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Gene's photos 10-3-13 008Welcome to my writing blog. Please note that all material is  © Gene Twaronite and The Twaronite Zone. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gene Twaronite and The Twaronite Zone with specific direction to the original content.

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Nothing Sacred: Review of The Absurd Naturalist

Read this latest review of my new book, posted on AmazonPrint cover front:

5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing is Sacred
By Jeff Schalau on March 10, 2015
Format: Paperback
Mr. Twaronite’s cogitations may seem irreverent to some, but that’s what I like about The Absurd Naturalist – nothing is sacred. These short essays will make you smile as you reflect on the irrationality of the human condition. I love it!

Ten-Minute Tent Talk

Please join me on Sunday, March 15, from 12:40 to 12:50, at the Tucson Festival of Books (Authors Pavilion West), where I will be giving a “Ten-Minute Tent Talk” that is guaranteed 100% free of all serious insights or facts. Copies of all my new book “The Absurd Naturalist” will be available for sale.Print cover front

Tucson Festival of Books

I will be one of 450 authors at the upcoming Tucson Festival of Books  http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/  It will be held on Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, March 15, 2015 on the beautiful University of Arizona campus in Tucson, Arizona. The Festival enters its seventh year as the fourth largest literary event in the country attracting over 450 authors and over 130,000 participants during the weekend. All proceeds from the Festival are donated to local non-profit organizations that support improved literacy in Southern Arizona…more than $1,050,000 has been donated since the Festival began in 2009.

Please join me on Sunday, March 15, from 10:15 to 12:30, at my booth in Authors Pavilion West, located at the west end of the Main Mall, where I will be signing books and greeting the reading public. Copies of all my book titles will be available for sale.

 

The Tick

The Absurd Naturalist

 

AN Transparent

 

Few people, even nature lovers, love the tick. It is difficult to love a creature that has its mouthparts embedded in your flesh. This is the way most acquaintances with this little vampire begin. One does not set off on a nature hike to look for a tick in the field and exclaim, “Oh my, how interesting.” Instead, one is far more likely to go to the bathroom mirror and scream, “Oh my God, get that damn thing off me!”

Ticks belong to the order Acarina, which also includes mites. There are about 850 different kinds of ticks—so far as we know, that is. According to one estimate, there may be as many as a million other kinds of ticks and mites in the world, still waiting for scientists to classify them. It is something to look forward to.

Like spiders, scorpions and other arachnids, ticks have eight legs, at least most of the time. When they first hatch out as larvae, however, they have six. If this sort of thing bothers you, you would do well not to become an acarologist (a specialist in mites and ticks), much less a biologist.

Ticks make their living by sucking blood out of mammals, birds and reptiles. They usually lie in wait on a plant until a suitable host passes nearby, then hop on board, anchoring themselves to the skin by means of a dart-like structure located below the mouth. Ticks are known to wait around up to three years for a host to come by. They are very patient.

One of the problems with bloodsucking—at least for the host—is that this is a fine way to transmit diseases from one organism to another. Among arthropods ticks are rivaled only by mosquitoes in the number of diseases transmitted; these include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, Texas cattle fever, relapsing fever, anaplasmosis, and a fairly new one—first recognized in 1975—called Lyme disease. And if this isn’t enough, some female ticks can also pass along a nerve poison in their saliva that produces paralysis.

So if one day you happen to discover a tick on your person, you are probably justified in removing it as quickly as possible. If you are really patient, you can just wait for the female tick to have its fill of blood—after which she will drop off by herself to go lay her eggs—but few of us are this considerate of other life forms. Removing a tick, one of the most tenacious creatures on earth, is easier said than done, however. If particular care is not taken, part of its head—the capitulum—may remain in the flesh and possibly cause infection. Some folk remedies call for applying petroleum jelly or a burned match to the animal, the idea being to “encourage” the tick to release its hold so it can be removed intact. You might also try playing loud hard rock music next to its head. AC/DC works especially well, and some have reported good results with Megadeth. These remedies can make matters worse, however, by actually irritating the tick and causing it to regurgitate its gut contents, which is not a good thing. The best bet is to use a plain old set of fine tweezers, then wash the wound with soap and water.

Great care should also be taken to properly dispose of the tick. One source advises burning or drowning in alcohol. You might also try a tiny stake through the heart. You can’t be too careful with vampires.
©Gene Twaronite 2015

Originally published in 5enses Feb. 2015  http://www.5ensesmag.com/the-tick/

Win free copy of The Absurd Naturalist

Win a free copy of my latest Print cover frontbook The Absurd Naturalist. Enter the Goodreads giveaway here:  https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/124353-the-absurd-naturalist-irreverent-musings-on-nature

There’s no obligation, but short reviews are most welcome.  #AbsurdNaturalist

 

Living in Agaveland

The Absurd NaturalistAN Transparent

I very much doubt if Carl Linnaeus ever planted an agave in his life. He was the Swedish taxonomist who in 1753 chose the name for this genus from a Greek word meaning admirable or noble. If he had planted one, the Greek word for pain or some choice obscenity would have come to mind instead.

It is hard to plant an agave without getting jabbed once or twice by a terminal spine. This is the rigid, ridiculously sharp spine found at the leaf tips of most agaves. On some species, such as Agave salmiana, it is a long and gracefully recurved, eye-gouging thing of beauty. Some species also have a steroid compound on the surface of the spine that enhances the stabbing pain. Agaves are like that.

The late Howard Scott Gentry, taxonomic wizard of this genus, referred to the general range where agaves can be found as Agaveland, as if it were some kind of mythical kingdom. Armed with sharp teeth, the spiraling rosettes do seem to occupy their rocky posts like guardians of a distant realm. There are 200-250 species of agaves occupying the drier sites of virtually every kind of habitat, from sea level to over 8,000 feet, throughout much of the arid Western U.S., Mexico and Central America as well as the West Indies.

The teeth and spines are supposedly there to protect the plant’s short stem and soft flower stalk from attack by predators. But cattle will eat agaves when really hungry. Javelina will eat them any time they please. And the most serious pests of all are rabbits, blithely eating around the formidable teeth and spines, proving once again that there is no such thing as a perfect weapon.

Some of the agaves resort to chemical defenses. Agave lechuguilla, for example, contains a substance toxic enough to kill goats. It has been suggested that some of these smaller agaves might be planted to protect areas subject to overgrazing. The goat people might get upset about this.

Agave leaves are usually glabrous, which means without hairs, though it sounds as if it should mean something else. As leaves go, they are remarkably long-lived, persisting for as long as 15 years or the entire life of the plant unless hacked off by some idiot who thinks agaves should look like pineapples.

Like many late blooming humans, most agaves are monocarpic, flowering but once in a lifetime. They may take anywhere from 8 to 20 years to flower. The flower stalks on the larger species may reach up to 40 feet in height. These monumental projections of plant matter undoubtedly helped to inspire the word “admirable.” Gentry compares this rapid growth to “a boiler building up a head of steam.” To erect this mighty structure the agave must use up so much of its stored carbohydrate reserves that the leaves are drained and, in most species, the whole plant must die.

In agave flowers, the petals and sepals are hard to tell apart, so scientists just say the hell with it and call them all “tepals,” which does have a cute ring to it.

As a landscape plant, the agave is hard to beat. Not only is it drought tolerant, but its spiral form tends to collect and direct water down to the roots—the plant almost irrigates itself.

Few plants have been as intimately involved in human culture. Their fiber and fleshy hearts have been used for everything from food, clothing and shelter to fish stringers, paintbrushes and musical instruments.Various tribes in Mexico have cultivated agaves for centuries. The thick short stem known as a “cabeza” is a rich source of carbohydrates that provided Native Americans with the fermented beverage known as pulque. Gentry points to the considerable effect this drink had on “the esoteric and exotic development of Mesoamerican culture.” That’s one way of putting it.

Those coming later to American shores also found agaves appealing for the mescal and tequila that they could provide. A single Agave tequilana, upon maturity, can produce a cabeza weighing up to 100 pounds, which when distilled is enough to make about 5 liters of tequila. Talk about admirable qualities.

I think of all these things as I plant yet another agave. True to form, one of its stout spines just narrowly misses my eye, and once again I am quietly grateful for my vision and for living in Agaveland.                     ©Gene Twaronite 2015   

Originally published in 5enses January 2015   http://www.5ensesmag.com/living-in-agaveland/

 

 

 

 

 

A Nice Cave with a View

The Absurd NaturalistAN Transparent

Recently I signed up for a DNA test at one of those ancestry sites. It was a little pricey, but the idea intrigued me. Since my family originated in Lithuania, I fancied there might be some kings or brave knights of old, or at least a wizard (vedlys) or two in my background.

After sending in the usual saliva swab, I waited anxiously for the results. Months went by without a reply. Finally, I decided to call the company.

I had to go through three different people before I was transferred to the head honcho. “Yes, Mr. Twaronite, we have your lab results here. You may want to sit down for this.” I did not like the sound of this. The last time someone used those words was when the police called to tell me that my stolen car had been located at the bottom of the La Brea tar pits.

“Your ancestry is most unusual, Mr. Twaronite. In fact, we would like to perform some additional tests on you. If you give permission, you might even appear in a research paper. Would you be willing to come down to our office?”

“Not until you tell me what’s going on. What do you mean unusual? Are my genes abnormal? Is there some kind of disease I should know about? Am I gonna die?”

“No, you’re not going to die, at least not yet.”

“What is it then? Is it something about my ancestors? OK, so maybe I’ve got some bad dudes in my background. I can live with that. Whatever it is, please tell me!”

“When we started comparing your DNA matches to look for common ancestors, there was nothing at all surprising in your recent background. You have a few matches in old Vilnius—a seventeenth-century tavern keeper on your maternal side, and an undertaker and gypsy on your paternal side—and some more recent relatives in Kaunas. But as we plotted farther back, your genes simply went off the charts. You’ve heard of Neanderthals, Mr. Twaronite?”

“Of course I’ve heard of them. An early human that ran around Europe and Asia during the last Ice Ages, right? Muscle-bound guys with big brows, lived in caves. I’ll bet some of them even lived in Lithuania. So what are you saying—that I’ve got a few Neanderthal genes in my background? I guess it’s possible that some of my ancestors might have messed around a bit—hey, we’re all human. Now that I think about it, I remember reading somewhere that all modern humans have a few of their genes kicking around in us. So what’s the big deal?”

“Yes, it is true that most humans of European or Asian ancestry possess a small percentage of Neanderthal genes, somewhere around 1 to 4%. Indeed, as much as 20% of the Neanderthal genome may exist in human populations today. But yours is a special case, Mr. Twaronite. Let us just say that in your genetic makeup Neanderthals are exceptionally well-represented.”

“Are you saying that I’m some kind of Alley Oop? I can assure you, I don’t look like that at all. What kind of percentage are we talking about?”

“Near as we can figure, it’s close to 63%. So far as we know, no other human on earth possesses such a high percentage of Neanderthal genetic material. That’s why we’d like to study you as soon as possible.”

“So what you’re telling me is that my ancestors not only hooked up occasionally with Neanderthals—they had the hots for them. Does that make me some kind of freak or something?”

“Not at all, Mr. Twaronite. Neanderthal genes possess many fine qualities advantageous to human survival, such as resistance to certain diseases and the ability to adapt to cold climates. You should be proud of your lineage. Indeed, your genetic signature matches up closely with a small group of Neanderthals living along the Baltic Sea in Lithuania approximately 35,000 years ago. They were probably some of the last living members of their species before they became extinct.”

“I guess that makes me a bit of a caveman.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite that way. While some Neanderthals constructed elaborate huts, many did make use of the limestone caves common to much of Eurasia. These were not simple caves, mind you, but highly organized homes, with separate spaces devoted to sleeping, eating, and socializing. Despite the popular stereotypes, these early humans shared much in common with our own species. Their brain size was similar to our own. They fashioned complex tools, and even buried their dead. Let’s just say you’re more Neanderthal than anyone alive today.”

“You know I have been feeling some strange urges lately. It seems to be getting warmer and warmer around here. Sometimes I feel like heading north to a colder climate. Meet some new people. Find a nice cave with a view.”
                                                    ©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses December 2014 http://www.5ensesmag.com/a-nice-cave-with-a-view/

Read this and other essays in Gene’s new book The Absurd Naturalist. Available now from Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Absurd-Naturalist-Irreverent-Musings-Nature/dp/1502977281/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417381754&sr=1-1&keywords=the+absurd+naturalist

 

Gene Twaronite reads The Right to Bear Arms

I have always believed in the right to bear arms, though legs, brains, and hearts are no less important. #TheAbsurdNaturalist

The Absurd Naturalist is Here!

Print cover frontAt long last, after more than thirty years, my book is finally here. A complete guide to everything you need to know about toad throwing, tofu hunters, same-species marriage, the right to bear arms, the origin of toaster ovens, why gardening is bad for you, and MORE. Available now from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Absurd-Naturalist-Irreverent-Musings-Nature/dp/1502977281/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417381754&sr=1-1&keywords=the+absurd+naturalist

As always, your reviews and comments are most welcome. Cheers!