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Tag: nature

The scandalously naked Burren

Monday, 15 July, 2019

The name means “stony place” and it is one of the strangest landscapes in Europe. What’s called The Burren occupies most of the top western corner of County Clare and this region of solid rock, which looks like a desert, is quite the opposite. Cattle are fattened by its limey grass and Arctic flowers blossom beside Mediterranean perennials between the niches of the limestone slabs. Emily Lawless (1845 – 1913) set her novel Hurrish (1886) in what she called this “Iron Land”. Snippet:

“Wilder regions there are few to be found, even in the wildest West of Ireland, than that portion of north Clare known to its inhabitants as the Burren. Seen from the Atlantic, which washes its western base, it presents to the eye a succession of low hills, singularly grey in tone — deepening often, towards evening, into violet or dull reddish plum colour — sometimes, after sunset, to a pale ghostly iridescence.

You picture them dotted over with flocks to sheep, which nibble on the sweet grass… But these Burren hills are literally not clothed at all. They are startlingly, I may say, scandalously naked.”


Coming up roses

Wednesday, 26 June, 2019

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.” — Maud Hart Lovelace

Roses


Pursuing the undulatus asperatus

Friday, 28 July, 2017 0 Comments

“The work on this film began on March 28th and ended June 29th,” says stormchaser Mike Olbinski. He drove 28,000 miles across 10 US states and spent 27 days pursuing the storms that have been condensed into the spectacular clip he calls Pursuit. “I snapped over 90,000 time-lapse frames,” he writes. “I saw the most incredible mammatus displays, the best nighttime lightning and structure I’ve ever seen, a tornado birth caught on time-lapse and a display of undulatus asperatus that blew my mind.”


Fjord watching

Monday, 18 July, 2016 0 Comments

“These timelapses are all recorded in the western part of Norway, where the mighty fjords Geirangerfjord, Hjörundfjord, and Storfjord sits quietly and waits for anyone who wants to seek something else than watching the latest show on TV.” So says the Norwegian photographer and videographer Jonas Forsberg.

Watching TV these days is not very good for the soul, especially given the news from Nice, Turkey and Baton Rouge. Fjord watching, like whale watching, offers a temporary, healing respite from the woes of our troubled, tele-visual world.

Nerd note: The 4K resolution standard was created for digital cinema and computer graphics. It was so named because it offer 4000-pixel horizontal resolution (4K is technically defined as 4096 x 2160 pixels). 4K provides higher image definition quality, more detailed pictures and larger projection surface visibility.


Glossolalia: Aramaic lessons

Friday, 20 May, 2016 0 Comments

This is the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things semantic, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language. We started on Monday with Singlish, followed up on Tuesday with decacorns, moved on to Euro English on Wednesday and met Parsey McParseface yesterday. To end this mini-series, it’s time to consider whether past language can tell us anything about present and future language.

First, the present: A new study from the Gallant Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley has major implications for how we understand language structuring in the brain. Published in Nature on 28 April, “Natural Speech Reveals the Semantic Maps That Tile Human Cerebral Cortex” reveals that we use our entire brain — and not just the temporal lobe, as once believed — to group words by meaning. Every “brain dictionary” appears to be unique, but they share some surprising similarities.

Now, the past: Aramaic was once the lingua franca of empires, but today it’s reduced to about half a million speakers, who call it Assyrian, Chaldean, Mandaic and Syriac, to name but four varieties. According to the Bible, the Aramaeans were named after Noah’s grandson Aram and they started out a small nomadic group. By the 11th century BC, however, they ruled large tracts of Mesopotamia, covering parts of modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq, including the fabled city of Babylon. Modern Aramaic Aramaic was the English of its day and unified a large number of peoples across an enormous region. It was a sign of sophistication; it was the key to experiencing life beyond the parish, and it was the language Jesus spoke.

There are many differences between English and Aramaic — English is apparently easy to learn, while Aramaic is not — but that had little effect on English’s emergence as a global language, or on Aramaic’s rise and fall argues John McWhorter in “Where Do Languages Go to Die? The tale of Aramaic, a language that once ruled the Middle East and now faces extinction.” Snippet:

“At this point, I am supposed to write that English’s preeminence could end as easily as Aramaic’s. Actually, however, I doubt it: I suspect that English will hold on harder and longer than any language in history. It happened to rise to its current position at a time when three things had happened, profoundly transformative enough to stop the music, as it were: print, widespread literacy, and an omnipresent media.

Together, these things can drill a language into international consciousness in a historically unprecedented way, creating a sense of what is normal, cosmopolitan, cool even — arbitrary but possibly impregnable. If the Chinese, for example, rule the world someday, I suspect they will do it in English, just as King Darius ruled in Aramaic and Kublai Khan, despite speaking Mongolian, ruled China through Chinese translators in the 13th century C.E. Aramaic held sway at a time when a lingua franca was more fragile than it is today.”

As John McWhorter notes, literacy and media are driving the dominance of English. Those Gallant Laboratory finding about the brain’s semantic maps were published in English in Nature, the world’s most cited scientific journal. Empire is playing a role as well. The Gallant Laboratory is located in California, not in China. If the Chinese rule the world someday, “I suspect they will do it in English,” says McWhorter. Maybe. But Beijing has imperial ambitions, too, and the language of the Ghost Fleet masters and commanders will not be English. More about that another day, however.


Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted

Monday, 20 July, 2015 0 Comments

We’d like to thank Noel and Patricia and Shane Connolly for an excellent experience of the Burren. For them, here’s an excerpt from Ireland With Emily by Sir John Betjeman:

Stony seaboard, far and foreign,
Stony hills poured over space,
Stony outcrop of the Burren,
Stones in every fertile place,
Little fields with boulders dotted,
Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted,
Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds,
Where a Stone Age people breeds
The last of Europe’s stone age race.

The Burren


Rain: Too much and not nearly enough

Monday, 8 June, 2015 0 Comments

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards,” said Vladimir Nabokov. His comment is atypical as rain rarely earns a good punch line. Worse, in a rapidly urbanizing world, rain is regarded as a nuisance and few people have a kind word to say for it. The stuff that fills shoes, wrecks hairdos and allows unscrupulous umbrella sellers to practice a form of surge pricing that would make Uber envious lacks a lobby. But that should change soon thanks to Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. Using humour and science she examines rain’s role through the ages, and what emerges is a unifying force of nature that has nourished our planet for more than four billion years. Snippet:

“Rain brings us together in one of the last untamed encounters with nature that we experience routinely, able to turn the suburbs and even the city wild. Huddled with our fellow humans under construction scaffolding to escape a deluge, we are bound in the memory and mystery of exhilarating, confounding, life-giving rain.” Cynthia Barnett, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

Rain


Cetonia aurata enjoys a working lunch

Sunday, 16 September, 2012

On sunny days, between May and September, Cetonia aurata, popularly known as the rose chafer, feeds on flowers, in particular roses (from where it gets its name). The beetle has a metallic green coloration, but can also be gold, bronze, copper, violet, blue/black or grey. In his book Synchronicity, Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung tells […]

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