Appalachian Trail Overlook

travelsketch_frombarn800The most amazing aspect of the human species (Homo sapiens) is our power to change our environment. Using this capacity, we’ve created societies in almost every corner of the Earth. We construct islands, create inlets and waterways, and move dunes to secure a coastal view. We cut tremendous forests and construct remarkable dams. And we eliminate entire mountains in our search for ores and coal. We even change the temperature and weather patterns of our planet.

This may sound bleak, but I don’t see it that way. With so much influence and ingenuity, we can protect our planet. We have the power to reduce and repair environmental impacts. It all begins with awareness, resolve, creativity… and responsibility.

Mind the wisdom of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben: “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Cold feet, warm heart

SnowyGoose

Watching this snow-covered Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) swim around an icy lake, I thought “Brr”.

The core temperature of a goose, wrapped in its fluffy down coat, is ~104° Fahrenheit. But what about those feet? They must be freezing!

In a way, they are. The feet of this goose are only ~35°. As warm blood from the body travels to the toes, it transfers heat to the blood making the return trip. By the time the blood reaches the feet, it’s cold – so cold that little heat escapes through those exposed tootsies.

When the blood moves back toward the heart, it gathers heat from blood vessels traveling toe-ward. This process, called countercurrent heat exchange, keeps the goose nice and toasty.

Vulture – fashionable and practical

vulture_webTurkey Vultures remind me of 16th century European royalty (you know those “ruffs” they wore around their necks?). That regal appearance results from a bald head, which keeps the birds a little cleaner as they dig around in decomposing roadkill.

Evolving with bacteria goes beyond losing some feathers though. After all, if you ate rotten meat, you’d get sick. Vultures have extremely acidic digestive tracks and beneficial relationships with bacterial species that are dangerous to the rest of us.

Oh, and don’t bother Vultures while they’re feeding. They’re known to vomit as a defense mechanism.

p.s. Robert Krulwich of NPR wrote a super-amazing post about Vultures and their sense of smell (keep reading for the part on the oil pipelines – awesome!). As a painter, some of the early experiments sound like great fun!!!

Who’s in my house?

mouseTiny rustling noises arise from our kitchen garbage can. I tip-toe up to it and out pops a little fuzzy face with a twitching nose. Then it’s gone… and I head to the closet for a couple live traps.

Many mice and voles have made my house their own over the years (before I gently suggest they live elsewhere).

Is my new tenant a MOUSE or a VOLE?

Need a hint?
MICE have long tails, long snouts, long ears and protruding eyes.
VOLES have short tails and teddy bear faces with small, rounded ears, button eyes and a smooshed snout.