Sunday, August 13, 2006

As always, I’m immersed in several amazing texts—some books, some other. Here are four recent favorites, stuck in new (job hazard) nonfiction (who knows?) written by middle aged men (culture hazard?) these days:

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson blew me away. I’ve flirted with natural history for the past few years and have a sense of the general trends and themes. Which is why it was so cool to see so much wrapped up into a pretty package of fun and funny stories. Bryson is so cool. And the natural history from big bang to present is fascinating and the story of the “discovery” of this natural history is most bizarre.

A book review by an Bryson-esque author (Tim Flannery) that I like hooked me into Life in the Undergrowth by David Attenborough which is about terrestrial invertebrates (another part of the review was about locusts and the extinction of the Rocky Mt. Locust and it turns out that locusts are simply another form of grasshopper. When grasshopper community gets too full, the next generation of grasshopper children are born as locusts ready to fly and do their crazy thing…which some humans welcome because it’s ready protein and others curse because they are smallminded and fixed on controlling their particular crops and the locusts kind of fuck that up. …So I began this book (Life in the Undergrowth) by reading the captions and looking at all of the pictures—every other page has them—which are incredible. Apparently, old camera lighting would have made many of these pictures impossible (overheat the poor creatures), but new photographic technology has made them possible. Whew, they are some really cool pictures.

Did you know that scorpions—some of the first animals to come out of water to live on land—can withstand freezing for several weeks or survive underwater for two days, they can go for 12 months without food or water, and they live up to 30 years. There’s an amazing picture of a 14 inch centipede hanging off a cave roof in Venezuela holding&eating a bat which he/she had hunted…yes hunted…ie: intentional about where these creatures are and sought out a place to hunt/catch. The larvae (shit, what’s plural and what’s singular. I took a year of high school Latin and still can’t remember this) of dragonfly spend up to 6 years underwater before emerging to be the flying creatures we are more familiar with. With their four independently beating wings, they can do all sorts of acrobatic tricks as well as fly 40 miles/hour. They can use their 6 legs to form a basket to scoop up insects in the air. Crazy shit.

The sagebrush cricket male offers his hind wings to his mate during copulation, during which she eats them. The European mole-cricket builds underground chambers that help amplify his song so that it can be heard a half a mile a way. Since they’re hermaphroditic, when slugs mate, they both go away pregnant. Among banana slugs, usually one of the partners of the mating eats the penis of the other partner after mating. Enuf of that.

Another book. 1491: new revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles Mann is about the last few decades worth of archeology/anthropology research about what the subtitle says. The portrait of these two continents is quite different than that which is in the textbooks. Two things stick out for me. One is how ingeniously several cultures altered their landscapes in an ecologically positive way. Another is how huge the civilizations were in this hemisphere compared to what was happening in “the old world.”

In terms of peak oil stuff, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by James Howard Kunstler is tops.

And I’m gradually enjoying The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan.


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