Mitigation, Termination and Osculation

Dandelions, porcupettes and wake-up calls. Miscellany from Douglas G. Pearce’s Countryside Digest.

June 18, 2009 | | Back Issues | Countryside Digest | Departments | Environment | Summer 2009

Dandelion Delight

“Much has been written about the value of the dandelion, but I am not going to talk about the endless possibilities of diuretic teas, the chance to eat some bitter leaves, or brew a semi-alcoholic beverage that some may call wine.” Dandelions are a good pollen source for honeybees. “While dandelions may not lead to increased honey harvest directly [during spring], they build the strength of the hive to allow the bees to succeed in summer when honey will be made.”

“Both lab and field experiments showed that when dandelion and alfalfa were growing together, the number of lady beetles was higher and the numbers of pea aphids on the alfalfa was lower (compared to alfalfa grown alone). They found that the lady beetles were using the dandelion pollen to supplement their aphid diet.”

“The goldfinches that brighten up the landscape in spring feed their young extensively on dandelion seeds. Many songbirds eat dandelion seeds and leaves throughout the season. All grazing animals will eat dandelion leaves, though there are conflicting opinions on the forage value of them.” From “In Need of Weeds?” by Stuart McMillan, in The Canadian Organic Grower, Spring/09.

Too Late

“Quietly in public, loudly in private, climate scientists everywhere are saying the same thing: it’s over. The years in which more than 2ºC of global warming could have been prevented have passed, the opportunities squandered by denial and delay. On current trajectories, we’ll be lucky to get away with 4ºC. Mitigation (limiting greenhouse gas pollution) has failed; now we must adapt to what nature sends our way. If we can.”

“Yes, it might already be too late … but we cannot behave as if it is, for in doing so we make the prediction come true. Tough as this fight may be, improbable as success might seem, we cannot afford to surrender.” From “Lets Not Behave as if it’s Too Late,” by George Monbiot, CCPA Monitor, May/09.

Tickety-boo

“If you look through history, there has always been a pattern of warm periods and cool ones. We are just experiencing a pattern. Mankind does not have the ability to change the temperature of the weather any more than he has the ability to do a rain dance and make rain come. The global warming thing is used purely for political purposes. By the way, I had a record -33ºF at my home this winter.” From a letter to Organic Gardening, May/09, from Christine Gavitt of Thorndike, Maine.

Sea Change

“About 250 million years ago, during the time known as the Great Dying at the end of the Permian period – the biggest mass extinction the world has yet known – the ocean’s oxygen ran out. There are a couple of theories about why this happened, but a leading candidate is that the surface layer warmed up enough and became salty enough to disturb the currents. Currents feed oxygen from the atmosphere into the ocean and move nutrients around. When the oxygen vanished, most life on land and in the sea – more than 90 per cent of the species then alive – died. …it is clear that the ocean contains the switch of life. Not land, nor the atmosphere. The ocean. And that switch can be flipped off.” From Sea Sick: the Global Ocean in Crisis, by Alanna Mitchell, McClelland and Stewart, 2009.

Catching the Buss

“Kissing is catching. Almost two decades ago, anthropologist Helen Fisher estimated that 10 per cent of humanity did not kiss. Globalization has shrunk that figure, so that osculation now rules in most societies that are touched by the modern world. Why? One suggestion is that it’s a vestige of our ancestors’ love of ripe fruit…but the role of kissing remains mysterious.” From New Scientist, Feb 14/09.

Poop Deck

“Grannie used to say she was going out to the euphemism to euphemize. She meant the 1915-era summerhouse privy built on a granite ledge in Maine. To a child raised with water closets, as I had been, the span of the hole seemed dangerously wide and the pit below dark and bottomless. But the smell was bad only by association, and it was light enough inside the privy to peruse the old New Yorker covers that papered its walls. Yet why had it been built as a two-holer? Closeness in our extended family did not extend to companionable excretion with cousins or elders.” From “Deep Doo-Doo,” by Christopher Hamlin, in American Scientist, Mar-Apr/09.

Porcupettes

“After seven months in the womb, porcupettes (yup, that’s the scientific name) emerge in the spring with eyes open, teeth ready for solid food, and soft quills that harden within the hour. They reach adult size – 12 to 35 pounds and up to three feet in length – within a year.” From “The Porcupine,” by Sharon Tregaskis, in Organic Gardening, May/09.

Seeds of Conformity

“The last 25 years have seen radical changes in Canada’s seed production and supply system. And for the most part, they haven’t been good ones. Some would say that the groundwork is being laid for the total corporate control of Canadian agriculture. Plant breeding has almost entirely moved from the public to the private sector; and along with that shift has come the imposition of harsher legislation and regulation governing seed ownership and use.” From “The Right to Farm Saved Seeds,” by Gwynne Basen, in Seeds of Diversity, Spring/08.

Wake-up Calls

“The males of the bird kingdom mainly produce the break-of-dawn racket. The refrain may start at different times depending on the light, but the species enter the chorus in the same order every morning. A bird’s voice box is a double-membraned organ called a syrinx. He can alternate exhaling between the two lungs and harmonize with himself. Now that’s an impressive feat bound to attract attention from the opposite sex, which is in fact one of his aims. Males sing more elaborate melodies in the presence of females, and a strong, rich song equals robust health, an attractive quality in a potential mate. From Organic Gardening, May/09.

Chip Tasting

“…the alluring aroma of chips [fries] contains aromatic notes of butterscotch, flowers and ironing boards.” From New Scientist, Feb 14/09.

Wine Wise

“One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.”
Samuel Johnson

About the Author More by Douglas G. Pearce

Douglas G. Pearce is a retired scientist who lives in Mono, you can read more miscellany in other issues of Countryside Digest.

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