Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Binacle

binnacle |ˈbinəkəl|
a built-in housing for a ship's compass.
ORIGIN late 15th cent. (as bittacle): from Spanish bitácula, bitácora or Portuguese bitacola, from Latin habitaculum ‘dwelling place,’ from habitare ‘inhabit.’ The change to binnacle occurred in the mid 18th century.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Choral Reefs

Coral Reef Ecologist Mark Vermeij of the CARMABI Foundation
Coral larvae, which are the size of fleas and hairy with neuromasts, spend their early days, sometimes months, wafting with plankton in the open ocean.

To find established reefs on which to settle, they use light, touch, and scent. But these cues only work if they find themselves both down-current and nearly home. Now scientists out of Carmabi Foundation, Willemstad, Curaçao are finding that settlement-stage larvae are attracted to reefs from meters, possibly even kilometers away - by sound.

The scientists, whose previous work found that coral reef noise provides auditory orientation cues to young reef fish and crustaceans, write here that sound in the sea propagates such tremendous distances that the role of coral reefs "as a beacon for pelagic life stages of marine invertebrates deserves critical attention".

In their elegant study, when biologists moved submerged plexi-glass-boxed speakers playing day and night reef sounds "which consisted of fish calls and grunts and the continuous crackling sound of snapping shrimps" around submerged, coral larvae-filled chambers, the larvae consistently moved toward the reef noise; in one trial, by positioning the speakers above the larvae chamber, the test over rode coral larvae's tendency to swim down to a reef.

"This is the first description of an auditory response in the invertebrate phylum Cnidaria, which includes jellyfish, anemones, and hydroids," write the investigators, and they suggest that the findings present profound implications for connectivity models that can no longer consider larval dispersal as passive. Further, because in open ocean, habitat sought by settlement-stage fish, crustaceans, and coral is so far-flung and "patchy", alleviating anthropogenic marine noise pollution takes on greater urgency.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nimbleweed: Tumblin' Happy

Bluegrass and Chuck Taylors, I do believe in a thing called love! So happy, they are Nimbleweed, who are, as yet,un-Googlable. The YouTube video is notable not only for its horrible carpet, but that there are only five comments (one of them's mine) all said words like: "happy" and "brillant" and "where can I get an mp3?".

Who are these happy, talented sensibly shod young people? Happy, talented, exuberant, skilled people. We need more of them. They could be us. Let's go practice.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

They Collapsed Like Calving Glaciers

Two of the neighbor's massive arbor vitae out of a whole hedge of them like a rampart that sinks us in gloom by 3 on that southern side making the lilacs climb out into the driveway like drowning women collapsed like a calving glaciers under snow this February with a big, nautical creak, a big sigh, and whump. They were 25 feet tall and 25 years old, so their collapse was like an apartment building toppling - its wreckage spilling sparrows and dumping appalled robins and squirrels dashed like birdseed onto the snowy patio over and the trees like masts burying their handsome teak patio furniture and finishing off once and for all our decaying fence.

And that's just the things we see, of course, who knows the millions of spiders and egg sacks tucked under bark whittlings, and hunkered down safe in chestnut duff caught in the crotches, sifting down as the robins rummaged above all summer, safe while the storm roared. And down below! Think of the cicadas! Plump babies in thin husks like creamy shrimp, blind and sucking, nibbling in the dark, in the sweet, glistening, black soil like embryonic kangaroos curled and clinging to those dark roots, sweet, piney juice, relying on them, waiting until it's time, until it's time, until...big, nautical sigh, and whump.

The snow pulled those trees down like wildebeest. It's hard to be sympathetic, though, arbor vitae are sterile as concrete - good for shelter, but they don't fruit like junipers, the lacier, cedary scented indigenous tree they replace in suburban landscapes. Arbor vitae grow fast. They're dense as a rug. They're good for privacy. So down they went, leaving an embarrassing hole. Baring us both. Our dandelions and bare patches. Their impeccable outdoor-room furniture precisely lined up like they're planning to watch a movie. Making us seed and sweep. So completely altering the light dynamic that the old dogwood that had spread flounces and blossoms for years until they flanked her like kidnappers, goons on either side of her, hustling her to the sedan, stuffing her in the trunk, and she was on the wane until they were felled themselves, but something bigger. A snowflake. Now in the sun, she's sprouting leaves from her trunk from her arms. She's gobbling it up. You can practically hear her sucking up the sun. I'm feeding her stinking blood meal, watering it in. This morning the landscapers swarmed hauling two more arbor vitae to fill the hole.