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May 23rd, 2010

"My little world and all I see..."

We who revel in nature's diversity and feel instructed by every animal tend to brand Homo sapiens as the greatest catastrophe since the Cretaceous extinction. — Stephen Jay Gould


The first half of yesterday was spent getting "A Redress for Andromeda" ready to send away to the anthology's editors, typing in all the corrections and changes I made on Friday. Well, that was after the two hours I spent on the blog entry. I think yesterday was a red flag, as regards my blog entries. Well-written and well-illustrated blog entries are nice, and I will appreciate them in years to come, but I cannot afford to spend two hours composing them. Anyway, I think it took a couple of hours to finish up with "A Redress for Andromeda," and now it's a much better story than it ever was before, in any of its previous incarnations.

It was after four p.m. before I finished. We'd thought about driving down to Sakonnet Point, in the extreme southeast corner of Rhode Island— a part of the state we've not much explored —but I'd thought I'd be done with work by two, not four. So it was really too late for such a long drive, and we decided we'd save Sakonnet for another afternoon. Instead, we headed downtown. I've spent so much time exploring the coasts and rural areas of Rhode Island, I find that, in two years, I've hardly looked at Providence, save College Hill. And it's really a beautiful city, as cities go. Much of the architecture dates back to the late 19th Century and before, despite the terrible flooding caused by the 1938 hurricane (before the flood barrier was erected at the mouth of the Providence River, to protect against storm surge).

We parked on Washington Street, a couple of blocks east of the Public Library, one block east of the Trinity Repertory Theater. We walked up Mathewson Street and discovered a marvelous used and antiquarian bookstore, Cellar Stories, up a dark, narrow flight of stairs. I think we spent the better part of an hour there. But we were both very good and bought nothing. Not even the first-edition copy of Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday. We continued up Mathewson to Westminster. We walked a little ways east, because Spooky wanted to check out Craftland. But there was some sort of "rock-and-roll flea market" clogging up the street, so we soon headed back east to Mathewson. We walked south and east to the intersection with Weybosset Street, and turned back west, then turned north and west again on Snow Street, until we were back to Washington Street. The day was warm, but not hot, and though there were far too many people, it was good to see places I'd not seen before, or not seen up close. On the way home, we got burgers from Stanley's for dinner.

I forgot to mention, yesterday, that we saw the season finale of Fringe on Friday night. Very, very good. I was relieved to see it's been renewed for another season. Last night, we played a little WoW, and Gnomnclature and Klausgnomi both reached Level 15.

Toady, I try to get started on "The Maltese Unicorn." There are photos from yesterday behind the cut. Oh, also, please have a look at the current round of eBay auctions. Some of my harder-to find chapbooks are listed. Thanks.

22 May 2010Collapse )

World Turtle Day '10

Yes, today was World Turtle Day. I suspect not a lot of Americans spend a lot of time thinking about turtles. But they've always been among my favorite reptiles, even when I include all those wonderful extinct groups. Indeed, turtles are a relic of an all but vanished branch of the Reptilia, the Parareptilia. Of all the many and varied forms of parareptiles that once thrived, only the Order Testudines (turtles and tortoises) survived beyond the Triassic Period. Long before the evolution of either lizards or snakes, there were turtles. There may have been turtles even before the first crocodylomorphs appeared in the Late Triassic. The oldest known turtle, Odontochelys semitestacea, was described in 2008 from 215/220-million-year-old fossils from the Late Triassic of Guizhou, China. Unlike all living (and most known fossil) turtles, Odontochelys had teeth.

Turtles are, evolutionarily and ecologically, a success story. They've survived two major extinction events (the Triassic-Jurassic extinction and the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction) and many less catastrophic mass extinctions. They've diversified, from terrestrial ancestors, to take advantage of fresh-water and marine environments, and many species (mostly within the Superfamily Testudinoidea) have returned to dry land, and include the modern tortoises and box turtles. Over the course of their evolution, turtles have produced some giants. The largest-known turtle is Archelon ischyros, from the Upper Cretaceous of North America, which more than four meters (13.5 feet) long, and about 4.87 meters (16 feet) wide from flipper to flipper. The largest-known freshwater turtle, the living Asian softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii), is only about half that size, but still measures a very respectable six+ feet (about two meters) in length. The largest land species known is the bizarre horned Meiolania of Australia and New Caledonia, which reached lengths of eight and a half feet. And they are among the longest-lived of vertebrates, with some individuals of a few species boasting a longevity in the neighborhood of 200-250 years.

Estimates of the number of living turtle species vary widely, from 250 to 330 (depending of variations in classification schemes, and never mind species as yet discovered). And worldwide, an enormous number of these species are currently endangered or threatened. It has been estimated that about 75% of Asia's ninety tortoise and freshwater turtle species have become threatened.* All marine species are endangered. And even those taxa not officially listed as endangered face vanishing habitat, climate change, human predation, and threats from pollution on such a scale that it's not unreasonable to consider most living turtles in danger of extinction. Numerous species have already become extinct due to the actions of human beings.

Around the globe, turtles figure prominently in our myths, folktales, and religions. In Hindu mythology, the world is believed to rest on the backs of four elephants, who stand on the shell of a turtle. In Hinduism, Akupara is a tortoise who carries the world on his back. It upholds the Earth and the sea. But, in truth, at this point in the history of life of earth, the fate of all turtles (and elephants, for that matter) rests on the back of humanity. Will a single species of primates, and one that only dates back 195,000 years, be the end of a reptilian dynasty stretching back to the earliest days of the "Age of Reptiles"?

*Hilary Hylton, "Keeping U.S. Turtles Out of China," Time Magazine, 2007-05-08.

(Portions of the entry were adapted from relevant Wikipedia articles.)