When did Darwin become a scientist?

On February 20, 1835, eight days after his 26th birthday, a young Englishman was resting in a woodland near Valdivia, Chile, when the ground began to heave, making him “almost giddy: it was something like…a person skating over thin ice, which bends under the weight of his body.” What he felt was a devastating earthquake, … Continue reading When did Darwin become a scientist?

North with the Spring and the Swans

It had been a good trip to and from the Twin Cities, ornithologically speaking. We saw seven bald eagles and a dozen turkeys, along with many dozen great blue herons at their rookery on the bank of the Snake River near Pine City. But the best came last as we were returning home and nearing … Continue reading North with the Spring and the Swans

Thoreau, Marsh, Pinchot, and the North Woods

The Hudson River begins its journey to the Atlantic at Lake Tear of the Clouds, a small glacial lake in the North Woods of the Adirondack Mountains. Approximately 70 miles south, the river emerges from the Adirondacks near the small village of Greenfield. It was here, on July 10, 1823, that Sanford Gifford was born. … Continue reading Thoreau, Marsh, Pinchot, and the North Woods

Cheaters in the soil: The ecology and evolution of Indian pipes

In early August this year, beneath the deep shade of old growth sugar maples, white pines, and northern red oaks in the teaching forest on my campus, Indian pipes were standing as translucently white as the finest candles. With their flowers nodding toward the forest floor, they looked like the clay pipes smoked by 17th century … Continue reading Cheaters in the soil: The ecology and evolution of Indian pipes

Petroglyphs on a Whaleback

I am in the Tweed Museum of Art on my campus, standing before a photograph by the Minnesota artist Vance Gellert, labeled Petroglyphs, Spirit Island, Nett Lake. Nett Lake is on the Bois Fort Reservation of the Lake Superior Ojibwe. Spirit Island is not the largest island in Nett Lake, but it is the most … Continue reading Petroglyphs on a Whaleback

White Spruce: A taxonomic description set to verse

Taxonomic descriptions have gotten a bad rap: “dry”, “desiccated”, “mere description”, “stamp collecting”. But a taste for the precise and spare poetry of these nuggets of natural history is worth acquiring. In the past several decades, the Flora of North America Project has been compiling what is hoped to be the standard taxonomic accounts of, … Continue reading White Spruce: A taxonomic description set to verse

Mother Goose and the Evolution of Canada Geese

Old Mother Goose, When she wanted to wander, Would ride through the air [With] a very fine gander. The honking of Canada Geese and the wailing of Loons are the sounds of the spring returning to the North. A wedge of geese – some days two or four birds, some days many more – often … Continue reading Mother Goose and the Evolution of Canada Geese

The second life of a dead tree

Sometime in the past six or eight decades, a carbon dioxide molecule entered one of the stomates on a leaf of a paper birch across the meadow outside our dining room window. Once inside, a photon from the sun split the carbon from the two oxygens and sent the carbon onward into the green machinery … Continue reading The second life of a dead tree