Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915):

History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive. It knows the names of the king's bastards but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. This is the way of human folly.

"The Core Historical Literature of Agriculture (CHLA) is a core electronic collection of agricultural texts published between the early nineteenth century and the middle to late twentieth century. Full-text materials cover agricultural economics, agricultural engineering, animal science, crops and their protection, food science, forestry, human nutrition, rural sociology, and soil science. Scholars have selected the titles in this collection for their historical importance."

February 29, 2004 | Comments (0)


I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn't expect to arrive.

(Paso con lentitud, como quien viene de tan lejos que no espera llegar.)
J.L. Borges, Jactancia de quietud ("Boast of Quietude"), in Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Poems. Viking Penguin, 1999. (Trans. Stephen Kessler.)

February 28, 2004 | Comments (0)

in vasto loco

Marcus Terentius Varro, De re rustica 3.16.15 (trans. A.J. Graham):

Alii faciunt ex viminibus rotundas, alii e ligno ac corticibus, alii ex arbore cava, alii fictiles, alii etiam ex ferulis quadratus longas pedes circiter ternos, latas pedem, sed ita, ubi parum sunt quæ compleant, ut eas conangustent, in vasto loco inani ne despondeant animum.

Some make round hives out of withies, some make them of wood and bark, some from a hollow tree, some of earthenware, and others again from the fennel plant, making them rectangular, about three feet long and one foot across, except that, when the bees are too few to fill them, they reduce the size, so that the bees do not lose heart in a wide empty space.

February 27, 2004 in Apiary | Comments (0)


In 1994, while exploring a canyon in the Blue Mountains northwest of Sydney, Australia, a sharp-eyed young park ranger found a tree he didn't recognize. In December of that year the world was introduced to Wollemia nobilis, known from fossils as old as 90 million years and thought to be extinct for the last 2 million. In a very circumscribed area of rainforest and deep limestone slot canyons about 75 mature specimens and some dozens of seedlings have since been found. Some of these trees, known as Wollemi Pines, are 40m tall and over 1000 years old. The tree's closest cousins are in the Araucaria family: Bunya Bunya, Norfolk Island Pine, and the Monkey Puzzle Tree.

The Wollemi Pine's botanical moniker may be construed as follows: Wollemia commemorates the Wollemi National Park. ("Wollemi" is an Aboriginal word meaning "look around you; keep your eyes open; watch out.") The specific epithet, nobilis, means "noble" and represents a witty and elegant pun: that sharp-eyed young ranger was named David Noble.

As part of a conservation strategy, it was decided to put the tree into worldwide distribution. Next year, or the year after, there should be some half million trees, propagated by cuttings and by seed, available in a variety of sizes. Its hardiness here in the Pacific Northwest is perhaps in question, but it has evolved a neat trick for frost protection so it may prove suitable.

The Royal Botanic Garden at Sydney has lots of links, but start with the Wollemi Pine website.

February 24, 2004 in Natural History | Comments (0)


T.H. White on the pigeon tribe, in The Goshawk:

What a peace-loving but prudent race they were, not predatory and yet not craven. Of all the birds, I thought, they must be the best citizens, the most susceptible to the principles of the League of Nations. They were not hysterical, but able to escape danger. For panic as an urge to safety they substituted foresight, cunning and equanimity. They were admirable parents and affectionate lovers. They were hard to kill. It was as if they possessed the maximum of insight into the basic wickedness of the world, and the maximum of circumspection in opposing their own wisdom to evade it. Grey quakers incessantly caravanning in covered wagons, through deserts of savages and cannibals, they loved one another and wisely fled.

February 23, 2004 in Natural History | Comments (0)

Devotional Books

Joseph Rock, in National Geographic, March 1922:

Very interesting are the libraries in every temple compound. They are the repository of Buddhist scriptures written by some devout hand with brass or iron stiles on the leaf segments of the Talipot palm. These palm-leaf scriptures are carefully wrapped, usually in yellow cotton cloth or silk, and placed in these libraries as a meritorious act. They are read only rarely and on special occasions. Like the temples, the libraries are rarely repaired.


Caption: Among the Siamese of Chiengmai the only merit in books is in their writing. The tomes are placed in libraries which might more properly be termed literary mausoleums, for the volumes are seldom, if ever, read.

February 23, 2004 in Rockiana | Comments (0)

In Gramarye

Sir Ector said (T.H.White, The Once & Future King),

"After all, damn it all, we can't have the boys runnin' about all day like hooligans--after all, damn it all? Ought to be havin' a first-rate eddication, at their age. When I was their age I was doin' all this Latin and stuff at five o'clock every mornin'. Happiest time of me life. Pass the port."

February 21, 2004 | Comments (0)

Ex Libris

Joseph Rock explored western China in the 1920's and '30s, collecting plants for the Arnold Arboretum and writing articles (ten in the years 1924-35) for National Geographic. He spent some of his last years in Seattle and, short on funds, sold a collection of his books to the University of Washington for $25,000. Pratyeka hosts 600+ of his photographs from 1924-1926.

February 17, 2004 in Rockiana | Comments (0)


Pliny the Elder, Natural History (tr. H. Rackham, 1937)

But among outstanding marvels is the creature called the nautilus, and by others the pilot-fish. Lying on its back it comes to the surface of the sea, gradually raising itself up in such a way that by sending out all the water through a tube it so to speak unloads itself of bilge and sails easily. Afterwards it twists back its two foremost arms and spreads out between them a marvellously thin membrane, and with this serving as a sail in the breeze while it uses its other arms underneath it as oars, it steers itself with its tail between them as a rudder. So it proceeds across the deep mimicking the likeness of a fast cutter, if any alarm interrupts its voyage submerging itself by sucking in water.

February 16, 2004 in Natural History | Comments (0)