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  • February | 2014 | Dispersal Range
    that if a study skin was going to turn out well it had to look good all the way along But washing a bird really helps to remove blood fat and dirt from its feathers And if you commit to the process a wren might take five minutes to properly dry a snowy owl upwards of an hour and a half depending on the temperature and strength of the air stream you use a good drying can make up for a lot of the things that might have gone wrong in skinning Maybe you lost a bunch of feathers or ripped the skin around the skull A well dried bird will look like the best version of itself it can possibly be If this still doesn t sound like much of a life lesson here is a translation To make something beautiful be unafraid of making something ugly first A corollary Something you think is ugly might just not be finished yet It is easy to overlook what it takes to finish Either way you can t dry what you don t get wet This entry was posted in Shorts and tagged birds life museum on February 27 2014 by Meera Lee Sethi Search for Recent Posts There s Gold in Them Hills Today Yesterday A Brief Announcement or Misadventures in Metaphor How to Cheer Your Future Self Up A Simple 4 Step Plan Sympatico Birds and Words Brian Leli Clerestories Notes from Near and Far Stephen Rutt Tiny Aviary Wild Muse Wingtrip On the Coyot es Network Some reasons I have been called a radical environmentalist Coyote Crossing Published on September 19 2015 by Chris Clarke On Forgetting My Field Guide Birds and Words Published on September 16 2015 by Julia Zarankin My Hit Single Are Warblers Less Important

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2014/02/ (2015-09-25)
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  • January | 2014 | Dispersal Range
    and I go hiking almost every weekend now and if you put a gun to my head to make me choose my favorite thing about living where we do this is what I d say If with the same gun you made me choose my favorite miles they d be the ones that led to the peak of Mount Dana in August at 13 061 feet the highest mountain in Yosemite Regional State and National Parks visited in California again since April 26 I ve barely made a dent Nights spent sleeping out 30 Three major camping trips two weekend trips and a short term stint in the field contributed to this figure which makes me incredibly happy There are very few things in the world I like more than sleeping and waking up without walls And a mere three and a half years ago very few things would have surprised me more than the suggestion that this would someday be the case I ve loved every night out this year but if I have favorites they might be the one where I got rained out on the sandy beach of the Lost Coast where I was sleeping sans tent and the one just this week where Ross and I camped off trail in the backcountry of Joshua Tree and heard coyote song Prerequisite classes taken toward applying for an M S in ecology 3 3 associated labs This grand terrifying immensely long awaited life plan is going so well that I m going to take another three classes next semester alone I m enjoying it so much that I cried the night of my chemistry final this fall because I was so happy about how the year s learning had gone and at least partly because it meant I didn t need to take any more chemistry classes Fucking cried about that Good lord Marriages restored 1 Ross and I are closer than we ve ever been Hi babe Friendships injured and then I very much hope reclaimed 1 T I love you Phobias overcome 1 I began the year extremely nervous about highway driving to the point where I basically couldn t go anywhere that required getting on or off a highway unless Ross drove me I am ending it as I said in a Motel 6 in Ridgecrest CA to get to which I drove three hours in the dark using six different highways This means the entire world to me This means I can take myself anywhere I can take myself for instance to the parking lot of Buster s an abandoned supermarket in Bridgeport CA And I will because this happens to be where the beginning mountaineering course I am taking is meeting this Friday morning It is 2014 friends I am going to climb I wish you every strength joy and luck as you do too New Year s Eve hike This entry was posted in Longs and tagged life stray and unscientific on

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2014/01/ (2015-09-25)
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  • December | 2013 | Dispersal Range
    in a stream in space only to burn up in our planet s atmosphere as we hurtle through them every year There s no such thing as an ordinary display of shooting stars No wild incendiary hail could ever be pedestrian But the Geminids are special even among meteor showers They re relatively young for one thing people have been watching the Perseids since before the Common Era and the Leonids for over a thousand years The Geminids showed up out of the blue out of the black out of the winter night fewer than two centuries ago They ve grown steadily in number and intensity since then and seem still to be mounting a single fireball last year burned brighter than the full moon Their fusillade lasts longer than a day so you can watch them everywhere on earth The Geminids are mysterious too in that lovely way scientific mysteries have of deepening even as their details come to light Their source the mystery goes is not obviously a comet Instead it is a dense rocky body that looks more like an asteroid and wouldn t seem to be capable of burning off meteoroids as easily as an icy comet would The latest theory astronomers have is that the body is in fact an old comet still carrying ice within its heart but covered now in a clotted crust of interplanetary dust that makes it look like solid rock This doesn t prettily explain it all The debris this asteroid comet comet asteroid casts out every year isn t enough not by a long shot to account for the mass of the Geminids And so our modern skywatchers wait and scan the heavens and hope to understand a little more about their secrets every time our orbits cross One thing they did right in the meantime I think they gave the strange fountainhead of the Geminids a wonderful name It s called 3200 Phaethon The 3200 is because it was the 3 200th asteroid or asteroid like object anyway to be formally named The Phaethon Ah I remember Phaeton although he s not one of the more prominent figures in Greek mythology because when I was 13 we did a series of skits based on the classics and my group performed unlucky Phaeton s story I think it was the tragedy that appealed to us the tragedy and the crisis of identity In case your own checkered past did not include such dramatics I ll tell you Phaeton was the mortal son of Clymene a water nymph and Helios the god of the sun Around the time Phaeton came of age we re told Clymene revealed his shining origins None of his friends believed he d come from divine stock and to be honest the young boy didn t know if he believed it either Off Phaethon went to find Helios who embraced him warmly But this wasn t enough for our hero he wanted to become his father

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2013/12/ (2015-09-25)
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  • October | 2013 | Dispersal Range
    a mutual friend and have now had the great good fortune of helping her in the field on two occasions She s kind very funny and intimidatingly smart but extremely practiced at downplaying her background which includes several years spent working at NASA s Jet Propulsion lab in Pasadena CA One of my favorite things about Danielle is that always she ends the afternoon by turning to her assistants and saying absolutely from the heart and no matter how frustrating or difficult the past 10 hours have been Thanks for the good day That along with the fact that she brings frozen blueberry pancakes to the field and wakes up early to toast them for everyone s breakfast may tell you all you need to know about her This is Danielle at work Six years ago she started this quixotic venture by looking for and marking thousands of tiny seedlings mostly Abies magnifica red firs with even tinier metal tags Since then she s been counting how many survive in each of several dozen small plots within her study area as well as how much they ve grown in biomass each season Danielle s also been recording a multitude of environmental variables across her site during the same time including soil moisture temperature sun exposure and topography Matched with the seedling numbers these data will tell us how differences in climate and changes in climate over time affect the seedlings on a scale much finer than most climate models can currently accommodate This is interesting and important work that has lots of theoretical implications for managing and predicting the future of this particular habitat In practice it demands the execution of a lot of small repetitive and surprising field tasks On this trip for instance we needed to track down every seedling that was still alive last year or find its tiny brown corpse amid the dirt and leaf litter or failing that at least pick up its lost tag Since even an old seedling that s been around for over a decade might be just a few centimeters tall that wasn t always easy And after five years of attrition there were still over 2 000 seedlings to be found Danielle and Jack her field assistant for the second year in a row were like morel hunters in springtime who see mushrooms everywhere their eyes having learned to pick out the shape of pygmy conifers before their conscious minds recognized them It took me a bit longer to get used to looking this way Found seedlings had their tags removed from then on they were identified by flags Found seedlings got mapped and assessed in a variety of ways Danielle would measure their tallest height count each individual branch a number that could range from 0 to 40 or 50 and then based on the fact that new growth on a conifer is a slightly different shade of green than old growth decide how many branches and branchlets had

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2013/10/ (2015-09-25)
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  • July | 2013 | Dispersal Range
    there are still higher compliments I wish I d thought that I wish I d known that I wish I d lived that And in a way I have now Reading this book is to spend in the course of a scant 150 pages several years in great intimacy with both Chris and Zeke It is anguish to be there when Zeke seems lost in the dark of a gathering storm in Nevada and a thrill to be there when the aging ailing dog has a wonderful day that involves explosive playfighting with a poodle running circles around Chris and making a clean 18 inch leap up a driveway wall This is not a book that feels confessional though it is terribly startlingly honest It is not a memoir But walk after walk entry after entry we cannot help but come to know the secret happiness and pain of someone who begins to most readers as a stranger It is a book about a man and his dog it is a book about the great sweet dizzyingly beautiful world It is a book about growing older and growing old and growing something that is not quite wise Each chapter in Walking With Zeke was originally a blog post and I will admit that when I bought it I was not looking forward to feeling like I was sitting at my computer clicking through a patchwork of random posts Please don t be put off by the origin of these words The most surprising thing about them is how fluid cohesive and complete they feel This is a work that seems to have come into the world fully formed and it is extraordinarily hard to believe that Chris did not have a book in mind when he wrote these pieces If it seems I may be overstating how lovely this book is and if it seems I may be doing so because of how much I admire and like its author I can only say that I have read several books by friends and acquaintances some much closer to my inner circle than Chris but this is the first time I have ever written more than a dozen words about one I am not alone in encouraging you to pick up a copy of Chris s book Other people besides me far more Internet Famous people have done so Still I may be alone in urging you to do this right Learn from my mistake Buy yourself an actual paper and ink copy When you close the book on its last page do not be surprised if you want to bring its lovely cover to your lips And do not be surprised if they are a little wet with tears This photo of Zeke courtesy of the Walking With Zeke Facebook page was taken in his earlier years Chris notes that he didn t always look noble This entry was posted in Longs and tagged death life literature meaning memory place the animal kingdom on July 25 2013 by Meera Lee Sethi Nightfall by Meera Lee Sethi 4 Replies There is a story by Isaac Asimov called Nightfall I say there is a story but in fact it is Asimov s most famous piece of short writing and the one that has been anthologized more often than any other There is a story and it takes place on a planet whose sky is lit by the blaze of six suns These massive bodies like our own familiar sun appear to rise and set But with so many effulgences at least one rides high in the firmament at any given time and so the approach of darkness has been unknown here for the past 2 500 years At this interval Asimov explains to us and history books explain to the planet s people an immense eclipse always occurs whose gloomy shade blots out all six suns simultaneously And after every eclipse whatever great civilization has arisen on the planet in the intervening years tips into chaos crumbles must be begun anew No one knows what governs this pattern of events Perhaps astronomers speculate the sudden cover of blackness somehow plunges the entire population into a state of madness But why What could be so terrible about this thing the books call Night Apprehensive everyone prepares without really knowing how for the eclipse And when darkness finally falls it brings something more frightful than anyone could ever have imagined It brings stars Thirty thousand mighty suns shone down in a soul searing splendor that was more frighteningly cold in its awful indifference than the bitter wind that shivered across the cold horribly bleak world Light he screamed Anton somewhere was crying whimpering horribly like a terribly frightened child Stars all the Stars we didn t know at all We didn t know anything We thought six stars in a universe is something the Stars didn t notice is Darkness forever and ever and ever and the walls are breaking in and we didn t know we couldn t know and anything Someone clawed at the torch and it fell and snuffed out In the instant the awful splendor of the indifferent Stars leaped nearer to them Photo by the incredibly talented night photographer Phillip Chee The precise time and place of my encounter with Nightfall are lost to memory but I do know that I was about 13 that was the year I discovered Asimov probably because it was the year he died and elegaic radio and television programs began stiffening his life s work into myth I might have read it sitting on hot cement stairs at the edge of my schoolyard waiting for the bus home more likely I was sprawled on my bed after dark my body crunched toward the ellipse of light that fell on the page from my dim wall lamp If I shivered when the last line came it was not because of the cool kiss of

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2013/07/ (2015-09-25)
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  • June | 2013 | Dispersal Range
    improve it It s not just cricks in my neck and popping knees I m talking about here friends You know The bats have squeaked I they have said am quite ridiculous I should insert smiley face here because I m smiling rather at this batty pattern What to do Ah raise my capsized head and shove my way into a better place of course The bats have squeaked Here is a video of Caesarea s bats I wish I could tell you what species they are but Israel has several dozen and I have almost no mammal taxonomy Maybe one of you can tell me This entry was posted in Shorts and tagged bats behavior life the animal kingdom travel on June 26 2013 by Meera Lee Sethi Write Release Reprise by Meera Lee Sethi Leave a reply Longtime readers know that about a year ago I self published Mountainfit a little book of natural history essays that bloomed out of a summer s worth of volunteer fieldwork at the beautiful Lake Ånnsjön Bird Observatory in Handöl Sweden It s my very great pleasure to report that a second edition of Mountainfit is being released this time by a small press named the Chicago Center for Literature and Publishing Here s the blurb from the CCLaP site In 2011 a tiny bird observatory in far western Sweden found itself hosting its first American volunteer and Meera Lee Sethi found herself exactly where she wanted to be watching great snipe court each other under the midnight sun and disturbing lemmings on her way to find a gyrfalcon nest Mountainfit is an ecological field notebook a keenly observed natural history of the life that sings from the birches wheels under the clouds and scuttles over the peat bogs of the Swedish highlands And it is a letter in 21 jewel like parts from a well read and funny friend Meera s vigorous graceful prose communicates a wry understanding of how utterly ordinary it is to long for more out of life and how extraordinary it can feel to trust that longing Meera s intent was to create a book small enough to fit in your pocket and read on the train to work in the morning It is that But it s also large enough to contain a mountain or two Publishing with CCLaP is really neat for a bunch of reasons 1 They traffic in ebooks but they also release incredibly beautiful hand bound editions of all of their titles We used three photographs I d taken in Sweden for the new Mountainfit 2 You can download an ebook version of any CCLaP title for free or you can choose to donate as much or as little as you like This model makes me happy because it means no one is deterred from reading by a sticker price but people who want to support the book can do so to exactly the extent that they wish I wish I d thought of it when I put my book up for sale on my own website last year 3 CCLaP books are released under a Creative Commons license that allows people to translate them convert them into new formats or produce derivative works like films comic books or art projects as long as they don t alter the original text or remove attributions from it I love this part of the model too The first edition of Mountainfit was never intended to reach very far I was doing something very important to me personally testing the idea that I could be good at working in the field and that it would bring me a kind of joy I d been missing Promising to write about it was my way of committing to the experience a means of making sure I d reflect on what I saw without letting it slip through my fingers My goal was to print copies for the 100 or so people who backed me on Kickstarter Some were friends and family but more than half to my surprise turned out to be strangers who offered such affectionate generous support that we have since become friends When I finished the book I thought it was good enough to warrant making a page on my website to sell digital copies to anyone who wanted one but I never did much to spread the word about it This was partly because at the time I was caught up in a tangle in my life that s only recently come loose and partly I was preparing to leave for another 10 weeks of fieldwork in the Alaskan wilderness a wonderful summer that will become a second book I hope Among the few things I did was try to get the book reviewed Jason Pettus CCLaP s founder was one of about three strangers I invited to read it and the only one who followed through I had bought and enjoyed a CCLaP book I thought Jason s book reviews were smart and thoughtful and I was living in Chicago and liked the idea of being reviewed by someone in my own city Months after I sent him Mountainfit Jason wrote back to tell me he loved the book and would rather publish it than review it And so here we are Please help us spread the word about this one of my jobs as a CCLaP author is to promote my work as much as is humanly possible something this human often finds impossible to do But the more you re willing to say something nice the easier it is for me to as well Thank you Now go download a free copy of the book I hope you enjoy it This entry was posted in Shorts and tagged birds literature sweden on June 11 2013 by Meera Lee Sethi This Week at Tejon Ranch by Meera Lee Sethi 5 Replies I m about an hour north of L A this

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2013/06/ (2015-09-25)
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  • May | 2013 | Dispersal Range
    in and so I thank the towhee for this No noble looks Picture by Larry McCombs The second comfort was its voice I took a birding class a couple of months after we moved and when the woman who taught it imitated the call of the ubiquitous California towhee a cousin of old Pipilo everyone in the room said Oh THAT S the bird that drives me crazy Male California towhees sound like someone repeatedly hitting a triangle and then strangling it after a fraction of a second only the birdcall is sharper even more metallic somehow and they have a great deal to say But spotted towhees talk a lot too and they don t call to mind a musical instrument They sound like irritated cats or a cross between a dinosaur and an insect Or in the words of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology a taut rubber band being plucked a piece of paper stuck into a fan In those days I could barely make a sound myself I either stuttered and repeated myself or let achingly long pauses fall between a question and an answer I had forgotten how to speak it seemed like I felt foolish The towhee s crazy chat was a consoling thing No noble song The final comfort I have taken in these dear west coast compatriots of mine is that thing they do Towhees will eat anything or just about seeds insects acorns fruit They don t though like to go very high in order to get it Instead they forage at foot level scrabbling about like manic well like even more manic squirrels Both California and spotted towhees do this thing where they uncover hidden food by displacing the top layer of litter on the ground in two quick hops Once forward to build up some momentum and once backward both feet rising and then raking through the dirt pebbles and leaves to scratch away whatever s in the way of lunch and leave it open to their search and capture They can says Cornell again make a shallow pit a meter square like this Often walking through a garden or along the Ohlone Greenway or just sitting quietly minding my own business on a bench or lawn I d hear a frantic scrabbling beside me and think based on the sound alone Lizard Snake Some small excited dog And then a spotted towhee would buzz grumpily amid the grass and I would see its freckly body lurching backwards like a lunatic and know it for itself One of the things I said to a friend a while ago is that when things were bad I felt globally incompetent My body wouldn t obey any commands and all my parts were clumsy I dropped things knocked into things Almost every movement that I made seared itself onto the mind s film reel and embarrassed me But I could look at the towhee and understand that there were creatures careless of their

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2013/05/ (2015-09-25)
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  • January | 2013 | Dispersal Range
    eyelashes But I like to think that even if I didn t come equipped with either her patience or her sweetness my mother passed her wonder down I feel her in me when I look out the window here in the New World catching the spark of a goldfinch or a kinglet or a Bullock s oriole deep orange counterpart to its yellow cousin And on it goes Home for a visit a few weeks ago I see the same attentiveness emerging in Sophia my six year old niece Sometimes when I m not doing anything else Sophia said one day I like to stand in front of the window and watch the wind And sometimes when I m frustrated I just sit on the edge of the bed like this and look at the yellow birds My mother smiled I too That day three generations followed gold amongst the trees Hello new Coyot es friends From the archives another birdy post from the last time I was home in Singapore This entry was posted in Shorts and tagged birds identity life stray and unscientific on January 22 2013 by Meera Lee Sethi A Note to Old Friends by Meera Lee Sethi 3 Replies Hello stalwart readers When I set up The Science Essayist in 2009 I saw it as an experimental space a place to test quietly and without fanfare approaches to writing and making discoveries about the world that were new to me and that I wasn t at all sure would work For the most part I ve never made any great effort to publicize this site although at times I have considered it an extension of my heart and mind I have simply counted myself extraordinarily lucky each time a stranger or two some of whom later became very dear to me stumbled upon it and decided to stick around Keeping my nose down in this way suited the extreme and I now understand ironically vainglorious aversion to self publicity I ve harbored for most of my life But over the past few years I did discover a large and tremendously varied universe of experiments far more advanced than my own conducted by knowledgable and talented people engaged in a deep conversation about the role of science in society Together they form a community writing about life research meaning and the complex relationships between humans and the natural world Again I hovered at the outer fringes of this passionate group wanting to take up hands with it and join in its shared investigations but held back by something I once would have called shyness and now simply want to name a bad habit But the past few months have wrought many changes to this lone wolf self this strange habitual brain of mine and when Madhusudhan Katti who writes beautifully on birds and biology at Reconciliation Ecology invited me to join the new Coyot es Network I found myself saying yes almost despite myself Coyot es

    Original URL path: http://coyot.es/dispersalrange/2013/01/ (2015-09-25)
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