Yellow World / Prose Wyoming

THE YELLOW WORLD is the high desert of southwestern Wyoming

The Yellow World is a source of sediment, a high spot on the continent that will be leveled in good time.

June

In the depths of a snaky arroyo that debouches into the Green River, there stands a cut bank I call the cobble wall, after the ovoid bodies of quartzite packed into a deep layer at its base. The appearance of the polished stones within the vast monotony of mud and sand is like that of a Roman mosaic discovered in a far flung mud brick town. The smooth substantive cobbles, which began as rough bits of rock broken from distant mountain exposures, were reduced to ovoid volumes in the welter of distal floods. Relict cross-bedding of the original sandstone, and the distorted pebbles of former conglomerates, are magical metamorphic fabrics that yield details of their geologic heritage.

Time’s beauty can be held in my hand: midwifed by ice wedging and snowmelt, the cobbles provide pleasure in my garden.

Above the cobble layer, sagebrush that have been undermined when a portion of the mud wall caved onto the arroyo floor hang upside down anchored by a taproot the thickness of a hangman’s rope. This trick can extend a life span, but not forever.

It’s a forest service road in a forest without trees: the shallow shifting channel demanded by the low flow of the Blacks Fork is flanked by a wide alkali flat salted with bunch grass, as if an old-fashioned chenille bedspread grows there. The surrounding bluffs and ridges deepen to charcoal blue under passing clouds and those traveling shadows tease one into contemplation of a desert life: a period waits at the end of each sentence. Keep writing, then.

July

July sidelines the winter worrier, cold anxiety soothed by Nature’s reassurance that we deserve to live in the sagebrush fields of Paradise. The earth’s rotation is our refresh icon: the Yellow World is restored by the arrant light of daybreak, but High Noon finds the gray chaparral and yellow escarpments white hot; the countryside is overexposed and uninviting. The reward for our endurance is the transition into twilight, when nature’s products, and man’s efforts as well, benefit from the long wavelengths of the sun’s farewell.

Clouds shed answers somewhere tonight, but not on the Yellow World, not on the drought-destroyed vitality of flowers in my garden, but theirs is a simple fatigue and no match for the weariness of consciousness, for the question of what to do with oneself.

Chance, that ruthless overseer, has designated Wyoming as the land of my exile. Its wide spaces are a fence made of distance where the temptations of civilized life cannot cross its wastes to find me.

We climb a pale road to meet night descending on one of the earth’s most simple places: Puccini instructs the silent hills what it means to be caught between obligation and desire. The red girl, as red tonight as cousin fox, vaults the acid snakeweed and blushing winged dock, her tail a feather that falls among those delicate beauties. She is unaware that a dark wild horse is grazing in the faint pooling light, cut from the dark sky when the full moon shatters the plateau rim. The west wind comes on strong: we just make it back to the truck, the hot sky flowing like taffy. A summer avalanche of dust pushes us down canyon, down home.

August

Coarse red weeds tangle like dredlocks on a piece of ground disfigured by man, over which the truck rolls toward the river, toward willow and birch that move like kelp in a tidal flow, adding grace of movement to a static landscape.

The red dog barks sharply at a distant passing vehicle and the puppy echoes her mousetrap behavior, causing me to question the size and shape of my psychic territory, which under scrutiny proves to be huge and somewhat comical. I used to dodge intimacy because I believed that it came with a blade and a burden, but the yellow world has shown me that it is my character that is double-edged.

An inexplicable happiness spreads across the land, evidence of the correspondence between the land and the land inside me. My existence has to this date shown no practical application, but loving the land is sufficient when so many don’t. The source of this benevolent function is unknown, but perhaps the Art Director of Life, upon noticing a dull spot in the universe, lured me to the Yellow World. 

November

A touchy starter delays our departure, but once warmed by the sun, the red truck shudders without complaint along our uncomfortable bladed roads, over two-track hard pan and sharp rolling rock, asking no more than to enter the wilderness with enough gas to get us home.

What a wonderfully mathematical landscape is our desert; the precision of its forms seduces one into the search for non-living intelligence. Hints lie about the gentle hills, concealed in the harsh places, floating atop the river of flashing fish. Desert secrets are filed within the digs of a surly badger and demonstrated in the strict sanity of the anthill.

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gONE fREE gONE wILD / New Blog

It was a chore, but I finally have a new blog for my travel journal in a new format that’s actually accessible and readable! The old version was Some People are Lost, which will disappear once I check for anything I’ve missed.)

And the journal has a new – old name. I had changed it because I thought that the first title – courtesy of a Texan who appears in a couple chapters – over-promised on what the content was like, but after so many years with the wrong title, I realized that he was not talking about the content, of which he had no knowledge, but he was referring to me. I think it’s an old Texas saying, but he applied it rightly, as only a Texan can.

It’s good to remember that I was thoroughly Asperger at the time, but utterly unaware of that situation.

Miss America Gone Wrong

“There She Goes”

It’s all there, but needs tweaking and illustrations.

http://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com

Paleontology Lesson: “Splitting or Lumping” of fossils / Too many species

Yes, this is about dinosaurs, but the principle applies to the “every anthropologist who finds a fossil gets to name a new species” problem in Homo evolution, based on “skull” shape and dimensions rather than on “reproduction” as the evolutionary sign of speciation. Here, it’s developmental changes that have to be sorted out. Two articles:

New analyses of dinosaur growth may wipe out one-third of species

October 30, 2009

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2009-10-bye-hogwarts-dinosaur-analyses-growth.html#jCp

(PhysOrg.com) — Paleontologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Museum of the Rockies have wiped out two species of dome-headed dinosaur, one of them named three years ago – with great fanfare – after Hogwarts, the school attended by Harry Potter.

Their demise comes after a three-horned dinosaur, Torosaurus, was assigned to the dustbin of history last month at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in the United Kingdom, the loss in recent years of quite a few duck-billed hadrosaurs and the probable disappearance of Nanotyrannus, a supposedly miniature Tyrannosaurus rex.

These dinosaurs were not separate species, as some paleontologists claim, but different growth stages of previously named dinosaurs, according to a new study.

The confusion is traced to their bizarre head ornaments, ranging from shields and domes to horns and spikes, which changed dramatically with age and sexual maturity, making the heads of youngsters look very different from those of adults.

“Juveniles and adults of these dinosaurs look very, very different from adults, and literally may resemble a different species,” said dinosaur expert Mark B. Goodwin, assistant director of UC Berkeley’s Museum of Paleontology. “But some scientists are confusing morphological differences at different growth stages with characteristics that are taxonomically important. The result is an inflated number of dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous.”

Goodwin and John “Jack” Horner of the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman, are the authors of a new paper analyzing North American dome-headed dinosaurs that appeared this week in the public access online journal PLoS One.

Unlike the original dinosaur die-off at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, this loss of species is the result of a sustained effort by paleontologists to collect a full range of dinosaur fossils – not just the big ones. Their work has provided dinosaur specimens of various ages, allowing computed tomography (CT) scans and tissue study of the growth stages of dinosaurs.

In fact, Horner suggests that one-third of all named dinosaur species may never have existed, but are merely different stages in the growth of other known dinosaurs.

“What we are seeing in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana suggests that we may be overextended by a third,” Horner said, a “wild guess” that may hold true for the various horned dinosaurs recently discovered in Asia from the Cretaceous. “A lot of the dinosaurs that have been named recently fall into that category.”

The new paper, published online Oct. 27, contains a thorough analysis of three of the four named dome-headed dinosaurs from North America, including Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis, the first “thick-headed” dinosaur discovered. After that dinosaur’s description in 1943, many speculated that male pachycephalosaurs used their bowling ball-like domes to head-butt one another like big-horn sheep, though Goodwin and Horner disproved that notion in 2004 after a thorough study of the tissue structure of the dome.

Many paleontologists now realize that the elaborate head ornaments of dinosaurs, from the huge bony shield and three horns of Triceratops to the coxcomb-like head gear of some hadrosaurs, were not for combat, but served the same purpose as feathers in birds: to distinguish between species and indicate sexual maturity.

“Dinosaurs, like birds and many mammals, retain neoteny, that is, they retain their juvenile characteristics for a long period of growth,” Horner said, “which is a strong indicator that they were very social animals, grouping in flocks or herds with long periods of parental care.”

These head ornaments, which probably had horny coverings of keratin that may have been brightly-colored as they are in many birds, started growing when these dinosaurs reached about half their adult size, and were remodeled as these dinosaurs matured, continuing to change shape even into adulthood and old age, according to the researchers.

In the new paper, Horner and Goodwin compared the bone structures of Pachycephalosaurus with that of a domeheaded dinosaur, Stygimoloch spinifer, discovered in Montana by UC Berkeley paleontologists in 1973, and a dragon-like skull discovered in South Dakota and named in 2006 as a new species, Dracorex hogwartsia.

With the help of CT scans and microscopic analysis of slices through the bones of Pachycephalosaurus and Stygimoloch, the team concluded that Stygimoloch, with its high, narrow dome, growing tissue and unfused skull bones, was probably a pachycephalosaur subadult, in a stage just before sexual maturity.

Dracorex is one of a kind, and thus unavailable for dissection, but morphological analysis indicates it is a juvenile that hasn’t yet formed a dome, although the top of its skull shows thickening suggestive of an emerging dome.

“Dracorex’s flat skull, nodules on the front end and small spikes on back, and thickened but undomed frontoparietal bone all confirm that, ontogenetically, it is a juvenile Pachycephalosaurus,” Goodwin said.

Comparison of these skulls to other fossils in the hands of private collectors confirm the conclusions, they said. In all, they looked at 21 dome-headed dinosaur skulls and cranial elements from North America.

The key to this analysis, Horner said, was years of field work in Montana by his team and Goodwin’s in search of fossils of all sizes.

“We have gone out in the Hell Creek Formation for 11 years doing nothing but collecting absolutely everything we could find, which is the kind of collecting that is required,” he said. “If you think about Triceratops, people had collected for 100 years and still hadn’t found any juveniles. And we went out and spent 11 years collecting everything, and we found all kinds of them.”

“Early paleontologists recognized the distinction between adults and juveniles, but people have lost track of looking at ontogeny – how the individual develops – when they discover a new fossil,” Goodwin said. “Dinosaurs are not mammals, and they don’t grow like mammals.”

In fact, the so-called metaplastic bone on the heads of horned dinosaurs grows and dissolves, or resorbs, throughout life like no other bone, Horner said, and is reminiscent of the growth and loss of horns today in elk and deer. In earlier studies, Horner and Goodwin found dramatic remodeling of metaplastic bone in Triceratops, which led to their subsequent focus on dome-headed dinosaurs.

“Metaplastic bones get long and shorten, as in Triceratops, where the horn orientation is backwards in juveniles and forward in adults,” Horner said. Even in older specimens, such as the fossil previously named Torosaurus, bone in the face shield resorbs to create holes along the margin. John Scannella, Horner’s student at Montana State, presented a paper reclassifying Torosaurus as an old Triceratops at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Bristol, U.K., on Sept. 25.

“In order for that huge amount of bone to move, there has to be a lot of deposition and resorption,” Horner said.

Horner and Goodwin continue to search for dinosaur fossils in the Hell Creek Formation, which is rich in Triceratops, dome-headed dinosaurs, hadrosaurs and tyrannosaurs. Analysis of growth stages in these taxa will have implications for other horned dinosaurs that are being uncovered in Asia and elsewhere.

“There are other horned dinosaurs I think may be over split,” that is, split into too many new species rather than being lumped together as one species, Goodwin said.

Source: University of California – Berkeley (news : web)

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TOP: Immature Skull BOTTOM: Mature Adult Skull

UPDATE 2016 \/: Go to article for details and illustrations:

SAURIAN BLOG http://saurian.maxmediacorp.com/?p=893/

No more Demons and Dragon Kings? Pachycephalosaurus ontogeny

CLIP: On top of all that, some dinosaurs also appear to develop unique structures like horns, domes and crests at various points during their development, and many are quite dramatic, appearing very quickly during ontogeny. No wonder then that it was not uncommon for scientists to name several species of dinosaur found at the same time and same place differentiated largely by size and display structures. And possibly the best example of this situation was Pachycephalosaurus, Stygimoloch (“Styx demon”) and Dracorex (“dragon king”); found at the same time, in the same place, more closely related to each other than to other pachycephalosaurs, and differing only in size and cranial features. And then Dr. Jack Horner changed everything.

One of the most influential discoveries that has radically changed our understanding of dinosaurs and their world is the realization that dinosaurs often went through dramatic physical changes as they aged. It has been well known for some time that unlike modern birds, non-avian dinosaurs took several years to reach adult size and began breeding before reaching skeletal maturity, but shared with them very rapid growth rates, resulting in animals that ‘lived fast and died young’. Thanks to this growth habit, most dinosaurs that we have a significant sample size for show a particular pattern when it comes to their fossil record: hatchling and juveniles tend to be rare due to very high mortality rates (many were eaten and digested, resulting in no preservation), rapid growth rates to larger size and preservation bias that favors fossilization of large bodied, large boned animals. By comparison, there tends to be a large number of individuals that are one-half to two-thirds maximum adult size that represent animals that have reached sexual (but not skeletal) maturity, and a small number of individuals that have reached maximum adult size and skeletal maturity.

 

TEDTALK / What is Beauty? I object to this “idea”

Anjan Chatterjee: How your brain decides what is beautiful

TEDTALK August, 12, 2017

It’s 1878. Sir Francis Galton gives a remarkable talk. He’s speaking to the anthropologic institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Known for his pioneering work in human intelligence, Galton is a brilliant polymath. He’s an explorer, an anthropologist, a sociologist, a psychologist and a statistician. He’s also a eugenist. In this talk, he presents a new technique by which he can combine photographs and produce composite portraits. This technique could be used to characterize different types of people. Galton thinks that if he combines photographs of violent criminals, he will discover the face of criminality. But to his surprise, the composite portrait that he produces is beautiful.

Galton’s surprising finding raises deep questions: What is beauty? Why do certain configurations of line and color and form excite us so? For most of human history, these questions have been approached using logic and speculation. But in the last few decades, scientists have addressed the question of beauty using ideas from evolutionary psychology and tools of neuroscience. We’re beginning to glimpse the why and the how of beauty, at least in terms of what it means for the human face and form. And in the process, we’re stumbling upon some surprises.

Galton’s finding that composite or average faces are typically more attractive than each individual face that contributes to the average has been replicated many times. This laboratory finding fits with many people’s intuitions. (preconceived assumptions) Average faces represent the central tendencies of a group. People with mixed features represent different populations, and presumably harbor greater genetic diversity and adaptability to the environment. Many people find mixed-race individuals attractive and inbred families less so.

The second factor that contributes to beauty is symmetry. People generally find symmetric faces more attractive than asymmetric ones. Developmental abnormalities are often associated with asymmetries. And in plants, animals and humans, asymmetries often arise from parasitic infections. Symmetry, it turns out, is also an indicator of health. (not really) In the 1930s, a man named Maksymilian Faktorowicz recognized the importance of symmetry for beauty when he designed the beauty micrometer. With this device, he could measure minor asymmetric flaws which he could then make up for with products he sold from his company, named brilliantly after himself, Max Factor, which, as you know, is one of the world’s most famous brands for “make up.”

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This talk by Anjan Chatterjee popped up in the inbox this morning: I confess that something about TED talks feels creepy. I had an argument once with a friend who kept sending me links to “talks” – I signed up for notifications in order to be “open-minded” and tried watching when the topic was of interest. But there’s something about TED that creeps me out.

Coincidentally, I spent some time yesterday looking at “faces” from a collection of Native American period photographs posted on this website:

https://indianspictures.blogspot.com/2012/02/american-indian-culture-photos-and.html

These are faces created by the life the person lived; not faces made by “shaming” the face one was born to have, and which is a treasure map of the experiences of a single unique human being.

And yet, modern social humans subscribe to a social injustice: your face is not good enough. It must be disguised to be acceptable. It must not reveal your life; your experiences, trials or triumphs. And now, “science” is going to tell you that this “lie that is your made-up face” magically “fools” other humans into believing that you are “genetic perfection” in the flesh; an object of prime real estate for reproducing the species. That you are fertile, healthy, and a preferred choice for having children.

It’s all nonsense. It’s cultural distortion. It’s “psychosocial” Eugenics. It’s a perversion of life processes that have produced millions of “beautiful species” and the individuals of those species and not by the warped dictates of one person or group of modern social humans, but by  incremental changes over unimaginable time; by natural “crisis” engineering when the environment changes radically and quickly. By “optimization” of systems, not by slavish “copying” of ideal forms – especially as “presented by” the cultural imposition of ideas that simply do not pass the scrutiny of “what actually exists” in front of our “noses”.

Case in point: My face. There is no “pride” in stating that my face appears to fulfill the “requirements” that ostensibly advertise “health and good genes” and therefore a slam dunk for “positive” reproduction. I am not: By evolutionary standards, I’m a failure. Non-conforming to “female” design as the “baby-growing” half of the species; the product of a dysfunctional “Asperger, bipolar, schizophrenic” – producing family line – ostensibly caused by “bad genes” And I’m certainly not the only exception to this “eugenic” rule of beauty = healthy genes and reproductive success. I have no children. There are millions of “beautiful criminals” and “ugly saints”. No one can predict which individual humans will contribute the genetic diversity which must be available to a species in order to adapt to changeit is in the genetic “fringes” of a population where adaptation occurs, and not within the typical or average bulk of the species.

Beauty is: the universe is beautiful, but mostly in ways that we don’t understand. The face of an individual is beautiful – not unlike a weathered and broken outcrop of rock, a cobble shaped in a turbulent river, a fossil trace of a fragile bit of life that existed  millions of years ago.

From the soft unformed face of a baby to the “being” who is sculpted by the forces of nature and culture and by the inborn will to grow and to become – that is always a surprise.

I would say that I have outgrown my face and my “genetic destiny”. That process is beautiful.

 

 

Snake Track in Mud / Observing Time

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Snake trail.

Most desert critters are active at night, and their presence may only be known by prints and tracks. I think of ancient hunters for whom animal “signs”  may have begun a language of time: the past is visible – in tracks a human can “see” the animal moving; elapsed time can be calculated from the print itself. Knowledge of topography, water availability and animal habits can roll out a future line of activity like a red carpet. This is visual language; concrete, historical and predictive: connected. Gestures are its co-expression; silence is golden.

Subsistence hunting is not easy, nor is success a given. Rates of successful predation are slim, even for top predators. Anything a “puny human” could do to increase the odds would be important. Number one would be to observe, copy, adjust and utilize not only behaviors of prey, but the strategies of carnivores. I think this is a human advantage that is underappreciated and almost entirely overlooked: we not only copy skills and behavior from other humans, but from animals, and we learn how to use materials and solve problems by “clever” insight into geologic processes and raw materials in the landscape.

We too often attribute this observational knowledge to human “imagination” or inventive ability, and not to direct inspiration from the environment.

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Impression from fishing boot.

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The waddling trail of two low-slung ducks.

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.

snFFvtV

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.