Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Archive for the ‘Nature Photography’ Category

Piedmont Prospector: A Geological Journey along Red Clay Creek

Returning to Red Clay Creek, Delaware

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Wilmington RR2

Photo credit: J. R. Blackwell

The first day of October brought me back to ride the rails again of the Wilmington and Western Railroad. On several occasions, I have boarded the train, pulled by the magnificent steam locomotive, the American 98, black, formidable and puffing grey steam out from its chimney. The train followed the Red Clay Creek, a mostly shallow winding stream through woodlands and fields.  I photographed several Civil War reenactments along the creek. Now I looked forward to returning for another journey through the Delaware countryside, this time on a geological expedition.

img_4807This would be my first outing with the Delaware Mineralogical Society, joining folks who know a great deal of information about rocks, of which I have almost no knowledge, although I have always picked up a souvenir rock during my travels.

I have an affinity with rocks. Now I was about to get some education on the subject.

Building a Railroad through the Rocks

In 1872 the Wilmington & Western Railroad began service to bring goods and passengers among the mills along the creek. Building the line had many challenges including cutting through significant rock outcroppings.  According to an article in the Delaware Public Media,

They didn’t really understand geology back then, and Delaware’s got a lot of rock and it’s the foothills of the Appalachians. So their construction costs skyrocketed.   Robert Elwood

Not knowing about rocks can cost money!

Robert authored Special 50th Anniversary Historic Timeline: the Wilmington & Western’s Half-Century of Operation and reported that “two massive rock outcrops would require extensive black powder blasting to cut through.” p. 3. One outcropping at Cuba Hill consisted of blue granite; at Wooddale, the rock was more massive but softer.  A powder keg exploded at Wooddale, and three workers died as a result. Even opening a powder keg with a sharp tool could cause a barrel to explode. The names of these workers seem to be lost to history, but their involuntary sacrifice noted in Robert’s timeline.

Subduction Leads to Orogeny . . . Really?

Delaware Geologic Survey scientist William “Sandy” Schenck, presented an introductory lesson to the geologic history of the land beneath our feet. The process is best described in this quote from the Geological History of the Delaware Piedmont,

It is surprising to find that although the Delaware Piedmont has passed through the whole series of tectonic events that formed the Appalachians, the mineralogy and structures preserved in Delaware were formed by the early event that occurred between 470 and 440 million years ago, called the Taconic orogeny. This event was triggered by the formation of a subduction zone off the coast of the ancient North American continent that slid oceanic crust on the ancient North American plate beneath oceanic crust on the overriding plate, produced magma, and fueled an arc-shaped chain of volcanoes.

The expression does make a quirky bumper sticker, if you’re into geological humor.I Love Subduction Leads To Orogeny! Bumper Sticker

We boarded the 1929 railcar, “The Paul Revere,” to view and understand the rock landscape as it exists now.

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If you like the sound of the train, here’s a video as we left the station.

Southeast of Greenbank Station

At our first stop, Sandy pointed out the metamorphosed igneous rocks jutting out along the track. We could see the fractures cause by expansion that crisscrossed along the formation. The third photograph in this series is a close up of the “bright eyes” feldspar surrounding black grains of magnetite, formed by the two tectonic plates colliding.

Studying the Cliffs

The Paul Revere headed back through the Greenback Station, letting us off at several different locations, allowing us to walk through the cliffs on either side of the tracks. It was amazing to imagine the labor necessary in 1870 to carve out a narrow space for the train to pass through what looked like impenetrable rocks.  These metamorphosed rocks were originally sedimentary, now layered and jagged.

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Piedmont Prospectors Pan for Garnets

Part of the fun of rock collecting is panning for something, in this case garnets. Garnets are commonly a reddish-brown colored silicate mineral, which can be polished into a red gemstone.  Prospectors can find garnets in stream-worn pebbles, as they are often found at the earth’s surface. Garnet often forms at convergent plate boundaries, a gift from the collision of the Appalachian Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The prospector uses a pan to wash away the sand, leaving magnetite, which can be pulled out with a magnet, and the garnet crystals. Prospectors enjoyed the hunt for these little treasures. A woodland creek is a wonder in itself, creating the soothing sounds of rippling water over the rocks.

Garnet in the rough. Photo credit, Jeff Chalfant 

A Stepping Stone into the Past

Rocks hold the historical record of the earth. The lowly stones we step over have a history and tell us about earlier environments on our planet. Reading the rocks could uncover how humans used the rocks or dealt with destroying them. The next time I ride the Paul Revere, I’ll recall the history of two plates colliding and the story that the rocks tell us on the hillside landscapes of the Red Creek Valley.

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Many thanks to the Delaware Mineralogical Society for arranging the trip and Sandy Schenck for sharing his expertise.  
“To change in appearance or form, especially strangely or grotesquely; transform.”
Changes in land formations certainly would seem to qualify.

The Hollow Tree

Friendship  . . .
 
“I’m thinking that sitting with you in a cozily upholstered hollowed-out sycamore tree, with a view of the river, nibbling on nuts ‘n berries, dark chocolate, smoked salmon and cheese, just being together, talking – whatever, in the midst of nature sounds like birdcalls, chattering squirrels, and water babbling over rocks, sounds attractive to me.
 
I imagine the inside of the tree trunk sort-of pinkish and padded, with yellow and white stripped down-filled comforters and pillows . . . a long-healed wound forming the arched opening to the view of sunlight dancing and sparkling on the water a short distance away.”    J.D.C.

 

Symbo

Hollow tree 2

 

Springtime at Morris Arboretum: KyoDaiko Drummers and Trees Wearing Sweaters

Percussion in the Park

IMG_3728Enchanted by the beautiful gardens of the Morris Arboretum on a early September afternoon a year ago, I returned to visit again, this time on spring day in April. This weekend the arboretum celebrated their annual Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival.  As part of the celebration, KyoDaiko, a community-based taiko drumming group, presented a stunning visual and sound performance. I admired their synchronized movements as they beat the drums in unison. According to Wikipedia, taiko drumming goes back to the 6th century; the Japanese used the drum for communication, theatrical performances and religious events.

Yarnbombing!

That’s what they’ve called it when trees, bridges and gazebos are covered with crocheted yarn. Melissa Maddonni Haims is the local fiber artist who wrapped up the limbs and structures, mostly from recycled materials. Well, I think I’ve seen everything now after finding trees adorned in sweaters.

Fish and Fowl

Gurgling streams flowed into peaceful ponds where swans paddled gracefully and ducks splashed around in the water or in one case, take a nap on the nearby wall. In the fernery, carp swam in the shallows of a rock garden.

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The arboretum has 92 acres to wander and each vista offers something interesting to study. Stepped into a grotto, passed through the rose garden and explored a woodland path–a warm spring afternoon at the Morris gardens has stayed with me for days.

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Hiking by the Silv’ry Moonlight

Our MeetUp group, Get Out Philadelphia Adventure, held a full moon hike at Tyler Arboretum, located in the western suburbs of the city. Gary, who participated in the hike in earlier years, graciously made all the arrangements for our MeetUp event and greeted us as we arrived.

The arboretum had its beginnings in 1681 when King Charles II granted William Penn a tract of land. Thomas Minshall, a fellow Quaker, purchased the land from Penn and established his homestead, while taking care to plant a variety of trees.

IMG_2465As I drove into the parking lot, the moon was just above the trees and shining brightly against the cloudless sky. A display of pumpkins and carved faces greeted me at the entrance.  Seems right that a full moon in October must also have pumpkins scattered about.

We gathered in the barn for hot beverages and conversation and met our guides, Rachel Ndeto (on right) and Dick Cloud (on left).

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Returning to Tyler Arboretum brought back memories of my childhood. My folks would often take my sister and I out to Tyler for a walk in the woods, which was always a special occasion. We would explore around the pond, the barn and the spring house, peeking in the windows of the stone structure.

Coincidently, I remembered that one of my Dad’s favorite songs was “By the Light of the Silv’ry Moon.”

By the light of the silvery moon
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon

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As we began our walk, Dick reminded us that it takes about ten minutes for our eyes to become accustomed to the low light. He suggested flashlights with green or red filters so that the moonlight would not be compromised. As I started walking past the barn, the ground appeared black and could see very little of what was beneath my feet. Only when the moonlight shone unobstructed, then the ground took on the look like a low-level floodlight as our long shadows followed us up the first hill.

Dick stopped along the way to tell us about the history of Tyler and of the plants. Walking through the nightscape, other senses became heightened. The night air made the scents of the forest strong; and when we passed a grove of katsura trees, the aroma of cotton candy drifted into the damp air. During the Fall, the heart-shaped leaves smell like burnt sugar. Further on the trail, we rubbed the leaves of the Spice Bush, a common understory shrub of eastern forests.

We passed through meadows, the moonlight accentuated the outline of the forest in the distance while dancing over the low grasses. The architecture of isolated trees, such as the dogwood, with its delicate sprawling limbs became vivid against the dark landscape.

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Leaves on the trees and shrubs caught the light in delicate patterns. Soaring over 100 feet straight up, tulip poplars stood like sentinels above us, their black silhouettes rising against the moon’s beacon. I tried to concentrate on my footing as we moved along the trail, sometimes slipping on a rolling rock or tripping over a protruding stump, as the leaves rustled with the passing footsteps. Rachel said that logging had stopped in the area in the 1860s, so the poplars could be well-over 125 years old.

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We hiked for just over three miles, the path narrowing and snaking along a hillside, then crossing Rocky Run stream several times, discovering Indian Rock and finally returning to the barn for refreshments.

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Hiking in the moonlight inspires the spirit of adventure, wandering into the darkness with only reflected light as a guide. Moonlight presents a new way of looking at the forest that cannot be experienced in any other way. With the stars sparkling through the dark canopy of the trees overhead, the cool soothing air of the evening, all is still and quiet with nature on the moonlit night.

Video

Be Careful, Do Not Touch: Weekly Photo Challenge

After photographing this little critter, I scanned the Internet to find out more about the caterpillar. What was not surprising to learn: their spiked hairs carry a skin irritant, and if one puts hands in mouth after touching, will be subjected to much pain and swelling. It seems, however, that despite the yellow and black coloring and spiked hairs, some humans still cannot resist picking them up.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Careful

Getting my Ducks in a Row: Understanding the Appetite for Foie Gras

As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures of birds. They bring life into a photograph and have a way of conveying freedom because birds either take to sky, spending part of their existence in the vastness of the earth’s troposphere or swim almost unimaginable distances in the oceans. The metaphor of flying captures our hearts . . .

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

During my childhood, my sister and I would sometimes find abandoned birds, bringing them home to care for them until they were able to fly. These experiences gave me insights to their nature. The birds appeared to enjoy a gentle caress, and they recognized the signs of when they would be fed. We developed a bond, much the same as with a dog or cat.

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Understanding our Connection

Some critics accuse those who support animal rights of anthropomorphizing the animals’  experiences, but I would argue that our neglect in seeing the similarities remains the problem. Humans do not stand at the top of the animal kingdom as an isolated entity. All life on earth began with a single common ancestor. Our DNA reflects this shared ancestry, and in the case of birds, we share 50% of the same genes. Our common ancestor was an Amniota, an amphibious creatures that laid eggs on land.

The Bible has perpetuated the idea of human’s domination as absolute–even over the creepy-crawlers:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Many have come to believe that humans are masters of their domain and have every right to exploit any creature, regardless of the suffering that may cause. Unfortunately, that entitlement interferes with logical reasoning, empathy, and compassion.

ParrotBirds are intelligent. The African Grey Parrot understand human words, and members of the crow family have shown in experiments that they can think from the perspective of another and have self-awareness. “Their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes, and only slightly lower than in humans.”

Song Sparrow

“As explained in the NOVA scienceNOW segment, FOXP2 also plays a role in the processes involved in human speech and birdsong: people with an altered form of the gene have difficulty with many aspects of speech, and birds whose FOXP2 activity is disrupted have trouble learning songs.”

What is Cruel?

In clarifying the amount of stress that animals experience in captivity, my argument rests with determining the difference between the environment that animals are genetically designed and for and their circumstances in captivity. If the gap is too great, we can interpret the animal’s treatment as torturous. We cannot ask the ducks how they are doing; but if we alter or remove too many factors in the following list, we can assume these birds’ discomfort would be significant.

Fly and swim in their natural habitat
Pair bond
Eat a variety of food choices
Access fresh air and water
Nurture a brood of chicks
Avoid unpleasant/dangerous conditions

Human Nature and Entitlement’s Righteous Indignation 

Thinking about human nature, particularly our perceived entitlements, offers insight into our relationship with animals. When humans become accustomed to a way of living that becomes so much a part of us, we begin to believe that our view is the only right one, which transforms into a strong emotion. We cannot pull ourselves out of that entitlement belief. Several examples:

  • We become accustomed to receive external rewards for good behavior and believe we are entitled to those rewards.
  • Some folks in my generation who grew up in schools where every December a Christmas trees stood in every classroom, now feel indignant that a holiday tree is no longer permitted. The Christmas tree entitlement strongly outweighs other children’s rights not to have religious symbols in the classroom.
  • Folks who believe that guns have a rightful place in every situation: schools, stores and even churches.

Entitlement can trump self-interest. Sometimes people will defend the entitlements of the rich, even if they are not rich themselves or do not have the same privileges. One case that comes to mind is when people or their families do not have healthcare, and they still rile against government healthcare benefit programs.

Entitlement becomes their moral compass, and if that entitlement is threatened, they feel victimized.

Here’s a comment copied from an article on foie gras that demonstrates an example of how one consumer flaunts his entitlements:

In honor of you vegan preachers, I’m going to have a nice medium rare veal chop made from a baby cow caged in a pen, covered with a lobe of force-fed foie gras, and for dessert, I’ll have a nice panna cotta made using real animal gelatin and cream from a cattle factory finished off with a honey creme anglaise made using battery caged eggs and honey we stole from bees, all while sitting on my leather couch.

Commenter ESNY1077–The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical

Foie Gras: the Controversy

Fois gras is a food product made from the liver of ducks or geese that typically have been force-fed with a feeding tube to create a fatty liver. The industry uses male ducks; female chicks are killed by either being tossed alive into a grinder or by gassing or are shipped to other processing plants. In their 100 days of life, the birds go through several stages in the food production cycle. For their last 15-18 days, the birds are force-fed between two to four times a day: workers force a rod down their throat. The ducks stand in metal cages, which restrict their movement. Then they are slaughtered.

Appetite for Ethics

It was beyond my comprehension how anyone, after looking at the evidence, especially the videos, could justify eating a product that creates such misery in these creatures’ lives.

I came across this article, The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical, to look for the answer to my question. Some of the comments praised J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s analysis, claiming that he wrote a well-balanced article. On careful examination, however, I found many flaws in the arguments and reasoning, the first being anecdotal fallacy, which is relying on a personal experience, an isolated example of conditions on the farm. The farm managers expected Lopez-Alt and his team, so they had time to correct any improprieties. Lopez-Alt was neither a trained inspector or biologist. Because Lopez-Alt had “learned to love” foie gras, he may have held prejudicial biases that influenced what he reported or observed.

In order to present a logical argument, the premises and the conclusion must be statements, capable of being true or false. The conclusion must follow from the premises. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt does not put his case into a logical format, so I will make an honest attempt at interpreting his argument:

The physiology of foie is not cruel or tortuous, therefore, the practice of raising ducks or geese for foie gras is ethical. Lopez-Alt makes a further qualification:

Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I’m going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

Therefore, refining his argument:

The physiology of foie is not cruel or tortuous, therefore, the practice of raising ducks or geese for foie gras is ethical as practiced at LeBelle Farms. 

Let’s check the arguments used in the article.

But video or photographic footage of one badly managed farm or even a thousand badly managed farms does not prove that the production of foie gras, as a practice, is necessarily harmful to the health or mental well-being of a duck.

Since the argument only concerns LeBelle Farm, we would have to throw out this argument. And neither does it prove the opposite: that one plant managed ethically does not prove that foie gras as a practiced at other farms is ethical. Also, we don’t have the specific evidence that only one farm has been accused of cruelty.

Longwood Gardens Ducks

A Mallard Pair

Straw Man Arguments

In these statements, Lopez-Alt throws out the straw man. “All cities smelled” before plumbing implies justification of unpleasant odors. “Certainly far better lives than the millions of . . . ” Lopez-Alt diverts the reader’s attention to the treatment of other farm animals. The reader becomes distracted from the original premise by justifying and referring to what the author believes are other standard practices. He argues because “nobody will listen” is reason enough to not confront the problem.

Granted, it did smell—a distinct barnyard aroma with a hint of ammonia (the chicken shed we visited afterwards had a much stronger ammonia smell to it), but as anyone who’s worked on an animal farm will tell you, all farms smell, just as before the introduction of modern plumbing, all cities smelled as well.

We’d seen the process from start to finish, and from all outward appearances, the ducks seem to live perfectly comfortable lives—at least as well as you can expect for any farm animal. Certainly far better lives than the millions of cows and pigs and billions of chickens that are raised every year for our consumption. 

Personally, I find this kind of protesting abhorrent. If you are going to protest anything, it should be the industrial production of eggs, where chickens are routinely kept in cages so small that they can’t even turn around for an entire year. The problem, of course, is that you tell people to stop eating cheap eggs, and nobody will listen.

Anthropomorphizing in Reverse

Lopez-Alt inadvertently uses anthropomorphism, as he believes he can interpret the ducks’ experiences in each of these examples.

The facts so far: for at least the first 12 weeks of their lives, these ducks are sitting pretty in a stress-free, spacious environment.

A machine whirls, a small bulge forms where the food is deposited, and the duck walks off, giving its head one shake, but otherwise seemingly unaffected.

First off, the key to understanding this is to make a very conscious effort not to anthropomorphize the animals. As waterfowl, they are distinctly not human, and their physiology differs from ours in a few key ways.

As long as the animal shows no sign of stress or discomfort—and the ducks we saw today certainly did not—then what harm is a few extra pounds?

The stunning [in electrified water] makes for a quick, painless death . . .

Fallacy of Unwarranted Assumption

In the fallacy of unwarranted assumption, the argument’s conclusion is based on a premise which is false. In the following quote, he assumes that because the duck does not struggle, the duck has acquiesced to the treatment because “it is the same type stress in the wild.” He creates an equation: ducks natural behavior to eat heavily before migration = force-feeding. Prior to migration, ducks eat voluntarily until it has enough food for a migration; in the force-feeding case, the duck is gorged with many more feedings than that the bird would typically eat; the two comparisons are completely unequal.

 But the question I had was, why aren’t they more uncomfortable? Why doesn’t a duck struggle with its large liver or having a tube forced down its throat?  . . .   Incredible, right? And that, folks, is the reason why ducks don’t struggle when a feeding tube deposits food in its throat. Its body is built for exactly the same type of stress in the wild.

Do the ducks refuse to struggle because if they resist the process that consequent behavior becomes painful, a behavior they may have adapted through conditioning?

Reductio ad Absurdum Argument

This argument attempts to show that a statement is true by declaring a false or absurd result follows from its denial or acceptance.

It’s a food product that is marketed directly at the affluent, and the rich are always an easy target.

In what way are the rich an easy target? Here the use of the faulty generalization, “thought-terminating cliché,” finishes the debate with the “easy target” phrase.

Amber Defense Fund

Amber is a courageous young woman who exposed the force-feeding processes and saved two geese from their confines. Please consider helping Amber with her legal fees. Because she entered a factory without permission, Amber is facing felony burglary charges and could be sentenced up to seven years in prison.  Link. 

For me, even one case of animal cruelty is cause for investigation by the animal protective institutions. To witness the conditions in the video is heart wrenching. Is that observation scientific–no. I can conclude, however, the practice of foie gras deprives waterfowl of all of their behaviors that are part of their DNA. Twenty-two countries have banned farming animals for foie gras, but France continues to sanction the industry stating,

French law states that “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.”

To use the reasoning for cultural gastronomical heritage could also justify cannibalism! France has used two red-herring fallacies in one statement: first, red-herring appeal to authority by evoking French law, and second, the appeal to tradition, a conclusion justified because the custom is considered part of their heritage.

Links:

Stop Force Feeding
Foie Gras, Force Feeding of Geese and Ducks
Foie Gras: Delicacy of Despair
Video: What’s Wrong with Foie Gras?

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 Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.
–Victor Hugo

Gone, but Not Forgotten: Incident at Bugtussel

I studied the ground before me and was startled at what I saw . . . for over forty years, the land had held the memory of the little house that once stood there.

Outline of house

The message is subtle, nothing of exceptional beauty or unique character in this photograph, and I missed what the earth had preserved the first time I looked over the landscape.  In an upcoming blog post, Racial Incident at Bugtussel, which I am still researching, I retell a story that happened in my hometown of Springfield, Pennsylvania, when local authorities bulldozed a poor, African-American man’s home to the ground, killing his cats and leaving him homeless.

<a href=”http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/gone-but-not-forgotten/”>Gone, But Not Forgotten</a>

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