Black flies can put a damper on summer fun, but a tick bite can change your life forever. Deer ticks are known to transmit Lyme disease, which is caused by any of three species of spirochete bacteria in the genus Borrelia. When a deer tick latches onto us for longer than 24 hours, it barfs a load of these fast-moving, corkscrew-shaped microbes into our bloodstream. The spirochetes, which have a particular craving for hearts, brains, and joints, begin to drill through our tissues in search of a nice place to settle down and reproduce. [Read more…] about Tick Season is Here
Coltsfoot: Eye Candy, Cough Syrup, and Early Flowers
After many months (five-plus where I live) of winter whiteness, it’s a relief to watch the snow melt at last. We’re always grateful, even though the loss of snow cover gives way to a mostly brown world: brown grass, sand everywhere – even brown pine needles along the roads.
Not to mention the leaves, trash, or dog poop that was mercifully hidden under the snow. Those few sepia-toned weeks after the white stuff disappears and before trees and grass wake up can be visually bleak. [Read more…] about Coltsfoot: Eye Candy, Cough Syrup, and Early Flowers
Girdling Roots Kill Trees
“My girdle is killing me” was an obnoxious slogan from a TV ad that ran in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the US. The widely-mocked catchphrase was meant to inspire women to rush out and buy a certain brand of non-murderous undergarment. I doubt the ad’s plaintive tone helped boost sales, but hey – I’m no marketing expert.
And yet, underclothes can be dangerous. [Read more…] about Girdling Roots Kill Trees
Sunshine, Coffee and Shoelaces: Keys to Immortality
The search for a way to restore youthful vigor dates back at least to the writings of Herodotus in the 4th century BCE. The pursuit continues today, though in the domain of science, rather than guesswork.
Among the best-known historic quests to reverse the aging process was Juan Ponce de León’s fabled hunt for a “Fountain of Youth” in the Caribbean. Having driven a few million native Tainos to early graves in Spanish silver mines, Ponce de León sailed away in 1521, reportedly seeking this magic water. [Read more…] about Sunshine, Coffee and Shoelaces: Keys to Immortality
Trees, Knees, and Other Deep-Freeze Creaks
In winter, when temperatures dip well below zero Fahrenheit, especially if they fall precipitously, things go bump in the night. Frozen lakes and ponds emit ominous groans, snaps and booms that reverberate through the ice. Wood siding and old knee joints might creak. And if soil moisture is high and snow cover sparse, the soil can freeze deeply, causing the earth to shift in a harmless, localized cryoseism, or “frost quake” that produces a nerve-rattling bang. [Read more…] about Trees, Knees, and Other Deep-Freeze Creaks
Yule Logs & Firewood Science
The tradition of burning a Yule log has largely fizzled out in most parts of the world. While holiday cards often feature cute, picturesque birch rounds in the hearth, old-time Yule logs in 6th and 7th century Europe were monster tree trunks that were meant to burn all day, and in certain cultures for twelve continuous days, without being entirely used up. [Read more…] about Yule Logs & Firewood Science
Santa’s High Reindeer & Alice in Wonderland
If not for a fungus, Santa’s flying sleigh would be grounded. If that were the case, the only toys he could distribute would be to the elves who made them in the first place, which kind of spoils the whole surprise element.
The truth is that Mister Claus relies on Amanita muscaria, a mushroom which grows among pine and birch, to zip around the world on Christmas Eve. [Read more…] about Santa’s High Reindeer & Alice in Wonderland
Beyond Meat: A Short History of Vegetable Animals
Recent improvements in the texture and flavor of plant-based meat analogs have meat-lovers as well as vegetarians flocking to buy them. While it’s normal to think the quest for mouth-watering faux meat is a recent trend, it dates back almost a thousand years.
According to first-hand written accounts, European religious and political leaders in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance period spent decades searching for meat substitutes. [Read more…] about Beyond Meat: A Short History of Vegetable Animals
Echidna: Half Porcupine, Half Anteater, Sort Of
While I usually cover flora and fauna relevant to the US Northeast and southeastern Canada, every so often, a non-regional subject whispers to me that it’s endlessly captivating and deserves an essay.
Eventually I comply to make the whispering stop. Please don’t tell my shrink about this. [Read more…] about Echidna: Half Porcupine, Half Anteater, Sort Of
Tree Slime: Harmless & Beneficial
Cast members of the new Ghostbusters film aren’t the only ones getting slimed – trees sometimes get slathered in slime flux as well. Many kinds of trees are subject to sludge assaults, with elms, apples, oaks, maples, and walnuts being among the more vulnerable species. Tree-goo, unlike the Psychomagnotheric Slime in Ghostbusters, is basically harmless. In fact, it can be beneficial. [Read more…] about Tree Slime: Harmless & Beneficial