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Tag: ecology

Odd behavior along an even odder sea

Driving down a two-lane highway whose dips send your stomach somewhere in the vicinity above your lungs, alongside an accidental lake that is saltier than the ocean, through a landscape that can only be described as lunar, you know there’s a good chance things might turn weird — if they haven’t already.

There are, I’m convinced, certain little pockets of America that attract the eccentric — the sort of people who  march, to use a cliche, to the beat of a different drummer, or, given how alien and variable their rhythms may seem, perhaps to no drummer at all. They are like highly spicy food: You can avoid them and play it safe, or you can dive in, which could leave you dazzled, or possibly being asked for some spare change.

Which brings us to the Salton Sea.

It wasn’t the first oasis of oddness we’ve encountered on our cross country (twice) journey. Butte, Montana was surely one; along the southern coast of Oregon we unknowingly stepped into another. But unlike those places, the Salton Sea gives you fair warning.

Heading south on Highway 111, the salty lake stretches out to your right, while to your left there’s the jagged outline of bald and craggy mountains. It’s a bumpy, bouncy road, dotted with boarded-up businesses and lonely trailers, punctuated by small towns, recreational areas and wannabe resorts, and populated, in large part, by people who moved there to either get rich or be left alone.

If you ever saw “Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea,” a documentary narrated by John Waters, you have some idea of the place.

I was in more of a hurry than usual — so much so that I didn’t have time to stop at the Fountain of Youth.

I wanted to visit Slab City (that story tomorrow), catch Leonard Knight, founder and builder of Salvation Mountain (tune in Monday), and make it to the Arizona line and get something for Thanksgiving dinner, other than the Reese’s Cups and Orange Crush that served as breakfast and lunch.

So I sped along the highway, from Indio to Niland, portions of which were like a roller coaster ride on the moon. A powerful wind sent me drifting in and out of my lane, and with each dip, Ace issued a “harrumph” from the back seat.

We didn’t see the roadside nudist or the Hungarian revolutionary depicted in “Plagues and Pleasures,” but we did see Lawrence of Arabia, or at least a guy that looked a little like him when he galloped by.

We stopped only once, at a gas station/convenience store where a bearded man walked up to me, but said nothing. He just stood there, for a minute or so — leading me to pop open the back window of the Jeep, at which point Ace stuck his head out and the man left.

Later, we’d get stared at by some recently-shorn sheep, though, in fairness, I had stopped to stare at them first, wondering if they, like me, always think they look funny after getting a haircut.

Much of the trip, though, was along California’s largest lake, which is at once an environmental disaster and a recreation area, drawing about 150,000 visitors a year who engage in boating, water-skiing, fishing, jet-skiing, hiking and birdwatching

The Salton Sea is basically a basin that filled and dried up over the ages, until 1905 when flooding on the Colorado River crashed the canal gates leading into the Imperial Valley. For the next 18 months the entire volume of the Colorado River poured into the below-sea-level basin  By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breach — shades of BP! — two years later, the Salton Sea was 45 miles long and 20 miles wide, with about 130 miles of shoreline.)

If that weren’t weird enough, it’s also located directly atop the San Andreas Fault.

To fully understand the Salton Sea, you have to go back three million years, and I’m not willing to do that.

Suffice to say, the accidental lake, by the 1920′s, had developed into a tourist attraction, and was even referred to as the California Riviera. Since then, its salinity has steadily increased, primary because of agricultural runoff. Wastewater inflows have added to its problems, leading to high bacteria counts, massive fish kills and subsequent bird deaths.

I stopped alongside it only briefly. I didn’t dip my toes in, and didn’t allow Ace to, either.

Please don’t squeeze the “envision”

Now that’s a toilet paper name.

None of that puffy-cloud, bed-of-cotton, heaven-and-angel imagery. No, when Georgia-Pacific chose a name for its toilet paper, it picked “envision.”

A lofty moniker, even in lower case, but not fluffy — like Cottonelle, Charmin or White Cloud, or other Georgia-Pacific brands (Quilted Northern, Angel Soft and Soft’n Gentle.)

I’m no expert on toilet paper marketing trends — other than noticing that most companies try to portray their product, often with the use of clouds and puppies, as the softest substance on earth. But there has also been a slightly less ballyhooed move toward more environmentally friendly products.

envision describes itself as 100 percent recycled, which, even though it doesn’t really mean that 100 percent of it comes from recycled waste paper, is a step in the right direction — one also taken by brands such as Seventh Generation, Ecosoft and Small Steps, from Marcal.

I’d never run into envision before, but it seems to be the brand of choice at Motel 6 — the chain that, in our continuing travels, we often end up in because of its combination of dog-friendliness and affordability.

With its greenish wrapper, and its Obama-esque name, envision not only starts with same four letters as “environment,” but seems to convey, if you read between the lines – or in this case, plies — a message of hope for a cleaner planet. Of course one could draw other connotations. Most people in the midst of their constitutional, if they’re not reading, are envisioning — thinking lofty and throneworthy thoughts about what they are going to accomplish in the day ahead, or at least about the successful completion of the deed at hand.

Either way, it’s a very hopeful sounding toilet paper, one that seems to tell us to shoot for the stars, be all you can be. If you can view it, you can do it. You, like it, are on a roll.

Does a bear sulk in the woods?

bearDo animals, grieve? Love? Hate? Do they feel fear, rage, pride, remorse, happiness, shame, envy, jealousy, sadness and all those other emotions that add texture and confusion to our lives.

You betcha, Marc Bekoff says in his Psychology Today blog, Animal Emotions.

“There is no doubt that many animals experience rich and deep emotions. It’s not a matter of if emotions have evolved in animals but why they have evolved as they have,” he writes. “We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin. We have feelings and so do other animals.”

The piece goes on to present some compelling examples.

Sea lion mothers, watching their babies being eaten by killer whales, wail pitifully. Dolphins have been seen struggling to save a dead infant and mourn afterward. What appears to be grief has been observed in elephants when a member of the family, a non-relative, or even a member of another species succumbs.

 Bekoff cites the case of  Gana, a captive gorilla, clearly grieved the loss of her infant in the famous image of her carrying her dead baby. Jane Goodall observed Flint, a young chimpanzee, withdraw from his group, stop eating, and die of a broken heart after the death of his mother, Flo.

Gorillas are known to hold wakes for dead friends, Bekoff adds, recapping the story of a female gorilla, Babs, who died of cancer Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo ten years ago. Babs’ mate was observed howling and banging his chest, according to a zoo staff member, then picking up a piece of her favorite food — celery — putting it in her hand and trying to get her to wake up.

“Why do animals grieve and why do we see grief in different species of animals?” writes Bekoff , the author of “The Emotional Lives of Animals” and Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado. “… Some theorize that perhaps mourning strengthens social bonds among the survivors who band together to pay their last respects. This may enhance group cohesion at a time when it’s likely to be weakened.

“Grief itself is something of a mystery, for there doesn’t seem to be any obvious adaptive value to it in an evolutionary sense. It does not appear to increase an individual’s reproductive success. Whatever its value is, grief is the price of commitment, that wellspring of both happiness and sorrow.”

Dingoes going extinct, Aussie scientist says

The pure Australian dingo could be extinct within twenty years, and domestic and feral dogs are to blame, an Australian scientist says.

Ricky Spencer of the native and pest animal unit of the University of Western Sydney says only 15 to 20 per cent of all dingoes in southeast Australia and southeast Queensland remain “pure”, with the rest being hybrids.

Speaking at the Ecological Society of Australia’s annual conference in Sydney this week, Spencer said domestic and feral dogs were destroying the native animal, according to a report in The Australian.

“The domestic dogs are actually mixing with the dingoes. I guess you’d call it a form of genetic pollution to some degree (because) they’re originated from European settlement,” he said after the conference.

“In some parts of Australia they are either very close to gone or at least will be in the next twenty years or so,” he added.

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