The beauty of ballerinas and equations, spirals and snails

At a first glance, the natural world appears messy and arbitrary. A pile of data about trees, moose, or any other organism often looks as random as a phone book. And yet, we almost always find some very simple and beautiful mathematical relationships which underlie such messiness. Finding such simple and beautiful mathematics beneath our … Continue reading The beauty of ballerinas and equations, spirals and snails

A Beaver Pond in the Autumn Glory of the North Woods

There were plenty of chores to be done this fall – finish picking the last of the apples, harvesting the carrots, beets, and other root crops, transplanting wildflowers into the meadow and beneath the big spruces, extracting the honey from the beehive, and getting the firewood in. But the skies were bright blue, the temperatures … Continue reading A Beaver Pond in the Autumn Glory of the North Woods

Cosmic Reflections on a Precambrian Rock

One summer some years ago, while doing fieldwork in northern Minnesota, I was reading a book by the astronomer Joseph Silk called Cosmic Enigmas, a collection of essays about the formation of galaxies and other questions about the Universe. In northern Minnesota, especially along the shores of lakes in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, there are … Continue reading Cosmic Reflections on a Precambrian Rock

Ancient Plants of the North Woods

They are small plants that look like pine seedlings. No, perhaps they look like little cedars. But then again, maybe they are a weird kind of moss, or perhaps a fern. These are just some of the reactions people have to these plants which are commonly found in the pine and spruce-fir forests of the … Continue reading Ancient Plants of the North Woods

Linnaeus’s Favorite Flower

Although Minnesotans pride themselves on their Scandinavian heritage, the biological connections between Minnesota and Scandinavia precede European immigration of humans by many centuries. One of the intriguing features of the boreal forest is that its occupants are circumpolar. Thus, moose, wolves, and lynx are found not only in Minnesota, Canada and Alaska, but also in … Continue reading Linnaeus’s Favorite Flower