This will be the final Tuesday page of the year and the last Tuesday page I will post for a while. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year of guest stars and hope you have as well. To end the year, and these weekly entries, I bring you a three-kingdoms-in-one superstar: Lobaria pulmonaria. Lung lichen. Lichens are compound organisms in which a fungus (Fungikingdom) establishes a symbiotic relationship with algae (Protista kingdom) or cyanobacteria (Monera kingdom), or, in some cases, with both. Lung lichen is one of those cases. It usually is found in old-growth forests, where it lives on rocks and trees—hence another common name: oak lungs. Like real lungs, lung lichens are particularly sensitive to air pollution. The more gunk we put in the air, the fewer of these lichens will survive. Many lichens live in much more inhospitable places on Earth and provide sustenance for caribou and other creatures. […]

Continue reading

I have been known to grouse. I whine, I complain. And I know about grouse, those birds whose plural, as with mouse or louse, ought to be “grice” in my book. But I admit that today was the first time I encountered Hazel Grouse, the common name for Tetrastes bonasia or bonasa bonasia, depending on whom you choose to ask. Being a writer, I choose to use Hazel Grouse. What a perfect name for a fussy character! Like the real bird, she’d be shy and mostly a vegetarian. And she would be found in abundance in the Northern Hemisphere. Rather than calling ti-ti-ti or teh-teh-teh, however, she’d say tut-tut-tut. She would dress in black, browns, and grays, with a white accent, and she’d be apt to cast a disapproving eye. Oh, Hazel, where’s your holiday spirit? I promise I won’t serve you for dinner. […]

Continue reading

There used to be a story about a Native American chief and his son, Red Fox. They communicated by drum. “Where is Red Fox,” the father would drum. “Here I am,” the boy would drum back. The story has faded from my mind, but not my love of little red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). They’ve spread throughout much of the northern hemisphere, and are now in Australia. Foxes been portrayed as shy, sly, and deceitful in tales that have survived centuries. They are, however, just foxes. They are adaptable, usually nocturnal hunters that will eat almost anything to survive (small rodents are a favorite). They stalk prey the way cats do. While their main predator these days is man, red foxes still thrive. And they have begun to live closer to humans. It’s possible that the urban fox might evolve into a different creature than its wild counterpart. Where is Red Fox? […]

Continue reading

I can guarantee that I will hear Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sung at least once this month. Which is fine. I like reindeer. And caribou, which is what these undomesticated, elk-like animals are sometimes called in North America. It’s likely that caribou and reindeer belong to the same species (Rangifer tarandus). They live in large herds in tundra and taiga areas of the far north, and migrate, often a thousand miles or more each year. In the winter in particular, huge caribou survive by eating lichen, that tiny, unique bit of life which will be the last guest star of 2011. Do you have any suggestions for Tuesday, December 13 and Tuesday, December 20?  Let me know through the contact page on this site. […]

Continue reading

My Thanksgiving Day would not be complete without the traditional consumption of cranberries. The North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), which is likely what I ate, is the fruit of a vine that thrives in bogs in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere. Think the “Pine Barrens” of New Jersey. Really. Cranberries destined for juice and sauce are usually “wet harvested.” Farmers flood the cranberry beds, shake the vines, and collect the floating berries. Harvesting fresh berries requires a dry approach, picking the fruit directly from the vine. Native Americans used wild cranberries for food and dye, and, yes, they probably did introduce cranberries to the Europeans who arrived on their shores. For that I am grateful. […]

Continue reading

I do have reluctant respect for the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). Fossil records show that cockroaches (of which there are now thousands of species worldwide) have been around at least 300 million years. They’ve evolved into highly successful organisms. They are the fastest of all land insects and can run 50 times their body length in one second (no wonder it’s hard to catch them). These creatures also seem to be able to manufacture their own beta-carotene (for eye health and other functions); we don’t yet know of any other animals with this ability. Yes, they do spread disease, usually causing digestive illness. American cockroaches are not native to America. It is likely that they came to the American colonies from Africa. On slave ships? I wouldn’t be surprised. […]

Continue reading

Today’s guest star balances the foggy, gray weather in Portland this morning. This sunflower (Helianthus annus) is actually composed of many smaller flowers joined in a single base. The pattern and placement of these florets yield  Fibonacci numbersand produce a compact cluster of sunflower seeds (yum!). Sunflowers are native to the Americas, but are now grown elsewhere, where they are used for food, cooking oil, fodder, and as a way to extract uranium, arsenic, and lead from the soil.Check out the National Sunflower Association for a ton of information on these beauties. Sunflowers. What’s not to like? […]

Continue reading

Gulls swooped and soared, flapped and screeched, and demanded my attention during a recent retreat on the Oregon coast. But what really got my attention was the absence of my favorite shorebird, the western sandpiper (Calidris mauri). There are millions of these little birds along the coast of Western North America—and along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, too—eating their fill of insects, small crustaceans, and marine worms. Western sandpipers migrate to Alaska to breed on the tundra, where the male makes potential nests and the female chooses the nest she prefers. The flock that flies away will return—so here’s to another time at the beach when I’ll see my favorite shorebird again. […]

Continue reading

Today is 11111, which reminds me of millipedes, those many-legged arthropods that look like armored worms. “Millipede” does come from Latin meaning “one thousand feet,” but the 10,000 or so species of millipedes have between 36 and 750 legs. They thrive in a moist environment, often burrow under damp earth, and usually eat decaying plant matter. Millipedes don’t bite or sting us. They don’t carry disease. They don’t infest our food or clothing, although they do sometimes wander into our houses. You can get up close and personal with a millipede. They’ve been around relatively unchanged for at least 420 million years. Sweet! […]

Continue reading

Spending decades in the Washington, D.C., area, I saw kudzu draped over trees and telephone lines, and invading my backyard. Kudzu to me was the Frankenstein’s monster of the pea family, a vine that seemed to grow an inch every second. I had nothing good to say about kudzu, which is native to Japan and parts of China. But there’s more to kudzu than I thought. We use kudzu to treat alcoholism, migraines, vertigo, and other ailments. It’s been used as fodder, in soil conservation, and basketry. It’s brewed as a tea and made into jelly. And whose fault is it that kudzu has taken over so much of the southeastern U.S? Don’t blame the plant. […]

Continue reading