Big Day for Wildlife

Yesterday (2-25-19) was a big day for wildlife viewing in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, in northern New Mexico. Shucks, it’s only a National Monument, but has populations of wildlife that rival National Parks. And this is especially so in the winter, when a variety of northern ducks and bald eagles arrive at the generally ice-free waters of the Rio Grande to winter.

In less than an hour’s time, I was able to observe and photograph the creatures that follow. This first movie is of a pair of mallards feeding on midges that have been caught up in foam.

Not over two miles upstream, I spotted a group of bighorn ewes and young, part way up the slope on the far side of the river.

After filming this group of sheep, I looked back down at the river, and saw a long cylindrical shape in the water, which was, of course, an otter. I was seated in my van, using it as a blind, and the otter was about 160′ away (measured with Google Earth), so it was not alarmed. It swam leisurely up and down along the shoreline for a few minutes, before climbing out of the river.

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Otter

A few minutes later, I filmed this group of ducks from an elevated pull-out. All but two of the ducks are goldeneyes. The two ducks closest to shore, with more pointy heads, are ring-necks. And a female mallard passes through the group.

Bald eagle on basalt boulder

Bald eagle

My last sighting was this bald eagle, which circled above me and landed on a basalt boulder. I then returned downstream to a pool where, yesterday, I caught a hefty rainbow trout that was rising to midges. But there were no risers there, and I caught nothing. Did I go home disappointed? Not a chance! Catching something would have been only the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. The Rio Grande had again provided precious moments of being with wildlife.

p.s. while the wintering birds arrive on their own, the bighorns and otters have been returned to the Rio Grande via very successful stocking efforts.

 

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Akumal Diving, 2001 and 2003

Akumal is a resort town on the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun and north of Tulum.  Besides diving the reefs, one can also dive the cenotes: water-filled caves. On our cenote dives, we were never far away from the surface i.e. air!

AkumalAzureVaseSponge19'01T

Azure vase and other sponge

AkumalBandedButterflyfish#24'01T

Banded butterflyfish

AkumalBarJackFingerCoral#32'01

Bar jack and finger coral

AkumalBarrelSponge#7'01 copy

This and below: Barrel sponge

AkumalBarrelSponge#27'01T

AkumalBlackGrouper#5'01

Black grouper

AkumalBlueAngelfish#2'03T.jpg

Blue angelfish

AkumalBlueChromis#26'01T

Blue chromis

AkumalBrownTubeSponge#28'03

Brown tube sponge

AkumalButterHamlet#20'01T

Butter hamlet

AkumalConeyBiColor#32'01T

Bicolor coney

AkumalFairyBasslet#19'01T

Fairy basslet

AkumalFrenchAngelfish

This and two below: French angelfish

AkumalFrenchAngelfish#31'01AkumalFrenchAngelfish#31'01T

AkumalGoatfish#17'01

Goatfish

AkumalGrayAngelfishPair#11'03

Gray angelfish

AkumalGreenMoray#25'01

Moray eel

AkumalGruntsEtc.#12'01T

Grunts and others

AkumalHawksbillTurtle

This and two below: Hawksbill turtle

AkumalHawksbillTurtle#39'01

AkumalHawksbillTurtleTopView

AkumalHogfish&BarrelSponge

This and below: Hogfish

AkumalHogfish#10'03

AkumalHogfishJackBfly#6'01T

Three hogfish, foureyed butterflyfish and bar jack

AkumalLobsterT

Spiny lobster

AkumalMeOnPorch#17'01 copy

At our hotel at Halfmoon Bay

AkumalOr.TubePurpSp#26'01 copy

Orange tube sponge

AkumalPorkfish#24'01

Porkfish

AkumalPotpourri

Medley

AkumalPrincessParrotfishT

Princess parrotfish

AkumalQueenAngelT

Queen angelfish

AkumalQueenTriggerfish#5'01T

Queen triggerfish

AkumalRedBandParrotfish

Redband parrotfish

AkumalRockBeautiesT

Rock beauty

AkumalScrawledFilefishT

Scrawled filefish

AkumalSharpnosePuffer copy

Sharpnose puffer

AkumalSoc.Feath.Dust#23'01

Social feather duster

AkumalSpongeCoralBits#29'01

Barrel sponge and finger coral

AkumalSpotfinBlueAngel#8'03

Spotfin butterflyfish (left) and blue angelfish

AkumalStoplightParrotfishMountainousStarCoral

Stoplight parrotfish and mountainous star coral

AkumalTallBrainCoral#8'01

Tall brain coral

AkumalThreeSpeciesT

Left to right: Bluestriped grunt, black-barred soldierfish and porkfish

AkumalTwoPorkfishV.2T

Porkfish

AkumalWhiteMargates#20'01T

This and below: White margates

AkumalWhiteMargatesElkhornCoral#2'01T

AkumalWhitespottedFilefishOrangePhase

White-spotted filefish

AkumalWrassesEtcT

Blue-headed wrasse

AkumalXmasTreeBrainCoral#34'01T

Brain coral and Christmas tree feather duster

AkumalYellowtail#22'01

Yellowtail snapper

CenoteDosOjos#27'01T

This and below: Cenote Dos Ojos

CenoteDosOjos#30'01T

CenoteTajMahal#10'01

This and three below: Cenote Taj Mahal

CenoteTajMahal#12'01CenoteTajMahal#13'01CenoteTajMahal#28'01T

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Little Cayman Island Diving, 2005

Anemone#7'05

This and below: Anemone

Anemone#9'05

Anemone#26'05

Pink-tipped anemone

AzureVase&RopeSponge#9'05

Azure vase and rope sponges

AzureVaseSponge#10'05

Azure vase and red rope sponges

AzureVaseSpongeEtc-Edit

Azure vase and other sponges

BandedButterflyfish#22'05T

This and below: Banded butterfly fish

BandedButterflyfish#36'05T

Barracuda#29'05T.jpg

This and below: Barracuda

Barracuda#36'05T

BlackcappedBassletTubeSponge#25'05T

Black-capped basslet and tube sponge

BlackDurgon#19'05T

Black durgon

Boat&Ladder#36'05T

Dive boat ladder

BrainCoralsBranchingTubeSponge#15'05T

Brain corals and branching tube sponge

BranchedFingerCoralEtc.#10'05T

Branched finger coral

BranchingTubeSponge#21'05T

This and three below: Branching tube sponge

BranchingTubeSponge#35'05TBranchingTubeSpongeBlackDurgon#5'05TBranchingTubeSponges#33'05T

ChartreuseSponge#18'05Sim.16

Chartreuse sponge

DogSnapperT

Dog snapper

EagleRay#5'05

Eagle ray

FrenchAngelfish#7'05

French angelfish

GardenEels#27'05

Garden eels

GrayAngelfish#4'05TSim.16

This and two below: French angelfish

GrayAngelfish#5'05GrayAngelfishSeaRod.#6'05T

GreaterSoapfish#34'05T

This and below: Greater soapfish

GreaterSoapfishBrainCoralT

HawksbillTurtle#7'05T

Hawksbill turtle

HorseEyeJackKath#33'05T

Horse-eye jack

HotelBeachDiveBoat#25'05T

This and below: Southern Cross Club

HotelBeachDock#26'05T

In front of our cottage

JackCrevalleScrollCoral#15'05

Black jack

KathBarrelSponge#17'05

Kathy and barrel sponge

Lobster#22'05Bz

This and two below: Spiny lobster

Lobster#24'05TLobster#28'05

NassauGrouper#34'05T

This and below: Nassau grouper

LongsnoutButterflyfish#12'05T-Dn&Sim.05

Longsnout butterfly fish

NassauGrouper#34'05T

This and below: Nassau grouper

NassauGrouperSoto#8'05T

OrangeBarrelSponge#20'05V-1

Orange vase sponge

OrangeElephantEarSponge#15'05T

Orange elephant ear and other sponges

PillarCoral#29'05T

This and below: Pillar coral

PillarCoralSeaFan#27'05T

PinkVaseSponge#6'05Bz

Pink vase and orange elephant ear sponges

PinkVaseSponge#8DeNV-1

This and below: Pink vase sponge

PinkVaseSpongeEtc.#9'05T

PortholesBkueTangSoto#15'05T

Blue tang through porthole of wreck

PrincessParrotfishSquirrelfish#32'05T

Princess parrotfish and longspined squirrelfish

QueenAngelfish#6'05T

Queen angelfish

QueenTriggerfish

Queen triggerfish

Schoolmasters#26'05T

This and below: Schoolmasters

Schoolmasters#33T

Scroll_Coral#15'05TSim.16

Scroll coral

SeaRodSmoothStarCoral#12'05T

Sea rod and smooth star coral

SgtMajors#38'05T

Sergeant majors

SouthernCrossClubFromDockT

Southern Cross Club. Our cottage is on the left.

SouthernStingRayBarjackYellowtail#13'05

Bar jack, yellowtail snapper and southern stingray

SpotfinButterflyfish#35'05

Spotfin butterflyfish

StrawberryVaseSpongeMassiveStarlet_Coral#32'05T

Strawberry vase sponge and massive starlet coral

StrawberryVaseSpongeSpongeKath#21'05T

Kathy and strawberry vase sponge

WhitespottedFilefishOrangePhase#36'05Sim.2

White-spotted filefish and foureye butterflyfish

YellowBranchingTube&RedRopeSponge#16'05T

Yellow branching and red rope sponges

YellowBranchingTubeSponge#12'05

Yellow branching sponge

StoplightParrotfishSeaFan#36'05T

Stoplight parrotfish and sea fan

YellowfinGrouper#6'05T

This and below: Yellowfin grouper

YellowfinGrouper#37'05T

YellowtailSnapper#35'05

Yellowtail snapper

Kathy and I did a 10-day dive and fish package at the Southern Cross Club in 2005. Besides the fantastic diving, we caught a few bonefish, baby tarpon in the “Tarpon Lake” and other assorted fish. In my eagerness to set the hook, I pulled my fly out of the mouth of a large tarpon that was a member of a group that hung around the docks in the morning. Better not to traumatize one of the pet tarpon, anyway. Frigate birds hovered over our heads as we played small reef fish. Little Cayman is a very pleasant small island.

 

 

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Travels, 9-26 to 10-6-19

On September 26, I flew Southwest Airlines from Albuquerque to Oakland. This route usually provides views of the Grand Canyon and the Sierras,  but the vagaries of seating in the plane, the clarity of the windows, the time of day  and the presence or absence of clouds determines what kind of photos I get.

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Leaving Albuquerque, view to the north. The Sandia Mountains are seen in upper right. The Rio Grande runs through the center of the photo, and lava flows are seen on the left. View to the NE.

Clouds covered most of the rest of New Mexico and Arizona, including all of the Grand Canyon. But, I did get this view of the gorge of the Little Colorado, which here runs right to left through the center of the photo.

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Gorge of the Little Colorado River, view to the N

And, west of the Grand Canyon, Lake Mead showed up.

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At the head of Lake Mead, where the brown water of the Colorado River is brought to a complete halt against the blue water of the lake.  A distinct boundary is encountered at this point. Due to a continuing drought, the lake has been shrinking, and, thus, the end of current has been advancing downstream. Since 2008, it has advanced about four miles downstream. View to the N.

I spotted the following two sights in western Nevada, which I later ID’ed with Google Earth.

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Silver Peak mine settling ponds

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Mt. Dubois (13,565 feet), in the White Mountains, view to the NE

Then, with mostly clear skies. we crossed into California, flying to the south of Mono Lake, and over Yosemite NP.

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Mono Lake and Yosemite NP, view to the NE

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Yosemite NP, view to the NE

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Yosemite NP, view to the N

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Northern Yosemite NP, view to the N

The plane passed directly over Yosemite Valley,  and then left the High Sierra behind. We then flew over the Tuolomne River

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Cherry Lake and Lake Eleanor are on tributaries of the Tuolomne River, view to the N

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Built to provide drinking water to San Francisco, Hetchhetchy Dam drowns the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne River. View to the NE.

New Melones Dam floods the Stanislaus River. This is where, in 1973, the river conservationist, Mark Dubois, chained himself to a rock, to protest the dam.

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New Melones Dam floods the Stanislaus River, view to the NE

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The Central Valley

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Oakland Airport

I was picked up by my son, Ethan, after which we drove to Penngrove (in Sonoma County), to the home that he and wife Flo had recently purchased. A beautiful home in the country! Kathy joined me there, driving our van up from Simi Valley, where she had attended her high school 50th reunion.

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Ethan does breakfast

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L to R: Flo’s dog, Miss America, Kathy, me and Ethan

And Ethan had filled the bird feeders.

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Chestnut-backed chickadee

Chestnut-backedChickadeeDSCN2059.jpg

Chestnut-backed chickadee

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Oak titmouse

While there, Kathy and I visited Point Reyes National Seashore.

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Point Reyes and Tomales Bay, view to the N

LimantourGrassDSCN2089.jpg

Limantour trail

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Great egret, Limantour trail

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Great egret, Limantour trail

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Tule elk, near Drake’s Beach

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Heermann’s (grey) and other gulls, Drake’s Beach, Point Reyes

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Driftwood teepee, Drakes’s Beach

Next up was Yosemite! Here are some scenes from the Tioga Rd.

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Chipmunk

SierraJuniperDSCN2110.jpg

A favorite Sierra tree – the Sierra juniper

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A flock of Red crossbills

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Red crossbills. Their “crossed” bills are used for opening up pine cones.

OlmstedtPtDSCN2156.jpg

Mob scene at Olmstedt Point

CloudsRestOlmstedtPtDSCN2157.jpg

Seen from Olmstedt Point, the sweeping granite slabs of Clouds Rest Peak, which is located at the upper end of Yosemite Valley. The Quarter Domes are seen to the right. View to the S.

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Glacier-ground slabs, at Olmstedt Point

HalfDomeDSCN2160.jpg

From Olmstedt Point, Half Dome, view to the S

HalfDomeDSCN2142.jpg

From further west on the Tioga Rd, a telephoto view of the upper half of Half Dome. Just barely visible are climbers on the Cable route, to the sunlit-side of the shadow line. View to the S.

OverhangPywiackDomeDSCN2166.jpg

Curved overhang, on Pywiack Dome. The brownish areas are glacial polish.

PywiackDomeTreeDSCN2168.jpg

Tree grows in a pocket, on the slabs of Pywiack Dome

PywiackDomeDSCN2167.jpg

Pywiack Dome

CathedralPeakDSCN2170.jpg

Cathedral Peak, view to the E

VogelsangPk.DSCN2152.jpg

Extreme telephoto view of Vogelsang Peak, view to the SE

Hike to May Lake, which is located to the north of the Tioga Rd.

Mt.HoffmanDSCN2137.jpg

Mt. Hoffman, from the trail

MayLake&MtHoffmanDSCN2147.jpg

May Lake and Mt. Hoffman

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May Lake reflections

MayLakeReflectionsDSCN2151.jpg

May Lake

Cathedral&EchoPksDSCN2138.jpg

Cathedral Peak and Echo Peaks, view to the E

Cathedral Peak was where, in 1967, Glen Denny and I made the 12 minute movie “Nyala”, of me soloing the regular route. As I recall, it later won a prize at the Trento Film Festival.

CathedralRangeDSCN2139.jpg

View of the Cathedral Range, from the trail to May Lake

We passed through Yosemite Valley twice in one day. I took this extreme telephoto photo of Reed’s Pinnacle from the road to Wawona, in the AM. Here, a climber in an orange shirt is seen on the Direct Route, with two other climbers at the top of the pitch. The regular route on Reed’s was my last climb in the Valley. I took a fall on the last pitch, breaking my left ankle and cheek bone. I tell that story in another post: wordpress.com/post/believesteve.org/8276

Reed'sPinnacleDirect DSCN2171.jpg

Reed’s Pinnacle Direct

On our next pass through the Valley, in the PM, a fire had just begun down valley, and smoked things out.

CathedralSpiresDSCN2176.jpg

Cathedral Spires, shrouded by smoke

MiddleCathedralRockDSCN2178.jpg

Middle Cathedral Rock, with Higher Cathedral Rock behind

In the old days (early 60s) I climbed both spires and the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock.

We left the Park via Tioga Pass, headed home. Our last stop in California was Convict Lake, on the east side of the Sierras.

LaurelMtn&SevehahCliffDSCN2179.jpg

Convict Lake, Laurel Mountain and the Sevehah Cliffs

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Wasp nest and aspens

Three photos of reflections in Convict Lake, from the trail along its southern side …

ConvictLakeReflectionsDSCN2180.jpg

ConvictLakeReflectionsDSCN2181.jpg

ConvictLakeRingOfRiseDSCN2183.jpg

and two photos of Convict Creek.

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Inlet of Convict Creek

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Shaded falls on Convict Creek

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Camping at Convict Lake

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The King Donald Chronicles, #52

 

Hitler

Der Fuhrer

Trump is making his move. The over-riding concern of the prior 51 posts of this series is now seen to be taking place. Trump is taking power as an absolute ruler. Trump’s lawyers are now asserting that he is above the law – that he can neither be indicted, nor even investigated, for committing a crime. He now does as he pleases, and dares anyone to do anything about it.

When will the Democratic party,  with its majority in the House, come together to move impeachment forward with the urgency it requires? What, in the meantime, will the Republican members of Congress do, in the way of protecting our democracy from Trump? Anything? Are they all on Putin’s payroll?

Will he be successfully impeached in the House ? If so, will the Senate convict him? If so, will he refuse to leave office? If so, will the military forcibly evict him?

This is an emergency. What we naive Americans never supposed could happen in this country is happening – right before our eyes. We are now forced to contemplate what it will be like – life under a dictator. This is a nightmare made real.

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By Our Own Hand

In today’s NYT: “Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.
The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.”
As a lover of birds, I, of course, find this heart-breaking. But who doesn’t? Who doesn’t love birds? Like no other class of vertebrates, they animate our world with their activity, songs, graceful flight and the beauty of their bodily designs and plumage. What a tragedy … and what a condemnation of greedy and short-sighted humanity.
In 1962, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” put us on notice. And here we are, 57 years later, counting up the billions of birds that are no longer with us. Earth was an Eden for the first humans. Then we ate the apple of the tree of knowledge and look at what we have now. We are doomed, and by our own hand.

Image may contain: bird, sky, outdoor and nature
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Once Birdwatching, Now Birding

I still have my original Peterson’s “A Field Guide to Western Birds”, which was given to me by my first wife Karen, on my 27th birthday, in 1967. In those days, birdwatchers referred to it simply as “Peterson’s”.

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My “Peterson’s”, with thumb tabs added by myself

The guide contained a checklist, with the recommendation: “Keep a Life List”. I did use the checklist, and added notes of bird sightings in margins and elsewhere in the book. But I did this on a haphazard basis. It was not that important to me that I keep a complete record.

More recently, I became enamoured of bird photography, and started to look and post to websites like Facebook Birders. Birdwatching had become “birding” – no doubt to make it sound like a more serious undertaking, and not simply the preoccupation of old ladies in sneakers. It was on these websites that I began to see references to “lifers”. What is a “lifer”? It is one’s first sighting of a bird, and represents, therefore, a new entry on one’s life list. And it became evident that adding lifers to one’s life list is, for dedicated birders, of the highest priority. One’s lifelong passion is to checkoff the greatest number of birds possible – both in one’s country of residence and world-wide, if you have the means. This passion can extend to birders doing a “Big Year”, in which they race around the country from one birding hotspot to another, amassing a species count. The American Birding Association has promulgated these rules for a Big Year:

“ABA Area Big Year Rules

An ABA Area Big Year shall start at 12:00 AM on 1 January of that year and end at 11:59 PM, 31 December of that year, based on the local time of the location of the birder at each time threshold. Each species counted by the participant must have been encountered in accordance with the ABA Recording Rules current at the time the species was encountered. Each species counted must have been on the ABA Checklist during the Big Year …”

How many species have winners recorded? In 2016, John Weigel counted 784 bird species. And, in case you missed it, Owen Wilson starred in a riotous spoof of this competition, entitled, of course, “The Big Year”. So, like practically every other activity in the modern world, birdwatching became competitive.

As an amateur photographer of birds (amongst other wildlife and nature subjects), running around from place to place to maximize sightings is the farthest thing from my mind. I want to spend time with birds, because they are both beautiful and interesting. Nowadays, I find that being around birds is the most relaxing and fulfilling thing I can do, whether it be watching birds at the feeders at home, or traveling to see and photograph birds in new places. It is said of trout fishing that trout live in beautiful places, and the same thing can of course be said of birds. And, birding in new locales takes me to beautiful places I may not have otherwise discovered.

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Evening grosbeak, Embudo, New Mexico

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Rufous-tailed hummingbird, Mindo, Ecuador

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What Went Wrong

What Went Wrong

I

In the Spring of 1962, I boarded the S.S. Serbija, bound from New York City to Tangiers, Morocco. The purpose of the trip was to go climbing in the Alps. A secondary purpose was to visit Israel and India. As for Israel, I intended to live and work on a kibbutz for a spell, to see at first hand how socialism functioned. In India, I intended to live on an ashram, to find out about Hinduism. Underlying this urge to investigate alternatives to capitalist society was a deep-seated conviction that the modern world was headed for trouble.

I did climb in the Alps and spend a winter on a kibbutz. My time at the kibbutz was entirely satisfying, and I could easily have stayed on, but my interest in Hindu mysticism compelled me to continue to India. On the way, I spent the next summer in Iran, and arrived in India in early fall. Hoping to find opportunities to climb in the Indian Himalaya before winter, I went first to Kulu Valley. There, I did get to do some climbing, but this was cut short when I came down with hepatitis. I had contracted this blood-borne disease in Iran, from an inoculation for yellow fever that had been delivered with a non-disposable needle.

I returned to the US, and, after my recovery, spent the winter ski-bumming in the West. But, what was I going to do next? I decided that, instead of mysticism, I would give science a chance. I wanted to find out what was going on with humans and our environment. At the University of California-Berkeley, I created an individual major I called “Human Ecology”, as a means to further that interest. I continued on with this quest, becoming a graduate student in Anthropology, first at Berkeley and then at Harvard. I did get answers to my questions, but I did not, however, complete a PhD. I came to the conclusion that the academic life was not for me. Why?

In the fall of 1968, I attended a graduate seminar in Evolutionary Biology, which was taught by the then foremost authority in the world on the subject – a German émigré by the name of Ernst Mayr. The thesis topic he assigned me was to document his conviction that black Americans were outbreeding white Americans. This concerned him greatly, as he was convinced that blacks were less intelligent than whites. I did not outright refuse this assignment. But, after reading more of his thought, I chose to write on another subject. My paper was titled: “Human Ecology and Evolution – Where it’s been, where it’s at and where it’s going – fast”. In this paper, I attacked Mayr directly for elitist comments made in his 1966 book: “Animal Species and Evolution”, that echoed his beliefs about the inferiority of blacks. And, this was, of course, the beginning of the end of my graduate studies.

In the Introduction to the paper I wrote: “Since the author is convinced that man is inevitably committed to self destruction, this paper will take, in large part, the form of a post mortem before the fact.”. The paper’s title included the words: “… where it’s going – fast”. 51 years have now passed since I wrote those words, and today we find ourselves in the initial stages of the self-destruction I then predicted. But, did we get here “fast”? In those days, I would have guessed that we would arrive at this moment sooner, making the same error that George Orwell made in his book “1984”. In neither case has the dreadful event arrived as soon as predicted. But arrive it has.

Despite the nay-saying of those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, the world’s population is coming to understand that we are experiencing the beginning stages of human-caused climate disruption. The scientific evidence of global heating, and why, is unassailable. The extreme weather events that this heating is causing are seen on everyone’s TV, day after day. Everyone has now become acquainted with this fundamental fact – that, due to the burning of fossil fuels, the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are responsible for the heating. What is not known is whether the heating can be reversed, with current estimates showing that we are rapidly approaching the point of no return. But I presume that we will pass that point with no (or insufficient) action taken. The inadequacy of current efforts to arrive at a international plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions is laughable. No remedy will be found. Welcome to Hothouse Earth.

 

II

How did we get to this point? It began about 10,000 years ago, with the transition from a foraging way of life to agriculture. What is the foraging way of life? Foragers depend (there are still a few around) on hunting and gathering. They live in small groups (or bands), are nomadic, and their social life differs from that of modern peoples in a number of notable ways. They engage in thorough going mutual aid and food sharing. They are classless and egalitarian i.e there are no rich and poor, no one possesses coercive authority and each individual has complete autonomy. They are not patriarchal and sexist. They have no formal religion. They have few possessions i.e. no wealth. They also have longevity equal to ours and are free of the infectious diseases that plague modern man. Foraging was a very successful way of life, allowing our species to spread to every livable environment on Earth, ranging from the ice-bound Arctic to the deserts of Australia to the tropical rainforests of both hemispheres. Other critical features of their societies will be mentioned below.

As the last Ice Age ended, the worldwide climate warmed, and foragers began to experiment with the planting of seeds and the taming of wild animal. Agriculture and animal husbandry were invented. What were the immediate consequences of these inventions? First, that nomadic foragers became sedentary farmers. They needed to stay close to their crops. As they became more effective farmers, their efforts yielded surpluses, for which they needed to build storage structures. This led to the establishment of villages. Then, due to the increased food supply, populations grew, with towns and cities following. Stored food had become the first property – the first wealth – and, inevitably, the more aggressive individuals in these early societies managed to secure more of that wealth for themselves. Thus began what we quaintly call “civilization” – rule of impoverished masses by elites, large-scale slavery, religions that legitimized rule by the elite, wars of conquest, empire building and so on. Has anything changed since this all began, 10,000 years ago? Nothing has changed. Here are a few examples chosen at random: at one time, it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire, and British monarchs still sit on thrones; prior to Japan’s loss in WWII, Emperor Hirohito was regarded by his people as a “divine ruler”, and Japanese pilots cherished the opportunity to become kamikazes; Islam is pitted against the West, with religious rulers calling the shots in Iran and suicide bombers killing people throughout the Middle east and beyond; China, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela, the Philippines (named for King Philip II of Spain) and many other countries have fallen under the control of one kind of despotic regime or the other, with the US perhaps not far behind; much of the world’s wealth is spent on weapons, while the rest of it is falling increasingly under the control of fewer and fewer individuals; individual autonomy is being lost to more and more of the world’s population.

 

III

Despite the evidence of the above-cited examples, scholars of the human condition are increasingly of the opinion that humans are innately motivated to be “prosocial” (as opposed to anti-social). Humans are the most social of all animals but the so-called “eusocial” insects. Our ability to organize ourselves together to meet any and all environmental challenges that were presented throughout hundreds of thousands of years and multiple glacial periods testifies to the effectiveness of that social predisposition. One social scientist (Nicholas Christakis: “Blueprint, The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society”, 2019) has defined the “social suite” – a group of biologically based behaviors which underpin human society. They are: “the capacity to have and recognize individual identity, love for partners and offspring, friendship, social networks, cooperation, preference for one’s group, mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism) and social learning and teaching”. Christakis and others in a multiplicity of disciplines – sociology, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, political science, economics – have shown that this is who we are. Why, then, are we now at each other’s throats?

 

IV

What, in other words, went wrong? In order to answer this question we must first take a closer look at the “social suite”. For instance, what does Christakis mean by “mild hierarchy/relative egalitarianism”? He explains that “… we accord more prestige to some group members – typically, those who can teach us things or who have many connections – than to others”. Prestige, of course, is not the same thing as authority. The interpretation of hierarchy Christakis puts forward does not include coercive authority. Egalitarianism (even relative egalitarianism) means that there is no “boss”, and the maintenance of same brings with it the need to curtail “bossy” behavior (“bossy” is a term used by one group of foragers). No human likes to be bossed around, or to be bullied, taken advantage of or dealt with unjustly. Studies of foraging people have shown that such disruptive behavior can usually be curtailed by peer pressure (such as would occur in a group of friends). But when peer pressure doesn’t do the job, or the offense is more serious, a band may resort to banishment or murder. A few men will come together to drive away or execute someone that they have deemed to be incorrigible. Clearly, it is critically important to a mutually aiding group to deal decisively with miscreants. This self-policing mechanism preserves the very necessary harmony of the group. Additionally, although his mention of relative egalitarianism implies the human desire for social equity and self-determination, I find that Christakis fails to stress how very great this need is. It is this need, after all, that causes people to rise up and throw off their shackles.

The self-policing mechanism of peer pressure (or worse) requires that every member of the group knows and coordinates with every other member of the group. This condition is met for a foraging band of, at most, a few dozen people, but can this mechanism work in larger groups? And the answer is that this mechanism does not work in a group that surpasses a certain size. What, then, is that size? In the 1990s, anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that there is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. He experimentally determined that it is, on average, 150 persons, and this is now known as “Dunbar’s number”.

Here is the answer to the question: What went wrong? Societies growing to numbers in excess of 150 persons is what went wrong. Societies of this and greater size cannot effectively curtail anti-social behavior through peer pressure/self-policing, and become vulnerable to that behavior. Before you know it, the tough guys take over, which is exactly what happened as the foraging way of life yielded to village life. And it continues to this day, with the nastiest and greediest members of society in charge – the oligarchs and their chosen leaders, such as Putin, Duterte and Trump.

 

V

An avaricious civilization expanded around the globe. Mongol hordes ravaged Eurasia. The European sea-faring nations conquered and looted most of the rest of the world, with King Leopold of Belgium killing 10 million Africans. Turkey invented genocide, with its Armenian massacres. Germany started two World Wars, and killed millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and others. The US fought two colonial wars in Asia. The Khmer Rouge killed a million in Cambodia. And right now, the newly installed Bolsonaro regime in Brazil is removing protections for Amazonian tribes, while accelerating the cutting of the Amazon rainforests. It is a shit show. What started innocently enough 10,000 years ago has metastasized into a planet-gobbling force. There is no stopping it, and it will be business as usual until the planet becomes too hot to do business. That is the way it will end, for both us prosocial humans and the antisocial ones that we let get out of control.

 

 

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