Posted by: greentangle | June 22, 2022

If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal

This book, with the very necessary explanatory subtitle “What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity”, will be published in August. Some preliminary thoughts follow.

This book comparing how humans and other animals relate to the world was a bit of a roller coaster ride for me, and I feel like I want to write so much about its topics on a personal level that I plan to buy a paper copy (which I still find much more pleasurable and easier to use than an ebook) and write a long essay which I think will be a more appropriate response than this short and rather random review.

The introduction was fascinating enough to me that I got a Nietzsche biography from the library; narwhals are much closer to my usual areas of interest. But the early chapters went downhill for me–some long examples which didn’t interest me, and a lot of repeating, rephrasing, recapping. Many sections ended with a variation on how the characteristic written about might lead to our upcoming doom or impending extinction or being wiped off the planet–not that I disagree, but all the repetition just didn’t seem like great writing.

But then about halfway through, the book started making me think more than a book has done in a long time. I’ve never been a fan of modern civilization or its effects on people, and care more about ecology than the economy, so I was very open to the ideas expressed in the subtitle and throughout the book. I’m more like Greta (who’s mentioned as an exception) than the author or most people.

Morality being used as justification for anything, a talent for lying while assuming others are telling the truth, embracing all short-term “progress” and comfort without caring about the long-term effects, exceptionalism as a species or a nation–these are among the topics to contemplate here.

Like the author, I was shocked to discover that I have aphantasia. Or more accurately, we were shocked to learn that 98% of people don’t.

Very down to earth, and occasionally earthy, writing rather than academic. Although there are many examples about other species, this is primarily a book about humans. Spoiler: if Nietzsche had been a narwhal, he probably would have been a lot happier.

Posted by: greentangle | June 3, 2022

Great Birds, Mediocre Photos

I learned that three peregrine falcon eggs have hatched in the nest box on my building. They won’t be banded this year because of bird flu, so I won’t have a chance to get close-ups of the youngsters. But the adults are being very active, because the building is undergoing heavy renovations this year inside and out. It’s the out part which has the parents circling, hovering, and calling. The workers aren’t even on the same side of the building as the nest box, but can be seen on lower roofs. I took my first photos and videos of them this morning; hope to get much better ones over the next month before the nestlings venture out into the world.

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After watching them for a while, it was time for the mile walk for groceries. I often get distracted.

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Some people liked this photo of a diving red-breasted merganser I posted on Fb last week.

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I don’t know if they’d like this morning’s photo twice as much.

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I always love seeing loons, even if I don’t get good photos. I’ll hope for more opportunities with them also.

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Posted by: greentangle | May 28, 2022

Immensities

An Immense World is a well-written book by Ed Yong, whom I’ve enjoyed hearing discuss covid on NPR over the past couple years, and is scheduled for publication June 21st.

It’s an immense book, also, filled with examples of various animals and their senses from sight and sonar to electric and magnetic fields, and the ways humans try to learn about them. I’m not very interested in the scientific details (cells, neurons, rods, cones, whatever) of how something works, but rather in the variety of results in how the animal relates to the world. The author does a good job of mixing these aspects so that my eyes would only glaze over briefly.

I often found myself looking up photos of the animals being written about, such as when I wanted to see a scallop’s dozens of (often bright blue) eyes. Apparently, many species can see the ultraviolet light which we can not–we like to think we see the world accurately, but we’re really just another species like all of them, who use their senses to live in a species subjective world. The author makes the point that this is not a book about ranking or superiority, but about diversity, and that all creatures have worth in themselves, quoting a passage about animals from Henry Beston which I’ve always loved. And yet . . .

When encountering new facts about an animal, I’d often think how fascinating it was. If you like the subject and accept it at face value, you’ll enjoy the book. But thinking of the experiments needed to learn those facts, I’d be reminded of how humans regard the planet and all life on it merely as objects to be manipulated. If a person uses other people that way, they’re considered narcissistic, sociopathic, self-centered, egotistical, etc. I don’t believe there’s a meaningful difference when the attitude is directed toward other forms of life. Sure, cool facts, and occasionally we even use those facts to try to solve a problem we created, but I would have been a lot happier living in a society which had fewer cool facts about other forms of life and more respect for that life. That society probably wouldn’t have created the problems in the first place.

In the final chapter, the author moves away from particular senses and examples to a bigger picture. He justly bemoans the damage our species has done to the planet and the interference done to animals’ lives inadvertently, but all of the previous chapters are about interference done deliberately. Conveniently, it turns out that he considers our ability to try to figure out other animals our greatest sensory skill and that we must choose to do so (to give credit, he does acknowledge it’s not something we’ve earned). So much for other animals having worth in themselves—their lives are ours to control.

He also mentions that he agrees with Cronon’s famous essay about the word wilderness and how it affects the human/nature relationship. There have been many rebuttals and clarifications about that essay over the years, all of it is just human-centered wordplay, but I have to comment. Sure, if you have a backyard, it’s a form of nature you can find wonder in, and it should be respected and treated with care. It may be wilderness for an insect, but a grizzly bear or a wolverine can’t live there. I lived in Yellowstone for four years, and to claim that everywhere is wilderness and there is no qualitative difference in the value of different locations is simply foolish. People are dependent on and should live as a part of nature, but most in this country don’t. When people try to spend as much of their lives as possible removed from nature, it’s disingenuous to claim that people are a part of it when it’s convenient to the argument.

To sum up, a lot of information about animal senses and how those senses affect how the animals live (or evolutionarily vice versa), and a lot of concern expressed about them and the planet. The concerns are valid but they don’t question the status quo deeply enough. It’s like being meticulous about recycling while living a high consumption lifestyle, or only eating free range chickens—it might make you feel better, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem. People who have an interest in animals but believe people are more important than anything else will enjoy the book. People who don’t share that opinion will learn a lot of details but be left unsatisfied.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the advance copy to review.

Posted by: greentangle | May 16, 2022

Back to the Woods

This morning was a long time coming. Winter was slow to leave, then last week was warmer than my ideal hiking weather with several strong thunderstorms and substantial rain. Many trails are still officially closed due to muddiness, but I found some places to walk today. I love winter, but it was good to see some variety.

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I was hoping to see some deer because it had been a while since I’d seen them while I was hiking, and I did see a couple.

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At one point, I thought I saw something large and brown coming down a tree, and fisher popped into my mind. I waited and looked around the area, but the only animal I saw was this squirrel.

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Walking between hikes, I stopped for photos in front of a house when I saw three downy woodpeckers.

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I decided to walk along a creek because of all the rain that had fallen.

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This American Redstart was hopping around quickly as they do, and I didn’t expect much from any of the photos I took. Then he flew up to a tree branch and I thought I might get a perfect chance, but a person came walking from the other direction and I never saw the bird again. I was a little annoyed at the timing, but I missed plenty on my own–ducks flying above the creek (twice), chickadees, and a handsome Mallard sitting on the opposite shore who I didn’t even notice until he flew–and this photo turned out better than I expected.

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I hadn’t cared about the time at all, but when I finished hiking it was perfect timing to walk a block and catch a bus home. As I waited a couple minutes, a chickadee taunted me almost within arm’s reach but I didn’t pull my camera back out.

When I got home, a cat who lives on my floor was walking the hallway with a human keeping an eye on him. I’ve noticed the cat outside my apartment before so I opened the door to see if he’d poke his head in. He was happy to explore new territory, and I enjoyed seeing him in my place until I eventually had to pull him out from under the bed to give him back.

So, a good day.

Posted by: greentangle | May 11, 2022

Spring, Smelt, Sky, Sea

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Posted by: greentangle | April 28, 2022

Waves and Geysers

Let’s play a little game called Find the Gull. There is at least one in each of the next four photos.

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I think there are five total. Did you find them all? Or more?

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The best geysers I’ve seen since Yellowstone.

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Posted by: greentangle | April 12, 2022

Winter Lake 12 (The Big Finish)

Winter has been reluctant to leave, which I haven’t minded at all.

3/27

7:45 AM I heard the horns of ship and lift bridge, and looked out the window to see the first laker (Burns Harbor) of the year leaving.

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The day before, I’d been out for a few photos in the morning but the view was nothing special. After the icebreaking in the last post, there was a lot of open water and some ice all together. In the afternoon, I looked out the window and was surprised to see one of my favorite ice views—a sunny day with large distinct white plates of ice floating on the dark blue water. I returned to the window to admire it several times but never went out to take photos. I didn’t carpe the diem, assuming the ice would still be there the next morning, and wound up sadly wrong.

3/30

Freezing rain and snow had started falling during the night, and snow was still coming down, so I went out to play, thinking it could be the last good snow for months.

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Comparing the view through ice-covered glass to the slightly clearer view through the snow.

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While I was taking artsy icy photos, I started hearing a horn. I knew it wasn’t the bridge or the main foghorn, but thought at first it must be another foghorn somewhere because I couldn’t imagine a ship coming in during this weather. But it became “clear” the noise was coming from the Lake, so I started taking photos by sound until I began to see it.

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After I got home, I learned from the internet that it was the Coast Guard icebreaker Spar, which will be stationed here, arriving for the first time. The two ships I showed in the last post are only here temporarily.

3/31

I took a photo from a skywalk to show the extent of reforming ice. The canal is out of the photo to the right.

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When I got home, I made a delicious pasta meal from a recipe live-streamed on the website Heygo by an Italian chef living in the Gili Islands (Indonesia).

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I’ve also learned a lot on that site recently from Ukrainian and Russian tour guides, including one tour done together by a Ukrainian guide and a Russian guide, from Israel where each is now living.

4/1

It was a sunny day in the upper 30s, and a lot more ice had blown in from somewhere.

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The relative warmth, my camera visible instead of tucked under a heavy winter coat, and my Thoreau Society cap sparked conversations. Two women I often see on my walks asked what photos I’d gotten that day. A woman with a dog, my favorite combination, said it was like we were living on the moon, and we agreed it was a good place to live.

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It turned out we’d moved here the same year, and when invited to say hello, her dog happily jumped up to greet me.

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4/2

The next morning, most of the ice had moved out again, but more snow was falling.

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4/4

Waves and illusions of waves.

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4/5

I was going to take a bus to a grocery store up over the hill, but I decided to take some Lake photos first. I noticed a gathering of gulls far out on the ice.

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I moved to a position closer to them, but before I got any better photos of them, my camera battery died. I had the spare with me, but it was too cold and windy to be interested in changing it, so I headed for the bus.

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There was a lot of fog as I went up the hill, and after shopping I swapped batteries and took photos of frosted trees while waiting for the bus home. I was glad I’d brought the camera along.

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4/6

Throughout the night, large clumps of wet snow fell from the roof nine stories above me and exploded loudly on the roof one story below me. It was a sloppy morning, but a beautiful combination of ice, water, sunrise, fog, ships, and geese.

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More snow on the 7th, but the 8th seemed pretty.

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Until giant snowballs began to appear in the sky, and the Eternal Winter began.

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