The GardenDespatches from The Satyrs’ Forest

Posts tagged as “nature”

Diplodocus is the best dinosaur

Image macro reading "When you grow uup people stop asking you what your favourite dinosaur is. They don't even care"

Well, i care about what my favourite dinosaur is, and it’s Diplodocus, that lumbering old fool. Allow me to be possessed by the spirit of my nine-year-old self for a little bit.

Reason number one why the diplodocus is the best dinosaur is because it is called a diplodocus. This is a very fun name to say and does not strike the same terror into the hearts of men as, say, 🤘🤘🤘 Ty­ran­no­sau­rus Rex!!! 🤘🤘🤘 or 🔥🔥🔥 Ve­lo­ci­rap­tor!!! 🔥🔥🔥. I like to think this is because they are, themselves, gentle creatures, being peaceable herbivores and all that. (My favourite dinosaur could beat up your favourite dinosaur, but chooses not to because it is a conscientious objector. I’m sure this taunt would have gone down great on the playground.)

Diplodocus skeleton captioned "REALLY QUITE LONG"
Original photo by Heather Cowper

Another reason diplodoci are great is how long they are, getting up to thirty metres from tip of the snout to top of the tail. Part of me thinks it would be fun to be that long, but the other part likes being able to turn around corners. There’s other dinosaurs that we think were longer, but most of them don’t have a complete skeleton to back them up, which is a skill issue if i’ve ever heard one. If my species was about to be wiped out i would simply do the smart thing and die in an area that would preserve my fossil better. Suck it, Ma­raa­pu­ni­saurus.

That long neck isn’t just for show, either. This is the kind of thing that causes massive arguments among pa­læ­on­to­log­ists, but a study in the Journal of Vertebrate Pa­læ­on­to­logy (yes i’m backing up my dinosaur preferences with a source) suggests that, because their centre of mass would lie so close to their hip socket, they could assume a bipedal stance without much effort, lifting them high up into the canopy into the land of only the most gourmet leaves. Then, when a foodie diplodocus was done with its land-based course, it could dip its neck into the riverbank and feast on some fine vegan seafood.

One last thing. After Pangæa broke up, the land where the diplodoci reigned shifted and drifted until its reached its present place, in the American southwest. The implication is clear:

A diplodocus sporting a poorly drawn cowboy hat
Original drawing by Dmitry Bogdanov

Diplodoci are cowboys.

In praise of mustelids

An old etching of a European otter

Hail, the mustelid! Greatest family of the animal kingdom, nay, the eukaryote demesne. They are nigh universally cute — a charming sausage shape — and often small, but unlike their tamèd brers and sisters in Canidæ and Felidæ, they have never succumbed to human domestication and demeaning.1

Indeed, they are deceptively mighty for their size; the least weasel, an accurate name if there ever was one, proudly squeaks as the smallest carnivore on land, and with its mighty jaw can take down a rabbit ten times its greater, or even, should you believe the ancient Greeks, a basilisk. (So goes it for the otter, too: a lutra lutra might never look like it has a single thought running through its head, but show it to a streamful of fish, and you will witness a bloodbath that would make Tamerlane blush.)

I might myself take a broader view of the term and insert an O in that mustelid, bringing us up to the dynasty Musteloidea, where not only weasels, martens, and otters roam, but the mischievous American raccoon, the adorable red panda, and the e’er-defensive skunk. But the title says “mustelids”, and i am not one to argue with my fifteen-minutes-ago self, so in our little kindred we shall remain.

A last thing to note before we return to pathetic Prīmātēs, the greatest thing in all the family, the peak of all the realm of life, the chief reason among chief reasons that mustelids are the best:

They all sound like squeaky toys.

Hey, wanna see the most beautiful thing i’ve ever seen?

I don’t know if it’ll come across too well in photo form. I was lying on the grass, as one does, and lo and behold, there in the sky appeared what i could only describe as a double-backwards-double-rainbow:

Two iridescent arcs intersect in the sky, a smaller version of the same phenomenon playing out below

I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe that makes me a shut-in? I don’t know. Some quick prodding around revealed it to be not a rainbow, but a halo: a circum-zenithal arc, its iridescent colours made by the low sun’s light filtering through the icy clouds above.

The Sagrada Familia. The view from a Pennine peak. My home town from above, caught by pure chance on a flight to Turkey. The first sight of the Tyne Bridge down Grey Street. And now this. That’s the top tier — sights i’ll never forget in my life.

The Big Here

Kevin Kelly, ex-editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and founder of Wired, brings us “The Big Here Quiz”, a 30(+4)-question test of how well you know your local area. I thought i’d give it a shot. Mr Kelly says he’s “extremely interested in hearing from anyone who scores a 26 or better on the quiz on their first unassisted-by-Google try”, which absolutely does not include me. You’ve got to learn these things somehow…

  1. Point north.
    • Easily done — that’s what a lifetime of staring at maps and stargazing will do!
  2. What time is sunset today?
    • My intial guess was twenty past five; Google helpfully confirms that i was off by only five minutes.
  3. Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.
    • My local water company’s water is primarily sourced from the Kielder reservoir, in the Northumbrian outback — i’ll confess i’m not entirely sure what system of pipes brings it to my house…
  4. When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water?
    • There are several sewage treatment works near my house; could be any one of them. (The local water company’s website is hopelessly vague about what happens to the wastewater — perhaps i should have paid more attention in school.)
  5. How many feet (meters) above sea level are you?
    • My intial guess was in the vicinity of 15 metres — hopelessly far off. The actual figure was more like fifty!
  6. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom here?
    • No idea. (The Woodlands Trust helpfully informs me that primroses appear as early as December when the winter is mild.)
  7. How far do you have to travel before you reach a different watershed? Can you draw the boundaries of yours?
    • I couldn’t draw the boundaries, but the next town over is in a different watershed basically any way i travel.
  8. Is the soil under your feet, more clay, sand, rock or silt?
    • Clayey — oh, so clayey.
  9. Before your tribe lived here, what did the previous inhabitants eat and how did they sustain themselves?
    • The question strikes me as a little Amerocentric — should i just ask my Welsh friend what he had for breakfast? (And, in any case, since i’m half immigrant, who exactly are the previous inhabitants? The Normans? The Anglo-Saxons? Romans? Celts?)
  10. Name five native edible plants in your neighborhood and the season(s) they are available.
    • Garlic, from summer to early autumn.
    • Blackcurrants, in summer. (Banned in America!)
    • Blackberries, from August to September.
    • This is about where my limited knowledge runs out.
  11. From what direction do storms generally come?
    • The southwest.
  12. Where does your garbage go?
    • Landfill, mostly. (A quick Google reveals many landfill sites nearby, mostly owned by Suez.)
  13. How many people live in your watershed?
    • I have a right to privacy, Kevin.
  14. Who uses the paper/plastic you recycle from your neighborhood?
    • I should hope myself. I’d be a bit peeved if it all just gets shipped off to the Gambia or somewhere like that.
  15. Point to where the sun sets on the equinox. How about sunrise on the summer solstice?
    • You’re not going to believe this, but i can, in fact, point to the west. (Some tinkering about with Stellarium informs me that the sun rises almost due northeast on the solstice.)
  16. Where is the nearest earthquake fault? When did it last move?
    • Iceland, i would imagine. It’s constantly moving, but the last tectonic activity that reached the British ear was the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.
  17. Right here, where you are, how deep do you have to drill before you reach water?
    • No idea.
  18. Which (if any) geological features in your watershed are, or were, especially respected by your community, or considered sacred, now or in the past?
    • Taking “watershed” more broadly, the river Tyne was and is quite highly regarded. The Duddo Five Stones have expansive views of the Cheviots. The Tyne Valley is home to Hadrian’s wall — dotted with temples and such for Roman soldiers — and the oft-photographed Sycamore Gap tree.
  19. How many days is the growing season here (from frost to frost)?
    • No idea — after some research, it’s about 280 days… which is a full month longer than it was thirty years ago. Probably not a great sign.
  20. Name five birds that live here. Which are migratory and which stay put?
    • Kittiwakes (migratory; the bastards have colonised the Tyne Bridge and made the whole quayside smell of bird cack), robins (stay put), common ravens (stay put), barn owls (stay put), tawny owls (stay put).
  21. What was the total rainfall here last year?
    • I’m no statistician, mate… (It was about 690 millimetres.)
  22. Where does the pollution in your air come from?
    • Petrol emissions and the occasional blast of dust from the Sahara, though one presumes coal once made up a greater part.
  23. If you live near the ocean, when is high tide today?
    • No idea, at first — my 2022 Almanac tells me it was at about 4 p.m.
  24. What primary geological processes or events shaped the land here?
    • I know about the geological history of the Channel and the Scottish Highlands, but my earthlore regarding the north east is dreadfully lacking. Something something Pennines?
  25. Name three wild species that were not found here 500 years ago. Name one exotic species that has appeared in the last 5 years.
    • Grey squirrels, murder hornts, and Japanese knotweed. In today’s globalised world, exotic species aren’t very — but perhaps the pet otter trade has driven up the numbers for Aonyx cinereus.
  26. What minerals are found in the ground here that are (or were) economically valuable?
  27. Where does your electric power come from and how is it generated?
  28. After the rain runs off your roof, where does it go?
    • Right into the gutter, mate.
  29. Where is the nearest wilderness? When was the last time a fire burned through it?
    • “Wilderness” can be a messy term to define, but a decent candidate is Northumberland National Park. No idea about the history of fires.
  30. How many days till the moon is full?
  31. What species once found here are known to have gone extinct?
    • Wooly mammoths, Irish elk…
  32. What other cities or landscape features on the planet share your latitude?
    • In Europe, we have Copenhagen and Moscow. In America… erm, Churchill, Manitoba?
  33. What was the dominant land cover plant here 10,000 years ago?
    • No idea.
  34. Name two places on different continents that have similar sunshine/rainfall/wind and temperature patterns to here.
    • Wellington and Vancouver, maybe?

While i might not have got the questions 100% correct, i still found it a fascinating learning experience. How many did you get right?