The Fate of the Land

 A few weeks ago we flew back to the Midwest for a short family get-together. Late winter is always the best time for the drive along the river. Landing in St. Louis, we drove north up the Missouri side of the Mississippi, through little one stop-sign towns like Old Monroe, Elsberry, Annada. . . . At Clarksville, tucked under the limestone bluffs, the famous ice-cream parlour is newly shuttered, and the cement works is silent. But you get a brilliant view of Lock and Dam No. 24 and the bald eagles perched in the bare trees looking for fish. We crossed over at Louisiana and Read More

Tortoises & Human History

In 2006, Harriet, one of the few remaining members of the Galapagos tortoise subspecies Geochelone nigra porten, died in Australia.  The history of Harriet is a little vague but some suggest she was collected by Charles Darwin in 1835 during his great voyage on the HMS Beagle and taken back to Great Britain and eventually transported to Australia.  It was thought that Harriet was about 5 years old when she was abducted from one of the barren rocky shores of the Galapagos Islands. So that made Harriet 177 years of age when she passed away from heart failure in 2006.  She was miscast as Harry Read More

An Unseen World

Back before the dot com age, the fastest way to vast riches (besides marrying an heirless aristocrat with a bad cough) was to land a piece of the spice trade. Pepper, in particular, was worth several times its weight in gold. Until relatively recently, most of it came from India’s Malabar region—and even in the 5th century it was so valuable that marauding Visigoths plaguing Rome demanded ransom in pepper. Pepper pulled Vasco da Gamma around the African horn, and pepper fuelled the first fires of mercantilism—if even only one of your ships came in with a cargo of the stuff, you were set up Read More

American Beaver ~ A long history

Oregon has a very long and notable history with American beaver.   Two years ago John Zancancella, the BLM’s coordinator for paleontology in Prineville, stumbled upon some unusual rodent-like teeth while perusing an eroded patch of frozen ground near the John Day Fossil Beds.  The teeth were a molar and premolar (back teeth) from an ancient species of beaver that swam 7-7.3 million years ago in the creeks, ponds and rivers in grass-dominated landscapes occupied by “small camels, short-trunked elephants and shovel-tusked mastodons.”  The teeth are very similar to the molars and premolars found in modern beaver suggesting that the animal has changed little since the Read More

The Power of Water

A month ago we walked out in our wetland and saw a few inches of water collected in the deeper end where the cattails grow. The red-winged blackbirds with their liquid call were already in residence, and the marsh wrens (the reed canary grass chokes the stream beneath the berm offers them an easy nest) scolded, half-heartedly. But mainly we saw what wasn’t there—water. That, of course, has changed. The wet season has arrived in spades, as everyone along the Willamette knows.  Just a few days ago we tried to reach a stranded friend in both pick-up and canoe to little avail—the Mary’s wandered convincingly—inspecting Read More