The flood washes over us

A year ago I wrote an article discussing Hurricane Harvey.  Here we are again watching another 1 in a 1,000 year hurricane disaster unfold.  I won’t try to summarize all the other weather disasters that have been unfolding around the world this year.  This year is going to be the fourth warmest year on record behind 2016, 2015, and 2017 respectively.    Our global climate is obviously in chaos and weather disasters becoming more frequent and severe. Continue reading “The flood washes over us”

Trans-species Pidgins

Why ask anthropology to look beyond the human? And why look to animals to do so? Looking at animals, who look back at us, and who look with us, and who are also, ultimately, part of us, even though their lives extend well beyond us, can tell us something. It can tell us about how that which lies “beyond” the human also sustains us and makes us the beings we are and those we might become.  – Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

One of the most frustrating things about Western civilization is its relentless anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism.  Most of us modern, Western, scientific humans think that we are the only truly conscious beings, the only beings that can think, feel, and communicate.  Itʻs a form of blindness or self-mutilation, in my opinion, as if we deliberately bound our feet or shut down one of our senses in order to belong to Team Civilization. Certainly such blindness makes ruthless exploitation of the natural world a lot easier on the conscience – if you consider all of it to be mindless matter then why not bring on the bulldozers?  Continue reading “Trans-species Pidgins”

Let’s put this in perspective

Despite our traits of pride and often enormous hubris sometimes the creator let’s the humans get away with most of our foolishness intact. This last hurricane – LANE – is a case in point. With all of our modern tools we tracked it all the way from the Baja, night and day with the infrared channels of the latest satellite technologies, with photographs from the International Space Station showing the giant 500 mile span of the storm, with brave men flying into the eye to measure the windspeed, and with the ominous hour by hour progress reports on all of the emergency channels, the TV, radio, and celphone alerts. It was the equivalent of a Central Pacific Region wide All Points Bulletin. We could track and measure it but in no way were we collectively able to change the course of events. Not even a little bit. And then we go about our business on the next day, knowing that some were buried in the deluge, some were burned out by the wind driven fires ahead of the rain, and to some it was just another rainy day in paradise.

The simple overwhelming fact is the Category 5 storm did not hit any of the islands at full strength. In the end, after travelling 2,500 miles, the storm dropped to Cat 3 and missed our small island by 150 miles. If it had passed closer or farther it would have been much more deadly; closer and the west coast of Hawaii island would have been raked by 130 mph winds, farther and the outer circulation would have had an open run with 75-80 mph winds without hitting the bulk of our sheltering Mauna Loa. We should be down on our knees kissing the ground and thanking our lucky stars. It let us live.

Down here at Ka Lae it was just another day at the beach, another day in paradise. No amount of engaged civic planning, no committee meetings deciding our fate, no proclamations from our leaders had the least effect. The simple fact was the the creator let us get away with it. The gods of the winds spared us.


We were at a campsite in Brittany this summer, in a green valley thick with oak woods.  On our second night there was an announcement on the chalkboard outside the reception hut:



Who could resist?

10pm that night we turned up at the hut, and followed a trail of waggling torch beams around to the river side of the the old mill building. The group of 15 or so people, parents and kids, gathered to listen to the campsite owner,  himself a dad with young kids.

The mill was a hundred and fifty years old, and disused for half a century. A big, broken, rusty old mill wheel, like something off a paddle steamer, leaned against the rough stone wall. We could make out the black rectangles of window openings along the upper story, where the bats live. 500 of them. The second largest colony of their species in France. By this hour most of them had come out to feed, and by torchlight we could pick out two or three zipping back and forth across the surface of the dark water.

Our host directed a handheld monitor towards them and it crackled like a Geiger counter, translating inaudible squeaks into something we could process. We learned that while human hearing goes up to about 30kHz and dogs to 60kHz, these little critters operate at 120kHz.

They fly blind but see by echolocation, snapping up a midge every couple of seconds. In two or three hours of the night they’ll consume twice their own weight in midge. I guess that means coming home weighing three times what you did when you kissed the family goodbye and flew off to work.

If you’ve ever been in the Scottish highlands or similar latitudes on a summer evening and tried to swat a midge, you’ll know it can’t be done. They’re fast, and practically too tiny to see. To them, we must be as big as the Eiffel Tower, and almost as immobile. But the bats have got midges figured.

Clever little things! There are over a thousand species of bat in this world, filling niches across the land.  Much reduced in total number these days as their habitats have been occupied or eliminated, but this wooded valley, with its appealing old mill building and unpolluted, midge-rich river, is a still a niche that needs them.

Another canny feature of their lives that our host told us about: in autumn the bats congregate at a wooded spot downstream to meet and mingle with other colonies. They mate, but the females don’t fertilize until spring, once they’re sure it’s going to be a good season for foraging. They raise a single baby bat every one or two years.

The hot chocolate was ladled from a big shiny vat, and was as good as any I’ve ever tasted.