Sentence of the Day, Which Fortunately Is From the Book Self Is Still Reading

Balanus perforatus is a grayish barnacle that resembles a tiny volcano.

— Chapter VI, The Sixth Extinction

The Late Cretaceous in Suburban New Jersey

Chapter IV is about Ammonites, Discoscaphites jerseyensis

Kolbert meets a geologist from Brooklyn College in a parking lot next to a baseball field. They strike out through the underbrush to a shallow creek.

Its banks were covered in rust-colored slime. Brambles hung over the water. Fluttering from these were tattered banners of debris: lost plastic bags, scraps of newspaper, the rings from ancient six-packs.

In the “creek bed, a few inches above the water line,” was an exposed iridium layer, evidence of the six-mile wide asteroid that hit the earth in the late Cretaceous, wiping out the dinosaurs. A scientist digs out a piece of ammonite.

Kolbert goes on to describe the prevalence of ammonites: “Pliny the Elder, who died in the eruption that buried Pompeii, was already familiar with them . . . “

That mention of Pliny the Elder dying at Pompeii . . . This Sunday, self is going to see the exhibit Last Supper at Pompeii at the Legion of Honor. The exhibit traveled from the Ashmolean, where self first saw it in November 2019. It was a fantastic exhibit, she wanted to see it again but ran out of time. She didn’t think she’d have another chance, but here it is, in her own backyard!

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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

Required Reading: Wolves in the American West

Back in February, Montana’s Republican governor killed a wolf without a proper permit. Greg Gianforte, who is best known for body-slamming a reporter on the campaign trail in 2017, trapped the creature after it strayed out of Yellowstone National Park and onto a private ranch owned by one of his political donors — the director of Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose 191 local TV stations might not frown on trapping liberals. A satirist could be proud of this Western. It also exemplified what Chris Servheen, a wildlife biologist in Missoula, describes as a new bout of “anti-predator hysteria in state legislatures in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Lawmakers in Montana and Idaho have recently passed a slew of measures to reduce the number of bears and wolves in their states. In Idaho one law allows wolf-hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. It devotes money to private contractors tasked with hunting the animals down and removes limits for the number of wolves one person can kill. The law says that wolves can be killed so long as their number still exceeds the state’s recovery goal of 150 animals. That means 90% of the Gem State’s 1500 wolves are at risk.

The Economist, pp 24 – 25, m

Coda: Safe Passage, The Next Great Migration

Sonia Shah’s policy recommendations are found at the end. She is very clear, which self appreciated. She offers concrete examples of what is being done, and what more needs to be done.

Instead of expanding the borders of isolated parks and reserves, new conservation efforts are seeking to stitch together private lands, ranches, farms, and parks into wide, long corridors across which animals can safely move. The Yellowstone to Yukon initiative, for example, has brought hundreds of conservation together to manage more than five-hundred thousand square miles stretching southward from northern Canada, to ease wildlife movement across the entire expanse. A similarly ambitious project aims to protect millions of square miles of jaguar habitat across fourteen countries from Mexico to Argentina. Conservationists have pinpointed at least twenty places around the world, including biodiverse but highly fragmented locales such as the Eastern Arc mountains of Tanzania and the Atlantic forest of Brazil, where similar wildlife corridors could connect isolated fragments of protected lands into more than half a million acres of continuous forest across which species could freely move.

The Next Great Migration, pp. 313 – 314

Hunting

The hunting scenes in this book are some of the best. They remind self somewhat of the scenes in Eddie’s Boy where the hit man main character stalks his targets. Anyhoo, Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic has been a very exciting read.

It’s been particularly exciting since Nanu has become a mother. So now she’s hunting, not just for herself, but for her two cubs.

Nanu glides to a small pressure ridge in the ice, out of direct sight of the seals, and lies down to nurse. When the cubs have had their fill, they bundle in beside her, one on top of the other, and nod off to sleep. Effortlessly, Nanu slips into the lead. She surfaces silently like a slow-moving ice floe and begins closing the distance between herself and the sleeping prey.

When Nanu is within one hundred yards of the seal, he lifts his head. Nanu stops. All that shows in the water is a white forehead with black eyes and nose, and a line of dry fur along her back, all of which could easily be patterns in the ice itself.

Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan, Chapter 6 (“Learning”)

Suspense!

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Learning New Things Every Day: Ice Walker, p. 45

A mother who has not eaten since leaving the ice, now nearly six months ago, is able to nourish her cubs in utero and yet still keep her metabolism quiet enough to conserve energy for at least three more months of fasting to come. Because, in addition to her own considerable insulation — two inches of thick downy underfur combined with a full mantle of long hollow guard hairs — every bear has her coating of fat just below the skin. The well-insulated snow cave that is the den can be warmed to just below freezing with nothing more than the presence of a warm bear.

Writing Like Fable

Nanu the polar bear has an ever-present companion, an arctic fox, who as it happens (or as Raffan writes it anyway), is also a ‘she.’ This is a very interesting choice, to make Nanu the she-bear have an echo in a she-fox. (In fact, the male of both species rarely appear, and when they do, it is only to fulfill a specific function)

The point of view is limited third person.

Chapter Three: Nesting

Even the fox is looking more robust than usual, and she knows this because when she sleeps she senses her presence, often within view. And although the fox is usually a few steps behind her as she investigates vapor trails, occasionally she will be drawn to hunting sites because the fox has found them first. She often knows where the fox is because one of the ravens will be cruising high above. It is never difficult, even in the dark, to find the fox even when the raven is somewhere else, because of the particular pungency of her pee spots, like markers on the trails, which lead to new hunting possibilities.

Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan

The devastating effect of the loss of polar ice, here:

Stealth hunting is best when the ice covers most of the bay’s surface, but if the ice covers less than 30% of the water’s surface, hunting success drops precipitously.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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