fine teeth bared to sing

Bat-song, if we could hear it:

ah, eyrie-ire; aero hour, eh?
O'er our ur-area (our era aye
ere your raw row) we air our array
err, yaw, row wry—aura our orrery,
our eerie ü our ray, our arrow.
A rare ear, our aery Yahweh.

Les Murray, "Bats' Ultrasound," from The Daylight Moon and Other Poems. Online here.

April 4, 2006 in Natural History | Comments (0)

Sonnets on Insects

To the Grasshopper and the Cricket
      James Henry Leigh Hunt

Green little vaulter in the sunny grass,
   Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
   Sole voice that's heard amidst the lazy noon,
When ev'n the bees lag at the summoning brass;--
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
   With those who think the candles come too soon,
   Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass;--

Oh sweet and tiny cousins, that belong,
   One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both, though small, are strong
   At your clear hearts; and both were sent on earth
To sing in thoughtful ears this natural song--
   In doors and out,--summer and winter,--mirth.

The Ants
      John Clare

What wonder strikes the curious while he views
The black ants' city by a rotten tree
Or woodland bank. In ignorance we muse,
Pausing amazed. We know not what we see,
Such government and order there to be:
Some looking on and urging some to toil,
Dragging their loads of bent stalks slavishly.
And what's more wonderful, big loads that foil
One ant or two to carry quickly; then
A swarm flocks round to help their fellow men.
Surely they speak a language whisperingly,
Too fine for us to hear, and sure their ways
Prove they have kings and laws, and them to be
Deformèd remnants of the fairy days.

Julius Cæsar and the Honey-bee
      Charles Tennyson Turner

Poring on Cæsar's death with earnest eye,
I heard a fretful buzzing in the pane:
'Poor bee!' I cried, 'I'll help thee by-and-by;'
Then dropped mine eyes upon the page again.
Alas! I did not rise; I helped him not:
In the great voice of Roman history
I lost the pleading of the window-bee,
And all his woes and troubles were forgot.
In pity for the mighty chief, who bled
Beside his rival's statue, I delayed
To serve the little insect's present need;
And so he died for lack of human aid.
I could not change the Roman's destiny;
I might have set the honey-maker free.

January 9, 2006 in Natural History | Comments (0)

Gramineæ iii


Miscanthus sinensis
one of the Seven Flowers of Autumn

November 14, 2005 in Natural History | Comments (0)


It is the act of a screaming and demented oyster.

A sentence of such adamantine singularity that we forgot what the argument was about. In: Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape: A historic view of the esthetics of nature (Texas A&M University Press, 1967, 1991).

November 14, 2005 in Natural History | Comments (0)

(Un)natural History

A newly described species: Osedax mucofloris, or bone-eating snot flower*:

A new species of zombie worm has been discovered that eats the bones of dead whales.

The pink Osedax mucofloris, which means bone-eating snot flower, was discovered feeding off the carcass of a Minke whale by a joint UK-Swedish team.

The base of the flower-like worm goes into the bone, like a root system, taking nutrients and oils from it and resembles a ball of mucus, or snot. This part of the worm, which has no eyes or gut, is thought to be a defence mechanism.

During the experiment the Minke whale was placed at a depth of 125m and observed to see what would occur. First the flesh was stripped from the bones by hagfish and then the snot flowers moved in to devour the bones.

A further mystery surrounding the worm is that only females have been found, but in similar Pacific varieties the male actually lives inside the female existing only to fertilise eggs.

The findings of the team from the Swedish Tjarno Marine Laboratory and the Natural History Museum were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"The evidence presented here of a potentially global clade of bone-eating worms, hitherto unknown except from a single deep-sea region, is surprising given that whale bones have been routinely trawled up on the shelf and slope by fishermen, and in some cases examined by scientists who did not report Osedax-like worms," the study's authors, led by Adrian Glover, said.

They added: "We suggest that careful, microscopic examination of whale bones freshly recovered from the seafloor may reveal that Osedax is widespread in the oceans."

DeHavilland News, via Deep Sea News, via Botany Photo of the Day.

*More accurately, a snot-flowered bone-eater -- the "specific epithet" in taxonomic nomenclature is always adjectival, the generic name is the noun.

October 20, 2005 in Natural History | Comments (0)

John Clare's Hazel Copse: Autumn


The sun had stooped his westward clouds to win
Like weary traveller seeking for an Inn
When from the hazelly wood we glad descried
The ivied gateway by the pasture side
Long had we sought for nutts amid the shade
Where silence fled the rustle that we made
When torn by briars and brushed by sedges rank
We left the wood and on the velvet bank
Of short-swarded pasture-ground we sat us down
To shell our nutts before we reached the town
The near-hand stubble-field with mellow glower
Showed the dimmed blaze of poppys still in flower
And sweet the molehills smelt we sat upon
And now the thyme’s in bloom, but where is pleasure gone?

The Penguin John Clare: Selected Poems,
pg. 72

October 9, 2005 in Natural History | Comments (0)

John Clare's Hazel Copse: Summer, ii

from The Heat of Noon

There lies a sultry lusciousness around
The far-stretched pomp of summer which the eye
Views with a dazzled gaze--and gladly bounds
Its prospects to some pastoral spots that lie
Nestling among the hedge, confining grounds
Where in some nook the haystacks newly made
Scents the smooth level meadow-land around
While underneath the woodland’s hazley hedge
The crowding oxen make their swaily beds
And in the dry dyke thronged with rush and sedge
The restless sheep rush in to hide their heads
From the unlost and ever haunting flie
And under every tree’s projecting shade
Places as battered as the road is made

The Penguin John Clare: Selected Poems, p.39.

August 9, 2005 in Natural History | Comments (0)

John Clare's Hazel Copse: Summer

Clare's favorite tree, if we may judge by its ubiquity in his poetry, was the hawthorn. But the hazel drew his eye from time to time and inspired a number of charming depictions. So let him join Angelo Poliziano in my literary Coryletum.

from The Evening is for Love (p.339)

...Wi’ hairy leaves and droping flowers The canterberry-bell
Grows underneath the hazle-bower By most folks favoured well…

from The Humble Bee (p.338, 339)

…In the wood-briars and brambles
Hazel-stools and oak-trees
I enjoy such wood-rambles
And hear the wood-bees…

…He flies throught the stovens
Brown, hazel and grey
Through fern-leaves like ovens
Still singing his way…

from Twilight (p.322, 323)

   …Sweet twilight thy cool dews
   Are beautifully spread
   Where the nightingale its song renews
   Close by the old cow-shed
In that low hazel oft’ I’ve heard her sing
While somber evening came on downy wing…

   …Spring leaves seem old in green
   And the dull thorn is lost in the
   Dun twilight--but the hazel still is seen
   In sleeping beauty by the old oak-tree
Giving the woods a beauty and a power
While earth seems Eden in such an hour…

from The Flitting (p.198)

…The summer like a stranger comes
I pause and hardly know her face
I miss the hazel’s happy green
The bluebell’s quiet hanging blooms

Excerpted from John Clare: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 1990, 2000).

July 23, 2005 in Natural History | Comments (0)

An Analogy

It's strange that all birds don't fly in the same way. After all, the air's just the same at the same place and the same time. I've heard that the wings of aeroplanes all conform to the same formula, whereas birds each conform to a formula of their own. It has undeniably required more than a little ingenuity to equip so many birds each with their own formula, and no expense spared, either. Nevertheless, there has perhaps never been a bird that flies as correctly as an aeroplane; yet all birds fly better than aeroplanes if they can fly at all. All birds are perhaps a little wrong, because an absolute once-for-all formula for a bird has never been found, just as all novels are bad because the correct formula for a novel has never been found.

Halldór Laxness, Under the Glacier [Kristnihald Undir Jökli, 1968], translated from Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson.

April 16, 2005 in Natural History | Comments (0)



Here are some hazelnuts that the squirrels didn't get. I live atop a hill at the north end of Lake Washington, which once was largely hazel thicket (Beaked Hazel, Corylus cornuta subsp. californica). I wonder if people know that anymore, though Filbert Road and Hazelwood Elementary School ought to be hint enough. Hazels are unassuming small trees or large shrubs, except in February and March when their lengthening, green-going-bronze catkins are the first notice of spring.

I read these lines recently, and have been repeating them to myself -- the lines are put in the mouth of the prophetess Manto and are addressed to a certain famous Mantuan:

Tu tamen ante alios felix, mea vera propago,
cui licitum in silvis inter coryleta iacenti
rimari quid fata parent, quid pulchra minentur
sidera ...

(But you are blessed above all others, you, my true progeny, to whom it was granted, lying in the woods among the hazel-thickets, to examine what the fates are preparing, what the beautiful stars are threatening...)

Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494), Silvae ("Manto", ll. 127-130), ed., trans. Charles Fantazzi (I Tatti Renaissance Library, 2004)

Other trees in what remain of the woods here:
Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western red cedar (Thuja plicata), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophylla), vine maple (Acer circinatum), red alder (Alnus rubra), black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), Cascara Sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana), red elder (Sambucus racemosa), Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), Scouler willow (Salix scouleriana).

September 21, 2004 in Natural History | Comments (0)