Outside the lawn is littered with yellow leaves from the alders. When the wind gusts they drift and swirl down from the tops of the trees. There is morning mist and warm afternoon sunshine. The tomatoes have yellow verticulum wilt. Nothing much to be done — just grow resistant varieties, which I have done and they got it anyway. It gets dark these days around 8:30. Jerry says the days get shorter more quickly near the equinox.
We have finished cutting and stacking wood for winter fuel. Two woodsheds are filled, one in front of my studio and one behind, next to the patio and flowers. Jerry is working on getting the truck ready to go to Alaska. He has cleaned it up and put the old canopy on the truck bed. People think I’m nuts to go to Alaska in the fall when snow will come. Perhaps I am, but I don’t like Alaska in the summer when the mosquitoes and other bugs are legion. After frost in September they mostly disappear and then we watch the first snow turn the woods white.
In the meantime, here on Lummi we play Mah Jongg, sip wine, and not much is happening (if one can avoid dwelling on the wild gyrations of the stock market — a bit scary for us old folk living on savings).
So that means there’s lots of time to think and read. I have a new toy, a Kindle.
My mind has been on genetics lately. I am reading a book on dog behavior and genetics. I saw a review of the book in The Economist, and voila! A couple of minutes later I had a chapter from it on my Kindle. I bought the book. It is called “Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.”
Apparently all the old notions of dog training based on ideas about wolf behavior are wrong. Dogs, although genetic analysis proves that they evolved from the grey wolf, are quite different in behavior from the wolf, and besides, wolf behavior has been misunderstood because studies on it were done on captive wolf packs in zoos rather than in the natural setting of wild wolf packs. In the wild wolf packs are comprised 6 to 10 animals of one family. They are a cooperative social group in which the yearlings help with the care and feeding of new pups. The old notion that one alpha male dominated the pack is wrong. So dog training theories based on the dominance principle are misguided.
The Teaching Company course Jerry and I watch before bed is on western civilization from the Renaissance to the present. It is taught by Professor Robert Bucholz of Loyola University in Chicago. He is a pleasant looking fellow with an energetic lecture style. He quotes from Shakespeare and other contemporary sources with drama and vigor. I think he must have done some acting in his career.
Genes can be a big factor in History. All those kings and queens of Europe were thoroughly inbred; marriages were arranged, often between first cousins, to facilitate political alliances and consolidate family property holdings. Sometimes resulting offspring had bad problems; there was insanity, feeble mindedness, bone deformations and more. Charles II (Carlo Secundo) of Spain’s mother was the niece of his father. They were Hapsburgs and Charles’ version of the Hapsburg chin was so extreme that he couldn’t chew and had difficulty talking. He had many other disabilities, was mentally retarded and sickly. His inability to rule was one causal factor in economic instability and wars in Europe.
Our next course, which we will take to Alaska, is on human evolution. I am looking forward to that one because I often wonder about the origin of humanity and what other kinds of humans or pre-humans existed in the past. There’s an article in The New Yorker this week (“Sleeping with the Enemy“) about A scientist in Germany, Svante Paabo, whose life’s work is to piece together the genome of the Neanderthal people. This is painstaking detective work, but now we know that all of us who have ancestry from western Europe have from 1 to 4% Neanderthal genes. Apparently before our ancestors killed off the last Neanderthals they interbred with them.
I’m glad that the genes of those people live on in us, and I hope I have 4% or more in me. There are various speculations about why Homo sapiens was the “successful” species — successful because they killed off the Neanderthals. It has been suggested that the Neanderthals had inferior tools, but this was disproved with archeological findings. It has been suggested that the Neanderthals didn’t have language. The genetic facts do not support this. It has been suggested that they were stupid — but their brains were as big or bigger than ours. So far I haven’t seen suggested what immediately occurred to me — that we were the meaner and more aggressive animals.
So summer slides into fall, and as I water the flowers I think about how connected life is. How all life on the earth came from a single cell about 4 billion years ago. Jerry and I are part of it, related to the flowers and trees, the birds at the feeder,
the poodles, the Neanderthals, Carlos Secundo, Svante Paabo. All of us are in this together.