A Passing Bird

Stuffed male passenger pigeon.

On March 24th 1900 a boy in Ohio shot the last recorded Passenger Pigeon. The last captive Passenger Pigeon died in her cage at Cincinnati Zoo 14 years later.

 

Passenger Pigeons were once so numerous there were stories of flocks millions or even billions of birds big that would darken the sky for a day as they passed.

 

When Europeans came to the Americas, 40% of all the birds in North America were Passenger Pigeons. Their range spread from Canada through to the Northeastern and Midwestern US down to the Southern states. It’s estimated they might have been the most common bird in the entire world.

 

John James Audubon (who shot many many birds for his portraits) described a flock in 1933 that was a mile wide and blocked the sun for three days.

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Vampires and Elephants

Today would have been the birthday or author/illustrator Edward Gorey.

I first registered Gorey as the illustrator for a children’s mystery series that I liked and a little later as the creator of the wonderful openings of PBS’s old Masterpiece Mystery! series. (As an adult, his illustrations aged much better than the books themselves.)​

I remember the back of my Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with his illustrations described Gorey as someone people assumed was English and dead, and that at that point he was neither. His work is both hard to describe and amazingly recognizable. Very small illustrations with lots of obelisks and sort of Victorian/Edwardian men, improbably architecture, and even more improbable creatures, all meticulously rendered in fine ink.

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Darwin Day

February 12th is traditionally recognized as Lincoln’s birthday, but it was also the birthday of naturalist Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s tree of life sketch.

What’s interesting and a more than a little terrifying is that just looking up Darwin Day will find you a barrage of anti-science websites and information.
So spare a little time to celebrate Darwin Day with a visit to a science museum, or to do something to support science education. You can visit http://darwinday.org/ for an interactive map to see if there are any special events in your area.
Or check a science book out from your local library!

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Starry Gems and Starfish

boivin_starfish_broochAmethyst is February’s traditional birthstone, so despite Valentine’s Day swooping in with its pinks and reds, it’s always purple that comes to mind for me this time of year. (Of course, I’m a purple fan, so it’s an all year ‘round color for me!)

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Listening to the Moon

Paua mosaic moon pendant I made. Closest I could get to an eclipse image from my own photographs!

With the lunar eclipse coming up on January 31st I wanted to mention an astronomer, mathematician, and poet that I’d only recently heard of. Her name was Wang Zhenyi (1768-1797) and in her terribly brief 29 years she covered a lot of ground.

Wang Zhenyi was born in 18th century China to a family that valued education. Her grandfather had a library of some 70 books, and when her father failed his imperial exams he studied medicine on his own and recorded his research, making a living as a travelling pharmacist. Her father taught her about medicine, mathematics and geography, her grandmother taught her poetry, and her grandfather shared his library and his love of astronomy.

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Happy National Fossil Day!

Some body fossils I made into jewelry.

Since I periodically mention fossils, I’m borrowing from the National Parks Service list of FAQs and adding/abridging a little, complete set here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fossilday/faq.htm
Fossil FAQs:
What is a fossil?
Fossils are traces or remains of things that were once alive. Most of us immediately picture giant dinosaurs, but there are also microfossils-fossils that can’t be seen without the aid of a microscope. Bacteria and pollen can fossilize too! Fossils that are physical remains of an organism are called body fossils. Fossils from actions, like footprints, are called trace fossils.

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La Peregrina

I’ve just not been able to write, but I’ve also been meaning to mention this pearl for ages, so I’ll use it to bid June adieu. (And in its current form, also to welcome in the month of rubies.) elizabeth-taylor-wearing-the-la-peregrina-necklace

In 2011 Christie’s auctioned off Elizabeth Taylor’s famous collection of jewelry. One piece was a natural saltwater pearl, diamond, ruby, and cultured pearl necklace designed by Cartier. So it belonged to a glamorous actress and is part of the story of a famous tempestuous romance. It’s an over the top gem encrusted necklace. Why care?

It’s as encrusted with history as it is with diamonds!

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Two gods, three heads-Happy New Year?

Janus or Juno?

January has a slightly contentious etymology. It’s traditionally said that it was named after the god Janus. Which would make sense, given that he’s the god of beginnings and endings.

But…there’s also evidence from farmer’s calendars that it might actually have been named after the goddess Juno, queen of the gods. (Others cite June as belonging to Juno…)

janus_coin

Early coin from the Republic featuring Janus.

 

Of course, history and language being what they are, it gets even muddier when you factor in that the early Roman calendar began with March. There’s no definite answer to when this changed-possibly because they had one regular and one ritual calendar.

Whether or not he could lay claim to the first month, the first day of each month was sacred to Janus. Continue reading

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tut-ausstellung_ffm_2012_47_28711781955729November 4th is sometimes considered the anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

 

Howard Carter’s began what he expected to be his last funded season excavating in the Vally of the Kings November 1rst. He started off by having his workers clear out the area where Rameses VI’s workmen had built their huts.

 

November 4th they found the rock cut steps that would lead to Tutankhamun’s tomb. They cleared out and found the door by the end of the 5th, but wouldn’t actually enter until his patron joined them some weeks later.

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Lend me your ears…

indian-cornYou see the wonderful multicolor corn everywhere in New England this time of year. I always want to take pictures, between the contrast in textures and all the colors they contain.

 

I also normally think of the geneticist Barbra McClintock and her discovery of jumping genes, which I’ve mentioned before.

 

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But I don’t actually pay much attention to the varieties of corn themselves.

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