Posts Tagged ‘Gene Twaronite’

  • The bellybutton man: A business fable

    By Gene Twaronite His only dream was to sell belly buttons. Admittedly, it was a difficult sell when there was no demand for the product. It was a long time ago, when people still came into the world with no belly buttons. Indeed, so long ago was it that people had not even learned to laugh. The only laughter in the land was from the hyena and the mocking call of the jubal bird. People still cried, however, and there was plenty to cry about. But you don’t need a belly button for crying. The world was filled with stony faces, streaked with tears. People went about their lives each day, performing their duties, and that was that. Things were either sad or not sad, with no in between. The salesman first heard about the invention from a sailor in the Weeping Dragon Tavern. With many drinks under his belt, the sailor slumped over the bar. Suddenly his shoulders began to convulse. He raised his head and looked at the salesman. The sailor’s mouth started to upturn in a most peculiar fashion. Then he broke out into a strange cry. It started with a series of high-pitched twitters that slowly rose in volume to something that sounded more like the grunts, howls, and choking sounds of some great beast. No one in the tavern had ever heard such a sound

  • In the cactus

    By Gene Twaronite In Australia, to be “in the cactus” refers to being in an awkward or uncomfortable predicament. The Aussies should know. They introduced several species of prickly pear that nearly took over the continent. A lot of people share this uncomfortable feeling toward cacti. All it takes is a little spine through the foot or a fall into a bed of cholla and some folks get all huffy. So what exactly is a cactus? A cactus is a succulent, a plant with fleshy stems to store water in an arid environment. But unlike other succulents — aloes and agaves, for example — a cactus lacks leaves. Well, most of them do. Members of the primitive cactus subfamily Pereskioideae do have leaves and, what’s more, they don’t even look like cacti. And some kinds of prickly pears and chollas have tiny or temporary leaves. The cactus family is full of exceptions. Actually you could say that all cacti do have leaves. It’s just that we don’t recognize them as such. This is because over a long period of time cactus leaves gradually evolved into spines. Those sharp, prickly things you love to touch are just modified leaves. Both the flowers and spines arise from a small cushiony structure called an areole — a kind of modified bud or shoot. Since no other plant possesses this structure, I could have

  • The tick

    Feb 6, 15 • ndemarino • 5enses, Russ Miller's Oddly Enough3,415 CommentsRead More »

    By Gene Twaronite Few people, even nature lovers, love the tick. It is difficult to love a creature that has its mouthparts embedded in your flesh. This is the way most acquaintances with this little vampire begin. One does not set off on a nature hike to look for a tick in the field and exclaim, “Oh my, how interesting.” Instead, one is far more likely to go to the bathroom mirror and scream, “Oh my God, get that damn thing off me!” Ticks belong to the order Acarina, which also includes mites. There are about 850 different kinds of ticks — so far as we know, that is. According to one estimate, there may be as many as a million other kinds of ticks and mites in the world, still waiting for scientists to classify them. It is something to look forward to. Like spiders, scorpions, and other arachnids, ticks have eight legs, at least most of the time. When they first hatch out as larvae, however, they have six. If this sort of thing bothers you, you would do well not to become an acarologist (a specialist in mites and ticks), much less a biologist. Ticks make their living by sucking blood out of mammals, birds, and reptiles. They usually lie in wait on a plant until a suitable host passes nearby, then hop on board, anchoring themselves

  • Living in Agaveland

    Jan 2, 15 • ndemarino • 5enses, Russ Miller's Oddly Enough3,566 CommentsRead More »

    By Gene Twaronite I very much doubt if Carl Linnaeus ever planted an agave in his life. He was a Swedish taxonomist who in 1753 chose the name for this genus from a Greek word meaning admirable or noble. If he had planted one, the Greek word for pain or some choice obscenity would have come to mind instead. It is hard to plant an agave without getting jabbed once or twice by a terminal spine. This is the rigid, ridiculously sharp spine found at the leaf tips of most agaves. On some species, such as Agave salmiana, it is a long and gracefully recurved, eye-gouging thing of beauty. Some species also have a steroid compound on the surface of the spine that enhances the stabbing pain. Agaves are like that. The late Howard Scott Gentry, taxonomic wizard of this genus, referred to the general range where agaves can be found as Agaveland, as if it were some kind of mythical kingdom. Armed with sharp teeth, the spiraling rosettes do seem to occupy their rocky posts like guardians of a distant realm. There are 200-250 species of agaves occupying the drier sites of virtually every kind of habitat, from sea level to over 8,000 feet, throughout much of the arid Western U.S., Mexico, and Central America, as well as the West Indies. The teeth and spines are supposedly there to

  • A nice cave with a view

    Nov 28, 14 • ndemarino • Uncategorized1,928 CommentsRead More »

    By Gene Twaronite Recently, I signed up for a DNA test at one of those ancestry sites. It was a little pricey, but the idea intrigued me. Since my family originated in Lithuania, I fancied there might be some kings or brave knights of old, or at least a wizard (vedlys) or two in my background. After sending in the usual saliva swab, I waited anxiously for the results. Months went by without a reply. Finally, I decided to call the company. I had to go through three different people before I was transferred to the head honcho. “Yes, Mr. Twaronite, we have your lab results here. You may want to sit down for this.” I did not like the sound of this. The last time someone used those words was when the police called to tell me that my stolen car had been located at the bottom of the La Brea tar pits. “Your ancestry is most unusual, Mr. Twaronite. In fact, we would like to perform some additional tests on you. If you give permission, you might even appear in a research paper. Would you be willing to come down to our office?” “Not until you tell me what’s going on. What do you mean unusual? Are my genes abnormal? Is there some kind of disease I should know about? Am I gonna die?” “No, you’re not going

  • The case for animal gun rights

    By Gene Twaronite Photos from two different observers — the first recorded case in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho — clearly show an adult female wolf, armed with a .444 Marlin, shoot and kill an elk hunter with one clean shot to the head. Witnesses report that the hunter did not appear to suffer and that the wolf then nonchalantly slung the rifle over her shoulder and trotted off into the woods without a trace. In the days following the incident, social media was abuzz with questions and theories as to how the wolf came into possession of a weapon, not to mention how it learned to shoot. Yet, despite an all-out publicity campaign and statewide wolf hunt, the killer was never found. Meanwhile, other reports began streaming in from all over the country. In New York’s Adirondack Park, a group of hikers observed a deer using an AK-47 to fend off a pack of stray dogs. The most surprising thing about the incident, aside from the military precision with which the weapon was used, was the way the deer appeared to aim just below the feet of the dogs as if to frighten them, and that no dogs were injured. In another case, in Kentucky, a bobcat was photographed employing a .22 Winchester to dispatch a rabbit. The photographer, a zoologist from the local university, then observed the bobcat

  • How to choose the perfect plant

    By Gene Twaronite In finding the right plant you must keep in mind that there is no such thing as a bad plant, only bad choices. But how do you choose when there are so many thousands of possibilities? The first step is to assess your personality. Are you the kind of person who can really be trusted with a plant? Or are you the kind who goes into a restaurant and thinks that the fake plants are real and, worse, actually prefers them to live ones? If so, don’t even think about buying a plant. Assuming that you can be trusted, you need to determine how far you are willing to go with this. Are you looking for a one-night stand kind of relationship or a long-term commitment? Is your plant going to pine away in the lonely darkness for weeks at a time while you go out and have fun? Or are you willing to stand by it, in sickness and health, till death do you part? For those seeking a more casual affair, may I suggest a Sansevieria. Sometimes called a snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, this is the familiar houseplant often encountered in the darkest, dirtiest corner of your local saloon or barbershop. It is capable of surviving the most inhospitable conditions — under-watering, too little light, second hand smoke, disco music, and even nastier things

  • The war on packrats

    By Gene Twaronite How did it come to this? I never intended for it go this far. And now, with the war turning badly, I fear the worst. When we first moved into our little cabin in the hills, there was no hint of the troubles ahead. Yes, there were a few skirmishes with the local javelina and rabbit tribes, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. Then we started noticing stuff: mysterious droppings and urine spots on the patio; piles of twigs and cones under every shrub and boulder; and inexplicable chew marks on the siding of our cabin. As I recall, it was when I discovered that one of our car’s front headlamps was out that things turned ominous. When I brought the car in for repair, I was in for a double shock. The mechanic informed me that the wires to the headlamp had been neatly severed, most likely by a packrat, which was apparently in the process of building a nest there. Then he handed me a bill for $200. I tried my best to take this philosophically, but when it happened again I knew the tiny gauntlet had been thrown down. When later I discovered a ziggurat-sized packrat nest behind our cabin, I knew there was no turning back. I must stand and fight. You wouldn’t think a creature with such a cute name —

  • The well-equipped naturalist

    By Gene Twaronite I have commented elsewhere on the need for naturalists to be well dressed whenever setting out into the field. It is no less important, however, to be properly equipped with the essential paraphernalia that will identify you as a working naturalist. Otherwise, you may run the risk of being picked up as a vagrant. Or worse. A lot depends on whether you plan to specialize in a certain area of natural history or prefer to be simply known as a GN — a generalized naturalist. A herpetology (reptile and amphibian) buff, for example, should always have a couple of cloth bags hanging from the belt in which to transport captured snakes or lizards and a snake hook or tongs, along with an assortment of plastic containers to hold frogs and salamanders as well as potato salad. Entomology (bug) enthusiasts, on the other hand, should always carry a butterfly net. Even if you’re not into bugs, there’s just something about a butterfly net which makes others take notice and lends just the right je ne sais quoi quality to your outfit. Bug people should also carry plenty of small bottles and some sort of killing jar, at the bottom of which is placed an absorbent material soaked with a chemical to asphyxiate insects. I am told that used foot pads work very nicely. All naturalists worth their salt

  • When the fire came to town: A burning tale of fiery living for all seasons

    Aug 29, 14 • ndemarino • 5enses, FeatureNo CommentsRead More »

    By Gene Twaronite Author’s introduction: For the half a million of us in the western United States who choose to live in the Wildland Urban Interface, the threat posed by the increasing severity and frequency of wildfires is very real. The following had its origin in a conversation I had with members of the wildland fire crew in Prescott. I was just starting my new position as Defensible Space Educator with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, and I asked them if they thought the residents of the community they protected would ever learn to truly accept and live with wildfire. This story depicts one possible answer to that question — a hopefully not too distant future when we have learned to live responsibly in the wildlands and to recognize wildfire for the essential role it plays in keeping our forests resilient and strong. Many here may consider September to be the end of fire season, but, as our understanding of forest fires grows, so too does our understanding of fire season. In truth, it’s always fire season.   It started in the canyon. In an instant a bolt of lightning heated a snag to almost 3,000 degrees F, torching it like gasoline. It burned in the night like a giant candle, then fell to the ground in a shower of embers that flew through the sky like shooting stars

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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