The Search for the Perfect Tree (This has nothing to do with Xmas)

Puffer’s Perfect Tree, colored pencil, 2.5 x 4″

My dog Sammi didn’t linger often when choosing where to pee. A quick sniff-and-circle maneuver zeroed her in on passable locations. But she could be very thorough when it came to broadcasting her scent, often stopping ten times in the course of a two block walk. One time, she dared to urinate on the same spot recently wetted by Pippi, a golden retriever that outweighed Sammi four to one. Pippi took offense, clamped her jaws over Sam’s head, and chomped. I separated Pippi’s jaws. Someone pulled Sam’s head out. She bled from a shallow gash. One ear bent over at forty-five degree angle. After that, Sammi still peed everywhere except for Pippi’s yard.

I figured out the biological drive behind her urination campaign after repeatedly chasing male dogs out of our back yard. They’d follow Sammi’s scent trail, vault over the gate, and chase her around and around in hopes of answering her indiscriminate invitations to mate. I countered by carrying Sammi for the first half block on a walk, letting her pee to her heart’s content when we were a quarter mile away from home, and picking her up again for the last quarter mile. I envisioned desperate doggies circling distant yards in search of their hearts’ true love.

Other dogs act more like connoisseurs when picking the perfect spot for bladder relief. Only the most choice tree roots, tree trunks, hydrants, patches of weed will do. Perhaps they’re more selective about what sort of dog they wish to attract, while Sammi took more of a shotgun approach. She wanted to invite lots of guys to the dance, but only chose the most worthy suitor once she’d reviewed her options.

Nature in Action: Heavy, Man. Heavy.

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Backyard in the rain.

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Penta and Coreopsis

My wife Judy sits in our back yard garden every day when it’s not raining (the Florida drought has turned into afternoon monsoons) and watches nature in action.  She’s reported on the activities of caterpillars and butterflies.

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Zebra Long Wing (near the top)

One type of butterfly likes to lay its eggs on a passion flower vine growing up and through a beauty berry bush.  Geckos and other lizards love to eat the eggs when they in turn are not being pursued by black racer snakes.  Red shouldered hawks soar overhead in search of careless snakes sunning a bit too long in the open after a heavy meal.

Caterpillars hatch from the remaining eggs and begin to eat the leaves on the vine.  A parasitic wasp, if it manages to locate a caterpillar in the tangle of vegetation, injects its eggs inside.  The wasp larva hatch and eat their way out of the caterpillar.  Ants come along and take chunks out of caterpillars.  The vine secretes a sugary substance when attacked, and the ants are drawn to its tormentors.

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Zebra Long Wing caterpillars.

The desperate action continues after a caterpillar survives long enough to fatten and turn into a chrysalis.  A female proto-butterfly gives off a pheromone that attracts males before they emerge from their cocoons.  Male butterflies land on the chrysalises, flap their wings impatiently, and wait for the lady to make her debut.  I’m not sure if they allow the females to stretch their wings before the “romance” begins.

So nature in action seems to be all about eating or being eaten.  This leads to a frantic urge to spread one’s genes to succeeding generations before a bigger, sneakier, meaner creature seizes one in its jaws.  We witnessed desperate sexual ardor on display the other day among the branches of a plumbago plant in our front yard.  We saw a large female grasshopper bearing the weight of two smaller males on her back.  One male was attached to the female and attempted to deposit his seed.  He was distracted, however, by the male on his back.  The male on top had no homosexual intentions, however.  Instead the uppermost hopper frantically flexed his hind legs to try to pry the male beneath him off the female.  He had decided, apparently, that it was his turn.

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Male grasshopper.

Judy’s a plant physiologist and taught botany courses at Rollins College for many years.  She and I were talking about our garden and how the caterpillars were chewing their way through the milkweeds and passion flower vines.  I teased her about GMOs and said that scientists should come up with a genetically modified plant that turns insects into Existentialists.  Instead of chewing, mating and fleeing predators, the bugs would glumly sit around thinking about the ultimate futility of their lives.  “What’s the point?” they’d ask themselves, “of all this useless activity?  Life has no inherent meaning and worth.  Why spread it?”

Never kid a plant physiologist.  Judy told me that plants like the opium poppy and marijuana create protective intoxicants: the production of opium and THC evolved as a means of defense.  An insect predator becomes passive and uninterested in consuming more tissue after ingesting these drugs.  The motionless, tripping bugs attract predators, predators on the look out for a way to harsh a buzz with extreme prejudice.

I had been thinking of nature as the WWII movie, From Here to Eternity:  sex, violence, survival.  Now when I stroll in the garden I hear the opening strains of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and think about episodes of “The Mod Squad”.  You know, the ones where a love-in on the beach suddenly turns tragic.  Sex, violence, survival and drugs.  And as Peggy Lipton would say, “Heavy, man.  Like, heavy.”