Sometimes you have work on your fear of heights once small step at a time.
Though his memories were vague, he thought he remembered the beginning. He had had a sense of closeness, of comfort. He remembered slowly feeling trapped and, eventually breaking free from the shell enclosing his body. Then, his world infinitely expanded, he had looked around, and experienced wonder. Wonder at the enormous sky, the shining sun, the gleaming grass. For the first time in his life, he saw colour. He also heard sounds that, moments before, he hadn’t known were muffled, having had no reference for the concept. For the first time ever, he felt the freedom movement, unconstrained but for gravity … and mere moments later, he felt fear as his brother vanished before his eyes, snatched by a tremendous green monster. The speed of it’s strike shook the leaf and he fell.
The fall, he remembered quite clearly. He remembered the rushing air, huge spikes of grass speeding past his face, and the body-jarring shock when he finally hit the ground.
Winded, he had lain there for a long time, trying to place meaning around what had just happened. Eventually and with great caution, he crept out on to a branch and, carefully bit into a leaf. He almost lost himself in the sensation, the flavor, the juiciness, the crunch. Every bite was a tiny slice of utter perfection. It was only the trauma of his earliest moments that allowed him to keep a kernel of self awareness, so he knew when to drop, when to run, and when to hide from those larger and considerably more dangerous than himself.
He was lucky and, as time went by, He grew and grew.
As time went by, he learned about birds, and how to stay under the leaves to avoid them. He knew about mantids and how to watch for their heads, silhouetted against the sky. He grew defenses against most attacks and, with his increased size, most of his enemies seemed fearful and more inclined to pursue easier prey.
Eventually, the initial glory of his world began to tarnish. He’d seen it all before, and his days become nothing but unending repetition. He grew sluggish, feeling that there was little point. One day, he just stopped, and hung on a twig, scarcely aware that his skin was changing. As his heart had grown hardened to the world around him, his skin hardened and, walled off from the world once again, he slept.
Weeks later, when he awoke, he felt different, but like before, felt trapped. This time, though, he knew how to respond and ripped his way free. Then, he rested and explored his new self. Everything was different. The world itself looked different, with more vibrant colour and tastes in the air. He found himself ravenous once more … not for food, but for exploration. Unlike last time, there was no attack, just a slight gust of wind, and he found him falling once more.
This time, though, he didn’t fall for long. Moving muscles he didn’t know he possessed, he found himself falling slowly and, eventually, falling upwards. At first, he did not know what to make of the experience, but soon, he found himself soaring the breezes, exploring lands he’d only once glimpsed from a distance from atop the tallest plants.
He’d experienced a lot in those first few days. Birds were still a problem, but most of his enemies from his older life were laughingly easy to avoid. One twitch and he was airborne, leaving them grasping in his general direction and he soared away, victorious. His sense of smell was much stronger and he learned about flowers. His first flower was much like his first leaf, and he lost himself within it, emerging coated with sticky nectar but no longer hungry. He followed the scent from flower to flower, choosing only the best parts of each for, unlike leaves, flowers were complex and he quickly grew accustomed to taking only the best for himself, leaving the rest to the masses of bees that shared his sky.
Life went on in the manner, days an orgy of scent, flavor, color, and motion. Nights spent resting in safety. Until one day he smelled a different scent in their air. Following it for what seemed like forever, he eventually traced it to someone. She was stunning. Their courtship was intense, but brief. In the end, he felt sated in a way he never had before, no matter how much he ate.
He’d lost her to a particularly strong burst of wind and went back to his flowers before exploring further afield. Over time, his explorations took a toll. He grew increasingly tired as the days grew increasingly cold and the flowers grew scarce. That was okay, though, for he found he wasn’t as hungry as before. He was less and less willing to explore, being content to sit and to ponder.
He thought about the glory of new experience and the pang of sudden loss. He thought of fear and love and sadness and joy. He thought of all he had seen, everywhere he had been. He’d been trapped twice, once by the shell of another and once by the shell of himself. Now he was trapped simply by the weight of his life, lacking the energy to move. A part of him wanted to soar one last time, to have one last experience, but he was trapped again, but exhaustion, by remembrance.
Was it, in the end, worth it? Had there been meaning in his life? Should there have been?
He didn’t know, but he thought these were questions worth pondering for a little while longer.
I mentioned over on Facebook a while back that I did something I’ve wanted to do for over a decade, but that I couldn’t talk about it yet. I can talk about it now.
Behold, a two day old Pallas Cat* kitten from Red River Zoo. I just happened to be there shortly after the birth and, because I have worked with the zoo before, we found a way for me to take photos without bothering the mother. Pallas Cats are notoriously grouchy and frightful and if the photoshoot distressed the mother, it could have boded ill for the kittens. Because the kittens are at high risk in their first 21 days, they are kept off exhibit and monitored from afar.
To get this shot, I was about fifty feet** away. The kittens were in a very dark part of the enclosure and were so very tiny. I am going to guess that this kitten head was about the size of a large grape*** when I took the photo. I didn’t have my best lens with me and I couldn’t use a tripod, as it could scare the mother. Really, I am quite lucky to get this shot.
In looking through the other photos, I thought I counted about five fuzzy lumps, which seemed like a lot. Nonetheless, I told the zoo that I was pretty confident that I saw three**** heads and there might be as many as five**** in there. As it turns out, the magic number was actually five. See official announcement here: https://www.facebook.com/redriverzoo/photos/a.121326804573286.8147.102563593116274/1397393543633266/?type=3
Like much wildlife, Pallas cats are facing a declining population due to habitat destruction, being hunted for their fur, and poisoning campaigns that are intended to control the pika. The Red River Zoo has a strong history of helping to preserve this species. I was fortunate last summer to take photos of their new male, brought in to add genetic diversity to the reserve population in zoos. It’s very nice to see that he’s been doing his job.
Cute as they are, you don’t want them as pets. The Pallas cat has been described as being one of the meanest cats out there, having evolved in extreme isolation. I have been told that the kittens are born growling. Then a few weeks later, their eyes open and they start growling *at* things.
So while it’s not the world’s greatest photo, I am extremely pleased to be able to share it.
* “Manul” for those of you from northern Asian countries
** 15m for those of you from civilized countries
*** A kumquat for those of you from delicious countries
**** III and V for those of you from ancient countries
I see a lot of oryx because I visit a lot of zoos. I have to remind myself that they extinct in the wild. Today, according to the IUCN red list, there are:
* 130 in captivity in Bou Hedma, Tunisia
* 25 in Sidi-Toui, Tunisia
* 12 in Oued Dekouk, Tunisia
* 240 in Souss-Massa, Morocco
* 18 in Guembeul, Senegal
* 12 in Ferlo, Senegal
There are also some recovery populations at the San Diego Zoo and the Phoenix Zoo.
There are also numerous ranches in Texas you can go to kill and eat them.
Brown longwing pondering whether the classic “marshmallow experiment” bothered to correct for whether or not kids were hungry and how often they got to eat marshmallows in their everyday life, pondering whether impulse control actually is set at youth, or if poverty and nutrient availability set at youth just has life-long effects.
For a long time, I read this name as “Sun Conjure”, as I really liked the idea of these little birds summoning the sun into existence every morning. It made a certain mythological sense. I could see people hearing the bright yellow birds every morning and seeing the bright yellow sun rise and assuming that the birds were the source of it all. There are just so many interesting stories that could be told in that framework. Their tweeting to raise the sun every morning could be the result of a millennia-old pact between humanity and the animals of the forest, resulting from a devastating war in which both sides lost heavily (and which explained fossils). A feather from a such bird could be the source of fire, a gift from nature to humanity so people could cook grain, reducing the need to hunt. The migration of such birds could explain the differences between the wet and dry seasons, so people could know what and where to plant.
Alas, one missing “j” and that theory was shot to hell.
So I looked it up. “Conure” comes from the modern Latin conurus, which is derived from the Greek words κῶνος (kônos) and ουρά (oura) for “cone” and “tail”. However, κῶνος also refers to pine cones and comes from the proto-Indo-European of “*ḱeh₃”, meaning “to sharpen”. Interestingly, the word “ουρά” comes from οὐρά, meaning line of marching people, which comes from the proto-Indo-European of “*h₃érsos”, meaning “buttocks”.
So “cone-tailed” parrots are also “sharp-assed” parrots, which makes a bit of sense.
However, I was curious as to what the natives called them, so I did more research and found that they are native to Roraima (now part of Brazil). However, Roraima’s history apparently started in the 17th century when the Portuguese discovered the Branco River. This then started multiple waves of fightings between the Portugul, England, the Netherlands, and Spain. The only mention I could find of native peoples were that they were there in 1700, enslaved and forced to live in village, then revolted. Then many of them were killed before they were “converted” into Protestant ranchers.
Apparently when white men are busy exploiting the natural resources of a land and destroying everything that lives there, no one bothers to ask the natives what they think of all those little yellow birds tweeting nearby. So we’ll never know.
I, for one, like to think that they make the sun rise.
Fish realizing that the fundamental flaw with Facebook’s “block” feature is that it creates a nurturing environment for abuse, as everyone who would ordinarily be community social enforcers do not see the postings of problematic individuals. This prevents them from providing corrective action and allows abuses to compound over time until the experience of long-term community members is in direct opposition of new members, actively inhibiting growth and promoting an early death to the group itself.
Tamarins aren’t less evolved than humans, because both have been evolving for the same period of time.
However, it is understandable that some people get that impression, as tamarins tend to just watch the neighbors’ domestic disputes rather than taking the more civilized approach of commenting about them on social media.
We live in a world at risk. The very technologies that drive our way of life are destroying ourselves. Burning gas and oil release molecules into the air which is changing the climate, harming our ability to grow food. Nuclear power results in radioactive waste that can take thousands to millions of years to become safe. Wind and water power is simply not available everywhere and the mass enslavement of humanity to live underground, providing labor for the elites is fraught with literary difficulties.
But there is another way.
Just consider, all of this is powered by ants!
Ants are self sustaining. Ants are highly prevalent, living almost everywhere on earth. Though actually red and black, ants are green in terms of the adopted environmental vernacular. Invest in ants today!
Ants: the new energy source, for a cleaner, safer, planet.
(This ad brought to you by the International Ant Board.)