Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Sort of a Timid Naturalist

Well now, I have this book called Principles of Physics, an overly ambitious purchase from the library booksale. It has earned its keep, however, as the introduction can almost be twisted to justify the confession I am about to make. The author was gently explaining why different people must specialise in different studies, as there is too much to be taught in any given subject to allow any one human to be a true expert at all of them: "For this reason, each man must choose from among these a group of answers which he can learn. In doing so, he chooses not to learn the known answers to many other questions." Fair enough. Especially if you are dealing with arachnology. I would say there is a pretty good chance I will choose not to learn the known answers in that high, bold corner of science.

I was down near General Beale Road, hoping to get a shot at some new wildflower, or at least a new shot at some old wildflowers when I ran across a sandy space. To a beetle, it might have seemed a small desert. Like a desert it had skeletons, or what pass for the skeletons of beetles, bleaching away in the sun--a rather large number of them. I wondered what might have killed so many in one place. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but there was an ominous, silk-lined hole at the edge of the gravel, near the grass.
So I got a wee bit closer (though not as close as this picture makes it look)

And poked at the silk, strong sticky stuff, with a handy twig.

It came out. Very fast. It had many, many legs. It was black. It was about as big as a horse--a Clydesdale, I think. I did not get the picture. In fact, I was suddenly seized by an overwhelming desire to get a picture of an isomeris bush some distance away.

After some time, I persuaded myself that this was a rare opportunity (oh, I was glad that it was rare, all right!) and I should go back and give it a fair try, so I secured a piece of grass that was somewhat longer than the stick (which had shrunk, I was sure, to matchstick size) and tickled at the web again, not very enthusiastically.

I did tease it out once more, noting without due appreciation, the way the hole suddenly flowered into. . .legs. Once more I missed the picture. The creature was almost impossibly quick, and didn't come all the way out of its hole before it popped back down into the darkness. Perhaps when you have eight eyes, you can take in a scene quicker than the rest of us can. Perhaps it formed a sudden resolve to leave anthropology among its unstudied subjects. Anyway, it would not come out again after that, and I saw no sense in pushing my luck. I left.

Useful quote from Principles of Physics by F. Bueche, McGraw-Hill, 1972

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