To-day all our novels and newspapers will be found swarming with allusions to a popular character called a Cave-Man. So far as I can understand, his chief occupation in life was knocking his wife about …
In fact, people have been interested in everything about the cave-man except what he did in the cave. Now there does happen to be some real evidence of what he did in the cave. What was found in the cave was not the horrible, gory club notched with the number of women it had knocked on the head. [It was] drawings or paintings of animals; and they were drawn or painted not only by a man but by an artist. They showed the experimental and adventurous spirit of the artist, the spirit that does not avoid but attempts difficult things; as where the draughtsman had represented the action of the stag when he swings his head clean round and noses towards his tail. In this and twenty other details it is clear that the artist had watched animals with a certain interest and presumably a certain pleasure. [I]t would seem that he was not only an artist but a naturalist.
When novelists and educationists and psychologists of all sorts talk about the cave-man, they never conceive him in connection with anything that is really in the cave. When the realist of the sex novel writes, ‘Red sparks danced in Dagmar Doubledick’s brain; he felt the spirit of the cave-man rising within him,’ the novelist’s readers would be very much disappointed if Dagmar only went off and drew large pictures of cows on the drawing-room wall.G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (orig. ed. published 1925), pp. 27 – 30
The Wyoming Toad lives only in Wyoming. It was once thought to be extinct in the wild, but now it is coming back, thanks to a large number of people who have been working on it for ten years. This team includes the City of Laramie, private landowners, Fish and Game, University of Wyoming, and several zoos and wildlife organizations.
I find it heartwarming that large numbers of people, who are clearly superior in every way to toads, would devote so much time and effort to save this ordinary-looking toad. Some of them have donated land. Others have invested their entire careers in this little animal. Clearly, they love the toad just because it exists, not because it does anything special for them.
So, I came out of my house the other day, only to find, lying in wait on my porch …
Tumbleweeds! Dah-dunn! Can you see them?
I had no choice but to deploy Neanderthal woman …
This is Neanderthal Woman, a.k.a. me.
This is the tree
that came down this June
in the yard of N.W., a.k.a. me.
This is the tree
that came down this week
in the yard of N.W., a.k.a. me.
This is the weather
in our favorite State:
90, then freezing, then 90 again.
This is the sunflower
that grew in my yard,
now killed by the weather
in our favorite State.
This is a small
price that we pay
to live near the mountains
in our favorite State.
Ordinarily, I’m leery of genetically engineering animals, let alone releasing them into the wild. But in the case of dengue- and Zika- bearing mosquitoes, I’ll make an exception.
This pair lives near our house. Like, in our yard somewhere I think (possibly in the surviving spruce tree?). This photo was taken from my dining room window.
I kid you not … we move to the West, and in the very first year, a pair of eagles moves in? How lucky are we?
They are not shy. Earlier in the summer, about once a day one of them would swoop across our yard, screaming. I even saw one sitting on a telephone pole (as above), screaming, notice me, and calmly go back to screaming. I get no respect.
Watch, Papa Eagle is about to give you eye contact …
What do you mean, smile? He is smiling.
(Sounds better than Wildflower of the Week, don’t you think?)
This … is Rubber Rabbitbrush. Or, as I like to call it, “False Yellow Sage.” Or maybe, “Not Actually Yellow Sage, Dummy.” (I am getting the hang of this botany thing. You can just make up any descriptive name, pretty much.)
When I first started noticing this species, I naturally assumed it was some yellow-flowered variety of sagebrush. Reason: it is the same general size, shape, and even color as Silver Sagebrush, and it grows everywhere that Silver Sagebrush does.
Here it is growing happily interspersed with Silver Sagebrush, overlooking the spectacular views of Baker, Oregon. But it doesn’t only do this in Baker. It does it in Idaho as well. I see it doing this sneaky little trick everywhere.
Assuming, as I did, that this was some kind of sagebrush, I was completely stymied when I could find it nowhere in my trusty Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers guide, by the illustrious H. Wayne Phillips. Not under Sage or Yellow Sage. Not even in the “yellow flowers” section (the guide is arranged by color). There was no way, I thought, that it wasn’t native to the area. Look at how deserty it looks!
Anyway. long story short, it’s Rabbitbrush. And here is a partial excuse for why I couldn’t identify it until after my trip to Baker. The photograph in the guide shows the leaves looking very grey, as in the first picture above. But most of the Rabbitbrushes that grow around my house look much more green. I had to go to the Oregon Trail Museum in Baker and see, growing around it, an awful lot of different individuals of these plants, in all stages of growth, before I could understand what I was looking at.
For example, here it is when very young.
By the time it is dying, it just looks like hairy brown sticks with dry yellow puffballs on top.
The guidebook says,
Ericameria nauseosa, Aster family. Previously known as Chrysothamnus nauseous. Nauseosus implies that the plant produces sickness or nausea. Jackrabbits often hide under the cover of rabbitbrush to conceal themselves from the watchful eyes of golden eagles soaring overhead. The Shoshone people of Nevada use the plant to stop diarrhea and as a remedy for coughs and colds. The Cheyenne used it to relieve itching and treat smallpox.Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, p. 107
“This was a first:” Six-foot alligator captured in Nampa [greater Boise area], returned to owner
Yellowstone National Park, which straddles the borders of Idaho and Montana but is mostly in Wyoming, is famously on top of an underground “supervolcano.” The volcanism in the area leads to the phenomenon that Yellowstone might be most famous for, namely Old Faithful geyser and many smaller and less faithful geysers.
Yellowstone also boasts these surreal-looking mineral pools. The edges are white, crusty mineral deposits similar to Tolkien’s descriptions of Mordor. The colors within the water come from heat-loving bacteria. Different microbes thrive at different temperatures, and they are responsible for the range of reds, oranges, and yellows before the water becomes clear and hence blue.
These pools are dangerous. They look appealing, but the heat will quickly kill any human or dog foolish enough to jump into one. There have been tragic cases at the park. Some people have survived their burns and others haven’t. To make matters worse, the ground around the pools can be fragile although it appears solid. The park has put up boardwalks studded with signs imploring people to stay on the paths and keep control of their children. Even the bison sometimes break through.
The landscape around these pools is not particularly beautiful, but it is interesting, even alien. I happen to have at least one pleasant association with the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone. It was there that my now-husband first blurted out that he loved me.
However, in my book The Strange Land, my characters’ encounter with these pools did not go so well.
The strange land of the title is not Yellowstone National Park. It is another volcanic region, the area now known as Kamchatka. Kamchatka also has sulfurous pools. Behold:
For my second draft for a cover of The Strange Land, I thought about featuring one of these pools, with the volcano in the background:
I’m not sure how I feel about this cover painting. For one thing, there’s a lot going on in it. I’m not sure it has enough focus. For another, it’s kind of hard to believe. The colorful pool, the colorful vegetation, the white mineral deposits: all of them are well attested, but they look kind of … made up? I’m not even sure it would be clear what the pool is, to a viewer who wasn’t already familiar with Yellowstone.
I’m thinking perhaps I need to re-do this picture with a darker sky and with slightly more muted colors in the pool. You know, tone it down from real life to make it more believable.
For reference, the previous cover draft for the same book was this: