Wednesday, November 22, 2023



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November 22. 2023

Give Thanks for True Wilderness





(All direct quotes from the NY Times are in blue)

I was filled with wonder yesterday, reading the NY Times' weekly Science section, and finding out about an Oxford expedition into the isolated Cyclops Mountains on the island of New Guinea.

But first a "Wait a minute!" arose in my mind. It was the specter of the horrible history of colonial "exploration" and expeditions. Were these obviously privileged (because from Oxford) Westerners exploiting the local people for their own scientific glory? But in fact, they made a real effort to show their appreciation and gratitude. To quote from the article:

Local residents from the village of Yongsu Separi, including two guides, Zacharias and Samuel Sorondanya, were crucial to finding species and properly placing cameras. Local students also received biodiversity survey training from the researchers during the trek. The team plans to name the new species for the local students and collaborators.

Iain Kobak, co-founder of Yappenda, a conservation and research foundation based in Papua that helped organize the expedition, said that such explorations would help protect the flora and fauna of the area. "I really hope and believe this will become a catalyst for strong conservation of the Cyclops Mountain Range," he said.

I think we can say that these scientists have made a sincere and significant effort to honor the actual people who live in the Cyclops Mountains. Just imagine being a student and having a newly discovered species named for you. This expedition was a good thing.

And, this being the holiday of gratitude, I damn well want to give thanks for THAT!

This is what comes from facing the evils

that your country has done in the past:

It motivates you to change your behavior!

Now let us return to the amazing discoveries that this wilderness had to offer.

The photo below confirms the survival of a bizarre egg-laying mammal, Attenborough's long-beaked echidna, which was thought to be extinct.

The photo below (from Google images) must be from the last time the echidna was seen, in 1961. This mammal is about the size of a house cat. Very little is known about it other than that it eats insects and worms.

Please note this wonderfully strange being was named for David Attenborough, a very famous British scientist and broadcaster, who needed the honor like a hole in the head.

  • This species is one of five living monotremes, a strange group of primitive mammals that includes the platypus and three other echidna species. Monotremes diverged from the common ancestors of other mammals around 200 million years ago. The five species lay eggs and nurse their young with milk through pores in their skin, as they lack nipples, and possess snouts that sense movements and electrical currentsin prey.

And then there's the new species of hopping shrimp, about as big as a grain of rice, which lives nowhere near the ocean:

  • These crustaceans were all over the place, including in trees, moss, rotting longs and even under rocks, said the expedition's lead entomologist. "It's a very weird creature," Dr. Davranoglou said, adding that it's able to leap three or four feet in the air to escape predators. "We were quite awe-struck, really."

" Quite awe-struck, really." I love how the British talk about being awe-struck in the most calm and civilized way.

And as if that weren't enough for one expedition, there's the moss-covered hole:

  • During one climb, a researcher fell into a moss-covered hole that turned out to be an unknown cave system Within it, the team found blind spiders and crickets and a large whip scorpiion, all new to science, Dr. Davranoglou said. The team also found at least three new species of amphibians in the surrounding forest.

Just imagine falling into a hole, which must have been at least a little scary, and discovering a world of unknown creatures! It's like a dream, like a moment from Alice in Wonderland come to life.

This year I give thanks for the jumping shrimp and the blind spiders, the wildness that still exists in this world, the secrets that still abound. I give thanks for the scientists who now name new species after the people who helped them in their work. And especially I give thanks and offer prayers for the survival of Attenborough's long-beaked echidna and, while we're at it, the other four monotreme species. And I give thanks for the New York Times, for bringing me the news of the expedition and the cave discovered through a scientist's slip and fall. May the Times, threatened with extinction like all newspapers, survive along with the little long-beaked echidna into the far off future.

Dear Bloggellinnis: Long time no blog! What can I say? I've been stuck. I've started blogs many times but could never finish one. Have you ever been stuck? I never have been before. I think it's because my collaborator/soul sister/upstairs neighbor Carolyn moved away. But that was more than two years ago. That's a long time to be stuck! I think I secretly wanted to ruin my life to punish Carolyn for moving away. That'll show her, I thought deep down somewhere in my twisty mind! I'll stop doing the work that gives me the most joy. Ha ha! Take that, Carolyn!

But I just had to tell you about these wonderful creatures. And the moss-covered hole. I was quite awe-struck myself, really! I had to share it.

I certainly never ran out of things to say to you. But I'd lost the will to say them. I think I might not be stuck any longer. I know Carolyn will be very relieved if that is true. Terry