred troops, some, like him, Frenchmen, most of the others Algonquians and Iroquois. The journey was arduous and supplies were short. On one leg, a French soldier would later recall, the troops were reduced to living off acorns.

Longueuil was leading his men on a campaign against the Chickasaw, and many of his men died in the next several months. Indian scouts discovered, at the edge of an enormous swamp near present-day Cincinnati, a quantity of gigantic bones and teeth (the roots alone were the length of a man’s hand). They turned out to belong to a creature later known as “the American elephant,” or mastodon.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Finished Chapter I, The Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Kolbert writes like a dream.

Last paragraph, Chapter I (Atelopus zetecki), The Sixth Extinction:

  • The frogs and the salamander were placed in plastic bags with some leaves to keep them moist. It occurred to me that the frogs and their progeny, if they had any, would never again touch the floor of the rainforest but would live out their days in disinfected glass tanks. That night it poured, and in my coffin-like hammock I had vivid, troubled dreams, the only scene from which I could later recall was of a bright yellow frog smoking a cigarette through a holder.

Sentence of the Day: David Raup

  • “The history of life consists of long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by panic.” — paleontologist David Raup, quoted by Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction, Chapter I

Elizabeth Kolbert on the Golden Frogs of Panama

Golden frogs have a distinctive, ambling gait that makes them look a bit like drunks trying to walk a straight line. They have long, skinny limbs, pointy yellow snouts, and very dark eyes, through which they seem to be regarding the world warily. At the risk of sounding weak-minded, I will say that they look intelligent.

— p. 8, The Sixth Extinction

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