Mind wandering while watering

Catch fly and its shadow

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).

Playing Mah Jongg and sipping wine

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,

Pileated woodpecker at the feeder

the poodles, the Neanderthals, Carlos Secundo, Svante Paabo. All of us are in this together.

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16 Responses to Mind wandering while watering

  1. Oh wow! Your garden is just amazing – the splashes of colour are so vibrant. And I am jealous about Alaska. I saw Antarctica and fell in love, and suspect that Alaska could also steal a part of my heart.

    Genetics is a fascinating world. And I am so grateful to you for the information that the Alpha Dog theory is simply wrong. It always seemed so to me, but I had no facts to back my feelings.

    And I love your woodpecker. He seems so exotic to me.

    Thank you for a beautiful post.

  2. I love my Kindle! I hope you really like yours too. I’ve mainly been reading text books lately though. Not nearly as fun as pleasure reading! : ) Love the photo of the woodpecker!

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    Your posts are such a pleasure, Anne, as your mind wanders like mine does, through interesting paths, scenery and what-ifs. I never did the dominance thing with my current dog and she’s the best companion I’ve ever had and the most intuitive.

    Your photos are as always so inspiring and I do so love the idea of the road trip to Alaska.


  4. maria says:

    Lovely to read about your days at this time of the year!

    I am reading The New Yorker article just now, and the same thought occurred to me as it id to you when you observed that “we were the meaner and more aggressive animals.” It’s hubris to think we are here because we are so wonderful!

    Your reading list/lecture series are all inspiring. I probably should start following some new course of study, both to keep on learning and to distract myself from my situation that weighs a little too heavily on my mind these days.

  5. This was fun: to participate in your very alternate life from mine. There are times when it occurs to me that all the older-persons blogs regularly read are from people who do not live in urban places. And I so want to know about the ones in Chicago and L.A., for example. Then I get over it, admire your in-home schooling, flora, fauna. Thanks, naomi

  6. Annie says:

    I’m going to look for that dog book, it seems that the very best dog trainers don’t do the dominance thing. And it makes total sense that dogs are not wolves, even wolves aren’t “wolves” the way they have been portrayed.

    I like the idea that Neanderthals live on in our DNA. Maybe we were even more vicious before we absorbed their DNA. Human evolution I am sure is a convoluted and fascinating thing.

  7. Yes indeed; we’re all in this together! Would that world leaders recognized that… Anyway! I love my Kindle. Hope you like yours too.

  8. IslandCAT2u says:

    Oh I am so happy to see your pileated woodpecker picture! We had one on the post by our mailbox just the other day and couldn’t get a camera fast enough. Russ and I were amazed at how large it was. We haven’t seen them often in the almost 10 years we’ve been here. But so many this year – it’s been a very good Summer for birds this year. Have a great time in Alaska!

  9. Hattie says:

    What a lovely post. I am mulling it over, thinking about what you say about the common origins and interconnectedness of life.

  10. Darlene says:

    You and Jerry are true scholars. I do admire the fact that you never stop learning. The subjects you choose are all fascinating and I learn much from your posts.

  11. this is so lovely, Anne. You cheered me a bit on a sad day.

  12. Ernestine says:

    Enjoy so much
    reading about your life.
    Mine a little quieter here at the edge of the woods.
    Your flowers are beautiful and
    hope my large woodpecker visits again.
    Such excitement when I spot it.
    Continue to enjoy your traveling
    you have an excellent companion.

  13. Betty says:

    Thanks again for your flowing words Anne. I breathe deeply as I read them – as if they are a breath of fresh air riding so nicely alongside the beautiful flowers and birds in your totally human back yard. Happy late summer to you and Jerry.

  14. Pauline says:

    Gosh your gardens is beautiful! And the sight of all that stacked wood makes me yearn for my old wood cookstove! Saw a fabulous show on PBS about genetics and how connected everything is with everything else and how connected we are as humans. I agree with your assessment of us – we’re meaner, more aggressive animals for sure!

  15. Vivian says:

    So glad you mentioned the Teaching Company. I had planned years ago to begin learning again those subjects that I had missed in college, but the energy wasn’t there. I think anyone who wants to learn more needs these videos taught by experienced instructors. Learning never grows old, does it?

  16. Wynne says:

    Bill and I’ve been hooked on the Teaching Company math courses – worth watching over and over. Especially appreciate Judith Grabiner’s “Mathematics, Philosophy and the ‘Real World’. Other recent favorite dvds that are beautiful and informative, showing the tight mesh & passionate creative intensity among art, technology and math are “Beneath the Fold” (origami to the nth in complexity & beauty) and the NOVA program on fractals (like your cell phone reception and movie 3d animation special effects? it’s all about fractals!).

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