Sunday, June 29, 2008

Landscape, with bug

Milkweed seems to be one of the big happening places for the local insects, so when I spotted a few plants on my way home from work yesterday, I pulled over for a closer look. Mainly, I was hoping to find a monarch caterpillar, though I would have settled (with some trepidation), for a tarantula hawk, an immense black wasp which has a fondness for milkweed, though its main diet is. . .well, what it sounds like a tarantula hawk should eat. Whether I was too early or too late, or whether milkweed is just not "in" this year, there was little to see beyond the plant itself and a few languid representatives of Oncopeltus fasciatus. Oncopeltus fasciatus is a mouthful to say, and I have no idea what it means, but it is somewhat more original than "large milkweed bug" which is what they are in straightforward English.

Below: a large milkweed bug in its natural habitat.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fun and Games

My sister introduced me to an interesting game this evening. You pick a random word and then set a time limit for writing about it, maybe 5-7 minutes. You write whatever you like, stream-of consciousness, stories, poetry, or whatever. Then, when the time is up, everyone has to read what they have written, making it, as my sister pointed out, an excellent exercise in creativity and humility.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Language Trivia

I've been perusing a book called Flutes of Fire by Leanne Hinton. It is a collection of essays and musings about California Indian languages. Some f'r instances which might be of interest:
  • There were likely around 100 different native languages spoken in California ca. 1800.
  • "The "pattern number" of European and European-American lore is three: fairy tales have three brothers, or three sisters. . .a hero makes three attempts before reaching his goal. . .But in most of Native California, the pattern number is four. It is the fourth try that succeeds; characters and episodes come in fours." -page 37
  • "It is not in the basic vocabulary that native Californian languages have had any great impact on English. The only well-attested word I know of is "abalone," probably coming from the Rumsen language." -page 95
  • The Wintun word buli, which means "hill," has left its mark on northern Californian geography. "At least twelve peaks in Shasta, Trinity, Tehama and Lake counties are designated by the name, usually spelled "Bally," "Bully," or "Bolly. . .Folk etymology has led to many other renditions of buli: Hayfork Bally is sometimes known as "Hayfork Baldy." Little Baldy and Indian Creek Baldy both come from buli." -page 99
  • Many European methods of counting involve a decimal system (groups of ten). Some native Californian languages are based, instead, on five. This is a logical enough system to anyone who has ever counted on his fingers, but still other languages are quarternary, based on four. Hinton hypothesizes that this still has a straightforward basis; there are four spaces between your fingers, to which sticks can be added for increasingly higher calculations. (page 113-120)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

For the jellyfish-inclined

My friend Maria (who is obviously a very, very bad influence, also responsible for me learning to play the bagpipes) sent me a link to a very comprehensive site about jellyfish. Did you ever suspect that jellyfish ended up in the news so much?

Blue Belly

I was sitting in the shop on a quiet morning when something started moving among the cellos over in the rental section. To my startled ears, it sounded as if it were probably the size of a mountain lion, and I wasn't too eager to go see what it was. However, if you look at the cello on the left in the picture below, you will see that it was somewhat smaller than a mountain lion.

We have a lot of these little lizards around here (but usually on rocks; this is the first time I've ever found one on a cello case). I've always known them as "blue bellies". You can find the scientific name and a nice picture of the reason for the common name here.

I wasn't sure I could catch it, and was pretty sure that customers would not be thrilled if it should happen to resurface later so I carried it outside, cello and all. If I had been thinking, I would have taken these pictures out in the sun instead of in the shade with a flash, because when he finally hopped down off the case and ran away, I noticed that some of those greyish spots on its back gleam bright blue in the sunlight--quite pretty, really.