Friday, October 28, 2011
SLIGHTLY AIRBORNE PORCUPINES ramble
We don't have porcupines here in Japan, but absence has never prevented wondering...
If evolution advances by sheer chance and mutation, how is it that apes never had feathers? What ape would not have loved to fly, given half the chance (though in a way it did come about featherlessly, after a descendant had learned to talk)? One or two early simians might have tried feathers along the way but it didn't work out. Apes in lighter gravities likely do fly, somewhere in one universe or another but there've never been any ape-birds on this planet... Look at the simians trying even now, up there in the treetops, thank Evo they at least have those tails, though not the Japanese monkeys, who need no tails, being more interested in purloining potatoes, far as I can see...
No creature ever got something because they needed it, but because it just happened to open the door to a nearby niche that still had elbow room. Need is teleological; evolution isn't. Purpose has no place there. Evolution has no preference or intention; it allows new tries, rewards success with another chance, like Vegas rewards winners. For a time. Of course if you keep on playing,,, Above the trees there is no niche for apes, other than clothed descendants in aircraft.
Another thing: why are there no slightly airborne porcupines? Those spiny rodents might very well have preferred featherment to some degree, if given the choice - clearly they tried and succeeded part way, but at some point said Hey, these quills alone are good-- possibly even better, given the animals' current milieu and ambitions, though they might have enjoyed flying around, even if only slightly above the ground, instead of halfheartedly waddling quillfully along, surrendering their near-feathers to predators' noses and just chewing on stuff right there on the ground. So close to feathers, yet so far from airborne, living symbols of hope...
And just because porcupines still can't run fast enough or at all, to maybe jump-start the aerodynamic feedback, is that their fault? I thought we all had a chance in the long run... With their sudden protofeathers they had no need to run; is that a rule of evolution, that once you no longer need to flee, you're never gonna fly? Evolution is even more disappointing now than when I was a teenager...
Those running dinosaurs that in time did develop feathers, and precisely where feathers were needed (as compared to the divertive attempt by porcupines) - there are no dinosaur fossils with feathers coming out of their noses - and that grew in just the right ways (compared to the infinity of wrong ways) to be the feathers that increasingly enabled smaller dinosaurs to fly, to the point that flight pretty much characterizes dinosaur lives nowadays: how did they do that? What made them so special? How did the whatever know the wherever for growing feathers? Why not quills into feathers? They're not that far apart: feathers have quills, and clearly the porcupines tried to grow something! For eons! What have the snakes done? And the other reptiles? Nothing! Some scales, coupla scary colors and a little venom is all they could come up with, also obviating the necessity for fleeing (syn. "flight," btw).
Plus, porcupines can yearn as much as lizards can, maybe even more; also they're warm-blooded mammals, definitely endorsed by the big E! So where are all the even slightly airborne porcupines? I think some other kind of feedback's been going on here all along - something so unscientific that no scientist would ever notice - on the inner end of the process that receives the feedback and tweaks accordingly... some kind of tweakolution, as invisible and beyond defining as beauty... Quills per se no good for moving air... so broaden them, lighten, minimize for aerodynamic lift and insulation... grow porcupine wings... See to lighter bones as well, and various beaks... try different colorings than plain old dun... Try some porcupine warbling in response to the porcupine joy of evolutionarily advanced aerodynamic success...
And in a tangentially similar vein, why should a bright red frog mean Don't Eat Me? Early post-Columbus Eurofolks thought tomatoes were poisonous, but now the bright red fruits are eaten everywhere, with no means of escape. And apples. Will apples ever fly? So far they've only mastered falling, thereby famously inspiring a pre-Darwinian speaking animal as to the nature of downness.
Porcupinian thoughts evolve...
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
ON THE ROAD TO CODGERDOM
I've written before about the the dawning of fogeyhood, the slow tickytocky process of becoming the old coot you used to hate as a kid and how to avoid it, although some parts of said becomance are spot on; smart-ass apple-stealing punks must be put in their place before they get too far along on the road to full-fledged codgerdom.
Back when I wasn't too much younger than I am now even though it was about 60 years ago, the words codger, curmudgeon, grump, coot, geezer and galoot were a few of the words we codger-fledglings used to use to describe folks who were about the age I am now... I and my less conservative contemporaries, however, are none of the above, a representative selection from a nomenclature used by earlier generations who in fact perfectly became the codgers, curmudgeons, grumps, coots, geezers and galoots of yesteryear, as crisply evidenced by my memory.
We of this new group have, at the dawn of this new millennium, evolved into a new generation, what one might call ultrageezers, neocodgers, ubergaloots, for lack of precise terminology. The actual term for what we are has not yet been coined, but I'm waiting, I'll know it when I hear it, and since I seem to be the only one paying any attention to this curmudgeon gap, and hence the only one looking to fill it, I may just coin the damn thing myself.
For now I'll just go with ultrageezer or neocodger. No, maybe ubergaloot. No. I'm not gonna go sit on the porch and try not to forget about this, like one of the those real old codgers of the past would do, I'm gonna go sit on the deck and keep a sharp eye on those etymological apples.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
FLAVORS OF THE MIST
Up at dawn this morning in a cloudy light, awakened by an odd crunching sound outside that had an inviting succulence to it, like a horse eating a bunch of carrots beneath my bedroom window. I got up and looked out into the dimness and there saw the ghostly shape of the Baron, enjoying a late banquet of the chestnuts that now litter the ground, he having pretty much finished all the acorns.
He would nuzzle around among the spiky hulls, his rack of tines waving in the air, until he found a free chestnut and gobbled it up, then he'd stand stock still savoring the sweetness, crunching the nut hull and all, eyes half closed with the ecstasy, zoning out every bit as deeply as I would over a big chunk of chocolate or cheesecake or apple pie let's not go there, let's get back to the Baron standing lost in the flavors of the mist, his fine antler tines all well sharpened against the tines of fellow suitors that now and then wander into in the Baronetcy as I hear now and then in the clacking of head swords up in the forest.
What puzzles me, though, now that this year the chestnut harvest has sort of slipped by us humans unnoticed in the rain and workdays, is why the bears don't come and get it, given the abundance of acorns and chestnuts we have here. I hear a lot lately about country folks all over Japan being hassled by bears whose natural diet of wild acorns and chestnuts has been seriously diminished by unfavorable weather, so there's frequent news of bears wandering into human habitats like mine for acorns and chestnuts...
The Baron may be noble, but royalty has no value in the wild, than which nothing is truer...
Somehow this brings to mind the happenings on Wall Street...
Sunday, October 09, 2011
THE TREETOPS OF THE SOUL
The other day Echo was telling me that when you get up in the morning it is beneficial to the health to say OHAIYO GOZAIMASU!! (GOOD MORNING!!) or OSU!! (MORNIN'!!) loudly and deeply from the hara as the monks and the martial arts students do, as being stimulative to that primal source of ki (spirit energy) for the entire being, and I could not but agree, with the proviso that on certain mornings, such as Mondays, there is no particular reason to get all that excited or pepped up about anything, that's life, give it a rest.
Then later as I was whistling my way through a task or two as has been my wont for my entire life (well, ever since I first managed to whistle and didn't want to stop, from then on polishing my whistle to its whistliest), I realized that whistling whenever a whistle is willing is also a very good thing for the hara and the general mood of oneself, and possibly of others, if one is a good whistler. Extending this thought over to the cultural realms, I came to realize that no one ever whistles here in Japan, I am usually the only one doing so in the silent crowd, for which I am now and then likely looked upon as being a bit daffy, but as a traveling whistler through multiple cultures, I don't mind at all.
Whistlers usually don't mind at all-- it evolves in their natures, whistling being somewhat of an absently showoffy thing, when done right. That's another of the powers whistling bestows upon the whistle-blessed. In the States, especially when I was a kid, I used to hear folks (by 'folks' I mean men in this case, and politically correctly; women never whistled except maybe in private, and that still seems to be true) whistling all the time: garage mechanics, mailmen, milkmen, paperboys, even guys just walking alone down the street with no particular objective (whistlers are right at home without objectives); I have never seen such a thing in Japan, even among foreigners.
I suppose that whistling, wherever it is done in earnest, is thought of as such a solitary endeavor that one doesn't seek it in others, listen for it or even think about it: it is just a matter of tuneful happenstance, unlike attending a performance by the New York Philharmonic, for example.
But whistling is a sure sign of contentment, of essential comfort, of the primal joy that can be found in simply being from top to bottom, adorned only by the curlicues of a whistle that dances upon the air like birdsong from the treetops of our souls, a song to sound out to your footsteps or the tool of your labor, even if the tune is one of the old standards, played on the instrument you always have with you.
Of course you can compose your own melodies ad libitum if you're of such a mind, as most whistlers are. That's another of those great unsung pleasures. And if you can't whistle, then you can get a flute or a recorder or a penny whistle or a harmonica and bring your music into the world wherever you go. You can give birth all your life, you know.
Monday, October 03, 2011
THE VEIL OF LIGHT
The garden is turning brown, the once-taller-than-me tomato plants that were toppled by the hurricanes are ripening the last of their fruit near the ground and the cukes have called it quits; only the shisso is reseeding, and best left alone.
So on mornings like this I get to just stand out here in the prime of the sun and gaze along the light upon the Lake, enjoying the deeper purpose of eyes, savoring the air from the breath of mountains, Lake and distant ocean, an atmosphere rich with all that muse food...
Some old thoughts at once come down unbidden from the mind's attic, about Hiroshige spending artistic time around here centuries ago in pursuit of reality's details, hungry for sights he could capture somehow, get world into woodblock as best he could, and there before my eyes on this autumn morning was that ancient sight, one of the very things I'd first marveled at in those revered pictures.
The Lake on an early autumn morning, glittering with silver in a light-chill breeze, and on the Lake the islands, along the Lake arising the edges of mountains and reeded shores; and there, like the cream of light, somehow settled at the unknown junction between aboveness and belowness, as though each was ever turning into the other behind the mysterious veil of changes, that edgeless layer of vapor the color of washi paper that I'd always thought was an artist's trick to avoid detail, as in the golden clouds that always roil among various key scenes of historic battles on painted screens-- but it was true: that layer really is there at this time of year. Hiroshige must have been here and seen that veil of light on one or more autumn mornings a few centuries ago, and stood there wondering: Could I reproduce that on paper with shades of ink and blocks of wood?
And so he did, in another part of time that is still here.