The amazing primatologist, naturalist and conservationist Jane Goodall turns 82 years old on April 3. To celebrate that, we created an interactive quiz about her life. Don't worry if you don't know all the answers—you'll learn a lot and have fun trying! Just click on the quiz below.
If The Naturalist's Notebook had a Mount Rushmore-inspired frieze out front, causing drivers to slow to a crawl as they passed through tiny Seal Harbor, one of the inspiring figures on it would be Leonardo da Vinci, who was born 559 years ago today. Leonardo combined science, nature, art and a curiosity about everything, just as we try to. The difference, of course, is that unlike us, he was a genius.
Leonardo might hold the record for most impressive list of pursuits: painting, sculpting, architecture, music, science, mathematics, engineering, inventing, anatomy, geology, map-making, botany and writing. I might add "notebook-keeping." History's greatest left-hander (sorry, Ben Franklin, Julius Caesar, Sandy Koufax and Kermit the Frog), he filled journals with a prodigious and beautiful output of ideas, words, numbers and sketches. For reasons that have never been known (to prevent others from stealing his scientific ideas? to hide his potentially heretical thoughts on man and nature from the Catholic Church? to avoid staining his sleeve with ink as his left hand went across the page?) wrote right-to-left in reversed lettering that could only be read in a mirror.
His oil-on-poplar-panel Mona Lisa—of a woman from Florence named Lisa del Giocondo, then about 24, in a work commissioned by her husband—may be the most famous painting ever. By contrast, details of da Vinci's personal life are, if you will, sketchy: Vegetarian, never married, possibly/probably gay, religious views uncertain, allegedly so caring about animals that he would buy caged birds just to release them. Generally thought to be a man of high integrity and sensitivity to moral and ethical issues. In the end, of course, his work and ideas speak for themselves.
So who would join Leonardo in The Naturalist's Notebook's Mount Rushmore quartet? First, we would have to expand the group to five people. Five is a Fibonacci number; four isn't. The Fibonacci sequence—which starts 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34...can you guess the next one?—matches numbers found in flowers, pineapples, pine cones and other objects in nature. We like those numbers and the link between math and nature. So five it is.
Off the top of my head, I'll add Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall and E.O. Wilson to da Vinci on our Rushmore frieze.
Of these guys, only Teddy Roosevelt (second from right), the greatest conservation figure among U.S. presidents, might have a shot at our Rushmore.
But wait. No Isaac Newton? No Einstein? No Michelangelo? No Galileo? No Pamelia Markwood? Maybe we can do a second frieze out back, hanging above the natural-history deck. Any suggestions for other people we should consider?
Think about that as you go sketch something or write an observation in a naturalist's notebook. And those of you who live in the U.S., remember, don't think of April 15 as Tax Day anymore. Think of it as Da Vinci Day. It's a lot more inspiring.
Animal Caption Contest
The World Wildlife Fund, of which we're happy to be a member, has been running a contest asking people to create a caption for a photo. Below are last month's winner and this month's waiting-to-be-captioned picture:
On April 19 one of our favorite environmental writers, Carl Safina (whose fine lecture on commercial fishing, ocean trash and the state of the albatross we attended at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor a few years ago), will release A Sea In Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Blowout. An early review from Publishers Weekly: “Safina’s impassioned account achieves a broad, reasoned perspective that frames events against the more insidious damage that farm and industrial runoff, canal-digging, levee-building, and rising sea level have wrought on the Gulf and its wetlands.”
Safina's organization, the Blue Ocean Institute, has a rating system for buying sustainable seafood that is as valuable as the one published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We'll continue to highlight both at The Naturalist's Notebook.
Ever heard someone exuberantly singing opera in the shower? Well, neither have I, but it must sound as happy, loud and rich as the wood thrush now holding court along our dirt road. Other birds are in the chorus too, but I figured I'd share this one song today.
Answer to the Last Puzzler:
All right, so puzzle designer Henry Dudeney went a bit British on us with his 5'10"-man-digging-a-hole puzzle. Here is Dudeney's answer, which makes a distinction between saying you're going "twice as deep" with a hole or "twice as deep again" with a hole:
The man digging the hole said, "I am going twice as deep," not "as deep again." That is to say, he was still going twice as deep as he had gone already, that when finished, the hole would be three times its present depth. Then the answer is that at present the hole is 3 ft. 6 in. deep and the man 2 ft. 4 in. above ground. When completed the hole will be 10 ft. 6 in. deep, and therefore the man will then be 4 ft. 8 in. below the surface, or twice the distance that he is now above ground.
If you figured that one out, we may need to add you to our Mount Rushmore frieze.
More nature-word jumbles:
Hans Sloane, the Scottish-Northern Irish physician who donated a vast collection of books, manuscripts and specimens that helped launch the British Museum and who—more important—may have invented milk chocolate (and chocolate milk?), would have turned 351 on Saturday. He came up with his landmark creation after he tasted chocolate in Jamaica, didn't like it, and decided to see if it was better mixed with milk. Milk and chocolate aren't a bad combo in either solid or liquid form, of course. Earlier chocolate aficionados such as the Aztecs and Mayans had consumed chocolate as a drink, but they had made theirs by grinding cocoa seeds into a paste and adding water, cornmeal, chile peppers, and other ingredients. Both Sloane and a 19th century Swiss chocolatier named Daniel Peter have been credited with inventing milk chocolate, but it seems to me if Sloane lived more than 200 years earlier, he deserves the nod.
Karen Blixen—or, to use her pen name, Isek Dinesen—the Danish author who wrote Out of Africa and Babette's Feast, would have turned 126 on Sunday. Blixen, part of an aristocratic family, married a Swedish baron who was her second cousin and moved with him to Kenya, where they ran a coffee plantation. There she learned about cheating husbands, syphilis, handsome British big-game hunters, accidental shootings and the difficulties of growing coffee in droughts and poor soil, among other things. Meryl Streep played her in the film version of Out of Africa, which won the Best Picture Oscar but was based more on two biographies of her than on the book. The movie version of Babette's Feast won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and gave us a memorable line from Babette, who has just spent all her money to cook a masterpiece of a meal. When she is told that she now faces a life of poverty, she offers a more profound answer: "An artist is never poor."
Vincent (the Wiggler) Wigglesworth, the British insect researcher who found that a growth hormone secreted by the brain controls the amazing process of metamorphosis, would have turned 112 on Sunday. He made that crucial discovery while studying (but not making out with) the South American kissing bug. The Wiggler's memorable name is preserved forever in Latinized label for another of his discoveries, a bacterium that lives in the gut of a tsetse fly. It's called Wigglesworthia glossinidia brevipalpis.
Need to jump start your day? Click on the YouTube video link below to see and hear, in just over a minute, a performance of the catchiest nature song ever written, Flight of the Bumblebee. Sunday is the 167th birthday of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian who composed Flight as an interlude for one of his operas. The song has since been used in everything from The Green Hornet to Kill Bill to the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. Musicians have competed to set world records for playing it fastest on particular instruments. The high-speed YouTube performance is by Croatian pianist Maksim Mrvica, dressed, obviously, in Rimsky-Korsakov-era musical garb.
An Ice Age Old Question
Standing gingerly atop the mile-thick ice that blanketed this area 15,000 years ago, a primitive Mainer might have stared down at the dangerously slick expanse, pondered it for moment, then looked over at his friend and said, Ayuh. Whatcha gonna use, sand or salt?
That dilemma has only grown more complicated for those of us who currently have Ice Age-like sheets covering our Maine driveways. I hate using harsh salts and chemicals (which can harm plants and wildlife and pollute groundwater) and we don't have any sand, but after the postwoman slipped and fell and the UPS woman started donning ice cleats and dragging packages two-tenths of a mile to our doorstep on a plastic sled rather than driving her truck in, I knew I had to do something.
And then, a few days ago, while walking out of a store with a supply of rock salt, I saw a display for something called Clean Melt. Described on the label as an an "eco-friendly ice melt," it is "blended with magnesium chloride and infused with Ice Ban." It cost twice as much as the rock salt and came in green bags, so of course I bought 150 pounds.
But what the heck had I gotten?
I had gotten into a murky realm, that's what. The Clean Melt crystals are a highly unnatural color, and they stained the ice a weird blue-green when I sprinkled some on the rutted disaster on which we drive.
My attempts to research the relative merits and dangers of ice-melts led me deep into the worlds of chemistry and marketing. There are dog-friendly ice melts and high-speed ice melts and ice melts that work especially well in extreme cold. Magnesium chloride may be a better choice than either sodium chloride (regular salt) or potassium chloride (a versatile compound that is also used in fertilizers, sodium-free salt substitutes and lethal injections). It may not be as potent as Prestone's Driveway Heat (calcium chloride), but I try to keep my plants and animals away from anything made by Prestone. Clean Melt claims that it is less damaging to plants than rock salt is, and its key ingredient, Ice Ban, is a byproduct of the brewing industry that is so safe that it is actually fed to animals.
I hope I'm being green. I will be experimenting (sparingly) with Clean Melt in the days ahead (spreading it with my bare hands, as the label says I can safely do), and will monitor the plant life around the driveway come spring.
In the meantime, don't you think the term "eco-friendly ice melt" would be good for a refreshing summer drink?
How to Grow Car Parts From Mushrooms
The use of corn to make ethanol fuel is turning out to be less than eco-friendly, but wheat and fungi (sometimes mixed together) are proving to be environmentally smart replacements for plastic in car parts made by Ford. Here's a really interesting short clip from a new Nova special on that subject:
Perhaps someday, instead of hearing Ricardo Montalban cooing about the seats of "soft Corinthian leather" available on a 1975 Chrysler Cordoba, we'll hear Mario Batalli cooing about the seats of "soft porcini mushroom" available on a 2016 Ford Vegan.
Lessons from a Crossword Puzzle
I love crossword puzzles, but sometimes I don't know the answer to a clue even when I see the answer. The other day, for example, the nine-letter solution to a clue that included the word "hard" was MOHS SCALE. My ignorance of the Mohs Scale may simply prove that I don't have rocks in my head: That scale, created by German geologist Friedrich Mohs in 1812, measures the relative hardness of minerals by assessing which ones will scratch other ones. Diamond tops the list, with a perfect 10 rating. Talc—the mineral from which we get baby-soft talcum powder and which is the main component of soapstone—ranks at the bottom, with a score of 1. Thank you, Will Shortz.
Now, does anyone know "Where Attila was defeated, 451"? Seven letters.
Are You Interested in Nature Apps?
I got an e-mail the other day from a tech company called Appweavers. It was announcing the release of its iPad and iPhone applications for the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and encouraging me to share that news with friends of The Naturalist's Notebook. I have an iPad (we create a version of Sports Illustrated for it every week, so I more or less have to), and I have downloaded the iPad Peterson Guide, but I'm just wondering: How many of you care about nature "apps" for electronic devices? Would you like me to do some comparison testing? I've already started doing some, but I'm just curious.
Having said that, I will add that, while reading a magazine in the doctor's office this week, I rather enjoyed a comment from actor Liam Neeson on why he doesn't own an electronic-reading device: "I like the tactileness of books."
Answer to Last Puzzler:
How many coastal states are there in the U.S.? A total of 23: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.
Continuing the geography theme, here's a pair of tougher questions:
1) Europe has 50 countries or independent states. How many can you name? (Helpful hints: Great Britain counts as one country, but so does Vatican City. Remember that a lot of countries have splintered into smaller ones over the last two decades.)
2) What European country has the most miles of coastline? (Helpful hint: It's not Russia, because much of Russia's coastline lies in Asia.)
Michelangelo, the Italian painter, sculptor and architect and true Renaissance man, would have been 536 years old tomorrow. Take any one of his greatest works—his statue of David, his sculpture of the Pieta, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to name just three candidates—and that alone would be enough to put him in the artistic pantheon. He was self-critical (and did not tolerate fools), but his drive to create was remarkable. We have one of his famous quotations hanging in The Naturalist's Notebook. Quoth the genius: "I am still learning."
Valentina Tereshkova, the Russian who was first woman in space, turns 74 on Sunday. Chosen to be a cosmonaut in part because she was a model member of the proletariat (a factory worker) and an amateur parachutist, she piloted Vostok 6 in 1963 and was in space for three days. For those of you still caught up in the Cold War rivalry, the first American woman in space was Sally Ride, who didn't go up until 1983.
William Oughtred, the English mathematician who invented the slide rule, would have been 437 today. Oughtred's device—two side-by-side, strategically numbered rulers that slid past each other, enabling him to multiply and divide—became a common tool in math, science and engineering, and wasn't his only significant innovation. He also introduced X as a symbol for multiplication.
John van der Heyden, the Dutch painter who invented the fire extinguisher—talk about a Renaissance man!—would have turned 374 today. His Dutch compatriot Aert Schouman, a far superior painter who contributed nothing to the world of firefighting but was one of the earliest natural history artists, would have been 292. Schouman was able to paint from a zoological cabinet and menagerie of animals collected by his patron, the prince Willem V.