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Reflections Upon The Urban Jungle
 
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Light Dancer's LiveJournal:

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Monday, January 22nd, 2007
1:34 am
Just wondering what's been going on?
Hey everybody. Just wondering what has been going on? I've been busy, busy, busy. I just wanted to drop in and update my blog. If anyone is interested please leave a comment. I'll try to answer everyone's questions. Got to run now and get back to work. Take care!
Monday, August 11th, 2003
12:28 pm




Tomatoes Galore!




I've been enjoying the fruits of my labor: tomato sandwiches, tomato salads, sliced tomatoes with omelets and fried green tomatoes! Certainly this tomato garden has paid for itself and made a profit in terms of the tomatoes produced.




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Tomato plants towering four feet

Tomato plants towering four feet toward the sky cm

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As you can see from this picture, my tomato plants have reached four feet high and are producing well. You can also see a pepper plant in the foreground at right. I had to pull up the yellow squash plants as they had all been attacked by a fungus, indicating to me they were not the right variety to have planted for summer growth, especially given the record rainfall experienced this year. But appearently the tomato plants love these conditions!



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Large green tomato

Large green tomato

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This large green tomato is typical of those growing in my garden. I have found it necessary to pick the tomatoes just as they begin to ripen. If the tomatoes stay on the vine too long they begin to attract large, wild fruit flies which will lay eggs upon the tomatoes. The tiny larvae will burrow into the tomatoes and cause them to begin to rot. This happens infrequently, but has resulted in damage to a few tomatoes, especially if any happen to have a break in their peelings. However, as I planted many more tomatoes than I can possibly eat myself, a few lost to insects hurts nothing. They simply end up as compost to grow more tomatoes! Thus nothing is wasted and everything from the garden that can not be eaten goes back into the garden.





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Tomato sandwich

Tomato sandwich: the fruits of my labor

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You can see from the above picture that I've been enjoying the fruits of my labor. This tomato sandwich also includes some lettuce, chives and bean sprouts, courtesy of produce at my local grocery store. Ah, that gives me an idea for some other vegetables to add to my garden.



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Dragonfly sentry

Dragonfly sentry protect garden from pest insects

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I have not used any insecticides on the garden. Instead I have stationed dragonfly sentries all around the garden and ordered them to guard against pest insects. :-) Also I've noticed ambush bugs on the tomato plants as well as large black and yellow bumble bees pollinating the yellow tomato plant blossoms. These beneficial insects, no doubt, would have been killed off by an application of toxic sprays or dusts. So as long as the plants are doing well and being guarded by dragonfly sentries, I see no reason to spray them with toxic chemicals.


While chatting with one of my many on-line friends, it occurred to me that the tomatoes from my garden taste much better than those from the grocery store. Perhaps this is due to the fact that fresh grown and harvested tomatoes retain more of their sweet flavor than store bought tomatoes. Or maybe it is just that home grown tomatoes are better because they are the fruits of my own labor!


Ah, there may indeed be a psychological factor involved here. Home grown anything is better than something you just go out and buy and eat! This is what I shall hence forth call the home grown tomato factor or more generally , the home grown factor! Thus perhaps I'll start growing more of my own food and making more of my own stuff, rather than relying upon store bought items, to the degree this may be practical. For if home grown tomatoes are better in part due to the psychological pleasure one gains by growing their own tomatoes, the same may be true if one grows and rears other food, or makes their own fences, so to speak.


The fence analogy comes from a recent estimate I had made to build and install a privacy fence. The cost of labor is the greatest part of the cost in almost any construction project. Thus if one does the labor themselves, more can be spent upon quality materials, such that in the end one gets a better product. This is true whether the item built is a fence, a barn or a house! If you cut the cost of the labor by doing it yourself and invest the amount saved in better quality material, then the end product will be of higher quality. Plus you will appreciate the product more given the psychological factor that you built it yourself!


Certainly this does not mean one should not pay for labor in having major projects done, given that a dozen or more hands can certainly reduce the amount of time required to complete any building or labor intensive project. But for those project which can be done over time by an individual who has the knowledge and the skill to do them properly, the end product may be better given it the fruits of one's own labor. This certainly is the case with fine craftsmen who are able to make their own furniture or stoneware pottery. It would also be applicable to women who make quilts or even those who brew their own wine. Home grown is simply better because of the psychological factor that it is the fruits of one's own labor.


This would certainly apply to many do-it-yourself type home improvement projects. Thus there is an entire industry that has grown up around the concept of do-it-yourself and home improvement. There are many "how to" books and even a host of television programs which feature everything from how to decorate your home to how to build or remodel your home. Obviously the home-grown-is-better-factor plays a role in making these programs so popular as well as the economic fact that one can simply save a lot of money by doing it yourself.


When I mentioned this to another person I had just met on-line they remarked, "Yeah, it cost less to jack off than to get married or pay a prostitute! And home grown weed beats what you buy on the street!" This character as it turns out was a pothead who was recently divorced for the third time and had lost a house to his third wife and was still paying allamony to his second wife to help support two children. His interpretation of what I said was not quite what I meant, but it seems some people can not help but distort the meaning of every good idea and give it a negative or sexual connotation.


The idea that home grown is best does NOT come from anything related to drugs or sex. This idea came to me from growing tomatoes! So should anyone get the wrong idea about this please note that I don't grow pot and I've NEVER paid for a prostitute! I grow TOMATOES and other vegetables! So when I say, "home grown is best," I'm referring to tomatoes, goddamnit!


It is sometimes frustrating that ignorant people and derelicts try to corrupt the good works of men and women. I guess there are just some people who try to turn everything good into trash, garbage and dirt. I've encountered a few such characters in my life and do not give their opinions very high regard, no matter how funny or jocular may seem the lies and filth which pours from their mouths. Unfortunately some of my very own relatives would fall into this category. I won't mention who they are as this would be too embarrassing.


It should be noted, however, that any fences I build are to provide for my own privacy and keep out the derelicts, whether they be neighbors with binoculars, midnight prowlers, rabbits eyeing my tomatoes or relatives who do not like what I write or say about their life styles. The fact is I simply do not give a damn what anyone has to say in the way of filth or trash about my garden, be it my home grown tomatoes they are talking about or the fact some weeds may pop up in my yard after a week long rain! Clean your own house and do not bring your brooms, vacuums, dust brushes or filthy mouths into my house! I don't want or need them! Of course if you have a tomato plant or some wild flower seeds these might be welcome!


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Light Dancer's Wish List | Contact



Tuesday, July 15th, 2003
1:34 pm



How My Garden Grows Update




The vegetable garden is doing quite well. I took some pictures today to show how large the tomatoes had grown. The largest measured 6.60 cm (about 2 9/16+ inches) as is seen below. Why the tomatoes are so large they could be fired! Some fried green tomatoes is sounding real good about now. Ah, but I may wait to see how long it takes the first tomatoes to rippen.





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Tomato at 6.60cm

Tomato measuring 6.60 cm

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The yellow squash does not seem to be doing very well. I attribute this to a combinations of factors. Besides the fact that the large yellow-orange squash flowers do not seem to have been pollinated, there is a white fungus that has appeared upon the leaves. Generally this variety of squash may not be appropriate for growing in the middle of the summer at my local. I'm considering looking for a better variety, perhaps a summer zucchini.


The marigolds are doing quite well, being in full bloom and having many flowers upon each plant. The pepper plants seem all right too, having produced white flowers, the petals falling off to leave tiny green receptacles. A number of these have fallen off rather than develop into peppers, perhaps due to lack of pollination or the fragility of the plants themselves.


It is possible that many of the insects which would normally be pollinating flowers, especially those active during the early evening hours, have been killed by the city spraying for mosquitoes. Also the tiny pepper flowers are very delicate and it does not take much to dislodge them from the plant before the fruits are produced. Perhaps I should be careful to water the plants from below as even a powerful jet spray of water might break the tiny pepper's from their stem. I picked up a few of these today after watering and they appeared so delicately fashioned that it is a wonder any remain upon the plants to develop into peppers. However, one pepper is about an inch long, so perhaps more will produce fruit. I've heard about products on the market used to keep fragile blossoms on tomato and pepper plants so perhaps I should try finding and using some of this substance. Then in good time I should have a pepper harvest.


I have tied about half the tomato plants to stakes and need to do the other half. I'm using wooden stakes made from treated 1" x 2" wood about which is placed a cylinder made from fence wire. I discovered a good use for those plastic bags which all the stores are using. These can be torn or cut, then twisted to make a soft tie for securing the tomato plants to the posts and fencing. The broad band of plastic supports the tomato plants without cutting into their stems.


The garden has turned out so well that I'm considering growing some other plants. I was looking at some sites on the Internet regarding vegetable gardens and the variety of vegetables one might grow. Given it is already the middle of July any plants I plant now should be rapid growing, like bean plants or zachinni. I need to locate a good growing chart which shows this area (Central Alabama) and the best vegetable to plants each month, plus recommended varieties. Humm, I wonder if there is an agricultural extension service site or an Alabama gardening site. With a little research I should be able to keep this garden growing all year long! So stay tuned and watch how my garden grows ... and what's on the menus. Those fried green tomatoes are sounding better and better the more I think about them. So don't be surprised if that tomato ends up in the frying pan before it ripens. Sometimes one can not wait and has to do a little picking and cooking in this life!




Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Light Dancer's Wish List | Contact



Thursday, June 26th, 2003
3:20 am



Reflection on the nature of LJ






I've been taking a closer look at the nature of Live Journal as a community and social phenomena. It appears that LJ consists of thousands of journal the majority of which are created by people as a reflection of their daily lives. To a great extent these journal lack any discipline or mastery of the art of journal production. Most are without a theme, appear to lack any pursuit for higher knowledge and would flunk any test or measure of creativity.


Certainly I have not been a member of the LJ community very long, nor made a review of enough journals to be able to say my opinion of LJ represents a general truth. But from what I have been able to glimpse I can profess that there is a great deal of mediocrity among Live Journalists. Perhaps this emphasizes the need for some schooling in how to write and produce a better Live Journal.


My own approach to preparing a Live Journal is to reflect your the natural world around me, upon the urban jungle, that amazing web of life which struggles to survive amide the hostile environment man creates by tearing down forests and replacing them with parking lots, roadways and suburbs. Also from time to time, as now, I reflect upon the greater world which exists beyond my own small world of plants and animals, to remark about such matters as the state of our nation, the war on terrorism and, yes, this phenomena that is Live Journal.


What is greatest about LJ is that it lets each person tell their own story. LJ provides a media through which people can read the thoughts of others, make comments and seek to interact. However, I have as yet to discover any subcultures on LJ which I identify with. Therefore I tend to view LJ as a outsider looking in, as a naturalist or sociologist, watching and wondering about the people I read, wanting to help build a better LJ community if I can, but not really being sure what I can do to help the situation.


Perhaps my LJ will in some way inspire others and give them an idea how they might improve their own LJs. I'm not saying this muse is a master piece. Far from it. But anyone who wishes to improve their LJ may be inspired by reflecting upon the world around them, seeking to learn from it, and then relating their discoveries through words and pictures that what emerges is more than just a day to day pondering of one's life predicament or situation, but is a journey of discovery. For through sharing our journeys of discovery we all may progress and move toward a higher level of understanding about each other and the world around us.


The way LJ is set up people may interact in a number of way. They may post comments as they read the journals of others. They may add someone to their list of "Friends," post their contacts, present a short biographical sketch, list their key word interests, join member groups or link to personal home pages.


Generally this scheme works very well. Also one may draw traffic to their LJ by listing on search engines or in private journal directories. But one of the best ways to interact is to utilize search engines and simply search for others as by interest or region. If nothing else searching LJ is certainly entertaining and can result in some most amusing discoveries. Here are a few searches which I made related to various interests which you may want to review:



  1. Art
  2. Astronomy
  3. Biology
  4. Entrepreneur
  5. Evolution
  6. Gardening
  7. Mathmatics
  8. Music
  9. Philosophy
  10. Photography
  11. Poetry
  12. Webcams


Of course everyone has their own interests and LJ certainly allows you to list your keyword interests so you can easily get some idea of what you have in common with someone else. Should you have an unusual interest you can even create your own LJ member group that others can join. I have yet to create a "Firefly Society" because I doubt that many people would be interested in creatures which glow. However I may one day start a group related to general nature study or photography ... or even a group of Live Journal Scholars for writers who take their LJ productions to a higher level than the general throw away thoughts of the day. Ah, should there be anyone out their who would like to second this motion, please let me know.


I sure many who are long time users of LJ have discovered that the more "Friends" they add to their list, than the more people who chance to read their LJs. This is because simply by listing another LJ'er as your friend, your LJ is link to their LJ which is in turn linked to other LJ. So simply by adding people to your list of "Friends" you will generate links and increase readership. Hence one should not assume that people listed as "Friends" are really what you would define as a friend; i.e., someone you know very well, admire and wish to associate with. On LJ a "Friend" can be just an alias name you link to for the purpose of increasing traffic to your site.


Should LJ users establish some more significant communication than just the reading of each other's diaries, then they might truly be able to call one another "friends." Certainly there are cases where people who already know each other in the "real world" start LJs and list their real world friends as "Friends." But for the majority of users who join LJ not knowing many other LJ users, real friendship based upon communication will take time to occur.


Quite frankly I must confess to not having many real friends on LJ. I'm just one of those LJ users who browses and reads the diaries of others for entertainment. Perhaps one of these days I'll stumble upon a really amazing LJ, upon a person who impresses me as a quite amazing and remarkable human being. In fact, I wonder where all those great people are; where are the real artists, poets and philosophers? I guess they are not writing LJs, unless, of course, you are one of them :-)


Now that I've stated my mind with respect to LJ, I think I'll try finding a few "Friends" to add to my list of associates. However instead of calling them "friends" they should really be called "favorites" in that some aspect of their journal has a quality about it which makes it a favorite link or favorite read. This could be because of how the journal is presented, how well it is written, the fact it has a unique style or design or even because the LJ'er has expressed some exceptional trains of thought worthy of mention, referral or recognition. But please, if you find yourself on my list of "Friends" and realize I do not know you any more than you know me, do not take this to mean anything remarkable. It is just my way of saying, "Hi! I discovered your LJ." Thus others are invited to visit your LJ as well as mine.


If you are curious how I discovered the LJs I've linked to, these were generally located by doing a search on the topics of interest as above listed, or other topics of interest. So if someone has expressed an interest in art, music, evolution, etc., I may have simply linked to that user. Should something about their LJ catch my eye, as in the case of a journal which uses an interesting design, Java script coding, displays poetry or art, then I may list that person on my friends list. Whether or not I keep that person on this list may depend on a future review of their LJ or if they add me to their list of "Friends." I may at some future date post a real list of "Great LJs," those which are truly, in my opinion, worth a read. So if you consider your LJ to be above all the rest, please add me to your list of Friends and I'll check it out.



Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Light Dancer's Wish List | Contact



Wednesday, June 25th, 2003
9:00 pm



A New Baby In The Family






I am the proud father of several dozen twins! Yes, a female Photinus pyralis firefly I captured on May 29, 2003 laid some 200 eggs and the larvae began to hatch on or about June 24. So far several dozen larvae have emerged from their eggs. I'll probably rear a few and use the remainder for photomicrography studies.



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Photinus pyralis larvae 80X

Photinus pyralis larvae 80X

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Why isn't she/he a beauty! I think I'll start a wish list for Light Dancer so that everyone who wants to can donate and help these little buggers along their way. After all why should wish lists be limited to humans? It is important to rear other species, to learn about them and how to care for the environment. This is especially the case with regard to fireflies, as in many areas where cities are growing, habitat is being lost to parking lots, subdivisions, roadways and urban sprall. Perhaps a firefly larvae baby registry would help draw attention to the fact we need to be aware of our environment.


I named my baby Light Dancer because as adult fireflies, the male Photinus pyralis makes a dancing flight, bobbing up and down as it meanders randomly about in search of a mate. Light Dancer will accept all sorts of "baby" items, especially baby food jars. Baby food jars are one of the best containers for rearing fireflies. I can use as many baby food jars as I can get, so if you wish to donate some baby food jars, please let me know. Just send me an email and I'll tell you where to send the baby food jars. Thanks a bunch.


What are some other much needed baby items that Light Dancer could use? Here is a list:


Light Dancer's Wish List




  1. Cotton white baby diapers, the old fashion cloth kind. These can be used for everything from cleaning microscope slides to wiping up messes.
  2. Eye dropers. These are useful in picking up firefly eggs, tiny larvae and transferring small amounts of liquids
  3. Pyrex baby bottles
  4. Microscope slides and cover glasses
  5. Baby jars or quart jars to serve as rearing chambers
  6. Digital cameras and smart media cards
  7. Any other type of laboratory glassware you may wish to contribute
  8. Books on entomology, new or used, in good condition


It will be interesting to see if anyone wants to donate to Light Dancer's wish list. I'll make one on Amazon.com also, to make donations easier.


Should you happen to be more interested in fireflies please visit the Photinus pyralis Gallery.


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Monday, June 23rd, 2003
5:48 pm



Towering Tomato Plants




My garden is growing well. The tomato plants have reached 18 inches high and have yellow blossoms. I noticed a large black and yellow bumble bee was visiting the blossoms, pollinating the followers. Thus this should contribute to a good yield.



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Tomato plant 18 inches high

Tomato plant 18 inches high

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The marigolds are doing very well, having produced more flowers since being planted in the ground. The yellow squash is also doing well. A few squash plants, however, were stunted in their growth. I dug them up and planted them in new mounds using a regular potting soil and dirt mix. I believe I had used too much of a particular brand of manure in the previous mounds, this perhaps being too acidic. It is possible this could also stunt the growth of other plants in the garden, but so far the tomatoes and marigolds seem to be growing well. I did notice some tiny caterpillars upon a few of the pepper plants. These were summarily removed as they had already eaten holes in a few leaves.


I think they may have been caterpillars of painted lady butterflies which have been seen fluttering around the garden. Also one leaf appeared to be half eaten, as by a May Beetle. These night flying scarabs have been quite active over the last week. Their eyes make a bright bronze reflection when one shines a flash light upon them. These are the same type of beetle which William Shakespeare referred to as, "the shard-borne chafer with his drowsy hum." These beetles enjoy feasting upon the leaves of the willow oak and the manner in which they cut a leaf is easily recognized once seen. Earlier in the week I captured several of these May Beetles as they buzzed around the back porch light, and fed them to a large toad who seemed delighted to lap down these bronze morsels.


I have also managed to capture several female Photinus pyralis fireflies which have laid eggs in jars of moist peat moss. These eggs glow in the dark but their bioluminescence is quite a challenge to photograph.



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Cluster of Photinus pyralis eggs 21X

Cluster of Photinus pyralis eggs 21X

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Should you happen to be more interested in fireflies please visit the Photinus pyralis Gallery.


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Wednesday, June 4th, 2003
12:05 pm




Squash, peppers and marigold?






Yesterday I planted some 16 smooth neck yellow squash and four green bell pepper plants. Also placed some Lantana and Marigolds in the garden for a picture session and laid out some more wood chips. Morning temperatures dipped into the mid-60's such that with a gentle rain on Tuesday, it made a perfect day for setting out new plants.



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Marigolds

Marigolds

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Yellow smooth neck squash set in ground

Yellow smooth neck squash set in ground

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The squash and other plants are being planted in mounds. Each mound is made by digging a hole, adding compost manure, then mixing the soil to make a small mound. Also I've added lime to the soil. I was not able to find powdered lime, as all the stores I visited were sold out of this, so used pellet or grandular lime ... which hopefully will work.


By planting in little mounds of rich soil, plants may be grown closer together and this takes less back straining work than planting in rows. Also when working in clay soils, mounds enables one to build up the soil providing a good, rich soil base for young plants.


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Sunday, June 1st, 2003
3:57 pm




How does my garden grow?






Today I began my summer garden by preparing a circular area some 50 feet in circumference. The area of this space is approximately 199 square feet. I am planning to grow primarily tomatoes and this will be ample space to grow plenty of tomatoes.


A circular garden area has some major advantages over a square or rectangular garden area. A circular garden actually has more area than a square or rectangular garden of the same circumference. A square or rectangular garden 10 x 15 feet (50 feet in circumference) would have only 150 square feet of area where as my garden has 199 square feet of area! Also a circular garden is easier to water with a sprinkler that rotates around as it sprays water in a circle. Plus a circular garden is more esthetic to look at once it is in full bloom and growth, especially if one plants the boarder of the garden with flowers.





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Circular garden space 199 square feet

Circular garden space 199 square feet

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I began the garden by staking out a space which gets sun much of the day. I had purchased 50 feet of vinyl green lawn fence wire (36" high, 3" x 2" mesh, 16 gauge) and metal stakes so decided to make a circular area with a radius of 7.9 feet. This worked perfectly and I was able to make a gate by overlapping the two ends of the fence slightly.


I first hammered a stake in the center of the garden area, then drove stakes around the circumference, using a piece of rope attached to the center stake to make a circle, then rolled out the fence wire and attached it to the stakes around the circumference. This should keep my dog out of the garden as well as any rabbits or other small animals. I have also purchased some 1/4" mesh hardware cloth to go around the garden should I discover this be necessary.


I purchased three varieties of tomatoes: Better Boy, Celebrity (a hybrid) and Better Bush. The idea in planting several different varieties of tomatoes is to see which fairs the best under the given soil, climatic and other conditions.


I purchased a 40 pound bag of lime, given my soil has an acid pH, and sprinkled this about the garden, working it into the soil. Also I purchased some organic compost/manure to work into the soil and plan on fertilizing the tomatoes with a recommended brand of tomato fertilizer. Also I have plenty of wood chips from the recent removal of several tree stumps to use as mulch around the tomato plants.


I'm also considering planting some marigolds or other flowers in or around the garden to give it some color. I placed a bird bath in the center of the garden (not show in the above picture) and a small table to use as a work area at the edge of the garden. I'll be mulching an area around the outside of the fence to keep clear of grass and weeds as well as mulching around the tomatoes to help keep moisture in the soil.


Over time I'll be updating these entries so you can see how my garden grows. Likely as not it will also serve as an outdoor laboratory to attract insects which desire to feast upon my tomatoes. No doubt these will end up pickled and under the hand lens and microscope to add to my knowledge of garden pests.




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Bush tomato plant set in ground

Bush tomato plant set in ground

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After working the soil, adding lime and compost, I planted a number of tomatoes. I placed a piece of black garden felt around each pickled to inhibit weed growth and help hold moisture in the soil.


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Wednesday, April 30th, 2003
8:00 am



The occurrence of leaf spot



Recently there has been an occurrence of leaf spot upon the wild cherry trees in the neighborhood where I live. I was pondering if this might be related to the acid rain due to ash and pollutants from regional fossil fuel burning plants? Might acid rain harm plants or make them more susceptible to such diseases?


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Wild Cherry Leaf Spot

Wild Cherry Leaf Spot

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I collected a number of these leaves. The spotting effect gives the leaves a pretty appearance. Of course if this same effect were seen upon human skin it would be called psoriasis and considered anything but pretty. Ah, which brings up another question: what is the effect, if any, when the fungi spores which cause various plants diseases land upon human skin and begin to grow? Do skin irritations result? Do allergies result when such fungi begin to germinate in mucous membranes?

Such are the questions I ponder from day to day. Many will go unanswered. But I wonder such things as curiosity is by nature part of my spirit.

I would welcome hearing from others who might ponder similar questions or have any thoughts related to my pondering.

Best Wishes,
Light Dancer


The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact


Tuesday, March 18th, 2003
2:06 am




The Flight of the Black Birds



Today (March 17, 2003) President Bush addressed the nation and gave Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to leave Iraq within 48 ours or be removed from power by force. Let's face it, this is a declaration of war! No doubt now that the Black Birds will be flying soon. In fact if signs of nature mean anything, I noted that I didn't see any Black Birds roosting in the neighborhood. They may have already flown to foreign roosts.


After listening to the President's ultimatum repeatedly throughout the evening, I penned this editorial letter and sent it off to various newspapers and media outlets:


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SUBJECT: It is common sense to support America

The Black Birds will be flying soon over the desert sands of Iraq, dropping their smart bombs to destroy Saddam Hussein's elite guard. All who resist and stand in the way of liberating forces will be annihilated. The only question is at what cost to America and the world?

Certainly the cost will be high. Some estimates say Congress will be asked for $80-billion dollars to supplement the war. Hopefully the cost in lives will be low among the coalition of the willing. But whatever the cost we must remember 9/11 and understand that to do nothing now would certainly risk an even greater cost in the future.

All patriotic Americans should rally around the flag and support America in the effort to oust Saddam Hussein and his regime of murdering thugs. This is especially true of creative and intellectual people, of artists, writers and musicians. Those who have the courage to speak out and who believe in individual freedom and rights are the first to have their voices silenced in a dictatorship. Therefore it makes only common sense that the brightest minds of our nation would support the liberation of Iraq, even if it means war.

Now is the time for all Americans, black or white, red or yellow, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Christian or Moslem, to stand up and show their true colors. Now is the time for all Americans to show their faith and love for freedom by coming together to support America and our endeavor to liberate Iraq and bring freedom to an oppressed people.

The Black Birds will be flying soon. Think not of them as silhouettes of death, doom and destruction, but as symbols of a free people bringing freedom to the oppressed. The cost of freedom is no easy measure, for whatever the final tally in dollars and cents or lives of our brave soldiers, to not pay the price would be the higher bill.

The Black Birds will be flying soon. Our airmen and women doing duty overseas, our citizen soldiers, are paying the high cost of freedom in their sacrifice for God and country. Thus if we cherish freedom, especially freedom of speech and freedom of religion, we must support their efforts and cheer the Black Birds on to victory!

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I'm hoping that whatever happens in Iraq that the war won't last long. It is a distraction to my natural history concerns. Of course I will celebrate the demise of Saddam Hussein. Hopefully he will not set too many oil fields on fire or pollute much of the desert. The last time around this mad man's actions resulted in the death of thousands of birds. Perhaps an appropriate death for him would be to tar and feather the despot and then set him ablaze!


I have no sympathy for dictators and despots. I think they all should go. North Korea should be the next dictatorship to go. Then Vietnam, Cuba and China. The world will be a far better place when the dictators and despots of the world are vanquished.


If you agree with me, please post a comment. If you disagree you may post a comment, too. That's what is so great about freedom in a democracy; everyone can agree to disagree and express their opinion. That's something people can't do when ruled by dictators and despots which is why it makes only common sense for all free people to support the liberation of other people from oppression by heads of state who are dictators and despots, or tyranical rulers of theocracies.





Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Monday, March 17th, 2003
1:01 am




Invaders Build Pyramids To The Sky



They have been in the United States of America for over seventy years. They invaded through the port of Mobile, Alabama, rapidly spreading through Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and the southeast. Nothing could stop them, not toxic chemicals, not fire and flame, not any amount of human effort. Today they remain well entrenched, an army which numbers in the billions and costs hundreds of million dollars each year to fight what so far has been a losing battle. They are imported fire ants, Soenopis invicta.




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Fire ant head at 32 X

Fire ant head at 32 X

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I remember my first encounter with fire ants. I was a child living in the delta area of New Orleans. I was playing in the yard on a hot summer day while lawn mowers were roaring as neighbors cut their lawns and turned the deep ragged expanses of green into smooth, level, immaculate carpets.


I was bare foot wearing only a pair of shorts, playing in the yard. Suddenly I felt a terrible burning sensation stinging all over my legs and began screaming at the top of my little lungs! My parents rushed to my aid. I had stepped in the remains of a fire ant mound which had been leveled by a lawn mower. The ants were swarming in a mad rush, climbing rapidly up my legs, stinging me. I did not know what was happening. My father, however, quickly realizing I was standing in an enraged swarm of fire ants, swept me up in his arms and rushed me into the house, wiping off the stinging ants and doctoring the wounds with calamine lotion.




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Fire ant head at 32 X

Fire ant sting produces an itchy blister shown here at 24 hours after being stung on finger 32 X

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Thus I learned to respect fire ants at a very early age. As a youngster growing up in the deep South, I was to encounter fire ants on many occasions. In Alabama fire ants often build very large mounds, excavating red clay soil to produce what to the ants are pyramids which dwarf the Great Pyramids of Giza. I've seen some fire ant mounds over four feet high. If one considers that a fire ant stands only about 1.0 mm high, a giant mound this size is approximately 1,270 times the height of a fire ant. By comparison the largest of the Great Pyramid at Giza, built by Khufu (Cheops) a king of the fourth Dynasty, had an original estimated hight of 482 feet high or about 80 times the height of an average person. Thus, relative to the size of a fire ant, to build a pyramid that would compair in height to a very large fire ant mound, would require that it be 16 times as high as Khufu's pyramid in Giza or over 7,600 feet! That works out to be a skyscraper about 5.5 times the original hight of the World Trade Center before it was destroyed on 9/11/2001 by terrorists! Certainly when it comes to building towers to the sky, the imported fire ant has the jump on human beings.


Of course the majority of fire ant mounds do not grow so large. In suburban areas fire ant mounds are usually destroyed before they get very large. The same is true of fire ant mounds in agricultural areas, which are generally plowed once or twice a year. Thus in populated areas fire ant mounds usually average from a few inches to perhaps twelve inches in height. Yet even these small surface mounds may harbor hundreds of thousands of fire ants, with individual mounds often being connected by an underground network of tunnels.


Fire ants are a very aggressive species. They have large mandibles which are used to bite and latch on to their prey or victim. Then while firmly attached the fire ant stings repeatedly using a long hypodermic-like stinger to inject an irritating toxin. This venom contains formic acid which is one reasons fire ant stings burn and give these ants their common name.




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Fire ant mandibles  80 X

Fire ant mandibles 80 X

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Over the years I've heard some pretty wild stories about fire ants. Unfortunately most of them are true. Fire ants have invaded homes and killed infants. They have attached elderly people swarming over their bodies, stinging them thousands of times, causing serious injury. Fire ants have attacked cattle, dogs, rabbits, birds, squirrels and other animals. Usually if an animal is able to move or run away, they can escape fire ant attacks. But when an infant is unattended in a baby bed, or when a puppy is left chained outside and gets attacked by fire ants, the results can be fatal.


Primarily fire ants eat other insects, earthworms or seeds. I recall seeing fire ants swarming over baby birds which fell out of their nests in areas close to fire ant mounds. I've also seen fire ants cutting up earthworms and other insects, carrying sections of the sliced and diced prey back to their mounds. Often fire ants will build long subterranean tunnels to sources of water, like bird baths, ponds, lakes or creeks. These may stretch for many yards with small mounds appearing every few feet forming where soil has been deposited, grain by grain, as thousands of fire ants toil day in and day out to build their underground super highways.




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Fire ant trail

Fire ant trail. Fire ants have built an underground tunnel trailing from a compost pile on left (not seen) to their mound on the right (not seen), bringing moist, red clay soil to the surface as they excavate their tunnel. This particular trail of which only a portion is shown here ran some 15 feet (4.57 meters).

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For years I've tried various schemes to combat fire ants. When I was six years old I discovered a large fire ant mound at my grandmother's house. I took some gasoline and poured it on this large fire ant mound and then set it ablaze! Of course it did not have a lasting effect and I was scolded by my parents when they discovered my mischief. Although the fire ants near the surface of the mound may have been killed by the gasoline and subsequently fried by the flames, the ants beneath the soil were not harmed and the mound reappeared. In fact, there remain mounds of fire ants in the back yard lawn of that house until this very day.



Often people working in their gardens or lawns will try to destroy a fire ant mound by spraying it with water. Although water may temporarily demolish a small mound, fire ants themselves are unharmed by water unless it is heated up. In fact, when there are floods in areas heavily populated by fire ants, entire mounds may wash away. The fire ants, however, surround their queen, linking their legs and locking together to form a protective mass. Because fire ants float on water these masses of fire ants have been observed floating down flooded streams and rivers, with perhaps hundreds of thousands of fire ants amassed in tight swarms around their queen. So if you think dousing a fire ant mound with water from a hose will solve your fire ant problem, forget that idea.


Fire ants, like other insects, can be killed with boiling water or steam. I've heard tell of a company which uses steam under pressure to treat the soil and kill fire ants. Certainly fire ants can be exterminated using steam. When I collect fire ants or other insects, I have in the past used hot water as a way to kill them prior to observation or study. Of course killing fire ants in the wild with steam does work. But steam treatments also kill every other insect and nematode which live in the soil, totally disrupting the soil's diverse mix of animals and plants. Then fire ants simply repopulate the steam treated area, there being no competition from other ants and an abundance of steamed ants, earthworms and other cryptozoa upon which the new invaders may feast!


In recent years it has been learned that fire ants which invaded from South America have a natural enemy. In their homeland a species of Phorid fly lays its eggs inside fire ants. As larvae develop they detach the fire ant's head. Then the Phorid fly pupates inside the fire ant's head. The rearing of Phorid flies and their release promises to be an effective method of biological control for fire ants.




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Fire ant stinger  80X

Fire ant stinger 80X

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I've pretty much given up the idea of fighting a war against fire ants. Now I spend my time marveling at the beauty of this most successful species. Their social organization rivals that of any insect and certainly has contributed to their great success as a species. I suppose if one day humanity nukes itself, there will be plenty of fire ants which survive the blast and subsequent radiation. They will emerge from their subterranean shelters to feast upon the fried flesh of man and build their pyramid mounds yet even higher to the sky, given no man will be around to mow them down!


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Saturday, March 15th, 2003
3:24 pm




Plunging into the primordial world of the Buttercup



I entered into the primordial realm of the Buttercup quite by accident. I had intended to pluck a wild strawberry flower and by chance happened to pluck a yellow Buttercup, given both are growing mixed together and have bright yellow flowers with five petals. That's what one gets venturing forth at night to pick flowers seen earlier in the day. Of course I knew as soon as I brought the flower inside that this was not a wild strawberry; it was a Buttercup, a most primitive of wildflowers which exhibits an amazing floral structure, a rosette of central green carpels, each one resembling an elf's ear.




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Ranunculus sp.

Ranunculus sp. Blooms in early Spring

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Some 20 million years ago the first ancestors of the Buttercup appeared. This can be ascertained by the analysis of sedimentary core samples to reveal fossilized pollen grains. Buttercups have a relatively large spherical pollen grain. So if you find Buttercup pollen in a sedimentary layer from the Early Miocene Era you know this pollen was produced by an ancestor of the Buttercup.




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Ranunculus sp. Achene  32X

Ranunculus sp. Achene 32X

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What is remarkable about the Buttercup is that this family of flowering plants, Ranunculaceae, produces a very primitive type of flower, one which contains a number of independent or free carpel, or achene, each with its own ovule which, when pollinated produces a seed. The carpel of a Buttercup are called achene or one-seeded, indehiscent fruit, meaning that they retain their seed and do not split open at maturity to shower forth their seeds as do many spore producing plants. The carpel are arranged in a rosette in the center of the flower about which occur the stamen, sprinkling golden pollen upon the carpel, often attracting insects to aid in transferring the pollen to the carpel. In flowering plants which evolved after or perhaps from a common ancestor of the Buttercups, the carpel have become fused into a variety of more complex forms, such that when one observes the Buttercup it is like looking into the past, at an ancient, most original flower.




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Ranunculus sp. Stamen  32X

Ranunculus sp. Stamen 32X

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The 20 million year old Buttercup's flower is quite unlike that of a wild strawberry. The wild strawberry has hundreds of style fused about a spherical ovule of what develops into the strawberry. In contrast, the Buttercup contains a number of independent carpel, each one separate from the other, each carpel with its own ovule which serves as a repository for pollen which collects in the ovule to fertilize the ovary. A golden rain of pollen grains is transferred from the stamen to the carpel, which are covered with tiny finger-like hairs that appear to latch on to the pollen grains.




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Ranunculus sp. Ovule  80X

Ranunculus sp. Ovule 80X

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The Buttercup flower which I picked was practically mature and when I examined a carpel at high power under the microscope I found the ovule packed with spherical pollen. When these pollen were inspected at even higher power I discovered they were held in place by a marvelous array of minute star-like amoeboid hairs. Apparently these structures grab hold of a pollen grain. Certainly there is only a finite number of positions which can be filled or occupied by a pollen grain. Thus it is those pollen grains which are most successful in reaching the ovule and finding an empty space around the ovary which will come to fertilize the ovary.




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Ranunculus sp. Star-like ameoba hairs  320X

Ranunculus sp. Star-like ameba hairs 320X

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While pondering upon the Buttercup I wonder how these flowers came to be? Certainly they are sufficiently complex as to have evolved from yet more simple flowering plants. And how did other flowers evolve to be yet more complex? If one were to decipher the genetic code of the Buttercup, which is a rather large family of plants covering about 58 genera and 1750 species, what variation in their genetic code would be found and how might this indicate which elements of genetic code determine such factors as the number of petals, stamen, carpel or other flower parts? Certainly there is a great mystery waiting to be solved which might be done by investigating the genome of the Buttercup.


Yet instead of focusing our resources upon such fundamental research, we spend billions of dollars to develop smart bombs and devise new way to destroy our fellow human beings. How much would it cost to decipher the genetic code of the Buttercup? This is a remarkable family of plants which is already known to produce chemical substances of usage in medicine. If we knew how to read the genetic code of the Buttercup, how might this knowledge help us to understand how genes control the genetic structure of all life forms? Many developmental conditions occur due to a genetic defect. Yet we do not even know how to read the genes of the most simple type of plants, let alone that of humans. It is not enough to map the human genome; one must understand the genetic code from the most simple of flowering plants and insect to the most complex. But unless we can read and decipher the genetic code of simple plants and animals, it is going to be practically impossible to make heads or tails out of the complex genetic code of mammals or man.


Indeed, the Buttercup presents a family of plants which afford a great opportunity for deciphering the genome. It should be possible to map the genome of different, yet related buttercups, and note how the variations in genetic code result in variation in plant structure. One does not have to wait for a mutation to occur, as in breeding millions of Drosophila to get one freak fruit fly. Millions of years of evolution have already produced an entire family of Buttercups. All one has to do is map their genome and much can be learned with regard to how genes determine variations in plants. Then doing this with others families of plants would enable one to understand the relation of genetic code to factors like the number of petals or stamen of a flower or the number of simple flowers in the rosette of a dandelion.


Yet as I ponder upon the primordial Buttercup, the Pentagon holds its daily news conference to inform the nation with respect to deployment of forces in the Middle East. Soon the Black Birds will be flying, dropping their smart bombs on and around Baghdad. Although I agree that the world must purge itself of Saddam Hussein and his ruthless regime, I think a single bullet would be a more economical way of dealing with this despot. Then we could spend the billions of dollars saved on deciphering the genome of the Buttercup!


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Thursday, March 13th, 2003
11:09 pm




Visions at 80 X and beyond



I've been towering. By "towering" I mean adventuring to places I've never been before, traveling to unseen worlds, going beyond the known unto the unknown. This is what the Egyptians were doing when they built the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. It is what our nation does in sending astronauts into space. It is what I spend much of my time doing as I explore the Urban Jungle.


You do not need a rocket ship to go towering. But a good eye helps. Also it helps to have a decent microscope. I am fortunate in that my father bought me a good microscope when I was in high school. I've used it ever since to go towering, exploring the microscope worlds which one finds in a drop or water, a grain of sand or when looking at plant or animal tissue.


You never knows they are going to find when you turn over a rock. You might find a snake or a lizard or just dirt. It is much the same way when you look through a microscope at something which you have never bothered to examine closely. For looking closely at virtually every leaf, every flower, every bit of bark, is much like turning over a rock and will reveal a new wonder to anyone who bothers to go towering.


Today I took to looking at a Hackberry Tree flower, a dandelion and some Chickenweed. These are all plants which are blooming in early Spring. They, along with the great proliferates of pollen, the pine trees and pear trees currently in full bloom, are perhaps contributing to my stuffy sinuses. As I write these very words I'm sniffling and blowing my nose. Perhaps I've have my nose poked too close to a plant which I'm allergic to? Ah, but I must go towering, just as the rock climber must scale to the highest peaks, because they are there.




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Hackberry Moon: Toothed leaf of Hackberry

Hackberry Moon: Toothed leaf of Hackberry

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A tiny pine tree pollen grain drifts above the north polar cap of a Hackberry moon as ice caps invade the saw tooth leaf of a veined terra ferma in this photo micrograph of what in reality is but a day old leaf mounted upon a slide in mineral spirits. Ah, but to travel to such distant lands one must be quick to snip the tiny Hackberry leaf just as it unfolds, for wait too long, another day or two perhaps, and the leaf will have grown, thickened, darkened, then another year must pass before the Hackberry moon appears. Should this flight of fancy seem odd, note that on the same day this picture was made news was received of two new moons discovered around Jupiter ... could it be one is like the Hackberry moon? Likely as not there are no trees on any of Jupiter's moons and the life which abounds in the Urban Jungle is enough to keep me towering, keep me exploring, and continue to fascinate my mind's eye until the day I die; then, to continue to entertain and delight the most curious of minds for centuries to come.




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Dandelion pollen 800 X

Dandelion pollen 800 X

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These tiny tetrahedrons are dandelion pollen which are passed from flower to flower by insects enabling fertilization. The dandelion flower is composed of hundreds of small flowers packed in a bright yellow rosette. These flowers are designed so that when a bee probes the flower for nectar, pollen will adhere to the bee and thus find its way to another flower. In this photomicrograph the pollen are magnified 800 X and photo enhanced to accent their structure. One can only wonder how these tiny geodesic structures are genetically encoded, indeed, how they entire dandelion and its composite flower are genetically encoded? Does the shape and structure of pollen reflect some aspect of the plant or flower to be? However the genetic code of a dandelion is written it must be a marvelously beautiful formula, given the tetrahedron structure of the dandelion's pollen and the beautiful rosette of the dandelion flower itself. One can only wonder as such minute structures are not going to give up their secrets easily



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Filament hairs on flower stem of Chickweed

Filament hairs on flower stem of Chickweed

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Every flower, every stem, every leaf presents a new horizon to explore. Here is seen the hair line of a Chickweed's flower stalk. This curious wild flower has a tiny white flower which appears to have ten petals. But upon close examination you can see there are really only five petals which are deeply divided or cleft. A single line of hairs runs along the stem of the Chickweed, each hair consisting of a ladder of clear, tiny cells which reach out like fingers toward the sky. What purpose this single line of hairs might serve one can only wonder? While many plants have stems covered with hairs, it is curious to find that only a single line of hairs occurs upon the Chickweed. The Chickweed also produces a small spherical pollen which in this photomicrograph give one the impression of stars in a purple sky, that one might imagine they are upon another planet in a far, far distant galaxy.


Thus I tower far beyond the known, journeying deep into the Urban Jungle to discover marvels and wonders which most people will never see or know. I snap a few pictures, like a tourist, to tell of my travels. But looking at pictures is never quite the same as taking the adventure, which is why I encourage everyone to go towering!


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Monday, March 10th, 2003
2:42 pm




Eurasian Black Birds Invade the South




There is the fresh sweet smell of Spring in the air, the aroma of pollen as pear and pine trees are in full blossom. The sun peaks through a spotted blue-white cotton quilt of clouds, bringing to glow the bright white blossoms of trees which adorn the neighborhood. You do not need eyes to see it is Spring, the perfume in the breeze and song of robins, cardinals, warblers and sparrows says this clearly unto all.


An iridescent black bird is today the only bird upon the highest perch where earlier in the week I had observed several Eurasian Collard-Doves (ECD's). This morning the ECD's are perching lower in the tree unable to dethrone the large black birds which rule over all they see. Soon the Black Birds will take wing, soaring through the night, bringing bombs and fire to the Middle East, forever changing the course of history as they come to rule over desert sands.


There is a beauty I can not capture in the morning light as the sun illuminates the thousands of tiny white pear tree petals. The pear tree seems ablaze, to be the source of light and warmth, not only to eye, but to mind and soul. Then there beacons a Kho-khoo-khou from the ECD's and my attention is drawn to a couple of these grey feathered invaders pecking at the moist ground for seed and worm. They are a cautious, gently species, yet they gorge themselves on what would normally be a robin's meal. Should there be fewer robins in the urban jungle in future years and more of these invaders, what ornithologist refer to as "accidentals," the reason will be quite clear: the ECD's are more adaptable than robins to an urban environment, can live and nest quite well in close association with man. Only if we begin to shot and eat the ECD's is their invasion of the Southern United States likely to be halted. These larger, lumbering birds might also be captured in net traps, simply by putting out seed upon the ground and quickly drawing up and together the net when ECD's come to feed. Thus not a shot needs to be fired to bring these voluptuous doves to the dinner table. Should anyone have a recipe for these foul feathered fowl, please send it to me for reprint. Should they prove good eating maybe others would like to add baked ECD to their menu.



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Wild pear tree blossoms bright white with an explosion of aromatic pollen (inset 160X).

Wild pear tree blossoms bright white with an explosion of aromatic pollen (inset 160X).

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I collected pear tree flowers and observed them closely under a magnifying glass, making slides of their pollen. It has occurred to me that squirrels are responsible for spreading the seeds of these trees about the neighborhood. The grey squirrels eat the seeds and then deposit them in their droppings, younger trees sprouting and growing at some distance from the older trees. This is why along fences and throughout the neighborhood many of these bright blossoming pear trees of various height and age can be observed. The squirrels have done their duty well to reseed the urban jungle and turn a once bleak housing development into a young forest. Yet there is a constant war being raged between humanity and the squirrels, one planting seeds in its dropping and the other cutting down the sproutings, planting grass to create immaculate lawns void of any semblance to a natural forest.


My observations are interrupted upon the top of every hour by new alerts regarding the pending war in Iraq. Has humanity gone mad? Are we no different than the squirrels and the birds fighting for territory, competing for resources? Is there any sense in this madness of a looming war? As I ponder new reports regarding the Uninted Nations vs. President Bush, I pen a letter and zip it off to various media around the nation:


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SUBJECT: Liberation of Iraq is Free World's Duty!

When a dictator establishes a regime based not upon the rule of law but of rape, torture and murder, then it becomes the duty of all freedom loving people to liberate the oppressed. This is exactly what has occurred in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein. A great people rich in culture and heritage have been exploited and impoverished by a selfish despot hungry for power.

In the face of such a monstrous regime all free nations should join to liberate Iraq from the evil which corrupts and belittles them. This is not a call for war, but a call for liberation, to rid the people of Iraq of the cruel demon which brings shame upon their nation.

As a citizen of the United States of America, I call upon all free people to join together for the liberation of Iraq! Whether you march for peace or hear the drums of war, ban together to liberate Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein!

Peace loving people from all nations have a duty and a responsibility to see injustice, to see evil, and to put an end to it. Those who stock pile weapons of mass destruction but for the sole purpose of extending their power and control and making less free humanity are evil and their evil must be stopped before it corrupts the world.

Thus the United States of America is righteous to led an army of liberation and free the people of Iraq. All people of all nations including the people of Iraq who choose to join us in the liberation of Iraq do so righteously.

It makes only common sense to liberate Iraq and dispose of the dictator Saddam Hussein. To not act now poses the far greater risk of state sponsored terrorism spreading around the world and weapons of mass destruction being unleashed upon free nations. We can not sit idly by and hope against hope that Saddam Hussein will suddenly become an angelic spirit. This man has demonstrated time and again he is evil personified!

Therefore whatever the United States must do to liberate Iraq, it is justified. Call it war if you wish, but unto God our sword brings liberty and the whole world will thank us once Saddam Hussein and his evil regime are history!

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I know if I were in Iraq I would certainly have been censored and silenced years ago. My tongue would have been cut out, my eyes gouged out with a hot iron and my hands slivered to satisfy some archaic Islamic Law. The artist and writers are always the first to be silenced by dictators. Thus it is ironic that any creative people would oppose an action to rid the world of a murderous dictator like Saddam Hussein. I have no sympathy for him or his regime. If it were up to me I'd have him sliced and dices and fed to the dogs and birds! That would be a suiting end for any Muslim who believes canines are filthy animals!


As I ponder the fait of the world my eye catches a small flock of black birds. They perch in a pear tree and give me the opportunity to take a closer look at their feathers through 8 x 25 binoculars. Why these are not true black birds at all! They are Eurasian Starlings, another invading species! Then the starlings soar to the top of the dead Loblolly Pine Tree where a red-headed woodpecker has been working for the last few weeks to prepare a nesting hole. The starlings inspect the woodpecker's nest, taking it over by sear force of numbers. They are a very intimidating species with bright yellow beaks and peacock green, iridescent feathers. As a group they are easily able to dominate the territory around the woodpecker's nest. Here is a prime example of an Eurasian species having a detrimental impact upon a native species!


As the sun sets I watch one of these intrusive starlings go into the woodpecker's hole time and again. As I watch the starlings a pair of ECD's land beneath the same tree and begin to forage. Eurasians have invaded high and low; least humanity intervene the red-headed woodpecker and robins alike may disappear from the urban jungles as shall the artists, writers and musicians from the Middle East should the Taliban type tyrants have their way.


As the sun dips into the west turning orange it lights the top of the dead Loblolly Pine Tree with a pinkish luminescence. Birds chirp, tweet, tweet, tweeting in a rapid sequence ... this sounding much like the call of the Mocking bird I've spied upon occasion. Also the ECD's are kho-khoo-kouing. Squirrels are scampering through the pear trees, feeding upon young, tender leaves and blossoms. The squirrels cut tiny ends of branches, then strip them of the young morsels of leaves, dropping the bare stem, then snipping another twig, repeating the process over and over.


The sun now has touched the horizon, soon dipping to a half crescent, slowly sinking into the west, its last orange rays disappearing from the tree tops, there not even being a single cloud above from which the sun's last rays might reflect. By the top of the hour the sun has disappeared below the horizon and a slight pink haze gradually appears in the south and north with a bright glow in the west which turns the distant trees into spectacular silhouettes of a million woven branches. Even the highest oaks now show small leaves blossoming upon their tiniest stems; within a week or two their canopies will fill that the sun will vanish before it reaches the true horizon.


Now some ten minutes after sunset a single cloud in the west has appeared, its lower edge aglow with fire as it drifts to the south, the twilight bringing a dip in the temperature and a gradual silencing of the birds as a last starling, cheep, cheeps.


How soon will the Black Birds fly? One wonders. I imagine it will be soon, very soon.


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer





The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | Blue Jay Feathers | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Thursday, March 6th, 2003
1:55 pm





A Journey Into The Unseen World





I've been adventuring unto unseen worlds, unto lands relatively unknown. There is so much wonder, so much beauty that I could live a million, million lives and only begin to know what lies beyond.


This would be true if I could travel to distant stars and yet more distant galaxies. But even without star travel it is true, for where I travel is every bit as wondrous as an adventure to the stars. There are planets of a different kind, orbs floating upon projections of light, giving rise to inverted retinal images which the mind flips, inverting that the world we perceive has an up and down, a top and bottom. Yet there are really no such points of reference in a drop of water or the deepest ocean when contemplating the infinite profusion of minute life forms one encounters when traveling through the microscopic cosmos, over cell walls and membranes, between plates of glass at powers many times that visible to the naked eye.


A bright yellow wild strawberry blossom caught my eye growing amid the grass of an uncut lawn. These tiny wildflowers, which develop a rather tasteless berry occur every Spring, growing close to the ground, running along, here and there producing a small, bright yellow flower which has five petals, numerous stamen and hundreds of style.


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Wild or Indian Strawberry

Wild or Indian Strawberry

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Another flower which blooms at about the same time as wild strawberry is Clevers or Goosegrass. This plant has distinctive hairy leaves and stems and produces a minute white flower with four petals upon a square stem. The corolla sets atop a large spherical seed case covered with hooked bristles. When mature these seed cases will adhere readily to cloth or fur and aid in the seed's dispersal. A dog which spends much time among these plants can acquire quite an abundance of seeds tangled in its fur requiring many minutes to comb or pick the seeds out of its fur. These seeds can also be quite a nuisance when they adhere to socks and shoe strings. The seeds of Clevers are, indeed, nature's Velcro, and were, perhaps, what inspired the invention of this space age hooked fiber fabric.


I can not but wonder what determines the structure of plants and animals; i.e., how is structure genetically encoded to determine the form of flora and fauna? How is it that some flowers, like Indian Strawberry, have an odd number of sepals and petals? And how is it that a flower like Goosegrass has four petals atop a hairy spiked seed case?


What is so magical about the number five that it occurs repeatedly with so many different types of flowering plants? Certainly the number of petals, sepals or leaves of a flowering plant is determined by genetic factors, but what is the nature of this code? This should be easy to discover by studying the genes of various plants which have different numbers of petals, sepals or leaves. Then one might also note why some flowers have highly divided or cleft petals, as in the Chickweed. Certainly learning how the geometry of flowering plants is genetically encoded would be a worthy research project, every bit as thrilling as launching a rocket to Mars to find only rocks and dust.


Ah, does not this question loom in every child's mind, in every young lover's conscience, when picking daisy petals wondering, "She loves me, she loves me not?" Knowing that there are generally an odd number of pedals would make the lad wise to begin his count with "She loves me," that it might end with love bestowed.


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Galium aparine: Goosegrass

Galium aparine: Goosegrass

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Thus I quest, gazing upon unseen worlds in drops of fluid, in planes between two pieces of glass mounted upon a microscope stage. Surely to gaze upon such wonders of nature is every bit as marvelous as the blurry image of a distant moon or planet. Yet this is only one of an infinite number of such planetary orbs to be discovered in the urban jungle.


The last few days have seen a bombardment of yellow pollen grains raining forth from the Loblolly Pine Trees. This yellow powder has blanketed everything from the windshields of automobiles to driveways, porches and lawn furniture. Last night it rained producing puddles which concentrated the yellow pine pollen dust. In areas where water may drain and evaporate pine dust is thickly concentrated. I have in the past collected large quantities of this yellow pine pollen dust and imagine one of these days to find a use for it, but as yet it serves only to irritate my sinuses!


I had earlier collected and photographed an immature male cone which I then sat in a jug of water. This male cone continued to develop and began releasing its pollen around March 3-4, the same time when area trees began to let their pollen rain forth upon the Earth. It is good this dust is not some biological warfare agent of al-Qeada terrorist or the entire community would soon expire!


I collected some yellow pine pollen from the male cones of Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), placed this in a drop of clear mineral spirits (pine pollen floats upon water whereas it does not float upon mineral spirits, making the latter a good media for suspending pine pollen grains) and observed the resulting slide at 160X through an American Optics Spencer Microscope that I had purchase sometime ago upon Ebay.





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Pinus taeda pollen grains at 160X

Pinus taeda pollen grains at 160X

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The spectacle thus presented is one of thousands of tiny spherical winged pollen grains. These resemble a tiny orb with earmuffs! As I gaze upon the profusion of earmuffs suddenly I imagine seeing a little happy face smile at me and say, "Maybe there would be no war if people made love, not war!" What! I blink my eyes and there is just a field of silent pollen grains. No, I have NOT been smoking anything! But I do have a wild imagination!


Perhaps this is not my imagination at play so much as it is the experience of association. All the while that I was working to produce this slide and photograph Loblolly Pine pollen, Wolf Blitzer was talking on CNN about the looming war with Iraq. When will the Black Birds fly, seems to be the question of the day? When will bombs begin to fall? When will the tanks and Bradley Fighter vehicles begin to roll? When will the rockets fly and the Hummers make their dash across the sands of Iraq to Baghdad? Soon, very soon, in all probability before the next new Moon.


Yes, reading the pattern in the pollen grains they say war will be coming soon! What do you say? I must be mad reading pollen grains and jumping to such conclusions? Perhaps. But there is just as much sense in this and some 1-800 jerk psychic communicating with the dead and making money off of ever fool who places a call for advice. Reading pollen grains patterns makes about as much sense as reading tea leaves or life lines in one's palm. Such psychic readings are all fallacious cons designed with one purpose only, to make money for the psychic. There is as much truth in the tossing of bones or the pattern made by feces dropped from a bison's tale!


One thing is for certain. There will continue to be conflict and cries for war in the Middle-East and around the world so long as people are walking into crowded places and blowing themselves and everyone else around them up. After 9/11 the United States needs no additional reason to do whatever it deems necessary to end terrorist threats around the world. This includes the invasion of Iraq to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his regime of torturing, murdering despots. This man is responsible for an ecological disaster, having set some 730 oil wells on fire as Iraqi troops fled Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War and having dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf, destroying untold numbers of water fowl and marine animals! Saddam Hussein must go if for no other reason given the terrorism he and his regime have caused to the environment! But when you add in the death and destruction he has caused to humanity, to his own people, the justification for his removal by any means necessary seems to be warranted.


If my pollen grains speak true, Saddam Hussein will be gone soon. Justice will rain down from the sky upon Saddam Hussein as Black Birds sweep through the night sky from dusk until dawn. Liberty will come to the people of the Tigres-Ephredes and the desert sands. Then the birds will sing and the temples ring a new beginning for Baghdad and its citizens, one which, I hope, will shine with a focus upon improving the quality of life for all people, not upon blowing away infidels.


Best Wishes,

Light Dancer



The Amateur Naturalist | Blinks and Links | The Urban Jungle | Contact



Thursday, February 27th, 2003
4:52 am


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<h1>The appearance of black birds</h1></a><BR>
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Black birds appeared today roosting in trees around the neighborhood, stilled by the gently falling rain that had quieted their feathers. The robins were roosting too, as were the Eurasian Collard-Doves. The red-bellied woodpecker which has been hard at work excavating nesting holes in the old Loblolly Pine was no where to be seen. Nor were its rivals, the Downy Woodpecker with its little scant of red crest or the larger Norther Flicker which had visited the day before. These birds were stilled by the gentle shower, roosting elsewhere, hidden from my prying eyes and mind. Yet I knew their habits well enough to say they wouldn't be pecking in the rain.
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A few Yellow-rumped Warblers made an appearance darting through the trees as if dodging the rain drops. These hyper active birds seemed not as effected by the gentle droplets from the sky. Yet if the drizzel turned to a downpour, they too would hunker down upon a stable limb, puff out their downy feathers and weather the storm.
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<IMG SRC="http://www.byteland.org/naturalist/gallery/black_birds.jpg" WIDTH=480 HEIGHT=640 BORDER=10 ALT="Black birds roosting in tree" ALIGN=BOTTOM HSPACE=20><P>Black birds roosting in tree</center></TD></FONT></TABLE><BR>
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In a neighbor's yard squirrels were scampering through the lofty branched of a Bradford Pear tree in full blossom. Leaning against a wild cherry tree to steady the binoculars which turned my near sighted perception of the world into that of a keen observer, I could see the squirrels were going from blossom to blossom feasting upon the tiny fresh inflorescence. This was their salad sprinkled with an early Spring mist, and it would take a much heavier pouring from the heavens before they would be stilled.
<P>
Inside the house on television, President Bush was addressing the nation about the prospects of war with Iraq. He was saying how Saddam Hussein's regime must go and that the people of Iraq must be made free, liberated from the torturing, murdering dictator. I already knew this and wondered if Bush had gotten his ideas of foreign policy reading my widely published letters or had he gotten these views from his father? I was not about to believe this son of an oil baron former President could have an original idea. Birds were more likely to take flight in a thunderstorm than an original idea to fly from Bush's mind.
<P>
I was actually more interested in watching birds in the bush than listening to what the President had to say. I found him quite boring. I'd already pondered significantly with respect to situation in the Mid-East and knew what had to be done, wondering why it had not been done years ago? Long before 9/11 I said Saddam Hussein must go. Ah but who am I to make such a declaration? Why should anyone listen to me? "I'm nobody ... who are you? Are you nobody too? That makes two of us." Welcome to the crowd.
<P>
Indeed, watching how the birds coped with the rain was more interesting than listening to President Bush. I knew war was coming. I knew this long ago. You would have to be a blind imbecile to not see war upon the horizon. All those crying and marching for peace would not be able to stop the inevitable. It was not a question of whether war was right or wrong. It was what would be just as certainly as the black birds perching upon the tree. Sometimes humanity cannot control the inevitable. Either war now or an even worse war tomorrow. That's just how it was going to be.
<P>
I've watched the doings of people long enough to know what they are about and when you see seas blanketed with oil, water fowl dying by the thousands, skies blackened by hundreds of infernos set by a mad man, it is quite obvious what must be done. Why this wasn't done years ago, why Saddam Hussein wasn't taken out long ago, is what puzzles me. Yeah, but I think I know. Someone wanted a sweet victory, not the blood to be shed it would have taken to oust the bastard!
<P>
No doubt the black birds will be flying soon. They will be sweeping over Baghdad dropping smart bombs. Thirty days and thirty nights the black birds will fly, soaring through the starry skies, seeking out their targets, sending forth death guided by the hand, not of God, but of electromagnetic beams from satellites positioned 24,000 miles above the earth in geosynchronous orbits. The black birds will be the death of Saddam Hussein, least he decides to take his own life and as many others with him as possible before the tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Black Hawks come storming over the dessert toward Baghdad.
<P>
Yet will such a roust or regime change alter the course of history to any great degree? Will getting rid of Saddam Hussein end international terrorism? Certainly not. There are many ruthless, indoctrinated, brainwashed followers of Allah who are bent upon carrying out suicide missions against what they see as "The Great Satin," these United States of America. So to win the war on terrorism it will take a mopping up of every last lost and darkened soul upon the face of the Earth. That is not a job the black birds can do. It would take a fly catcher for that job!
<P>
Fly catchers are remarkable birds. They are able to dart hither and thither catching flies at will which certainly takes very good eye, wing and beak coordination. That's why I propose the United States team up with our allies to form a secret group called the Fly Catchers. Their mission will be to track down and kill or destroy by any means necessary international terrorist. They will be the unseen, unheard birds or prey who secretly and silently do away with the flies and maggots of this world before they walk into crowded places and blow themselves up.
<P>
Is it a maddening idea to have a world policy based upon ornithology? Perhaps, but the military has been naming its planes, helicopters, vehicles and units after wildlife for ages. It is more romantic to think of "Fighting Eagles" or "Fighting Tigers" than to think of armed forces as what they really are, killing machines. Until humanity stops creating killing machines those killing machines are going to be used to deal out death and destruction. Ah, but without the killing machines how do you deal with dictators and tyrants, that is the paradox!
<P>
This question can not be answered by watching birds. Human behavior is far more complex than that of birds or insects. There is religion to consider, ideology and idiotology. I say, "idiotology" because often it seem idiots are in power making world policy. Certainly the best and brightest minds are not running the world. If they were we would not have events like 9/11 or a war in Iraq.
<P>
Who am I to try to save the world? I am nobody who are you? Are you nobody too? Then that makes two of us. Maybe together we can save the world. Us and the black birds.
<P>
Light Dancer
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Wednesday, February 26th, 2003
3:20 am


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<h1>The Virus Wars</h1></a><BR>
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Recently I have been assaulted by a barrage of computer viruses. These are not insects in the traditional sense, but bugs of another sort. Fortunately I am no stranger to computer viruses, having had the good fortune of meeting on-line some very knowledgeable people in the past, from whom I learned much about how to protect my computer from these little buggers.
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When I first joined the Internet community I was on Prodigy which has a very good forum on computer viruses. I learned all about McAfee and his anti-virus software. This sparked my interest and I read everything I could about computer viruses and the Internet. Plus I installed anti-virus software and learned safe computer usage skills. These have helped guard my system from viruses ever sense.
<P>
In addition to McAfee's wonderful software, Norton AntiVirus is an excellent program. Combined with System Works it makes a good disk management package to ward off "Byte Monsters" as well as computer viruses. Byte monsters are those "bugs" which seem to mysteriously appear to cause conflicts between programs, lock up systems, send obscure error message and generally make for a bad computer working day.
<P>
Of late it's been the Klez bug that has been assaulting me. So far it has not managed to do any harm. This little bugger or <B>worm</B> is a very clever bit of programming code. I have a theory that it was produced by on-line al-Qaeda terrorist seeking to spread their 9/11 type mayhem to the Internet. Somewhere in Iraq deep beneath the desert sands Saddam Hussein has a bunker with programmers hard at work devising viruses and worms to send out upon the Internet. North Korea is probably also hard at work making its own versions of Internet nukes.
<P>
Apparently the Klez worm/virus is going around AOL and the Internet. I know this one is on AOL as I've been sent several copies of it but have not opened or run them. As it sends itself as an attached ZIP file claiming to be something it is not, you have to be very careful about opening files. It also apparently effects Outlook Express.
<P>
I also wonder if a version of this worm/virus could be what is sending out e-mails trying to make like it is coming from me upon other servers? This is probably happening to other people as well. Boy, the complaints must really have service providers jumping. I've already sent several reports before realizing this could be being done by a virus/worm program and not a person, though certainly a person devised this dirty little trick program.
<P>
Well, what do you think we should do if we catch this person, burn them at the steak or bury them in the sand while the tide and the crabs come in? Wonder how the origin of this Klez worm/virus could be traced? Also I wonder if this could be something Bin Laden himself has his dirty little hands in? Perhaps this is a prelude to the "Virus Wars" (which, by the way, is a short, interactive story I wrote some years ago about a virus that attached itself to picture files. Strange that now this sort of thing is really happening. Wonder if some sicko read my story and decided to make it a reality?
<P><CENTER><H1>Anti-Virus Notes</H1></CENTER><P>
The post below was copied from the AOL anti-virus board. The links should be safe to use.
<P>
Attached below copy of information from AOL anti-virus board at<BR>
<a href="aol://4344:431.avcKlez.31681804.707108371">AOL anti-virus board</a>
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The <B>Klez worm</B> is a mass-mailing worm that searches the Windows address book and all local files for e-mail addresses. It randomly chooses e-mail addresses and sends a copy of itself using one of the many subject lines from its own internal list. It attaches itself along with a randomly chosen file from your computer.<BR>
<BR>
The e-mail may appear to come from any address or even an anti-virus company. One version of Klez attempts to disable several anti-virus software products and to delete some anti-virus related files.<BR>
<BR>
Depending on the variant of the worm, it will also drop a version of W32.Elkern which will infect your system.<BR>
<BR>
<B>Note: </B>This infected e-mail may come from, or look like it came from someone you know! Be alert for short e-mails that ask you to download an attached file or blank e-mails. (Most Klez e-mails are blank.) And always be cautious in downloading files from people or sources you do not know.<BR>
<BR>
If you use an unpatched version of Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, or Internet Explorer they may allow the executable file to run automatically without your double-clicking on the attachment.<BR>
<BR>
If you think you may have downloaded this virus, please go to one of the sites listed below for instructions on how to remove it.<BR>
<BR>
There are no known effects to the AOL software at this time.<BR>
<BR>
</P><P ALIGN=CENTER><B>** Begin sample e-mail message **</B><BR>
<BR>
</P><P ALIGN=LEFT> From: (<I>name of infected person</I>) <BR>
Subj: <B><I>Random</B></I><BR>
Date: Any<BR>
<BR>
File: One of the following extensions OR double extensions. PIF, SCR, EXE, BAT, MIM, or no extension. <BR>
<B><BR>
File NOTE: (AOL Only): </B>Because of the multiple attachments, the file arrives as a ZIP which may cause AOL to automatically unzip the download if your preferences are set to "automatically decompress files at sign off".<BR>
<BR>
Subject:<I> Random but may also be blank.<BR>
</FONT><FONT COLOR="#0000ff" BACK="#ffffff" style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #ffffff" SIZE=2 PTSIZE=10 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0"></I><U><BR>
</P><P ALIGN=CENTER></FONT><FONT COLOR="#000000" BACK="#ffffff" style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #ffffff" SIZE=2 PTSIZE=10 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0"><B></U>** End sample e-mail message **</FONT><FONT COLOR="#000000" BACK="#ffffff" style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #ffffff" SIZE=3 PTSIZE=12 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0"></B><BR>
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</FONT><FONT COLOR="#000000" BACK="#ffffff" style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #ffffff" SIZE=2 PTSIZE=10 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0">How to protect yourself from the Klez worm:<BR>
<BR>
* Install anti-virus software on your computer as soon as possible, if you haven't already done so. To purchase anti-virus software go to the <B>AOL Computing Anti-Virus Center</B> at Keyword: <A HREF="aol://1722:virus/">Virus.</A> Free demonstration versions are also available in the Anti-Virus Center. If you choose to download the demonstration version, be sure to download the free update driver.<BR>
<BR>
* If you already have anti-virus software, make sure it is up to date. Most anti-virus companies have posted updates on their Web sites that combat the Klez worm. Some of those sites are listed below.<BR>
<BR>
For more information on the Klez worm, how to protect your computer and how to remove it from your computer, visit these sites:<BR>
<BR>
<A HREF="http://www.antivirus.com/vinfo/virusencyclo/default5.asp?Vname=WORM_KLEZ.A">Trend Micro - WORM_KLEZ.A - Description and solution</A><BR>
<A HREF="http://securityresponse.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/w32.klez.gen@mm.html">Symantec Security Response - W32.Klez.gen@mm</A><BR>
<A HREF="http://vil.nai.com/vil/content/v_99237.htm">McAfee - AVERT</A><BR>
<A HREF="http://sophos.com/virusinfo/analyses/w32klez.html">Sophos virus analysis: W32/Klez-A</A><BR>
<BR>
To find out about the latest on-line scams and viruses, and to learn more about features AOL offers to help you have a safe and enjoyable on-line experience, return to Keyword: <A HREF="aol://1722:neighborhoodwatch/">Neighborhood Watch</A> and Keyword: <A HREF="aol://4344:431.avcTopW.31658537.613319179/">Virus</A> regularly.</FONT></HTML>
<P><CENTER><H1>More Blogging</H1></CENTER>
<P>
As you can see this Klez worm/virus is a real pain in the butt! Versions of it may be sending out spam trying to get you to visit this or that web site and buy products, the profits which will be used for no telling what. This might even be a way terrorist networks around the world have devised to make money. Of course I consider spammers to be on-line terrorists, so there is truth in these words!
<P>
Hopefully anyone who stumbles upon my blog will realize that its not going to do them any good to be sending me worms and viruses. Of course these Klez type worms reproduce themselves and send themselves out automatically. Everyone they touch become a victim in that their e-mail addresses and systems are used as points from which vectors of the virus are sent out to infect other machines. This generates a sense of mistrust among friends and associates who may not understand the behavior of these worms/viruses ... or should I say "how they are programmed to operate," rather than behavior, as these are not live animals, but malicious code written by people who seek to hurt and harm others.
<P>
One can not live and work and use the Internet on a daily basis without being effected by what happens upon the Internet. Thus when a new virus or bug starts going around, especially utilizing e-mail to distribute itself, soon everyone is effected. Thus it is important to use virus protection software and safe computing skills, like NEVER opening attached files from strangers and not frequenting web sites which solicit you through e-mail to visit. Also I'd advise that everyone utilize a program which can remove unwanted cookies from their system.
<P>
Cookies are bits of code that are added to your system when you visit web sites. These cookies can record and log your on-line behavior. There are, actually, spy bugs! I regularly zap these little spy bugs using a program called Ad-aware from <a href="http://www.lavasoft.nu">Lava Software</a>. The first time you run this program it will scan your system and list the cookies that have accumulated in your system over time. If you are a heavy browser of the Internet you will probably be quite surprised at how many cookies you have picked up which are spying upon you. My advice is the zap the little buggers and send them packing! Plus, you may want to note which sites they come from and not visit those sites. Plus you may also want to set your system to not accept cookies and be done with the little monsters altogether.
<P>
I would like to hear from anyone else who has been attacked by the Klez worm. Did it make it into your system? Or have you been bombarded by spammers? What tales do you have to tell of worms and viruses, of byte monsters and digital bugs that have been bugging you? Do tell.
<P>
Light Dancer
<P>
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Monday, February 24th, 2003
2:05 pm


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<h1>Increase educational usage of state parks</h1></a><BR>
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The following editorial letter was sent to various newspapers around the State of Alabama to encourage people to make educational usage of state parks. I have illustrated this letter with travel photos taken on a camping trip during the early spring of 2001 which I took with a dear friend and great lover of the outdoors who served as my gracious model on this two week long outing. It was one of the highlights of my life and contributed to my realization that the state where I live is "Alabama the beautiful!"
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One of our discoveries was the impressive lichen covered granite stones which adorn Mt. Cheaha. These may be seen along the road which goes from the lake campground to the top of the mountain. Also hiking through the forest and along the trails reveals an abundance of beautiful lichen covered boulders. We also enjoyed a leisurely hike along a drift wood covered beach at Ft. Morgan and viewed the many interesting species of plants and wildlife along the nature trails at Gulf Shores State Park. At Wind Creek State Park we revealed in the beauty of the lake from dawn till dusk, watching the water fowl, the turtles and fish and marveling at the gleaming sunsets across the sparkling water. Alabama state parks are truly a great outdoor experience for all nature lovers.
<P>
There follows my letter to various Alabama newspapers. This letter was e-mailed without the photos which are presented here to help educate and inform everyone about the natural beauty which Alabama state parks offer.
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<IMG SRC="http://www.byteland.org/naturalist/gallery/mtcheaha2407ft.jpg" WIDTH=373 HEIGHT=493 BORDER=10 ALT="Observation tower at Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama at 2,407 feet (734 meters) above sea level." ALIGN=BOTTOM HSPACE=20><P>Observation tower at Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama at 2,407 feet (734 meters) above sea level.</center></TD></FONT></TABLE><BR>
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One of Alabama's best kept secrets is, perhaps, its state parks. Having traveled widely across America I can certainly testify that Alabama's state parks equal or surpass in beauty and ecological diversity those of other states.
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Every effort should be made to maintain our state parks at their present level. Rather than cut back we should be looking at ways to use our state parks to stimulate education in natural history studies, making better usage of our state parks as an educational resource.
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<IMG SRC="http://www.byteland.org/naturalist/gallery/camping_wcsp2.jpg" WIDTH=640 HEIGHT=480 BORDER=10 ALT="Camping at Wind Creek State Park" ALIGN=BOTTOM HSPACE=20><P>Camping at Wind Creek State Park</center></TD></FONT></TABLE><BR>
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A visit to any of Alabama's State parks by school groups or families can be a wonderful experience. I'm not talking about just camping and fishing, but about actually observing and studying the many forms of plants and animal life found abundant in our state parks.
<P>
From the beaches and wetlands of Gulf Shores State Park to the lush green forest of Mt. Cheaha State Park to the canyon country of Little River Nature Preserve and Desota Falls State Park, Alabama has a great natural wonder and resource. Yet our schools, both public and private, have failed to incorporate significant usage of the state parks into their curriculum. As a result we are raising a generation of children who do not know how to identify birds, insects or even the wild flowers found growing near their homes.
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<IMG SRC="http://www.byteland.org/naturalist/gallery/ftmorgan_large_anchor.jpg" WIDTH=640 HEIGHT=480 BORDER=10 ALT="Large anchor at Ft. Morgan on east entrance to Mobile Bay" ALIGN=BOTTOM HSPACE=20><P>Large anchor at Ft. Morgan on east entrance to Mobile Bay<BR> Note the oil rig out in the bay in the background on right. </center></TD></FONT></TABLE><BR>
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If people do not even know about the flora and fauna around them, how can they be expected to make educated decisions with respect to preservation of the environment? What is lost when we turn our state parks into golf courses, resorts and playgrounds? Could it be that what is lost is an understanding, respect and value for our natural environment? Is that what our judges and legislatures, put in office by campaigns funded through rich corporate enterprises, developers and landfill operators want?
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<IMG SRC="http://www.byteland.org/naturalist/gallery/alligator_gssp.jpg" WIDTH=640 HEIGHT=480 BORDER=10 ALT="Alligator resting in sun by lagoon at Gulf Shores State Park, Alabama" ALIGN=BOTTOM HSPACE=20><P>Alligator resting in sun by lagoon at<BR> Gulf Shores State Park, Alabama</center></TD></FONT></TABLE><BR>
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This is, perhaps, the greatest failure of our state educational system. But it is also a failure of our state park system which should be working with schools, planning and enabling field trips to parks, providing guides knowledgeable in natural history, conducting educational programs and helping to educate and inform the public with respect to the biodiversity and ecology of our state parks.
<P>
<center><BR><TABLE BGCOLOR="#990000" CELLPADDING=20 CELLSPACING=5 BORDER=10><TD>
<BR><center><FONT SIZE="+1" COLOR="#FFFFFF">
<IMG SRC="http://www.byteland.org/naturalist/gallery/gulfshores_beach.jpg" WIDTH=640 HEIGHT=480 BORDER=10 ALT="Alabama is blessed with some of the most beautiful, crystal clear, white sand beaches in the world" ALIGN=BOTTOM HSPACE=20><P>Alabama is blessed with some of the most beautiful, <BR>crystal clear, white sand beaches in the world!</center></TD></FONT></TABLE><BR>
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<P>
There is no reason why we can not spend the money necessary to make our state parks an educational experience rather than a resort experience. But the choice has to be made, do we want our state parks to be a play ground for the wealthy or an outdoor schooling adventure for everyone?
<P>
Light Dancer
<P>
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Saturday, February 22nd, 2003
10:22 pm



The Towering Loblolly Pine Tree: A Dynamic Aireal Econiche



Dead and rotting pine tree killed by southern pine beetles.  Photo (c) 2003 by EArtsThe towering Loblolly pine in death and decay: a dynamic aireal econiche

A rose, by any other name may still be a rose, but the towering pine tree is an entire aireal econiche. From its vast branching root system and broad trunk planted in the ground to its limbs reaching toward the sky, the pine tree is not just a tree, but a host organism for an entire econiche of life forms. This is true while the tree lives and grows, after it dies and while it rots and decays to return to Mother Earth as organic fertilizer to enrich the soil for a new generations of plants. The entire life cycle of the pine tree, indeed, of every tree, is that of an ecological niche for a host of other organisms.


In suburban America we tend to look at trees as stalks of green which exist solely to provide shade and scenery. Yet trees are econiches which provide homes for many animals and plants. Even when a tree dies it remains a vital econiche, one which is necessary in the grand scheme of a forest. When trees are removed, are harvested, are literally raped from the landscape to leave nothing standing, this pillaging destroys more than the trees. Entire communities of plants and animals are disrupted and vanish without a trace.


For example, look closely at a southern pine tree, in this example the Loblolly Pine Tree. What do you see? Do you see just a trunk and bark with branched and pine needles that each season must be raked, bagged and disposed of in a landfill? This is the typical suburban view of a pine tree. Many people regard pine trees as just needle producers, as giant weeds which cover their immaculate lawns with needles and produce shade making it difficult to maintain a grassy lawn. Consequently in many suburban areas which were once pine forest, all the pine trees were cut down. Now where pine forest once stood there are houses, swimming pools and asphalt. Here and there stand a few small pockets of pine trees. But for the most part the forest is gone.


I happen to live in such a suburban neighborhood. Where once there was a pine forest, now there is a suburban jungle. There are only reminisce of the once great blanket of green and from that reminisce I have endeavored to learn of the animals and plants which struggle to survive in what has become increasingly an human fashioned, artificial world. But if one looks closely it is still possible to see the struggle for survival, to discover the animals and plants which make the urban jungle their home and continue to live and struggle for survival in what is a very unnatural, man-made world.


Trees represent the apex of forest, the top of the ladder of plant community which constitutes the forest. Pine trees are especially important as they grow more rapidly than many species of hardwood trees and serve to establish a forest, providing a foundation for other plants and animals, indeed, serving over time to provide a rich, organic soil substrate upon which other plants can grow and in which many small animals live.


Without pine trees there might be no hardwood forest at all. And without pine tree forest a whole host of animals and plants are lost. To understand this one has only to take a closer look at a individual pine tree.


A pine tree is a monoecious species; i.e., it has male and female gametes in separate structures. The male gametes, or pollen cones, often appear as a cluster or inflorescence which produces a rain of pollen carried by the wind to fertilize the female cones. In the case of the Loblolly Pine tree (shown in its demise in the picture at the left) female cones take two years to mature. Green pine cones slowly ripen into large brown pine cones. The green pine cones are a favorite food of squirrel which will devour hundreds of them. When pine cones mature they open to dry and release their seeds. The Loblolly Pine cones often fall to the ground and continue to open and close to release their seeds. If the pine cone gets wet during a rain storm, it closes to protect the seedlings. As the pine cone dries it again opens. Over time the pine cones will rot and decay becoming part of the rich organic top soil typical of a pine forest floor.


Pine cones themselves may serve as homes for small insects and spiders. When the seeds of a pine tree germinate they emerge sending their tiny leaflet skyward. Pine seedlings grow very rapidly and for this reason are quite often cultivated by the forest industry as a quick way to regenerate a logged forest and provide new trees for harvesting.


As a pine tree grows it provides a home for many different plants and animals. This includes moss which often grows upon the north or shaded side of a pine tree. Everything from birds to ants may live in pine trees. As pine trees become older and or die as a result of infestation by such pest insects as the southern pine beetle, they become host for fungi, beetle larvae, ant colonies and ultimately woodpeckers which depend upon dying pine trees for food and nesting.


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Fungi growing at base of dying pine tree infected with southern pine beetles.  Photo (c) 2003 by EArts

Fungi growing at base of dying pine tree infected with southern pine beetles.

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As a pine tree grows it naturally looses it lower limbs which fall to the ground, rot and decay adding organic material to the soil. When a pine tree dies due to infestation by southern pine beetles, its upper limbs will all dye and begin to rot and drop, one by one to the ground. But what may appear to be a dead tree is really an entire ecosystem of animals and plants. Dead pine trees are thriving with life in the form of fungi, ant colonies and insect larvae. Over time the wood rots and when it gets wet during a rain storm, high winds and gusts will begin to break off the dead wood which falls to the ground. Eventually the top of pine trees will rot and fall to the ground. The lower portion of pine trees takes longer to rot and fall, unless of course very high winds topple the entire dead tree all at once.


When pine trees are harvested this results in removal not only of the pine trees but of the entire community of plants and animals which depends upon the pine trees. At the top of the pine tree food chain and ecosystem is the woodpecker. Removal of pine trees certainly causes a devastating blow to woodpeckers which need dead pine trees to nest.



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Click on pic to visit Urban Jungle.  Red-bellied woodpeckers feed and nest in the tops of dead and decaying pine trees.  Photo (c) 2003 by EArts

Red-bellied woodpeckers feed and nest in the tops of dead and decaying pine trees. View at 50 feet through 8x25 binoculars. Photo (c) 2003 by EArts.

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Also removal of pine trees, as when an entire forest is ripped up and turned into pulpwood to make paper and fabricated board, destroys the soil, for it removes the wood, the organic matter which would normally decay and provide an organic and mineral base for new plants and animals.


Thus the pine tree is a very important species. When we turn pine forest into suburbs we destroy not only the trees but all the other plants and animals associate with a pine tree forest. This includes the many varieties of small animals which live in pine tree forest. Perhaps most notable is the firefly. Firefly larvae live in the rich organic decay of pine tree forest. The species, Photinus pyralis, in its larvae form resembles a pine needle, a form of protective resemblance which probably contributes to this firefly larvae's survival.



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Larva of the firefly Photinus pyralis newly emerged from egg.  Photo (c) 2003 by EArts

Larva of the firefly Photinus pyralis newly emerged from egg. Photo (c) 2003 by EArts.

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This species of firefly larvae eat earthworms and in the late spring and early summer pupates, undergoing complete metamorphosis to emerge as an adult firefly. This common species of firefly is the one most frequently observed gracing our suburban neighborhoods with its dance of lights. Yet when we destroy all vestiges of pine tree forest, replacing them with immaculate lawns fireflies are one of the first species to disappear. They inevitably are replaced by roaring lawn mowers and styfulling hot neighborhoods which have lost their shade producing pine trees.


In many suburban areas homes are built very close together, each home having a swimming pool, patio and drive way. Often any existing pine trees are cut to make lawn and swimming pool maintenance easier. Thus the only lights seen at night are glaring street lamps, whizzing automobile lights or the blinding ultra violent from bug zappers set out by paranoid home owners who have cut themselves off from nature to the point that they would rather hear the zap, zap, zapping of beetles and moths getting fried all night long than the chirp of crickets or katydids singing through the night.


By raping the pine forest and turning them into cities and suburbs, failing to recognize their significance, failing to see how every pine tree is an ecological niche for a host of species, we have destroyed a great and wonderful natural resource. This has resulted in the disappearance of many birds and insects, including fireflies which have disappeared completely from some suburban areas. If we wish to restore our pine forest, then planting pine trees in the suburbs is necessary. In fact if every homeowner were to plant six to twelve pine tree, this would do much to restore the pine tree as an ecological niche. Suburban areas which are well planted with pine trees will provide shade, attract birds and squirrel and provide an unending supply of pine needles for using in gardens to control the growth of weeds.


Pine trees are a valuable horticultural resource which has largely been forgotten by suburban developers and home owners. Yet if we are to preserve our environment and make our suburbs more habitable, rich with natural life, it is vital we plant pine trees in areas where pine forest once occurred. Certainly other species of trees may also be planted, but because pine trees grow more rapidly than many hardwood trees, it is important to plant pine trees to most quickly restore the loss of trees which has occurred through the tearing down of forest to build suburbs.



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Midnight blossom of pine tree in late Feburary.  Photo (c) 2003 by EArts

Midnight blossom of pine tree in late Feburary emphasizes the beauty and horticultural resource of the pine tree. Shown here is immature male cone or microsporangiate strobili of the Loblolly Pine, also called a pollen cone. This is the structure which, when mature, will produce the male gametes or pollen which rains down as a yellow powder and covers everything beneath the pine tree. Photo (c) 2003 by EArts.</a>

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We live in an urban jungle and that jungle can be made of bricks and concrete or planted with trees and gardens to be made whole again with a rich assortment of animals and plants which depend upon trees. Becoming aware of the life associated with a pine tree hopefully will encourage others to plant pine trees and begin to bring back into our suburbs those animals and plants that unenlightened construction has lost.


Light Dancer


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Thursday, February 20th, 2003
5:42 am


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<FONT BACK="#ffffff" style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: "#66FF00" SIZE=2 PTSIZE=10><center><h3><b><h1>Mushrooms and the Cyclic Nature of Life and the Universe</h1></center><!-- insert text -->
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Life goes in cycles, from year to year, season to season. Yet if you ask an urban young person to describe the difference in the seasons, the types of animals and plants they are familiar with, chances are you will get a glum, puzzled look. Ask what are their favorite television shows and they will talk about Teletubbies, Power Rangers or some other popular children's program. This makes me wonder if our children are loosing contact with nature?
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Just the other day I inquired of someone how many birds they knew how to identify. This was someone who had been home schooled. But I would have probably gotten the same answer from a public school student. The answer was only a few. And as for knowing their calls and songs, forget it. The only music today's public school students know how to identify comes on CD's or MTV, and it isn't bird songs.
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There is clearly a failure of our public and private school systems, even home schooling programs, to teach natural history. I certainly would never have gained an education in this respect had I not taken it upon myself to study nature. Actually I began my nature studies quite early in life, taking long walks through the country side, exploring along the river, searching for snails, lizards, fish and other wildlife. Some of my earliest memories are of woods, leaves in the fall and snow blanketing the ground.
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When children do not grow up intimately aware of their natural environment, they can not be expected to preserve and protect that environment or to even be aware of critical changes in that environment. This fact was pointed out by Robert Bateman in his forward to "Birds of Eastern and Central North America, Fifth Edition," who wrote, "How can we hope to preserve and protect biodiversity if we don't even know the inhabitants of the ecosystem?"
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I agree with Bateman that field guides should, "Be standard texts in every classroom," and learning to know other species should, "Be an important part of school curricular." Plus, students should be using computers and accessing the Internet to learn about animals and plants, then taking this informations to guide them in their own studies of nature which should include regular field trips beyond the confinds of four walls and the classroom.
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Certainly when children grow up aware of the diversity of the animals and plants around them, they are likely to be more aware of the diversity of people and their cultures. When combined with tolerance education, perhaps this will result in a more harmonious world. Otherwise the result of exploding populations is certainly going to lead to increased competition for resources and international conflicts.
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If nature study teaches one thing, it is that species are in competition. This hold true for human beings. With world population growth out of control, the result is destruction of the natural environment, urbanization, pollution, the scaring of landscapes with mining, deforestation, even the raping of the oceans in unregulated, uncontrolled harvesting of fish and other marine life to feed the starved billions of people crowding Mother Earth.
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Yet the Earth can sustain only so many people. There is a point at which human population growth will level off. The problem is that humans may either maximize their numbers at a level where the vast majority live in poverty, or humanity must act to control its numbers so those who exist may do so in good health, well fed and provided for without wiping out and exterminating every other species on the globe.
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Currently there is no single world order to control population growth. Humanity is out of control reproducing at alarming rates, putting stress and strain upon Mother Earth. The result of this exploding growth of human populations is the disappearance of forests, the pollution of air and water and the destruction of species at a rate which perhaps rivals that of the last cataclysmic event which destroyed the dinosaurs some 200,000,000 years ago.
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Of course even should humanity destroy itself in some future nuclear holocaust, there will be species other than man which will survive. I'm sure the cockroach will be around. Very likely sharks will survive. That life which dwells deep below the ocean floor will survive. It may even be that life can reseed or infect the earth from cosmic debris. In any case, humanity's survival is not guaranteed by the fact humans exist and can reason, for often that reasoning is flawed and people are so competitive that they may easily one day destroy themselves fighting over a few grains of sand in a desert and black ooze, that residue of decay long since turned from vegetable to mineral in the form of petroleum.
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The universe and life are cyclic in nature. I do not believe the universe was created; rather, that it has always existed. Although it may appear that the universe is some 14 billion years old, I believe that the universe goes through cycles of living and dying, that it is therefore infinite in nature. There was no beginning, no creation. There is simply <a href="http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=entropy+and+extropy">entropy and extropy</a>, organization and disorganization, a petering in and a petering out.
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People like to see a beginning and an end to things, to life and to the universe. But actually life goes on and on and what we see as birth and death is really just a continuous process. The universe is also involved in a continuous process. The Big Bang was just that point in time when the cycle began anew. What was the nature of the universe 60 billion, 120 billion or 180 billion years ago? Ah, you say if the universe is only 14 billion years old it did not exist prior to this time. Sorry, but that is illogical. Time has no beginning nor end. Therefore the universe had to have always existed. This theory is expressed in <a href="http://home.att.net/~y2kosmic/">The Infinite and Eternal Nature of the Universe as a Sinusoidal Flux in the Space-Time Continuum by Terry Lynch</a> This theory pokes a hole in the Big Bang, God, time and mortality, suggesting that the universe is eternal in nature.
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Certainly everyone who is alive at this very moment will live out their lives and die before it is ever known what is the true nature of the universe. If you feel comfortable believing that the universe is roughly only 14 billion years old, then you are welcome to live and die believing that. As for myself I prefer to believe in the cyclic nature of life and the universe. Everything appears to go in cycles, so certainly the universe is no different.
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Now what has this to do with mushrooms? Mushrooms are cyclic in nature, given they reproduce as spores, have a long growth cycle in decaying material, then send up their stalks and open their caps to rain the world with spores when conditions are exactly right for their reproduction. So the picture of a mushroom emerging at midnight serves to illustrate quite appropriately the idea that life and the universe are cyclic in nature.
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Perhaps the real reason our educational systems are suffering in terms of natural history studies is that powerful religions organizations, groups and members want to emphasize a Biblical perception of the universe, that it was created by God and is NOT infinite in nature or the result of some Big Bang. Should this be the case it is sad, indeed, that the myopia of those who are devote would result in this mental condition infecting their children's minds through a failure of our educational system.
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Are our educational systems designed to fail? It almost seems that way. Some states are now putting disclaimers with respect to the theory of evolution in their science text books. To one who accepts the belief in evolution as how the natural world operates these disclaimers are absolute nonsense. Those states using such disclaimers risk bringing up a new generation of ignorant children, aware not of the birds which sing, the flowers which blossom or the stars which shine. Ah, but to some I guess ignorance is bliss, and they are most comfortable keeping their children as dumb as themselves!

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Light Dancer
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