Many thanks to editor Corey Cook for publishing my poem “Terminal Lucidity” in today’s issue of Red Eft Review. Red Eft Review is an online journal dedicated to featuring accessible poetry for a universal audience.
My deep thanks to Ti at Book Chatter for this review of Strange Company. Ti usually reviews works of fiction, particularly novels, and I admire her penetrating insights and gentle guidance. I appreciate the kindness she offered me in accepting this essay collection for review.
From a frog’s snug wetsuit to a llama’s wooly shag, animals are bestowed with the wrapping they require. Even when the efforts seem excessive, we must conclude that every species has been thoroughly considered, and who are we, anyway, to question Creation?
The first time I saw a picture of a pangolin, I was reminded of pharaohs, of ancient tombs and golden riches and all we do not, cannot, know. Almost every inch of a pangolin’s body is covered in sharp over-lapping scales; no other mammal sports such armor. What is there about this creature that warrants exceptional protection?
There are eight species of pangolins, four in Asia and four in Africa. Ranging in length from a foot to a yard, they are heavily hunted for their meat as well as their scales. All are consequently endangered and may well disappear—one more puzzle piece forever lost.
Nocturnal animals, pangolins spend their days curled up in deep tunnels or hollow trees. They feed on ants and termites, which they dispatch with their long, thin tongues. Like giant anteaters, the tongues of pangolins are rooted in the thorax and can extend nearly a foot and a half. They are short-legged animals and use their formidable claws to dig into ant hills. Because they do not see well, pangolins are gifted with a keen sense of smell for locating their prey. Some types hang by their tails from branches and scratch away tree bark to expose the insects beneath. Discriminating diners, they will ignore all but a few types of bugs, sensing perhaps what is good for them and avoiding junk food.
Pangolins are loners, meeting only once a year for mating purposes. Unlike most animals, males, which are larger than females, do not search for them. The males employ a passive come-hither, leaving their calling card in the form of urine or feces, which the females readily find. If competition is involved, males will bash each other with their tails until a victor emerges. Gestation lengths differ depending on the species—anywhere from 70 to 140 days. Most give birth to one six-inch pangopup at a time. Four weeks later, the pup emerges from the burrow, riding on its mother’s back; mother and offspring stay together for two years.
The keratin scales of a baby pangolin are soft and white at birth, hardening and darkening within just a few days. There is an international ban on their trade, but pangolins are widely poached for their scales, which are ground into powder and illegally purchased. In East Asia many people believe, without evidence, that the scales can cure various human diseases, another example of the way we exploit and imperil whatever strikes us as extraordinary.
When threatened, pangolins curl up in a ball and tuck their faces under their tales. They also emit a foul chemical from glands near the anus, similar to skunk spray. Left with a spiny, smelly ball, would-be predators soon lose interest. Unfortunately, these excellent defenses do not work against humans.
Is humanity a failed experiment? Given our swathe of destruction, it would seem so. We have brains enough to redeem ourselves, but probably not enough time. Everything in any case is destined to expire.
Why are we here? Why is the pangolin the only mammal suited in armor? Nature just bounces these questions right back, as if she’s holding out hope, waiting for us to see the big picture. What if pangolins were put here to amaze us and we were brought in to admire them? What if our mission is that simple? What more than esteem does this old earth need?
Most of the time our feelings are produced by our thoughts. We think of a person or situation, and our bodies respond with love, anger, fear, regret, despair, disgust—there’s no end to the places our minds can take us.
But sometimes the obverse is true. For just an instant, we are brushed by a fragment of memory. We pause, transfixed, thrilled not by the memory itself, which never coalesces, but by our closeness to it. We scramble after this phantom, try to fix it in time. Too late. It was gone as soon as it arrived, like the rainbow flash of an abalone shell before the dark waves rush over.
For me, these sensations occur most frequently in the spring, as if the earth, in her exuberance, is churning up my secrets along with her own, reminding me that nothing is lost. Akin to deja vu, this experience involves more certainty than suggestion. We are not stirred by a sense of the familiar but seized by our own lives, summoned to wakefulness. For a second or two, we exist in a portal, the distinction between past and present indiscernible. That fragment of memory was not an idle daydream; it was a clue, a means to the truth. We live all at once and probably forever.
For nature lovers who enjoy audiobooks, Strange Company is now available on Audible. Listen to a sample, narrated by Nikiya Palombi. I am delighted to hear my essays rendered so beautifully. And thanks again to Mark McNease of MadeMark Publishing for believing in me and this venture.
As most of you know, I am a writer (and I say that with the deepest humility). Because I believe that everyone should give the world whatever skills they possess, modest or monumental, I have gathered twenty of my brief nature essays into a collection called Strange Company, which is now available as an eBook for $2.99. If you don’t have a tablet, you can download the Kindle app or Adobe Digital Editions to your computer.
Do lizards fall in love? What do sloths think about all day? Why is the blood of a horseshoe crab so valuable? Do starlings flock for fun? Do turtles ever grow bored with their long lives? Can snails be fearless? Can a parrot be a therapist?
These are some of the questions that keep me up at night. Maybe you’re likewise in awe of the natural world, or maybe you’d just like a breather from daily events. Either way, $2.99 is a pretty good deal, right? And you even get photos 🙂
Today I wish to give deep thanks to editor Ilana Masad for featuring “A Sea Change” in The Other Stories podcast. This story is part of my collection SURVIVAL SKILLS, published by Ashland Creek Press.
Photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/daugaard/2687998731/”>DaugaardDK</a> via <a href=”http://foter.com/”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>
Recently I visited my sister Jill in coastal Alabama. I had not seen her well-ordered home in several years, and on that first morning, while everyone else was still sleeping, I padded through the kitchen, living area, office and screen room, studying the furniture and artwork, smiling over my sister’s choices. I was struck by the quiet beauty of her home, how perfectly it reflects her personality.
The same can be said about my other sisters. Joan lives in rural Georgia. Her yard is filled with flowers, fruit trees and vines, and an endless procession of herbs and vegetables, the bounty of which she brings into her house. Her counters, lavish with gifts from the garden, demonstrate her reverence for Mother Earth and the respect she gives all living things regardless of their performance. Jane wound up in a small Texas town. She also grows food in abundance, which she cans or freezes or gives away, but even larger than her garden is her wide-open heart. Her home is a refuge for strays cats, abandoned dogs and people who drop by for her wit and warmth. If it’s acceptance you want, you will find it at Jane’s.
I suppose my own property furnishes clues about me. I live in a tri-level home in the suburbs, a relatively stable environment with a tidy yard. I too have a vegetable garden—well, two raised beds—and shrubs and flowers that please me. Less forgiving than Joan, I cannot abide ruin and will readily replace the underachievers. As for my furnishings, they are on the spare side, a preference echoed in the sort of writing I favor: lean, direct, distilled.
While our habitats may differ, they all require one common element: care. We put effort into the spaces we live in.
Many animals take pains in this regard, and on a far grander scale, though what their homes say about them is anyone’s guess. Why, for instance, would a ten-inch wood rat build a stick nest more than three meters high? Even more perplexing is the décor. Again and again this creature will venture into attics or sheds or car engines, seizing whatever shiny treasures catch its eye. Also called a pack rat or trade rat, it will frequently drop the first item in favor of another. These objects offer no discernible benefit, and who can say why the rat insists on them, or why it needs such a massive home.
Male bowerbirds spend up to ten months a year constructing their elaborate nests. The type of bower depends on the species, but all are impressive, involving hundreds of carefully placed sticks. Following the construction phase, some of the males will use their beaks to paint the inside walls with plant juices. After this, the birds begin to decorate, gathering whatever strikes their fancy: moss, berries, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones. Manmade items are also employed: batteries, coins, nails, rifle shells, pieces of glass, strips of cellophane. Color is important. Some bowerbirds favor blue tones, while others prefer white or orange. Work is never quite finished; the birds spend weeks rearranging their riches and adding more. These sylvan palaces are designed to attract mates, but many never do, and you have to marvel at the undaunted losers whose labor and artistry go unappreciated, year after year.
And then there’s the octopus, one of earth’s most elusive and mysterious creatures. The octopus is a nocturnal animal and spends much of its life tucked inside a den. The den itself is small and not occupied for long, but for reasons no one can fathom the octopus is compelled to adorn its temporary front yard with a bewildering assortment of items, everything from lustrous shells to old boots—basically whatever has fallen to the sea floor. When a diver spots these odd collections, he knows there’s an octopus nearby. Considering how secretive these creatures are, their penchant for embellishment makes no sense.
Depending on your circumstances, you can live your whole life without much effort. Effort, like knowledge, is an option. If you have special skills or talents, no one will force you to use them. You can consider your home little more than a shelter and forgo any enhancements. We all die empty-handed anyway.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I think labor is always rewarded. Effort is a gift we offer ourselves. Every picture we hang, every seed we plant, every shelf we dust, is an expression of love, and the more we attend to, the richer our lives become. You can live without love of course, many people do. That’s the biggest mystery of all.
Photo credit: 0ystercatcher / Source / CC BY-NC-SA
President Obama has just created a task force to research the alarming problem of honey bee deaths, commonly referred to as colony collapse disorder. The Pollinator Health Task Force is charged with addressing issues surrounding the plight of honey bees and other important pollinators such as monarch butterflies.
Better late than never. Maybe. Meanwhile various environmental groups are filing suit against CA’s Department of Pesticide Regulation for continuing to approve neonicotinoids, a group of seven chemicals which are highly toxic to honey bees.
As we cannot count on corrupt politicians to stop the manufacture of these products, we must do it ourselves by not buying them. Here is a list of pesticides to avoid. For more information, please visit the Xerces Society.
Examples of Neonicotinoid Garden Products Used in the United States
Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 Insect, Disease, & Mite Control
Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control
Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed
Bayer Advanced Fruit, Citrus & Vegetable Insect Control
Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care concentrate
DIY Tree Care Products Multi-Insect Killer
Ferti-lome 2-N-1 Systemic
Hi-Yield Systemic Insect Spray
Knockout Ready-To-Use Grub Killer
Monterey Once a Year Insect Control II
Ortho Bug B Gon Year-Long Tree & Shrub Insect Control
Ortho MAX Tree & Shrub Insect Control
Surrender Brand GrubZ Out
Clothianidin Granules for turf, and ornamental flowers, shrubs, or trees. Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care granules
Green Light Grub Control with Arena
Thiamethoxam Foliar spray for turf and ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs; granules for turf and ornmanetal flowers, trees, and shrubs. Amdro Quick Kill Lawn & Landscape Insect Killer
Amdro Rose & Flower Care
Maxide Dual Action Insect Killer
Acetamiprid Foliar spray for garden fruits and vegetables, and ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs. Ortho Bug B Gon Garden Insect Killer
Ortho Bug B Gon for Lawns
Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer
Ortho Rose and Flower Insect Killer
Ortho Rose Pride Insect Killer
Dinotefuran Granules for turf and ornamental flowers, shrubs or trees; soil drench for ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs. Green Light Tree & Shrub Insect Control with Safari 2 G
Ortho Tree & Shrub Insect Control Plus Miracle Gro Plant Food