A Snow Moon

February 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

If you happen to live in North America, tonight you will see a bright snow moon in the night sky. A snow moon is a full in the month of February and named as such because this month is when snowfall is known to generally the heaviest of the year. The monthly full moons, many of them derived from Native American tribes who distinguished the variations of the changing seasons, each had distinctive names.

The Algonquin also called February’s moon the “hunger moon,” since February is also the month the most difficult to hunt. March’s moon was “worm moon” or the “sap moon” for the tribe; it was the “light snow moon” or “dusty moon” to the Cheyenne; and the “moon when the juice drips from the trees” for the Delaware. For the Algonquin, the full moon in April was the “pink moon” after moss pink, a low-growing perennial phlox that flowers early in spring in dazzling color. (Not to mention the name of Nick Drake’s song and last album–though Drake’s song is said to be an allusion to death.) The most well-known moon name is of course the harvest moon.

Songs to contemplate earth’s natural satellite:

“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young

“Pink Moon” by Nick Drake

“Hey Moon” by John Maus



February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

a thunderstorm with a brief heavy snow instead of rain.


Squirrel Eating a Ritz Cracker

December 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Some Good Advice

June 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

“The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life. I do not think a young fellow should be too serious, he should be full of the Dickens some times to create a balance.” – From a 1928 letter by Leroy Pollock to his son Jackson Pollock

The Names of Places

March 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Board on Geographic Names is a governing body in Reston, Virginia, that decides what we call gaps, streams and creeks, and plains, mountains and peaks. A report in the Washington Post said it had “reign over 2.2 million geographical names but usually end up talking among themselves because hardly anyone from the public attends their meetings.”

Mainly the board members act as an austere editors preoccupied with the details. They fix spelling, capitalization and punctuation errors. Apostrophes are discouraged, and so are hyphens or periods. According to “myth,” the apostrophe was eliminated in names because on maps the typeface would get lost or be mistaken for a rock in the water. But the most likely explanation was to discourage the idea that ownership was enough reason to name a natural feature.

There are exceptions, and if people make a big enough noise they will usually get their way. Like Martha’s Vineyard. After residents were upset by the exclusion, they were able to keep the apostrophe legally. Similar contention arose in Pittsburgh and the letter “h” was restored to the city by a subsequent ruling.

Another chief role for the board historically has been taking out racist and offensive names of the past. And surely, they will likely revisit existing ones like Negrohead Point, Chinaman Lagoon and Little Squaw Lake sooner or later.

Currently up for debate: Coconut Island would be derived from a single, mysterious coconut found on the island in Fairfax County, Virginia. An island off of Long Island, New York would be named Bamboo Island for the plants that happened to root there. A mountain in Washington would be called Glencanaan, which means “promise land.” The man who’s proposing the name already gave his property and his consulting firm this nomenclature. He likes it that much.

One of the more controversial cases deals with a barrier island along the coast of Florida. The American Indian Association doesn’t want an island to be dedicated after the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, who went in search of gold and for the Fountain of Youth. The AIA says de Leon and his men “had no qualms about pillaging, mutilating, raping, and murdering the Ais people, the original inhabitants of the barrier island.” They prefer to call it Ais Island.

Anyone can propose a name for an unnamed place. Check with any large-scale federal or state map to determine if the area in question is free, and then submit a proposal.

The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

In December NASA’s Office of Inspector General announced that an investigation had found that, between 1970 and 2010, hundreds of moon rocks and samples of stardust were lost or stolen. One researcher somehow lost 18 lunar samples in one year. The report explained that often moon rocks are loaned out to museums or other institutions for a time, and are supposed to be returned.

In the past, governors and heads of foreign states were lent lunar remnants, as goodwill gestures, but the officials and their staff forgot about them. Recently a moon rock thought to be lost forever turned up in a box of Bill Clinton’s memorabilia.

But sometimes the rocks are taken for personal gain, to sell on the black market. Perhaps the most egregious yet unsuccessful attempts to abscond with moon rocks, occurred in 1998. In the middle of the night, two NASA interns managed to steal a safe weighing 600 lbs., which stored moon rocks from every Apollo mission. It also contained a meteorite that reportedly might hold the secret to life on Mars. The moon rocks were eventually recovered through an FBI sting, and the two perpetrators were found and arrested in a hotel room. (The pair was also having an affair.)

The inspector general’s report recommended that NASA do a better job in record-keeping. The report also noted that the office took appropriate steps and notified the agency’s Stardust Curator about missing materials unbeknownst to him.

Termite Mounds

December 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Certain termite mounds, cathedral-like and elaborate, contain a maze of tunnels that effectively filter carbon dioxide out while bringing oxygen in – essentially acting like lungs. The mounds are made of soil, mud, chewed wood, saliva, and feces piled systematically by worker termites. The typical large mounds are about 10 feet high, but in some cases they can reach up to 30 feet high, as tall as a two-story house. Though about a four-year undertaking for the industrious workers, a mound will take generations of termites being born and dying before it’s complete.

In a colony, there is a king, queen, workers, soldiers and reproductives (the future kings and queens).

In one science experiment, a scientist and his team drilled a hole in part of the mound. The team noticed that five minutes later soldier termites arrived at the scene to stand watch while workers patched up the breach. (The soldiers have stronger jaws and bigger heads and normally protect the colony from ants.) It took the worker termites an hour to produce a “spongey” wall in the place of the hole.

If that wasn’t enough, two days later, the scientific team ended up chain-sawing the top of the mound, and what they saw inside amazed them. More workers were busy securing off another passage that led deeper into the nest after the first infraction days before. Termites don’t actually dwell in the mound but live underground, where down further still is the inner sanctum or the “royal chamber” of the king and queen, who have the longest life span in the colony.