Making Stone Tools / A Non-verbal Process

A super group of videos…

Not a single word is needed to do this or to teach someone else to do this. The “tips” at the end would be demonstrated during the process. Children would see tools and other objects made day in and day out and would naturally copy their elders.

Archaeologists go on and on about how it takes “advanced cognitive skills” (like those needed to push around a shopping cart and swipe a credit card) to create stone tools. I have yet to hear a single researcher mention visual thinking. You can babble at a pile of stones, or another human, all day long, but all that yack-yacking will not produce one stone tool. The earliest stone tools are millions of years old; sophisticated flaked tools (Acheulean) were invented by Homo erectus, not Homo sapiens. Some research indicates that ‘language’ structure had its beginnings in sign language and not in vocalization. Pre and early humans were visual observers,  inventors and communicators – and not at all like modern social humans, who are a very recent “neotenic” variation of Homo sapiens.

All it takes is A FEW adept individuals to preserve techniques and to pass on skills. If a group were lucky, one “genius” might come up with improvements and refinements so that technical advancement could occur – which would probably be forgotten and reinvented many times. And critically, resources in one’s environment dictated solutions: nomadism provided exposure to new raw materials and new people, so “itchy feet” were likely more advantageous than staying in one place too long.

 

 

Lesson about Nature and Evolution / My Pitiful Garden

These photos sum up “flora” in the big scrubland that is southwestern Wyoming and the other desert basins, which compose the “basin and range” geography the American West.

A “lush” scene of sage brush, snakeweed, bunch grasses and weeds in late summer, at just the right moment in evening, when the sun produces “color” in the landscape. I used to differentiate “weeds” from native plants, but just what is native to this place? The idea is a bit preposterous: any “blown in” in or tracked in seed that manages to establish a colony is legitimate: survival, not “social labels” become the measure of successful plant life (and people).

When I moved to town 22 years ago, the yard of the house was packed mud, as were many other “lawns”. I wanted to do something with this blank canvas, but didn’t have any money to spare or a place to by “real” plants, shrubs, trees and perennials. Any existing landscaping in the neighborhood was typical – lawns and lilacs; fir trees and spring fruit trees that bloomed like crazy but were not orchard varieties; no edible fruit produced. Chinese elms (now that’s a weed!) proliferate in town, along with renegade forms of domestic plants gone wild – planted many decades ago, the most rugged specimens have been selected by the merciless environment and are all but indestructible.

Up close, the countryside reveals some lovely plants; not at all like domestic garden types, but interesting. And of course, rocks; a never-ending supply of metamorphic cobbles washed down from the mountains during glaciations and rounded and polished to perfection, and slabs of sandstone broken out of deep outcrops by freeze and thaw leverage, and strewn about by gravity. These I dragged home, a few each day, as I wandered around getting to know my new homeland.

Metamorphic “texture” visible in a river cobble

Fossil rain drops prints – small puddles in sandstone

I learned that sage brush can be transplanted; necessity revealed how to do it. A single large sage brush is impossible to dig up. The roots extend for many feet – a tap root straight down into the earth and many more that travel under the surface horizontally. But, the small extensions that pop up around the main plant can be easily pulled from sandy areas with roots intact. I literally planted dozens of these, to ensure that one or two survived. I didn’t amend or improve the soil (there wasn’t any). The differences between “wild and domestic plants” was soon obvious; how much water would the sage and Artemisia, globe mallow and flax, and unidentified “others” tolerate? And which plants would simply not transplant at all, and require starting from seeds?

Shadscale leaf – flower – seed

A weed that I used to bad-mouth until I discovered that it’s seeds feed a host of small birds all winter.

I collected desirable seeds whenever they appeared; the desert plants have their own timing due to the sporadic delivery of rain, so I stripped handfuls – some plants produce seeds that look like small flowers or parts of branches. In imitation of “nature” I tossed them randomly about the lot and forgot about them. It was then a surprise to discover something growing at all.

Eventually a proper nursery opened in town, where I supplemented the donations of iris from neighbors, and I fell into the “domestic trap” of wanting cut flowers. At first, perennials thrived, especially ground covers rooted between cobbles that made up the “rock garden” and other traditional flower producers. But – plants that are perennials in less tortured climates proved to be biennials in most cases; even hardy iris, having their tubers or roots “freeze-dried” by our cold dry winters.

My questions about the ubiquitous limited landscaping in town were quickly answered: “It’s the climate stupid” so I replaced whichever plants died with those that didn’t, and with ever more rock and gravel, and with evergreen shrubs, which adapted well. Flowers became annuals in pots; waterproof pots. Traditional clay pots simply turn into tombs for the mummies of their once-living contents. I literally abandoned the front yard to vegetation that never needs additional water. It’s literally a “what grows, grows” plot just like the countryside. And, deer eat their choice of favorite vegetation.

I must mention that all of this trial and error gardening is only possible due to the city being a “hands off” regime; they do occasionally cut weeds along the parkway and alleys, but budget cuts have all but eliminated even this activity. Years ago an overeager teenage employee with a weed-whacker interpreted my parkway landscaping as weeds and reduced the area to a crew cut – pitiful! But one irate phone call to the city and a letter to the editor of the local paper produced a “vow” that no one would come near my house again. That’s responsive government.

This year, the “garden” is down to a few pots in the back yard, and even these typical annuals are struggling with two “fill ups” of water every day. The sun at 6100′ feet actually burns leaves to a crisp, and along with temps in the high 80s – 90s and 10-15% humidity, the wind sucks the moisture from every living and non-living substance. It’s discouraging. But it’s a lesson in reality that should be obvious to all human beings, now that the earth is changing dramatically; global warming and cooling are typical, and periodically extreme in climate history. Much of the earth’s surface is uninhabitable by humans: that’s a fact that has only temporarily been overcome by massive water management, diversion and reckless depletion. That inhospitable area is increasing and shifting latitude northward and southward and in ways that are unpredictable, given the complexity of the physics and chemistry involved.

When “visiting” my poor beleaguered pots of plants this morning, I realized that “adaption” to this harsh place has not been a matter of trying to bend it to my will, but to let it change me. That’s a good thing. The changes coming to earth are normal and inevitable; so is human stupidity, so I have no illusion that nature will move on, with or without us, just has it always does.

 

 

How Science is Supposed to Work / Earth Science Revolution

NEWYORKTIMES

Quakes, Tectonic and Theoretical

First Job in Wyoming / Telemarketeer Re-Post

Telemarketeer -Twenty years ago…

1997: In my now-and-then capacity as a telemarketer for the local newspaper, I have been addressed as Sir, Son, Ma’m, Dear, and Dude. The confusion produced by my telephone voice began when I was about ten years old, the result of an innocent quirk of nature that caused my mother so much embarrassment that she directed me to speak in a higher, more feminine voice, insisting that if I did so, the change would become permanent. Her idiotic suggestion did not win my compliance, and to this day the people I ring up on behalf of the local newspaper call me Sir, Son, Ma’am, or even Dude and I let them think whatever they wish.

As TV journalists like to say, “the vast majority” of copies of the weekly flyer named The Guide are delivered to residents of two towns in our county. Of the 30,000 copies printed each week, 350 must be mailed to outlying households, a service for which the United States Postal Service charges the publishers $125.00 per week. The postal authorities have decided that we (that’s me) must obtain the names of 8,000 people who will admit that they wish to receive The Guide, otherwise the Postal Service will no longer permit copies to be mailed bulk rate.

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About Our County: Not the entire state, just our county. Imagine an area the size of Massachusetts. Remove the vegetation, the history, the thriving cities and towns, the ethnic culture, the restaurants, the shopping, the seafood, the numerous institutions of research and higher learning, the cultural arts, professional sports teams, and all but 45,000 of its people. Add bitter alkaline soil, a uniformly high and lifeless plateau (average altitude 6,500′) and precipitation on a par with the Mongolian Steppe. True, a river does flow through the area like the Nile crosses Egypt, but without delivering a single bucket of fertile sediment. Too barren for cattle – Pronghorn, coyote, varmints and rabbits form a tentative fauna. Hordes of sheep are trucked in during February because the vast public lands mean they can be rotated to a different grazing patch every two to three days.

Over the brief time that I’ve lived in Wyoming, contact with my neighbors has for the most part been via the phone calls I make on behalf of the newspaper’s ongoing survey. When someone answers the phone, I say, “This is The Guide calling to verify that you still wish to receive The Guide.”

The usual response is “uh” or “uh-huh”, both of which mean yes, so I quickly confirm the address as it appears in the phone book. Good enough, but in an extraordinary number of instances, the phone number does not belong to the person listed in the phone book. This invalidates the response, and I must ask the person to reveal his or her correct address and identity. Shockingly, he or she invariably complies. The percentage of disconnected numbers is also high: area jobs depend on oil and gas production and coal and trona (baking soda) mining, industries that guarantee a boom and bust transient population.

About half the respondents don’t recognize the free paper as The Guide, so I prompt them with, “The free Tuesday paper, the shopper’s guide, you know, the one that has the TV listings inside?”

Everyone gets it then, although a few say, “Oh! That thing I find in my bushes every Tuesday.” Which is true.

An alarming number of residents fear that we intend to take it away from them or that we will start charging for it. One woman said, “Well, if it’s a bother, I guess you can stop bringing it.”

Another meekly replied, “No, I don’t want it anymore – is that OK?”

A few say positive things such as, “We love that little paper.” “I sure do need that TV Guide,” and “Don’t leave me without the grocery store coupons.”

A teenager responded wryly, “My mother and her husband aren’t here. Call back.” Stereotypical husbands must ask the wife. “I’m not in a decision-making position in this house,” admitted one.

“My wife just got laid off and I’m kinda gettin’ that way too.” What this had to do with receiving a free paper, I’m not sure. I worry about folks who contrive to make me decide whether to say “yes” or “no” for them, and about a man who shouted, “Come over for a soft drink, a cup of coffee, and Ritz crackers.”

A high percentage of those who wish to stop delivery cite failing eyesight or blindness.

“I always have the TV on, why do I need a TV guide?” an elderly gentleman asked.

Sometimes despair overcomes me when my phone call intrudes on what sounds like a tiny human black hole at the center of a room-sized galaxy, surviving on energy sucked from an excruciatingly loud television set, with the furnace set on Hell, in the company of a sole surviving houseplant that was packed into potting soil in 1952, its one withered leaf gasping for the CO2 that the old human can no longer supply in sufficient quantity. Enough poetry.

The phone book is crammed with names that are new to me: Likwartz, Labuda, Bodyfelt, Copyak, Bozovich, Blazovich, Chewning, Bilyeu, Crnich, Cukale, Delanneoy, Depoyster, Fagnant, Holopeter, Jauregui, Jelouchan, Lovercheck, Manhard, Warpness, and more. Between 1850 and 1950, this corner of Wyoming attracted an international ensemble of men looking for the worst work on earth, but alas, ethnic names are the only lasting evidence of a diverse cultural heritage, which is not surprising in an environment that defeats human effort, and in which the vast and bleak land paralyzes the psyche.

A friend who grew up in a coal camp north of town contends that by the 1950’s, everyone had become the same. “Everybody just looked and sounded the same,” he said. “Bleak, beaten up, defeated.”

I continue to jot down amazing names: LaDonna LaCroix, Season Lower, Ty Harder,  Larry Hell, Numa Grubb, Jack Leathers, Bert Mexican, Edwardo Wardo, Osmo Ranta, Clint Chick, Caddy Cackler, Fyrn Coon, Rhett Coy, Theron Dye, Deena & Alle Jo Butters, Kamber Bink Backman, Wanda Hodo, Hushlen Cochrun, Tex Jasperson, Cyma Cudney, Bubb Buh. And the surnames – Uncapher, Sweat, Warpness, Chitica, Laundra, Tonette.

Another melancholy evening as a telemarketer: one phone exchange took off on a sad energy of its own. I don’t recall what set the woman off, but she said that as a young bride she had agreed to follow her husband into the Colorado mountains for a three-month try at a mining job. The pair stayed to raise four kids before moving to Wyoming.

“Eighteen years in Colorado, eighteen here,” she said. A symmetrical life at least. Her husband still works as a miner and drives “a twelve-mile-long dirt road with nothing but ditches” to work and back, which worries her. “I can’t believe that my life is all gone,” she sighed.  “After eighteen years we still don’t know anyone in this town.”

Me neither: my rubber dingy ran aground here a short two years ago and I’ve been busy falling in love with the landscape.

“We’re sorry, you have reached a marriage that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” No longer connected are Duke + Sandra; Don + Darla; Eldon + LaRie; Cactus + Tammy; Amber + Travis; Hava + Holly; Jay + Dee Dee.

It could be 1957 outside the newspaper office, except that town was an exciting enclave back then. Copies of the newspaper from that time are characterized by enthusiasm and pride; by advertisements for roadhouses, dance halls, and social clubs that catered to every interest, age and hobby. There were restaurants and stores. A full plate of gossip and local news kept people connected. Flipping through the old papers makes me wish I had wandered here a half century ago.

Today’s main street is a dreary alignment of gas stations, concrete block motels, and auto body shops punctuated by weedy lots and businesses that stick to the Interstate interchange at either end of town like cultural antibodies guaranteed to fight off growth and prosperity.

Asperger’s / Journey of a lifetime

Fresh morning; at an elevation of 6100′ our desert cools at night, every night. Hot summer days are balanced by magical evenings of long low light that seem to be unreal, like living in a painting. Right now though, our first week of temps in the 70s is predicted, which doesn’t mean that we won’t get a snow squall sometime in June.

A type of “anticipatory anxiety” surrounds the change into “real summer” – and the subtle emotional interference of knowing that “summer is brief” adds a biting dread.  The West is not at all like those “homey” green and tree-enclosed environments of the Midwest, where I grew up, and which I fled, like a migrating salmon, whale or xxxpulled by a magnetic tether or a few molecules of home waters mingled in the currents.

Unlike many rural locations, those born here tend to stay – leaving for college, the military or a ‘job’ in a big city but returning eventually, like the salmon, to raise a family, quietly, automatically, reflexively, but without an economic rebound in the usual “boom and bust” cycle of extractive industries, and due to simple demographics of the baby boomers, and without much immigration, the town is ageing rapidly. “We” old folks ought to move on to sunny winter havens; some do, but most of us are glued to this place by knowledge; by experience in the “outer world” – the U.S. one sees on TV. Frantic, insane, polarized. It’s as if no one remembers that they are human; technology drives millions, like sardines or anchovies in a bait ball, that “supposedly” offers “safety in numbers” – a temporary illusion.

The bait ball A “visual analogy” for modern social urban environments…

A small number of Homo sapiens “stay” in our Wyoming desert instead of migrating through the area as Native Americans and trappers did, thanks to an assist from geography and technology: a year-round supply of river water flowing out of mountains to the north, the transcontinental railway, and the Interstate system. Unlike snow monkeys, we don’t drink our own poo, thanks to a water processing system. And thankfully, we’re not “cute” and don’t attract unwanted attention.

Many people are not aware that this hot spring lifestyle is a recent cultural behavior that the snow monkeys copied from humans.

Sometimes instinct is the Mother of Invention…  Salmon whose migration route is disturbed by flooding exploit the challenge as an opportunity.  

But…escape one predator, get caught by another…

Instinct – a very good thing, fundamental to animal life. Social humans don’t see it this way. Intuitive visual thinkers trust instinct; intuitive “messages” are instinct at work.

 

Funny Avatars / Albrecht Durer and Gone Wild

Wow! What fun: my childhood artistic hero Albrecht Durer “penned” this funny self-portrait in a 1506 letter to a friend. He supposedly was drunk at the time. I wasn’t drunk when I drew mine ca. 1980, but ‘altered states’ are a common artistic pitfall.

I zeroed in on Durer because of his “natural history” drawings and prints (as opposed to ghastly Christian advertising.) It wasn’t only his masterful technique, but a “sensibility” toward nature; scientific in quality, but conceptually transcendent, as if he merged with the animal or plant he was describing, and in an act of visual wizardry, revealed their essences, their “souls” if you wish. He did this by simply recognizing them as important “beings” in and of themselves; he revealed a world of integrated plants and animals outside the typical human blindness to nature as anything but a “resource” for human exploitation.

It was my desire to become a printmaker, but instead of going to art school, I was offered a job at a graphic design studio: I can see now that Durer’s greatest appeal and influence on me was as the “godfather” of graphic design. (I later studied geology) His work is modern; it remains so, because he is a fine original designer. His “sensibility” has been copied, expanded and his “eye for placement and relationship” of text and image is superb –  and has spread across time and space; across cultures.

“A Great Piece of Turf” – This Asperger child spent hours staring into the microcosm of overlooked reality revealed by Durer.

“Melancholia” 1503 / What artistic-science curious teenager wouldn’t be drawn to this image?

 

 

 

Favorite Photos of Favorite Places / Sun Power

The sun is 93 million miles away; what incredible power it has over life, way out west in Wyoming. “The sun lifts rivers into the air, and drops them elsewhere.”