Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Consider the operatic voice. This is a voice that can be heard clearly at the last row of the top balcony in the world's greatest opera houses. A voice that soars over an orchestra and chorus. A voice that can be made to trill, to plunge, to growl. A voice to overwhelm the crowd. How did Homo Sapiens' voice evolve? Voice begins with air. The human lung is a bellows in service of the voice. The larynx plays the same role as a reed in a wind instrument: folds within the larynx (called vocal cords) vibrate and modulate air coming from the lungs. The tongue and mouth form specific sounds from the tones now amplified by the sounding box of the head and chest cavities. In the dawn of our days, millenia ago, was the voice the sophisticated instrument of the current era? Or more primitive. Were the earliest humans equipped with a fully evolved relationship between lungs, larynx and mouth? Could early laryngeal folds oscillate at 440 times per second (required to sing the A above Middle C)? Or was early speech more monochromatic? Perhaps a child found that she alone could throw her voice across a canyon and hear it echo back. Perhaps she experimented, and discovered she could warble like a bird. Cry out in danger. Call others from a great distance.She could ululate as the wolf howls, or in sorrow. Were her chances for a mate improved? Were her children prized as the gift was passed down. Was there a special role in primitive society for one who so easily could be heard? I believe it must have been this way.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
My husband and I were in a traffic event recently. The traffic guy in the helicopter told us it would be stop and go through exits that were at least ten miles down the road. My Washington State Department of Transportation app showed the freeway in black (meaning the color beyond the transition from green to yellow to red). Every once in a while we sped up and we thought we were through the worst only to hit a wall of brake lights again. I have learned that there is a name for this: Phantom Traffic Jam. According to my new favorite smart people a Phantom Traffic Jam is "...a jam that arises in the absence of any obstacles." The smart people that explain such phenomena are an international research team from the University of Alberta, KAUST, McGill University, MIT and Temple University. (KAUST is the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology located in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.) Their work was supported by the National Science Foundation, I expect in the hope that better understanding of the effects of too many cars on the road would lead to better traffic management. In the case of our event, there were no obstacles - no wreaks, nothing interesting happening on the shoulder, no blocked off ramps. The research team also have a name for the momentary openings that sucker me into thinking I can resume highway speed. These false promises are Jamitons, travelling waves of traffic instability. They compare traffic waves, jamitons, to detonation waves: "In the language of detonation theory, such traffic roll waves are very similar to roll waves in shallow water flows....on long periodic roadways, final states can arise that consist of multiple jamitons." You can read a short report of their theories and conclusions here. Make a copy to read the next time you are in a Phantom Jam.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
A million creatures are killed every year on the road. Their flattened bodies are familiar. We distract our children to shield them from some of the most gruesome sights. We brake and swerve. The US Department of Transportation estimates the cost of annual car-animal collisions is $8 billion. You can read more about this slaughter in the New York Times. At Amazon you can buy Buck Peterson's "Quick Fix Cooking with Roadkill", or "Iowa's Roadkill Cookbook" by Bruce Carlson. Many years ago my son, then in Junior High, went off on a guided bicycle ride across the west. I gave him stamped postcards with which to write home. Each came with a description of roadkill highlights. I have a friend whose hobby is taxidermy. His is wildlife art. Each anatomical detail is carefully presented. His subjects are mounted in appropriate settings, lifelike, alluring.You can read here to learn about required skills. My friend mounts only road kill. He lovingly puts each creature right again. For years he longed for a skunk, and asked friends to help find and bring one in. This was a big ask. It finally was answered. Here is his masterpiece.
Monday, August 12, 2013
I have been in Alaska on a kayaking adventure with old friends. There was much to smile about over the course of our week together. We were living a travel brochure dream with fine weather, wild life and camp fires. One day we paddled up the Mud River. There was low lying fog that morning and some light rain. The Mud is a lovely river. In the near shore waters we saw green algae, and eelgrass. The tide flat extends 1/2 mile to the west of the main channel. On the day of our visit Bonaparte Gulls massed on the flats. The Bonaparte is small and graceful with a bright white wing patch and, in breeding plumage, a black head. Immature birds were travelling with their parents - returning from their breeding grounds in the boreal forest. They were feeding on insects in the sea milkwort, glasswort, and algae. We crossed a shallow bar in the wide estuary and moved into the river. The beach meadow rose away from the river bank, extending to the forest in the distance. On the meadow I identified beach ryegrass, fescue , and sedges. I could see columbine, yarrow, ferns and cow parsnip.The yarrow was in full bloom. Beyond the meadow were crabapple, alder, devil's club, and blueberry along the border with the forest. The water was perfectly clear. As we moved upstream we could see schools of fish rising in the small pools at the river's edge. We stopped to fish. Bear, too had visited this feast, their paw (and claw) prints visible on the sandy beach. Two of the six women in our party cast their flies out in the lovely whip/sailing motion that sends the lure softly onto the water. This was a fishing dream. Cast, catch. Cast catch. The water churned as they brought the fish to the beach. Beautiful bright cut throat trout. More than we could eat. We kept three and released the rest. Today there are men and women in sporting good stores looking at new equipment and watching films of great fishing. We lucky friends had a front row seat.