Saturday, May 30, 2015


Iris, a poem by William Carlos Williams, is a celebration of our senses.

Bearded Iris
a burst of iris so that
come down for

we searched through the
rooms for

sweetest odor and at
first could not
find its

source then a blue as
of the sea

startling us from among
those trumpeting


Williams' opening line a burst of iris stimulates a search for the sweetest odor that, in turn, reveals a blue as of the sea. Williams closes his poem with trumpeting petals, a word implying shape and sound.

Vincent van Gogh created Irises during the last year of his life while living in an asylum. He called Irises,
"the lightning conductor for my illness"
Van Gogh felt by continuing to paint that he could avert succumbing to insanity.
It strikes the eye from afar. The Irises are a beautiful study full of air and life.
Theo van Gogh in a letter to Vincent upon seeing Irises exhibited
Irises are perennials that shoot upward from creeping rhizomes. A rhizome is a subterranean stem that sends out roots perpendicular to the force of gravity while also sending up vertical shoots to greet the sunlight of Spring.

With carefully chosen words William Carlos Williams devoted attention to the obvious and the overlooked. Williams, like impressionist Vincent van Gogh, devoted time to experiencing the subtleties of the senses.

The natural world is indifferent to our inattentiveness, but also rewards the slightest attention with the sublimest of experiences.
Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
Georgia O'Keeffe


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pools and Riffles

In gravel bed rivers, alternating sequences of pools and riffles develop as the cross-section of flow alternates between shallow and deep terrain.

Pool-riffle sequences commonly occurs at intervals of 5 to 7 stream widths.

Pools and riffles are prime habitat for trout. The wavy surface and turbulence of riffles hide trout from predators like raptors and humans.

photo: Bob MacNeal

Communities of insects grow to maturity in riffles providing the primary food source for trout. River current dislodges nymphs from rocks. Nymphs are the immature form of invertebrate insects. Drifting nymphs provide an intermittent stream of sustenance for trout who face upstream and maintain a stationary position relative to direction of flow to minimize the energy they must expend to feed.

Trout prefer the higher dissolved oxygen content found in riffles. Riffles tend to be 1-3 feet deep, while pools are often much deeper.
“If you have not touched the rocky wall of a canyon. If you have not heard a rushing river pound over cobblestones. If you have not seen a native trout rise in a crystalline pool beneath a shattering riffle, or a golden eagle spread its wings and cover you in shadow. If you have not seen the tree line recede to the top of a bare crested mountain. If you have not looked into a pair of wild eyes and seen your own reflection. Please, for the good of your soul, travel west.”
― Daniel J. Rice, This Side of a Wilderness


Friday, May 15, 2015

Yellowstone Supervolcano

Yellowstone River flowing
through the Yellowstone Caldera
Geophysicists have long recognized that the Yellowstone Caldera, lined by a mountainous ridge and overlying a supervolcano that last erupted 640,000 years ago, covers most of Yellowstone National Park.

A seismic imaging study conducted by geophysicists from the University of Utah indicates the volcanic plumbing and magma chamber underlying Yellowstone is more voluminous than realized.
A volcano may be considered as a cannon of immense size.
Oliver Goldsmith, Goldsmith’s Miscellaneous Works, 1841
A University of Utah video animation shows the extent of the volcanic plumbing and magma reservoir revealed by the imaging study (below).

Yellowstone magma reservoirSource: University of Utah

Color Key

Green line Yellowstone National Park boundary
Orange Previously known magma chamber (3 - 9 miles beneath the surface)
Red Previously unknown magma reservoir (12 - 28 miles beneath the surface)
Yellow Hotspot plume that supplies molten rock from Earth's mantle
Black line Boundary of the caldera
White dots Epicenters of earthquake data used in the study

Our earth is very old, an old warrior that has lived through many battles. Nevertheless, the face of it is still changing, and science sees no certain limit of time for its stately evolution. Our solid earth, apparently so stable, inert, and finished, is changing, mobile, and still evolving. Its major quakings are largely the echoes of that divine far-off event, the building of our noble mountains. The lava floods and intriguing volcanoes tell us of the plasticity, mobility, of the deep interior of the globe.
Reginald Aldworth Daly


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Life Producing Vents

Champagne vent
Northwest Eifuku volcano
Mariana Trench
When seawater enters into the ocean crust, heats and reacts with crustal rock, then rises to the seabed, the columns of emerging fluid and gas is called a hydrothermal vent.

Hydrothermal vents dot the Earth's seabeds in volcanically active areas and in zones where tectonic plates are moving apart.

Marine biologists study the unique chemosynthetic biological communities living around vents. Some hypothesize that hydrothermal vents produced the organic molecules needed for life.

A recent study by chemists at University College London reports that the chemical properties found on the surfaces inside hydrothermal vents are similar to enzymes.
Enzymes /ˈɛnzaɪmz/ are macromolecular biological catalysts. Enzymes accelerate, or catalyze, chemical reactions.
Enzymes are biological catalysts that govern chemical reactions in living organisms. Hydrothermal vents would therefore be capable of spontaneously producing carbon-based molecules like methanol and formic acid from the carbon dioxide dissolved in the emerging water.
"There is a lot of speculation that hydrothermal vents could be the location where life on Earth began. There is a lot of CO2 dissolved in the water, which could provide the carbon that the chemistry of living organisms is based on, and there is plenty of energy, because the water is hot and turbulent. What our research proves is that these vents also have the chemical properties that encourage these molecules to recombine into molecules usually associated with living organisms."
Nora de Leeuw, Principle Investigator, University College London

Invertebrate tubeworms covering a sulfide chimney called Zooarium.
Image: NOAA


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Origins of Deep Ecology

Bald eagle perched above nest
under a waxing gibbous moon
Romanticism emphasized emotion as a wellspring of aesthetic experience, particularly the awe felt in the presence of the sublimity of nature.

Tennyson's short poem The Eagle exemplifies the reverence of the Romantics.
The Eagle
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Center of Nature

Poets and artists of the Romantic period (1800-1850) were attuned to the beauty of nature. Romantics viewed humans at the center of nature. From a contemporary perspective, the notion of humans at the center of nature seems ego-centric and naive, but should be seen in the context of the hierarchical mono-theistic dogma of the time.

At One With Nature

Poets and writers in the early 20th century connected natural beauty to metaphorical human organs.
“beauty is a light in the heart.”
Kahlil Gibran
The mid 20th century began a cultural pivot from the center of nature to being at one with nature.
“As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.”
Pablo Neruda
Deep ecology is a contemporary philosophy that recognizes the complex inter-relationships of all living organisms. Deep ecology recognizes the consequences of human consumption as an existential threat to life on earth.

Existential Threat

The population decline of the bald eagle is the quintessential narrative connecting human activity to existential threats. The bald eagle population, estimated to be 3-5 hundred thousand eagles in the early 18th century, declined to 412 nesting pairs in by the 1950s.

The human-generated pesticide DDT interfered with calcium metabolism, making the bird sterile or making the female's eggs too brittle to withstand the weight of a brooding adult.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962, documented the detrimental impact of indiscriminate use of DDT. Ten years later agricultural use of DDT was banned in the US.
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter."
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring