Careful where you step!

Recording, reminiscing and occasional bokdrols of wisdom.

Random, un-chronological memories after marriage, children and sundry other catastrophes.

My pre-marriage blog is vrystaatconfessions.com

bokdrols – like pearls, but handle with care

A Bird Book in Brasil

When Aitch said ‘Come with me to Brasil’ in 1988 I shouted ‘Hell, yes!’ over my shoulder as I rushed off to a bookstore to buy a book on the birds of Brasil.

There wasn’t one. I asked everywhere and searched everywhere, but no luck. Then I asked Hardy Wilson, who reached up to one of the many shelves in the library in his lovely home in Hollander Crescent and brought down his only copy of Aves Brasileiras and said ‘You can use this.’ I think he said it was the only field guide to Brazilian birds that he knew of and that it was out of print. Something along those lines, anyway. Wow! Are you sure? I asked. ‘Sure. Go. Enjoy.’

In Rio de Janeiro we found another copy – a hardcover. When we got back I offered Hardy his choice of either, in case the soft cover had sentimental value, but he preferred the hardcover, so I still have Hardy’s soft cover book Aves Brasileiras.

Using it made us realise how lucky we were in South Africa to have Roberts and Newmans field guides. I thought the book was probably Brasil’s first, but today I found this post by Bob Montgomerie of the American Ornithological Society’s History of Ornithology site. That’s what reminded me of Hardy’s book and his generosity thirty years ago.

Marcgraf1
Jacana from Marcgraf 1648

Bob Montgomerie: The first work of this genre (“Birds of – name of a country”) to be published was probably Georg Marcgraf’s section on birds, Qui agit de Avibus, in Piso’s Historia Naturalis Brasiliae published in 1648. Several other books about birds were published in the 16th and 17th centuries but this is the only one I could find that was specifically about the birds of a particular country or region, at least as indicated by the title.
Marcgraf’s bird section is a masterpiece that was THE authority on South American birds for the next two centuries. Even the paintings are pretty good given the quality of bird art in books by his contemporaries, and each species gets a separate account. Unfortunately for most scientists today, Marcgraf’s work is in Latin and relatively inaccessible.

Well, Hardy’s book was in Portuguese, and relatively inaccessible to us! But without it we would have been lost.

I found a pic of Hardy on the History site with Jane Bedford and a chap dressed funny. Jane has appeared in one of my stories before, in another world, long ago.

not that I’m saying Jane’s not dressed funny . . .

Breakfast on the Deck

Egg, bacon, tomato, black coffee and binoculars. Thanks, Cecelia!

The flying ants were trying to pair up and scurry off and mate after shrugging off their wings, but the ants were nabbing them. The ants, in turn were being robbed by the birds and a skink.

westville wildlife

and indoors there was also some wildlife to be seen:

westville wildlife indoors

Made me late for work!

More this week:

The raucous Westville Kookaburra
Dragonfly with a point-n-shoot camera
The dreaded Westville Pteradactyl

Westville Kookaburra – Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Westville Pteradactyl – Hadeda Ibis

Darwin Day

Charles Darwin was born 210 years ago today. He died aged 73 in 1882. One of the single most profound ideas ever to enter a human brain seeped into his around 1836 and stewed and bubbled there until in 1858 he was jolted into action and finally published his stunning insight.

No, NOT “the theory of evolution”! Evolution is not a theory, it’s an established scientific fact that happens around us all the time. Don’t listen to claptrap. Evolution is accepted and observed, and is the reason – just for one example – that we have a major problem with drug resistance. Germs evolve to be resistant to drugs. Daily.

No, the theory that evolution happens by natural selection; THAT’s the amazing thought that Darwin had. One hundred and sixty years later, despite the devious efforts of naysayers – and the earnest efforts of real scientists – all the evidence still points to Darwin’s idea being right. Discovery after discovery in the fields of biology, paleontology, geology, molecular biology, genetics, anthropology, and more – each one of which could potentially sabotage his theory – have instead reinforced it. The age of the earth, plate tectonics, fossils, common structures, the distribution of species, embryonic development, germ theory, DNA, etc. Each new discovery has been found to align with Darwin’s powerful theory – biological evolution by natural selection or “descent with modification,” the differential survival of organisms following their naturally occurring variation. His amazing insight, his ‘dangerous idea’, remains a good brief definition of the process to this day.

What Darwin discovered was that “all life is one”! An amazing thought. Who could ever have thought that one day when we became able to test the genes of plants and animals we’d discover that we shared some genes with chimps, yes – one of the reasons the bishop of London fought so hard against the idea when first announced in 1859 – but that we also share some of our genes with grass! NO-ONE would have predicted that. All life is one. Stunning.

As a student Darwin was a proper, normal person! He neglected his medical studies in Edinburgh, preferring to study natural history on interesting field trips, then when his wealthy medical doctor father sent him to Cambridge to study to become an Anglican parson, he preferred riding, shooting and beetle collecting! Only beer drinking seems to be missing from a well-balanced start in life.

Then he took a gap year – five years, actually – and traveled:

Five years on the Beagle
The Beagle on the coast of South America

On his return from sailing around the world he threw himself into scientific work, experimentation, meticulous research and lots of thinking. But he couldn’t bring himself to publish his big insight. His wife Emma was very religious and they both were very aware of the stir his amazing insight would cause. After twenty years of this he was suddenly nudged into action when a younger man sent him a paper to publish which he felt was almost identical to his theory. He scrambled to action, and so it happened that his friends Lyell and Hooker arranged to have his and Alfred Russel Wallace’s papers read jointly to the Linnean Society on 1 July 1958. On the evening of 28 June, Darwin’s baby son died of scarlet fever after a week of severe illness, and he was too distraught to attend the presentation. Their joint paper On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection was read. What followed was . . nothing. Little attention was given to this announcement of their theory; the president of the Linnean Society made the now-notorious remark in May 1859 that the year 1858 “had not been marked by any revolutionary discoveries.”

In 1859 he finally published his amazing book On The Origin Of Species, ‘one long argument’ for the idea, hatching in his head since 1837, of the ‘common descent’ of all life.

His theory is simply stated in the introduction: As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

At the end of the book he concluded that: There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

A toast to an amazing man and his insight!

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Evolution was already old in 1859: Contrary to popular opinion, neither the term nor the idea of biological evolution began with Charles Darwin and his 1859 paper, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Many scholars from the ancient Greek philosophers on had inferred that similar species were descended from a common ancestor. The word “evolution” was widely used in English for all sorts of progressions from simpler beginnings from 1647 on. The term Darwin most often used to refer to biological evolution was “descent with modification,” which remains a good brief definition of the process today.

Darwin proposed that evolution could be explained by the differential survival of organisms following their naturally occurring variation—a process he termed “natural selection.” Offspring of organisms differ from one another and from their parents in ways that are heritable – that is, they can pass on the differences genetically to their own offspring.

See more evidence supporting biological evolution.

To this day the truly ignorant – just as the bishop of London did in 1859 – and the merely dishonest misrepresent Darwin’s theory
  • Yes, evolution is also a scientific theory, but not when used in a negative sense. If anyone says ‘it’s only a theory nya nya’, ignore them. If anyone says its a scientific theory matter-of-factly they’re right, but then those people will also immediately tell you it’s also a scientific fact. Read about that here.

The Day The Music Died

Sixty years ago today a plane fell out of the sky and this was finished:

American Rock n Roll musicians Buddy Holly (22), Ritchie Valens (17), and JP ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson (28) were killed when their plane crashed in Iowa.

In 1971 Don McLean sang about that day AND – less known – about another day ten years later:

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When asked what “American Pie” meant, McLean jokingly replied, “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.” Later, he stated, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me … Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.” In February 2015, McLean announced he would reveal the meaning of the lyrics to the song when the original manuscript went for auction. The lyrics and notes were auctioned on April 7, and sold for $1.2 million. In the sale catalogue notes, McLean revealed the meaning in the song’s lyrics: “Basically in American Pie things are heading in the wrong direction. Life is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.” The king mentioned was Elvis, the jester was Bob Dylan.

Then the song also contains a much longer, and near-verbatim description of the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of drunken Hells Angels at a free concert in California ten years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson. Where the music died a much more tragic and violent death. A death that was not an accident.

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan’s spell

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

In 1972 the title of the song came to bite me when I embarrassingly cocked up the most important part of my matric dance. None of that.

Brasil in 1988

Aitch took me to Brasil. She had done well as usual in her sales for Scherag and so off we went. First a flight to Manaus in Amazonas province, then a long drive eastward along the Amazon River towards a lake just off the river, then by ferry to a pousada on Silves Island.

We weren’t married, but I was on my best behaviour and just watched as the bachelors (actual and temporary) in the party would trumpet every night ‘TooDooDoot TooDoo’ “we’re going fox-hunting!” they would announce at dinner and troop out with huge grins on their dials.

I stuck to feathered birds like oropendolas, huge toads, caymans and a fresh, very sad ocelot skin the lodge staff had proudly recently shot! Aaargh!

Then we headed way south to the coast, to Angra dos Reis – the Cove of Kings. A booze yacht trip to the islands and beaches and swimming. One night Aitch felt ill and announced she’d go to bed early, I must go to supper alone. Yes!? I said. Sure, she said. Enjoy yourself. Ha HAAA! I was off – after dressing in my warrior fox-hunting regalia. At supper I tooted the fox-hunting horn with the best of them and announced my newfound freedom. We were off.

We found a bar with a wonderful barman. He gave you anything you wanted and all you had to do was scribble your name! It was first-class. Another round! I’d yell and we’d throw down another marvelous caipirinha and fling the glass over our shoulder. No! No! said the barman, grabbing his broom and sweeping up the pieces. MORE BEER! I’d yell, getting into my stride now.

Of course, I can handle my liquor but some of the guys were less capable. In fact, they dropped me twice on the way back to my chalet. And once there they just propped me up against the door, knocked and ran away. So Aitch found me closely inspecting the door mat and mumbling how I’d have to have a word with them about their service.

She says she dragged me into the shower and ran the cold water full blast and threw me into bed but of course that could all be rumours I don’t know I wasn’t there.

I got up early and made breakfast, feeling sprightly. And where were all the culprits? Nowhere to be seen. All indisposed, it was said. That’s what drinking too much will get you. We checked out that day and I was made to pay a bill a metre long with some complete stranger’s signature on all the slips. A signature that got less and less of something until it was just a short downward line with what looked like drool on it. I just paid. Rumours were going around and I didn’t want to cause a scene.

Yacht at Angra dos Reis, Brasil

On to Rio! To the Copacabana! I was sure there’d be some licenced premises there too. There were! Aitch turned thirty high up on the roof of our hotel, with her colleagues giving her a huge festive bash. We had a banner made to string above the bar “THIRTY! and UNMARRIED!” it said.

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro 1988

pousada – Lodge or Inn

Angra dos Reis – cove or inlet or creek – of kings

caipirinha – wonderful cold drink; refreshing; then tiptoes around behind you and taps you on the shoulder

PBHS Complaint

We’re hosting a young man from Pretoria Boys High in the 2015 rugby season. One of the u/14 rugby squad on tour to KZN to get their asses whipped by Westville Boys High.

I feed them steaks (they ‘have to eat steak Dad, they’re rugby players’) and send them to bed early – the game is usually early when you’re in the D team.

Tom sidles over to me:
Dad, thank goodness he’s asleep, he talks non-stop, and HIS ACCENT! Hmm!

This about his PBHS guest Owethu (who told me earlier in a quiet chat when Tom and Jose were in the cottage that he only speaks English. He understands Ndebele when his parents speak it, but he doesn’t speak it himself). We’re hosting him on their rugby tour to KwaZuluNatal. They’ve been allowed to enter from behind the boerewors curtain.

My son the snob.
I guess what probably happened was Owethu interrupted him. Once.

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PBHS is Pretoria Boys High and we’ve been having a lot of trouble with their past pupils as far as decorum goes. One is blasting polluting rockets into the atmosphere and one is blasting Audis into buildings.

Small wonder Tom was wary of this one.

Mfolosi Day Trip

A drizzly day, not much to report. I was learning about the new little Canon pocket camera. Haven’t worked it out yet. When we got home I saw it took video all the time we thought we were just focusing for still shots!

So aiming for this:

Cape (glossy) Starling

We got this (except much longer):

Martial Eagle and Common (steppe) Buzzard

Also, I lost my tracker! Jess is normally heads-up, spotting everything and saying “What’s that?” and all I have to do is ID what she’s spotted. Today her head was firmly down, eyes glued to her cellphone. “Dad, there’s no signal!” and “Omigod! I got two bars! Oh, they’re gone!”

There’s a boyfriend, see.

Bummer. That’s why I made the feature pic a bum.

Mfolosi day trip Jan 2019

Ah! Now I see: I had the camera on Hybrid Auto mode, “whereby 2-4 seconds of video is captured before each still image and later combined into a 720p digest movie chronicling your day.” That’s what I saw and wondered where it came from!