Monday, September 26, 2011

Notes from the Animal Kingdom

In 3289 BCE, more or less, Ötzi was hunting in the Italian Alps when he was shot in the back with an arrow. He died immediately of hemorrhagic shock. Soon after his body froze and mummified naturally, and stayed that way for more than 5000 years until hikers found Iceman in 1991.
But only recently have x-rays of his stomach shown us that his last meal consisted of wild goat, or Ibex, an animal well known to crossword puzzlers and also to Copper Age mountain dwellers.

In 1539 CE Hernando de Soto arrived in Florida with 600 Spanish soldiers, 200 horses and 300 pigs. It was not de Soto’s first voyage to the New World. In 1514 Hernando sailed west with Pedrarias Dávila, the governor of Panama. De Soto was 18 years old. Dávila was 74 and did not expect to die in his homeland; so he brought with him an iron coffin. He did indeed die in León, Nicaragua (later a Sandinista stronghold) but the coffin’s whereabouts have remained a mystery all these years.
While the diseases (smallpox, typhus, measles, and more) the Spaniards carried wiped out vast numbers of the natives; it was the swine, their ambulatory meat locker, that destroyed much of the lush landscape and became the progenitors of the razorback hogs now so beloved of -- actually I have no idea if razorbacks are beloved by anyone at all. But they have given their name to several sports teams. Don’t ask me which ones.
It is entirely possible that one of Hamlette’s distant ancestors came to the New World with Hernando de Soto.

In the 20th century Chrysler produced a line of De Soto vehicles, each one surmounted by a stylized bust of a helmeted conquistador. Some of the De Soto’s of the 1950’s were the Firedome, the Fireflite and the Firesweep.

As I write these words there are eight stinkbugs perched on the outside of the window screen. Periodically I flick the screen with my finger and they bounce off and fly away, but soon they will return. Halyomorpha halys or the brown marmorated stink bud is native to the Far East. It was accidentally ‘introduced’ (nice euphemism there) into the US in 1998 and since then has been wending its way through the orchards and gardens of Pennsylvania up to New York. In case you care to check, the stink glands can be found under the thorax, between the first and second pair of legs. I read somewhere that the stink of the stinkbug resembles “the pungent odor of cilantro”; I have to assume that aspersion was written by someone who does not like cilantro, and would probably loathe my guacamole.

Three fat Rhode Island Reds are lined up on the ridgeline of the A-frame CSB built in their yard. It is either remarkable or completely obvious how chickens like to stand on bars and peaked things.

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