What is the strangest item—living or dead—that you've ever found in your refrigerator?
Until the other day I might have said one of the technicolor mold stalagmites I have grown over the years by tossing leftovers in the fridge and forgetting about them.
But not anymore. While digging through the freezer in search of peas, Pamelia instead came upon a Saran Wrapped, freeze-dried, four-inch-long grubby sculpin. We originally found the specimen (already dead) at low tide here in Maine on a bitter cold winter afternoon several years ago. We knew little about the sculpin as a species, but decided to preserve our discovery because it reminded us of a story Pamelia's late mother, Pam, had told us.
In recounting her decades on Union River Bay in Trenton, Maine, Pam said that she used to catch a type of fish called a sculpin—actually a shorthorn sculpin, much larger than a grubby (as long as two or three feet) but similar in appearance. That is, big-headed, huge-eyed, monstrously spiny, amply finned, and, in Pam's word, "ugly!" The shorthorn sculpins were abundant, she said, but in the last couple of decades they seemed to have vanished from the bay. Pamelia and I figured we would never actually see this almost mythical creature, and we would talk about it as an example of the declining sea life in Maine's bays.
Then we found our specimen—a toy version of the fish Pam had described. A bit of research revealed that of the 16,764 known species of fish in the seas (to use the figure released in 2010 by the Census of Marine Life, which has been counting for a decade), the grubby sculpin stands out mostly because no commercial use for it has ever been found. It is a bottom feeder and is said to be the only fish that can be seen in Maine tidal pools in winter.
That heartiness is rather endearing to the two of us. As I look out at almost a foot of fresh snow on this 12-degree morning, with plenty of winter still ahead, I can't dispose of Mr. Grubby. And so he's back in the freezer, re-Saran Wrapped and carefully set atop a bag of organic green beans.
The Pelican and the Strip Club
Rachel, the Notebook's Nova Scotia correspondent, has alerted us to a major development in the story of Ralph the pelican. Ralph, if you missed it, is a juvenile brown pelican from the southern U.S. who was found at Ralph's strip club in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, last September after being blown far off course by Hurricane Earl. ("Like I'm going to believe that!" hoots Mrs. Ralph the pelican.) Efforts to have him flown to a wildlife sanctuary in the U.S. were blocked by international red tape, so now he's going to be driven by a Nova Scotian who holds various world distance-driving records. Here's the full story on Ralph's upcoming road trip to North Carolina: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2011/02/24/ns-ralph-pelican-going-home.html
Last Puzzler Answer:
Which of those five birds were real, and which one was made up? The fake one was the devil-capped flycatcher. The violaceous trogon, white-whiskered puffbird, gang-gang cockatoo and black-faced antthrush are all real birds, though we don't see any of them in Maine.
1. What type of bird is shown above?
a) a colonial poppycock
b) a secretary bird
c) a post courier
d) a frocked willy
e) a knickered ambler
2. Because it's so cold here in Maine today, let me ask: What is absolute zero, the coldest possible temperature?
a) minus-273.15 degrees Fahrenheit
b) minus-1,012.36 degrees Fahrenheit
c) minus-459.67 degrees Fahrenheit
3. Given that the spring training baseball season is starting (Grapefruit League games in Florida, Cactus League games in Arizona), let's pay tribute to Henry Chadwick, the British-born sports writer and statistician who, among other contributions to baseball, came up with the symbols and system used for keeping track of a game on a scorecard. Chadwick was from an interesting family. His half-brother, Edwin, was a health reformer who was in charge of improving the living conditions of England's poor during the Industrial Revolution. As a strong proponent of miasma theory, which wrongly held that all diseases were spread by foul air, he tried to get rid of anything that smelled bad in England's slums. The father of the two Chadwicks, James, once taught John Dalton, the English chemist who scientifically developed the theory that materials are made of atoms and also discovered color blindness, a condition not found in major league baseball until the arrival of Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers owner who signed Jackie Robinson. All of which leads to this unrelated question: Why did Henry Chadwick choose the letter K as the symbol for a strikeout in baseball scorekeeping?
a) To honor his father's friend Lord Kelvin, who discovered the existence of absolute zero
b) Because it's the final letter in the word struck
c) Because it was his middle initial, and he knew that if he had ever played baseball he would have struck out regularly
Charles Best, the Maine-born scientist who as a medical student co-discovered insulin, would have been 112 years old tomorrow. Talk about Best of luck: He was chosen to work on the insulin project ahead of another student because he won a coin flip by project leader Dr. Frederick Banting.
Victor Hugo, the French poet, playwright and novelist, would have turned 109 today. Though better known for writing works such as Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, he also was a gifted artist. He did more than 4,000 drawings and, in the estimation of painter Eugene Delacroix, might well have become a towering figure in art had he pursued that as his career. Oddly enough, Hugo also popularized squid. After he wrote the novel Les Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea), which included tales of dangerous ocean creatures, Parisians became obsessed with squid, donning squid hats, eating squid dishes and holding squid parties.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet who was born in Portland back when Maine was part of Massachusetts, would have been 204 tomorrow. Here is an excerpt from his poem Birds of Passage:
And above, in the light
Of the star-lit night,
Swift birds of passage wing their flight
Through the dewy atmosphere.
I hear the beat
Of their pinions fleet,
As from the land of snow and sleet
They seek a southern lea.
Susan Helms, the North Carolina-born astronaut who in 2001 (with fellow astronaut Jim Voss) set the record for the longest space walk (8 hours, 53 minutes), turns 53 today. If you want to learn some space jargon, remember that a space walk is more precisely called an EVA, for extra-vehicular activity.
Linus Pauling, the brilliant Oregon-born chemist and peace activist, would have been 110 tomorrow. Along with Marie Curie, he is one of the two people ever to have won Nobel prizes in different fields—in his case chemistry (1954) and peace (1962).
And one more happy birthday today, to a grandmother of The Naturalist's Notebook—my mom.