Monday, August 17, 2015

Distinctions with or without differences

Even with the handful of field guides I have, and the resources of the internet at my disposal (God and frontier communications willing), I'm often perplexed by the question of "what am I looking at?" It's not that I can't sort out flowers from grasses from trees and ducks from crows and things like that. It's that, until recently, I had never noticed how many similar, but different, flowers and birds etc. there are. Here's one example using flowers with yellow petals and dark centers.

Helianthus pauciflorus (Stiff Sunflower)?
Helianthus pauciflorus (Stiff Sunflower)?
Photo by J. Harrington

I thought they might be Black-eyed Susans or, possibly, Brown-eyed Susans, but, if you look closely, you can see there's more than one flower per stem. Maybe they're stiff sunflowers? That was my initial choice, but I'm not sure. At least to me they don't look exactly like this field of what I think are Black-eyed Susans that bloom every year at the other end of our road.

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan)?
Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan)?
Photo by J. Harrington

For the past several years, I've been "sure" that these birds are purple finches.

purple finches? at feeder
purple finches? at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

But then this year, someone who seems to have more, or darker, red on his head and breast showed up. House finch? I don't know (sorry about the poor photo).

house finch? (and gold finch) at feeder
house finch? (and gold finch) at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

I vaguely recall Darwin writing about the changes in bills of  Galapogos finches. I can understand those functional differences but wonder how males and females sort out which of the 14 species match with them, just as I wonder about pollinators trying to sort out the different "look-a-like" flowers, or maybe they don't need to. It's been years since I took fundamentals of ecology. Maybe I need a refresher, or new glasses and a better telephoto lens. Or, maybe I need to pay more attention to details like basel flowers and things rather than just looking at the flowers or purple feathers or whatever else passes for a bright shiny object that attracts my attention. But I still wonder why differences are often so similar. I'm in good company though.

Darwin

By Lorine Niedecker

I
His holy
            slowly
                        mulled over
   matter
not all “delirium
            of delight”
                        as were the forests
   of Brazil
“Species are not
            (it is like confessing
                        a murder)
   immutable”
He was often becalmed
            in this Port Desire by illness
                        or rested from species
   at billiard table
As to Man
            “I believe Man…
                        in the same predicament
   with other animals”
II
Cordilleras to climb—Andean
            peaks “tossed about
                        like the crust
   of a broken pie”
Icy wind
            Higher, harder
                        Chileans advised eat onions
   for shortness of breath
Heavy on him:
            Andes miners carried up
                        great loads—not allowed
   to stop for breath
Fossil bones near Santa Fé
            Spider-bite-scauld
                        Fever
   Tended by an old woman
“Dear Susan…
            I am ravenous
                        for the sound
   of the pianoforte”
III
FitzRoy blinked—
            sea-shells on mountain tops!
                        The laws of change
   rode the seas
without the good captain
            who could not concede
                        land could rise from the sea
   until—before his eyes
earthquake—
            Talcahuana Bay drained out—
                        all-water wall
   up from the ocean
—six  seconds—
            demolished the town
                        The will of God?
   Let us pray
And now the Galápagos Islands—
            hideous black lava
                        The shore so hot
   it burned their feet
through their boots
            Reptile life
                        Melville here later
   said the chief sound was a hiss
A thousand turtle monsters
            drive together to the water
                        Blood-bright crabs hunt ticks
   on lizards’ backs
Flightless cormorants
            Cold-sea creatures—
                        penguins, seals
   here in tropical waters
Hell for FitzRoy
            but for Darwin Paradise Puzzle
                        with the jig-saw gists
   beginning to fit
IV
Years… balancing
            probabilities
                        I am ill, he said
   and books are slow work
Studied pigeons
            barnacles, earthworms
                        Extracted seeds
   from bird dung
Brought home Drosera—
            saw insects trapped
                        by its tentacles—the fact
   that a plant should secrete
an acid acutely akin
            to the digestive fluid
                        of an animal! Years
   till he published
He wrote Lyell: Don’t forget
            to send me the carcass
                        of your half-bred African cat
   should it die
V
I remember, he said
            those tropical nights at sea—
                        we sat and talked
   on the booms
Tierra del Fuego’s
            shining glaciers translucent
                        blue clear down
   (almost) to the indigo sea
(By the way Carlyle
            thought it most ridiculous
                        that anyone should care
   whether a glacier
moved a little quicker
            or a little slower
                        or moved at all)
   Darwin
sailed out
            of Good Success Bay
                        to carcass-
   conclusions—
the universe
            not built by brute force
                        but designed by laws
   The details left
to the working of chance
            “Let each man hope
                        and believe
   what he can”


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