Friday, September 28, 2007

Unfinished Blog Business

Sherry Chandler kindly included me in several things last month, and as September slips away, I have finally gotten organized enough to respond. First, is my Four Things Meme list. If you like lists and memes, consider yourself tagged by me. Notice that my list includes poems I was going to memorize this month, also thanks to Sherry. As you can see, I haven't quite got them picked out yet, let alone memorized. But I will. I memorized lots of poems as a teenager, when my mind was limber and my taste was questionable. I'd like to add a few more good ones before my brain gets too full.

  • Four jobs I've had in my life:
    • Daily newspaper proofreader and Substitute Society Editor
    • Mosquito census taker
    • Microbial genome sequencer
    • Autism tutor
  • Four places I have lived:
    • Union County, Iowa
    • Mansfield, Connecticut
    • Washington DC greater metropolitan area
    • Pocahontas County, West Virginia
  • Four of my [MANY] favorite foods:
    • Tomatoes--fried and green, garden-fresh and red, cooked and pureed--I like tomatoes
    • Homemade ginger snaps (or most any other homemade cookie)
    • Sour cherries
    • Fried chicken
  • Four Places I'd rather be right now [Other places I'd like to be; there's no place I'd rather be]:
    • Australia
    • Edinburgh (The one in Scotland, not the one in Virginia)
    • Any Neotropical rain forest
    • New Mexico
  • Four poems I was going to memorize in September and will learn before the year is out:
    • One of John Donne's "Holy Sonnets"
    • A Gerard Manley Hopkins poem
    • One short John Keats poem
    • One short Shelley poem (I can't believe I don't know any Keats or Shelley at all!)

Sherry also stimulated me to revisit She had taken the Nerd Test 2.0, and scored as a "Cool Lit/History Geek." Science and Technology were my stronger suits, scoring me "Cool Nerd Queen." says I'm a Cool Nerd Queen.  What are you?  Click here!

But it seems a few months ago, while goofing off instead of--I mean, taking a break from--grading chemistry tests, I took the Nerd Test 1.0, and there, because I was current on my periodic table of the elements and recognized James Clerk Maxwell and Issac Newton, I scored as "Nerd God(ess)."

I am nerdier than 96% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

Because I was goofing off instead of--I mean, taking a break from--grading statistics homework, I went ahead and tested my computer geekiness. How about this? I'm deeply geeky.

My computer geek score is greater than 80% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

Here are some Computer Geek Test Facts:

The average score for the gals is 38, while the guy average is 56. Of the Computer Geek Quiz Takers: 17% are scared of links; 17% of Windows users curse it; 4% of Linux users selected Bill Gates as their hero; The average Windows user scored 45 on the test and the average Apple user scored 60, while the average Linux user scored 84, and the average Unix user scored 89.
Looks like I'm below geek-average for my operating system.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Turkeys

Turkeys by the woodpile

Turkeys have been crossing the ridge here again this week. It's been several years since they visited regularly. Once, several years ago, while I was canning tomatoes in the kitchen, I turned around to see a turkey hen standing on the doorstep, stretched to her full height, feathers puffed, apparently staring right at me. We both squawked in alarm.

Turkey, looking and listening

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Heart Laid Bare

Book Cover: My Heart Laid Bare

I recently read Joyce Carol Oates' 1998 novel, My Heart Laid Bare. It details the lives of a family of con artists from the 1880's through 1930. While they swindle all over the continental United States, their base of operations is in the imaginary Upstate New York region of Bellefleur and A Bloodsmoor Romance.

Like those other two novels, My Heart Laid Bare is written in an odd mix of popular nineteenth century prose and a more modern voice. Reviewers seem not to like this, and these books are all out of print, so perhaps the style is not popular among readers either. I find it fascinating, and after a few pages, it seems so natural and appropriate that I cease to notice it.

Oates' novel includes wealthy industrialists, fraudulent medical cures, the Harding administration, race relations, the Kentucky Derby, and many other venues for enterprising grifters. The historical details make it vivid and convincing, and the Gothic supernatural details keep me wondering if they are real or imagined.

The title My Heart Laid Bare comes from Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote:

If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own--the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple--a few plain words--"My Heart Laid Bare." But--this little book must be true to its title.

[Now, is it not very singular that, with the rabid thirst for notoriety which distinguishes so many of mankind--so many, too, who care not a fig what is thought of them after death, there should not be found one man having sufficient hardihood to write this little book? To write, I say. There are ten thousand men who, if the book were once written, would laugh at the notion of being disturbed by its publication during their life, and who could not even conceive why they should object to its being published after their death. But to write it--there is the rub.] No man dare write it. [No man ever will dare write it.] No man could write it, even if he dared. The paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pilea pumila

Pilea pumila, Canadian Clearweed

Despite the heat and the drought, the Pilea pumila is in full and verdant bloom. I learned of this plant while doing floral inventories in a graduate course in plant ecology, and until a few minutes ago, I didn't know it had a common name. The USDA Plants Database informs me that it is known as "Canadian Clearweed." I've never heard anyone speak of this little nettle except as "Pilea." Although Wikipedia says that It is sometimes grown as a ground cover or for attracting deer, our hungry deer are walking by it and browsing on bitter asteraceous things like White Snakeroot.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sewing Shirts Until I Can't Stand It Any More

Four ladies' shirts on my clothesline

I cut out and sewed these four shirts last week. They are on the same pattern I tested earlier this month, Jalie 2322. I've read that it's more efficient to cut and sew several of the same garment at once, and this is often the way I proceed, but the assembly-line approach saps some of the fun from the process. I'm quite sick of making shirts now, even though I am delighted with the results.

For the last few years, I have tried many shirt patterns, and many approaches to pattern alteration. The reason this pattern works so well for me is the high armhole and tight sleeve, a feature many of the Jalie patterns share. It keeps the shoulder seams in place when I move my arms, and prevents the shirt front from creeping upward to my neck. Those floppy sleeves in oversized shoulders of the eighties and nineties were a fitting disaster for all but the most flat-chested of women. It seems counterintuitive, but close-fitting armholes give more freedom of movement, and keep the the garment in place. Think of a leotard contrasted with a smock.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Procrastination Is the Thief of Jackets

Jalie 2559 Women's Jacket pattern

I'm attempting to make myself a well-fitting suit jacket. I've got a pattern, Jalie 2559, in a style I like, and I've had pretty good luck altering Jalie shirt and tee-shirt patterns to fit, but I've been procrastinating, dreading the iterative process of altering the pattern, sewing a muslin, and repeating as necessary. In an attempt to build my enthusiasm (or perhaps to procrastinate further), I've searched the Web for tips and techniques for tailoring womens' wear. I've listed some helpful resources below.

Most of my Web search results turned up this advice to novice tailors--"Don't even try! It's too hard!" Now, it's been several years since I sewed a nice blazer, but I've made a couple of dozen of them, and it's really not hard. The process just has more steps than most sewing projects, and it's easy to get discouraged. That's why I'm trying for that ideal state of mind--engaged with the process, not the product. That means no rushing to make a jacket for a specific event, and also learning at least one technique I've not used before. I think I'll go for bound buttonholes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Little Black Mirid

Little Black Mirid on Field Thistle

I'd delayed posting these photos of a black mirid on a field thistle, hoping to identify it at least to genus, but this is one summer project that won't be finished. She's just too small, and there are too many little black mirids in too many different subfamilies. Still, she's rather handsome, and I was quite surprised I could get such a quick-moving little critter in focus.

Little Black Mirid on Field Thistle Little Black Mirid on Field Thistle

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Going To Seed

Dandelion capitum, with a few whispy seeds still hanging on

I photographed this dandelion some time ago, but it's emblematic of this time of year. The composites--snakeroot, burdock, goldenrod, asters, sunflowers--are going to seed. The garden has done so too, and my summer projects are coming to an end. It's time to start new projects, but which ones?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Crickets, Katydids, Sawyers, and Cullbaits

Tree cricket

These tree crickets are usually moving too fast for me to snap an in-focus picture, but yesterday's cool temperatures helped me out. Crickets, katydids, sawyers, and cullbaits are Hammons family names for the singing insects of late fall. Pocahontas County katydids and (field) crickets are the same insects that commonly go by those names, but I haven't been able to find out what sawyers and culbaits are--perhaps this is one of them. The first calls of the cullbait tell the ethnoentomologist that it will be six weeks until first frost. If only we knew what it was.

Locally, people call the cicadas "pharaohs," pronounced as in gospel songs, "fay-roe." That's what the insects are calling out. Where I grew up, we called cicadas "locusts." Interesting idea, the plague insects themselves calling the Pharaoh's name.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jumping Spider

Salticid spider eating another spider

In case you were wondering what spider is the fiercest, here's your answer. This salticid turned up in my clothes basket, carrying his lunch, which happens to be another spider.

Salticid spider, showing eyes and fangs

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Bee's Life

Crab spider eating a bee

It's a rough life for a bee out there. This solitary bee has become dinner for a spider on a White Snakeroot inflorescence. You've probably heard about honeybees, varroa mites, and colony collapse disorder. This summer, I've seen only a few honeybees (in June, on Indian hemp flowers). This article in the Washington Post describes citizen science research suggesting that the weather may be responsible for honeybee decline.

Weather May Account for Reduced Honey Crop by Jane Black, September 10, 2007

...[S]ome experts say the more likely reason for this year's weak honey crop, which the National Honey Board says is on track to be smaller than last year's below-par 155 million pounds, is something much more obvious: the weather. In the South, drought and wildfires have prevented flowers from blooming. In the Midwest, a late freeze brought nectar flows in many areas almost to a halt. And in California, the country's No. 2 honey producer, coastal beekeepers reported that there were almost no flowering plants in July. The bees were fed sugar water to keep them from starving.

....[N]ew research by Wayne Esaias, a Maryland biological oceanographer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who keeps bees as a hobby, has piqued enormous interest among bee experts and honey lovers. By taking simple measurements on when his bees started and stopped collecting nectar near his home in Highland, Esaias has shown that flowers there are blooming three weeks earlier than they did in 1992 and a month before they did in 1970. (The research, which has not yet been published, is posted at

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Turkey eating timothy

A flock of two dozen turkeys has been crossing our ridge for the last few mornings, and today, they made an encore evening appearance. Although there are plenty of crickets and grasshoppers, these turkeys seem to be eating only the ripening timothy seed heads.

They're beautiful, they're huge, and they're incredibly alert. If I'd had any say in the matter, we would have gone along with Ben Franklin's suggestion--wild turkey for the national symbol.

Turkeys at sundown

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lobelia siphilitica

Lobelia siphilitica blossoms

I found this Great Blue Lobelia plant growing in a tiny spring seep on the side of our ridge last week. It must have been the only moist place on our property, and I was quite surprised to find it. Lobelia siphilitca Linnaeus is a big, showy, moisture-loving plant common enough around the rivers and creeks here.

I've assembled some interesting Lobelia links. If you'll excuse me now, I'm going to join my cat outside in the rain. We are both startled and amazed by this business of water falling from the sky.

  • Connecticut Botanical Society page for Great Blue Lobelia
  • Missouri Plants page for Lobelia siphilitica L.
  • USDA Plants Database page for Lobelia siphilitica L.
  • Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Wildflowers Database entry for Great Blue Lobelia "The unfortunate species name, siphilitica, is based on the fact that it was a supposed cure for syphilis."
  • Ethnobotany data from the USDA's National Plant Data Center
    The Iroquois used the plant as a cough medicine. The Meskwaki ground up the roots of this plant and used it as an anti-divorce remedy. The mashed roots were secretly put into some common dish, which was eaten by both husband and wife. The Cherokee used a cold infusion of the roots of great blue lobelia and cardinal flower to treat nosebleed. A poultice of the crushed leaves of the plant was used for headache and a warm leaf infusion was good for colds.
  • Alternative Nature Online Herbal lists the properties of Lobelia siphilitica:
    Lobelia was a highly prized medicinal plant and used extensively by Native Americans. It was considered a panacea, being used for just about everything that ailed them. Once it was discovered by Europeans and taken back to England they also used it for many illnesses. Lobelia is still used today as an alternative medicine in many parts of the world. Medical research has found the plants constituents to be Piperidine alkaloids including Lobeline, and other carboxylic acids as well as isolobelanine, gum, resin, chlorophyl, fixed oil, lignin, salts of lime and potassium, with ferric oxide. Lobeline stimulates the respiratory center of the brain, producing stronger and deeper breathing, making it very useful in treating many respiratory complaints, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, whooping cough, spasmodic croup, and pneumonia. While at the same time isolobelanine, relaxes the respiratory and neuro-muscular system and acts as a nervine and antispasmodic. It is a most useful systemic relaxant and a holistic combination of stimulation and relaxation. The seeds contain a much higher percentage of lobeline than the rest of the plant. The whole plant is used as an analgesic, cathartic, emetic, expectorant, diaphoretic, anti-asthmatic, stimulant, antispasmodic, narcotic, and sedative. Used to treat convulsive and inflammatory disorders such as epilepsy, hysterical convulsions, traumatic injuries, tetanus, sores and abscesses, colds and fevers, diphtheria and tonsilitis. When chewed it tastes similar to tobacco and produces effects like those of nicotine. It is used in some antismoking products. Also used for scorpion and snake bites and to induce nausea and vomiting. A poultice of the root has been applied in treating pleurisy, rheumatism, tennis elbow, whiplash injuries, boils, ulcers and hard to heal sores.
Lobelia siphilitica plant

Monday, September 10, 2007

West Virginian Identity

Original proposal for the New State of West Virginia

Periodically, I hear people argue, often vehemently, about whether West Virginia is part of the South, or was ever part of the Confederacy. Listening to the various opinions, I began to wonder if I understood the issue, and was pleased to find an "online exhibit" from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, entitled A State of Convenience: The Creation of West Virginia. It's well-written, and contains source material and illustrations.

As I understand it, Virginia seceded from the Union and was part of the Confederacy. Then a group of counties seceded from Virginia to become West Virginia, a new state in the Union. The map above shows the original proposal for the new state of West Virginia, while the map below shows the final boundaries, still in place today. Pocahontas County, along with several other counties along the current border with Virginia, were not included in the original proposal for the new state.

It looks as though the rest of West Virginia wasn't anxious to claim Pocahontas (or Greenbrier or Monroe) counties.

I've heard people from the South claim West Virginia is not "really" part of the South, and people from other Southern mountain states claim it's not "really" part of Appalachia. People from eastern West Virginia claim the Ohio/Kanawha River valleys are not "really" West Virginia, and people from the western part of the state say the eastern counties are not "really" West Virginia. These discussions always end with someone angry.

It was the same thing when I lived in Iowa. People in Des Moines tried to disavow southern Iowa (where I grew up). "If you annexed the two southernmost rows of Iowa counties to Missouri, you would double the IQ of both states."

I'm not sure why calling someone else's identity into doubt should strengthens your own sense of identity, but it happens all the time.

Final version of the state of West Virginia

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Jesse James

Book Cover: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I call your attention to an article in today's Washington Post: Taking Aim at Jesse James & History by Wil Haygood.

The twangy-voiced Missourian who cried over his region's defeat in the Civil War was such a mythic and bewildering figure. Snaking his way into the history of his own era and beyond, giving himself to the dreams and nightmares of little boys on the 1870s American prairie. His very name seemed to hang out in the open air like a menace, with an unspoken threat and hardness around it. As if it were a Colt .45 in a holster lying on a barren wooden table. Jesse James.

Sometimes, by candlelight, he scanned books written about him -- the popular paperbacks that fancied up his exploits and that children devoured and traveling book salesmen guarded as if shielding sacraments. Then he resumed his murdering and robbing ways....

The article goes on to describe Ron Hanson's 1983 novel, Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and an upcoming movie based on that book. I'm not sure how I missed this when it came out, but it looks like something I'll want to read. Jesse James rode out of Missouri, raided towns in Iowa and Minnesota, and returned to his backwoods hideout. In Iowa, he was our local incursion of the Civil War and the Wild West rolled into one, and I've been fascinated since childhood.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Calico Shirt

Calico shirt on clothesline

I got my sewing projects out yesterday. Last spring, I'd gotten so tired of drafting patterns, testing them, altering them, trying them again, and again, and again, that I put everything away for a while. Yesterday, I sewed up this little calico shirt I'd already cut out. It's my oft-revised version of Jalie 2322, "Women's Shirt."

Jalie pattern 2322: Women's Shirt

In its current form, I've narrowed the shoulders, added a full-bust adjustment, lengthened the sleeves, substituted in a favorite cuff pattern from an out-of-print Kwik-Sew shirt pattern, moved all the darts, and shortened the body. No wonder I got tired of alterations. It fits pretty well, although the real test is to wear it a few times, wash and iron it. If I still like it, I'll be in business. I can make any number of style alterations to the basic shape if the fit is good. I can even size it up a bit and make a blazer of it.

Faux French cuff

This is a faux-French cuff that I find more comfortable to wear than a real one.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Tales of the Appalachian Grotesque

My Southern and Appalachian reading regime of the last few years has been heavy on the Gothic--grotesque themes. James Dickey, Edgar Allen Poe, Emma Bell Miles, William Faulkner, John Fox Jr.--all these writers paint the South and the Southern mountains as "a strange place and a peculiar people." Writers who hail from rural or small-town America often write stories with an element of horror. Joyce Carol Oates comes from upstate New York and Stephen King from small-town Maine. They also write Gothic tales, in very different styles.

I feel sure there's something to this, but I don't know what it is. That's why I've been reading about the topic. I found this interesting article: Reflections on the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates (April 1993). Originally published in Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque

What is the "grotesque"--and what is "horror"--in art? And why do these seemingly repellent states of mind possess, for some, an abiding attraction?

I take as the most profound mystery of our human experience the fact that, though we each exist subjectively, and know the world only through the prism of self, this "subjectivity" is inaccessible, thus unreal, and mysterious, to others. And the obverse--all others are, in the deepest sense, strangers....

This predilection for art that promises we will be frightened by it, shaken by it, at times repulsed by it seems to be as deeply imprinted in the human psyche as the counter-impulse toward daylight, rationality, scientific skepticism, truth and the "real."....[T]his is the forbidden truth, the unspeakable taboo--that evil is not always repellent but frequently attractive; that it has the power to make of us not simply victims, as nature and accident do, but active accomplices.

Children are particularly susceptible to images of the grotesque, for children are learning to monitor what is "real" and what is "not real"; what is benign, and what not. The mental experiences of very young children, afterward layered over by time and forgotten, must be a kaleidoscope of sensations, impressions, events, "images" linked with "meanings"--how to make sense of this blooming, buzzing universe?....

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Blue, Blue Chicory

Chicory blossom

I love the color of chicory flowers. It's an invasive weed that grows in the worst soils, but Cichorium intybus L. (chicory, blue sailors, coffeeweed, succory) looks so cheerful in bloom. Cultivated chicory is used for a coffee substitute (roots ground and roasted), as a cooked green (fried, with garlic), and as a salad green (Belgian endive), although I understand the roadside weed doesn't perform well in any of these capacities. The bumblebees seem to like it, though.

Bumblebee on chicory blossom

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Locust Borer

Locust Borer adult feeding on goldenrod flowers

At the end of every summer, these handsome Locust Borers hit the goldenrod around here, eating pollen and meeting members of the opposite sex. They make such a pretty picture, and I can never resist grabbing a few, gripping them gently by the abdomen and listening to them "squeak." Like many other cerambycid beetles, Megacyllene robiniae individuals stridulate when disturbed. Our ridge was under cultivation until the 1950's and black locust is well-represented among our early successional species. It makes excellent firewood whether or not it has been infested with these long-horned beetles.

I found an excellent online "leaflet," The Locust Borer: Forest Insect & Disease Leaflet 71 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Here's an excerpt:

The locust borer, Megacyllene robiniae (Forst.), is a native insect. Its original range probably coincided with that of its host tree, the black locust, which once grew only along the Allegheny Mountains from Pennsylvania to Georgia and in the Ozark Mountain region.

Black locust grows readily on poor sites and is used extensively in land-reclamation plantings. Its widespread use to reclaim land damaged by farming and strip mining, its use as a shade tree, and its use in reforestation have dispersed the borer with its host tree over most of the United States. The borer is now found from eastern Canada south to the Gulf States and west to Washington, Colorado, and Arizona.

The borer attacks only black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia L.) and its cultivars (horticulturally derived varieties in the genus Robinia); the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos L.) is not affected....

The conspicuous, brightly colored adults appear when goldenrod (Solidago sp.) is in bloom. Adults are most abundant during September, when they are commonly found feeding on pollen of goldenrod blossoms.

Egg laying occurs from early afternoon until late evening from late August through early October. The females lay eggs prolifically under bark scales, in callus tissue around pruning wounds, in cracks in the bark, and in other hiding places. The eggs are rarely laid where they can be seen.

In about a week, the eggs hatch and small, white larvae bore into the inner bark. Each larva makes a small hibernation cell and overwinters there. In the spring when the leaf buds begin to swell, the larvae begin to bore into the woody part of the tree, causing sap to ooze around small holes. Throughout the spring and early summer, the larvae enlarge their tunnels until they are 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10.2 cm) long and about one-quarter of an inch (0.6 cm) in diameter.

By mid-July, most of the larvae have matured and transformed into the pupal stage, which is completed between the end of July and the first 2 weeks of August. Mature beetles emerge from the trees through the openings made by the larvae.

Locust Borer on goldenrod

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pocahontas County Fair

Pocahontas County Fairground, 1924

Mountain Times, a monthly advertising section produced by the Pocahontas Times for Snowshoe and its visitors, printed a feature on the Pocahontas County Fair last week. It's been 50 years since the last Pocahontas County Fair. West Virginia has never been big on agricultural fairs. I was terribly disappointed by the West Virginia State Fair the one time I went: It took less than an hour to see all the agricultural exhibits. Iowa's Union County Fair was bigger than that when I was in 4-H, and it is still going strong. Union County, Iowa is by no means a big or populous county, but the agricultural way of life has not yet dropped off there the way it has in West Virginia.

County fairs are a big deal to me. I named my blog after the ambiguous lines in the folksong "Starving To Death On a Government Claim:"

My clothes they are ragged, my language is rough.
My bread is corn dodger, my goodness how tough!
Nothing to eat, and nothing to wear:
Nothing from nothing's the Greer County fare.

Jaynell Graham-Awad's historical article has some interesting nuggets of information, although some of it is so confusing I don't know what she means to say. I've excerpted some paragraphs I think I understand. The photograph I've reproduced above is captioned Pocahontas County Fairgrounds, 1924. The Greenbrier River runs beyond the far side of the track, and the road on the near side of the track leads out to present-day Rt. 219, near Rite Aid.

Begun entirely by public spirit and the financial support of businessmen in the county, the Pocahontas County Fair was held on Lower Camden, now Second Avenue, from 1919 until 1922 when it moved to its permanent home on the property surrounding todays Pocahontas Producers stockyards, on Old Fairgrounds Road....

George Pritt...was...part of the construction crew that...[built] a fairground that boasted a grandstand that seated 2,000, an agricultural building, a barn for pigs and sheep, a cattle pavilion, buildings for poultry and show horses and one-half mile of board-fenced track. And sadly, it was Pritt who had to dismantle the buildings when the Pocahontas County Fair came to an end in 1957 after 39 years of competitions, exhibits, festivities and fun....

Pocahontas Countians, with familiar names in the sheep world, such as Barlow and Williams, showed purebreds, as Pocahontas County was known as the premier sheep producing county in the state. Winners at the County Fair would move on to Jacksons Mill for more competition....

Just as the County Fair has faded into memory, so too have most of those superior sheep herds that grazed the pastures and hillsides of this county. The common thought is that the introduction of western sheep into this area brought with it a bane to farmers in the way of foot rot, the development of bordering farmland into residential areas allowed untrained family dogs easy access to sheep and lambs, bears were always an enemy and the migration of coyotes into the county sealed the fate of many good sheep farmers.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rock Flipping Report

Mossy rock with fossil shell

International Rock Flipping Day results continue to roll in. My favorite find was reported on Sheep Days. Brett discovered St. Gratus of Aosta, who offers protection against plagues of locust and fear of insects. That should help me with my Jerusalem cricket problem. There is a growing Flikr Rock Flipping Photo Pool, Bev of Burning Silo has her own report and a multi-person photo collection. Here are some other early blog reports:

Host-Parasite Intimacy--Reaching a New Level

One Species' Genome Discovered Inside Another's. I thought this was an interesting article, and it comes out of the research institute where I used to work (now known as the J. Craig Venter Institute), although there's only one person I know in the author list. The actual article is Widespread Lateral Gene Transfer from Intracellular Bacteria to Multicellular Eukaryotes in the latest issue of Science.

Wohlbachia species are parasites of insects and other invertebrates, passed from one host generation to the next inside the germ cells. Wohlbachia genes have been discovered inserted into host genomes, but this paper documents cases in which the entire bacterial genome has been so inserted.

Lateral gene transfer between bacterial species is a common phenomenon, and has made me pessimistic about deducing evolutionary history of bacteria. This finding could throw a monkey wrench in molecular insect phylogeny as well. It's also likely to send genome sequencers to recheck their published data. In sequencing eukaryotic genomes, you often get bacterial genome contamination, and much of the software used in the process automatically recognizes and discards bacterial sequences. Someone's going to have to distinguish between contamination and real sequence data. (Glad it's not me.)

Widespread Lateral Gene Transfer from Intracellular Bacteria to Multicellular Eukaryotes,

Julie C. Dunning Hotopp, Michael E. Clark, Deodoro C. S. G. Oliveira, Jeremy M. Foster, Peter Fischer, Monica C. Munoz Torres, Jonathan D. Giebel, Nikhil Kumar, Nadeeza Ishmael, Shiliang Wang, Jessica Ingram, Rahul V. Nene, Jessica Shepard, Jeffrey Tomkins, Stephen Richards, David J. Spiro, Elodie Ghedin, Barton E. Slatko, Herve Tettelin, John H. Werren

Published Online August 30, 2007, Science, Reports

Although common among bacteria, lateral gene transfer (the movement of genes between distantly related organisms) is thought to occur only rarely between bacteria and multicellular eukaryotes. However, the presence of endosymbionts, such as Wolbachia pipientis, within some eukaryotic germlines may facilitate bacterial gene transfers to eukaryotic host genomes. We therefore examined host genomes for evidence of gene transfer events from Wolbachia bacteria to their hosts. We found and confirmed transfers into the genomes of 4 insect and 4 nematode species that range from nearly the entire Wolbachia genome (>1 megabase) to short (<500 base pairs) insertions. Potential Wolbachia to host transfers were also detected computationally in three additional sequenced insect genomes. We also show that some of these inserted Wolbachia genes are transcribed within eukaryotic cells lacking endosymbionts. Therefore, heritable lateral gene transfer occurs into eukaryotic hosts from their prokaryote symbionts, potentially providing a mechanism for acquisition of new genes and functions.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Flip City--International Rock Flipping Day

Mossy rock with fossil shell

When Dave of Via Negativa announced International Rock Flipping Day, September 2, 2007, I was a little reluctant to join in. I devote much of my biological attention to leaf litter and the forest understory, but rocks are my least favorite thing to look under. I find much more interesting stuff under decomposing tree parts, broken concrete, and organic detritus, and our recent dry weather has driven the soft damp-loving litterbugs off Droop Mountain's ridgetops. I decided to interpret the mandate to flip as beatnik talk. This is a crazy rock, man. Flip city.

Spiral fossil

Lest you think that spiral is my work, take a closer look. It's actually a weathered fossil, reminding us that Droop Mountain used to be an undersea environment. I could really flip over this rock. Man.

Raccoon scat on a rock

All the small mammals like flat rocks. They're a great place to leave messages, what mammalogists tactfully call scats. This raccoon has eaten a lot of beetles and crickets, and, I believe, at least one little crawdad, demonstrating rock-flipping credentials of his own.

Mycelium under a rock Fluffy blue fibers under a rock--perhaps mycelium?

The rock-flipping planning committee has focused on "creatures" under rocks, but it occurs to me that there is also subterranean flora. I found growing mycelia under most of the rocks I turned over, even though fungal fruiting bodies have been scarce this year.

Jerusalem cricket, under a rock

At last--something with a head! Jerusalem crickets are not my favorite insects. One semester in college, I lived in a basement overrun with the smelly things. They got into my laundry basket and ate big holes in my clothes, which I couldn't afford to replace. One good thing about our recent dry, hot weather--the Jerusalem crickets that usually appear under the bathroom sink have taken to the woods seeking cooler, moister quarters.

I'll update with a list of links to other rock-flipping blog events later.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Revisiting William Faulkner

Book Cover: Absalom, Absalom!

Continuing my Gothic adventures, I've enjoyed reading William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury. My introduction to Faulkner was "A Rose For Emily" in a literature anthology which my mom, a high school teacher, brought home from school. Ten or eleven years old, I read it through as fast as I could, eager to find out what happened. I was horrified, nauseated, aghast as the townspeople forced open that upstairs bridal suite. That "long strand of iron grey hair" gave me nightmares for months. It was one of the finest literary experiences of my life.

Apprehension marked my subsequent reading of Faulkner, as if, on any random page, a decomposing Yankee might grin vacantly in wait. I read some more short stories, and, about 12 years ago, As I Lay Dying, but I always braced myself for a nasty shock.

Somewhere along the line, I lost that apprehension. Miss Rosa, of Absalom, Absalom! suffers more than Miss Emily, and her family's dreadful end is more horrifying than a poisoned triflin' Yankee. (And after all, didn't he ask for it?) The stories move me, but they don't freeze me in my tracks. Now, I focus on the characters who shake their heads, draw their conclusions, and clean up tragedy's aftermath. Patient, forbearing Dilsey of The Sound and the Fury seems the most interesting character, and I wonder where Miss Emily's elderly servant went, and what he thought all those years.