Saturday, April 18, 2009

Monarch Caterpillars on Butterfly Weeds

My friend Julian made an interesting video of his butterfly weed plants and the Monarch caterpillars that eat them:

Thursday, April 16, 2009


From The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts:

There is no English word for a type of feeling which the Japanese call yugen, and we can only understand by opening our minds to situations in which Japanese people use the word.

To watch the sun sink behind a flower-clad hill, to wander on and on in a huge forest without thought of return, to stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands, to contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. (Seami) All these are yugen, but what have they in common?

Black Lungs

I love running along the Memorial Park bike trails. (I live in Houston, Texas.) I tripped over a tree root and almost broke my left arm recently, but I'm confident I'll keep running there. The bike trails wind deep into the city forest, and newbies are always afraid of getting lost. Under the forest canopy, I'm protected from sudden subtropical downpours, but I'm also protected from the intense summer sun -- the air is markedly cooler inside the forest than out, and the broad leaves of the giant deciduous trees around me absorb the brunt of the midday sun.

Last week, I decided to run along the official running trail of Memorial Park, and I was disgusted by the smell of exhaust from passing cars, and by the smell of charcoal burning at a nearby BBQ restaurant (it was noonish). It forced me to detour through a narrow strip of woods between two streets, and I noticed an immediate difference in air quality! The air was noticeably cleaner inside the woods. I soon reached the opposite side, and the air reeked again (this time, of lawnmower and trimmer exhaust, since I had entered a residential area). I jogged a bit through the neighborhood, then turned back. As I approached the narrow woods, a pileated woodpecker spanned the mouth of the trail! Beautiful: a black and white blur trailing a splash of red.

There was no shortage of runners along the official running trail. There never is a shortage of them, and this fact never ceases to amaze me. It's a universal law that people have no qualms about running alongside busy streets. This trail reminded me of the very popular one around Rice University. I ran there once, with a friend, and I swore to myself to never run around Rice again. I've run through Rice many times, but I'm the only person who does this, to my knowledge -- I've never encountered other runners within the Rice campus. However, a train of runners surrounds the campus at almost all hours, running along busy, ugly, noisy, smelly streets, and totally missing the beauty and better air quality within.

There was a recent New York Times article about measurable levels of nicotine byproducts in NYC nonsmokers; I've often wondered if "sidewalk runners" are similarly affected by motor vehicle exhaust.

Up to 15% of lung cancers arise in people who have never smoked. Interestingly, peanut butter (and other natural sources of vitamin E) may protect against development of lung cancer.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Nesting Dove

My apartment complex has a few palm trees near the main pool area. One day, while walking past one of these trees on my way to the gym, I noticed a dove sitting in a leaf base about six feet above the ground. Over the following week, I consistently saw the dove sitting there, and figured it's nesting. Here's a photo:

Sure enough, two weeks after I first saw it nesting there, I came upon this scene:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What is Grace?

I was stuck in slow traffic yesterday and decided to take the feeder. I'm glad I did, because I passed by a flea market and its neighboring plot of undeveloped land. Rolling with soft hills, and covered with a mess of uncut grass, shady trees, and large patches of Mexican primrose in full bloom, it was as pretty as any rural meadow in spring:

A few blocks farther down, I passed by a concrete dump. Atop this dump, at least thirty feet in the air, grew some small trees! They were surrounded by patches of grass. I feel that this, this is grace:

These scenes were as moving as any I encountered in Europe or elsewhere.