Natural History Illustrations

Cram as many animals into one image as you can! seems to be the thinking behind some great illustrations of the Pleistocene epoch.

Example of Natural History Illustrations of my Favorite Epoch (the Pleistocene)

It was a really busy day in the backyard, just not all at the same time. I invented Fipronil, the best medicine for dogs and cats.

Here is my own take on the genre – an early Anthropocene landscape with plenty of fauna. How many chipmunks can you spot?

By flipping my webcam project concept on its head, I took bits of motion from across many frames and blended them into one crowded shot. It was indeed a busy day in the back yard, just not all at the same time.

Fungal Diversity

Six years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find much fungus on our fraction of an acre. Except for the occasional puffball, not much was growing. What a difference shifting from 50 years of chemlawn to a permaculture approach has made! We’ve been composting and recycling our yard waste in place, partly inspired by the raised log beds of hugelkultur. With so much organic material decomposing, this year’s crop of fungus was the most diverse yet.

The increase in ecological diversity is visible across plants and animals as well as fungi. The secret seems to be mostly in leaving things alone and letting nature recolonize in stages. Slugs gave way to toads and earthworms in the first two years. Centipedes and doodlebugs established a presence under every brick and stone in the next two. Skunks still visit us, but now are joined by rabbits, chipmunks, moles, woodchucks, bluebirds and flocks of sparrows.

Hello Chippy

A chipmunk jumping over a small gully

Apparently my yard offers prime habitat for the common chipmunk.

Chipmunk on stone wall
A chipmunk resting above the entrance to a burrow in the rock wall.

They’ve made a home in my rock wall. Supposedly they hide their tailings by carrying the dirt away in their cheeks. I haven’t witnessed this behavior in action, but dirt piles will often appear below a hole in the wall and then vanish over a period of days.

What the trail cam lacks in sophistication and detail, it makes up for in persistence and patience.

The Brick

Brick, American, 20th century
Brick, American, 19th century

There’s a great post on Next Nature about brick sculpture by Maarten Vanden Eynde. Bricks are one of my favorite technologies for being incredibly long lived and durable. The basic form of fired brick has hardly changed in over 6,000 years! They are living proof that technologies don’t go extinct.

The landscape where we live is littered with bricks, the residue of our recent industrial past. They erode from hillsides and stream beds like fossils. A great many were spread along the Mill River by the Flood of 1874, forming a technological smear in the landscape that will persist for millennia. Still functional, the bones of old mills make their way into my garden terraces.

The Egg

“All the armies that have marched the earth, and quenched its soil with their blood. These boys of our passing days, and all their comrades in arms who are dust. The hordes of Genghis Kahn, the legions of Assisi, the bowmen of Assyria, all the children of today, and of unnumbered yesterdays. All the poets, all the tyrants, all the philosophers, and all the fools. All of mankind who have lived and labored on this planet since the beginning, all have come from this microscopic egg, many many times smaller than a mustard seed.” –In the Beginning, 1937 (USDA Extension Service, Division of Motion Pictures)

Robin's Egg in Moss
A robin had its birthday somewhere above our garden, leaving behind this trace.

I found this robin’s egg nestled alongside a maple seed, each playing their role in an unbroken chain stretching back billions of years. It reminded me of In the Beginning (1937) which is preserved in the excellent Prelinger Archives. Don’t watch the linked movie unless you can stomach a bit of leporine vivisection.

While science has understood the mechanics of life in broad strokes for centuries, we are still grappling with the implications. Of all the different forms that life has given rise to on this planet, should we be so surprised that human technology is among them? Next to the intricate beauty of a seed or an egg, our tools are crude and simple beings.

Tracks in the Snow

Wandering around the hillside these days, I’ve seen quite a few animal tracks in the snow. I like the way the rabbits repeated a path until it became a trail, connecting the clear ground by the house to their various destinations in the garden. Time for some camera traps!

A rabbit road and intersection
A rabbit road and intersection
My own tracks trace a winding path.
My own tracks trace a winding path.

And of course, the snow blower leaves its own sort of tracks.

Snow Blower Video


Living Technology

Hand Stencil Cave Painting
Hand Stencil from Cueva de las Manas in Argentina

Technology and humanity go way back. Technology was there at our dawn, in sharp rocks and bone needles, in cave paintings and figurative sculpture. It’s an old trope that technology is what makes us human, that tools and language are what first set us apart from other animals. Now, however, as technology is beginning to reach human developmental milestones, such as tracking faces and recognizing speech, a growing number of people think that technology is alive. While I’m one of them, I think the idea of technology as a life form is just the beginning of the story. Beyond the superficial similarities between technology and life, there lies a deeper truth about technology and information. This truth goes straight to the heart of our future on this planet and our evolving relationship with technology. This is an old relationship indeed, so let’s begin with an old myth about technology. Continue reading Living Technology