Check out this new review of my latest book “The Absurd Naturalist.” Available at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/The-Absurd-Naturalist-Ir…/…/1502977281
A Fun Read
By Niche on March 2, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Gene has a naturalist’s focus and curiosity – he combines his observations in nature with wry twists on the wide variety of topics his essays cover. Open this book, pick an essay, and you will find yourself smiling as well as gleaning some insights into the natural world in the process.
His only dream was to sell belly buttons. Admittedly, it was a difficult sell when there was no demand for the product. It was a long time ago, when people still came into the world with no belly buttons. Indeed, so long ago was it that people had not even learned to laugh. The only laughter in the land was from the hyena and the mocking call of the jubal bird.
People still cried, however, and there was plenty to cry about. But you don’t need a belly button for crying.
The world was filled with stony faces, streaked with tears. People went about their lives each day, performing their duties, and that was that. Things were either sad or not sad, with no in between.
The salesman first heard about the invention from a sailor in the Weeping Dragon Tavern. With many drinks under his belt, the sailor slumped over the bar. Suddenly his shoulders began to convulse. He raised his head and looked at the salesman. The sailor’s mouth started to upturn in a most peculiar fashion. Then he broke out into a strange cry. It started with a series of high-pitched twitters that slowly rose in volume to something that sounded more like the grunts, howls, and choking sounds of some great beast. No one in the tavern had ever heard such a sound before. The sailor began shaking so hard he looked as if he might die. But he just shook his head and pulled up his shirt, pointing to a little spot in the middle of his belly that looked like a button. Then he passed out.
For a long while, the salesman sat and pondered what he had seen. There was something about that sound. It all had to do with the button—a strange-looking thing, though not unattractive. Maybe other people would want one, too. From that moment on, the salesman knew exactly what he must do.
Relentlessly he traveled the world, knocking on one door after another. To the sobbing or stony-faced person who opened the door he would say, “Good day, my sad fellow. May I interest you in a bright new belly button?” And then he would open his large black carrying case to show off the hundreds of different kinds of belly buttons he offered.
But, even though the salesman promised free installation and a ninety-day guarantee, and even though his brand of belly buttons were the finest made, not one of the sad people ever bought one. For the reason belly buttons had been invented was to hold a person’s belly in place while laughing; otherwise, during a belly laugh, or even a hard chuckle, people’s bellies would start to come undone, with regrettable consequences. But because people had not yet learned how to laugh, there was still no need for such buttons.
The salesman tried everything. He offered free home trials. He offered big discounts. He gave out coupons. But not a one could he sell.
He tried repackaging the belly buttons to make them seem more attractive. He offered them, both innies and outies, by the dozen, in assorted sizes and colors, and gave away a free belly button brush with each box. On his very best models he promised a lifetime guarantee. Still no sales.
Then he thought, maybe he needed to change the way he looked. So he dressed up in a clown suit, put on an orange wig and funny hat, and painted his face with purple polka dots. When someone opened the door, he threw confetti in the air and, while squeezing a bicycle horn, shouted, “Hooray, the belly button man is here!” Still nothing.
The salesman, now desperate, changed his whole sales pitch in ways that would have raised a few eyebrows back at corporate headquarters. Instead of just opening his case and showing off his belly buttons, he tried juggling them—sometimes thirty or forty at a time—while riding a pink unicycle. Still nothing.
Finally, the salesman got so depressed over not making any sales that at the next house he rang the bell and just stood there, not knowing what to do. When another stony-faced person answered the door, the salesman broke into a sob, relating every miserable detail of his story while displaying his useless merchandise.
The stony-faced person listened without saying a word. Something about the salesman’s story touched him in a new way. It was more than sad. It was pathetic. Trying to sell something for which there was no need, well, it was absurd. For a moment he thought he was going to cry. But he felt different somehow. Suddenly his mouth began to do strange things. Slowly it turned upward like a crescent moon and began to open. His eyes gleamed with an inner light. Then the man felt a strange twinge. It gurgled up his throat like a trickling spring and came out as a chuckle. He started to laugh and guffaw, until from deep inside him there erupted a laugh like a geyser that quite nearly blew his belly apart.
“Quick!” he yelled to the salesman. “Give me a dozen of your best belly buttons. I’ll give you anything you want!”
From that day forward, people started laughing at all kinds of things, sometimes so hard that they felt their bellies might burst. So, of course, they all suddenly needed belly buttons to hold themselves in place, for matters of both safety and public decorum. The salesman, who later became a great motivational speaker, had no more trouble selling them. He sold so many to people all over the world, in fact, that today belly buttons are far more common in households than encyclopedias or vacuum cleaners, and need no longer be sold door to door.
Author’s Note: Read this and other absurd essays and tales in my new book The Absurd Naturalist, available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/The-Absurd-Naturalist-Irreverent-Musings/dp/1502977281
Published in 5enses April 2015 http://www.5ensesmag.com/the-bellybutton-man-a-business-fable/
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing is Sacred
By Jeff Schalau on March 10, 2015
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!
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/
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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/
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
I have always believed in the right to bear arms, though legs, brains, and hearts are no less important. #TheAbsurdNaturalist
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