Archive for December, 2011

Happy 2012!

December 31, 2011 2 comments

The World is Music–Happy 2012!       RT

Photo: Earth Night; Guilane Nachez; MorgueFile; License: MorgueFile NoStandAlone Use.

The Elephant Bird

December 29, 2011 6 comments

OK, it was big. Our feathered friend weighed in at almost 900 lbs (more than an adult male grizzly bear) and stood more than 10 feet tall (higher than a basketball hoop). It laid eggs a foot long and 3 feet in circumference. We’re talking about the biggest bird that ever lived.

The Elephant Birds were a family of ratites that ranged across the island of Madagascar. They’ve been extinct since the 1600’s.

The bird resembled one of its relatives, the ostrich; it had hair-like plummage, powerful, thick legs, and vestigial wings. The EB was vegetarian and likely had no predators. Its enormous beak and large, clawed feet were more than adequate to fend off its hungry neighbors.

Despite its size and strength, the EB was surprisingly vulnerable. It was not a fast runner (unlike the ostrich, which can outrun a horse) and it most likely produced only a single egg at a time. Several causes for the bird’s extinction have been proposed, including hunting and egg-gathering by humans and infection by diseases common to chickens and other birds brought to the island by people.

What is most compelling about the Elephant Bird may be the place it held in the mosaic of Madagascar’s endemic species; not only the island’s long isolation from Africa and India (160 million years), but the diversity of its landscape (seven ecoregions) have produced what many consider to be a biodiversity hotspot. More than 100 species of lemurs; a predator related to mongooses,  the fossa; eight species of flowering plants; and the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (up to 4 in long) are found nowhere else.

And this does not include the wildlife that has vanished since people first arrived 2000 years ago: 17 species of lemur (including the Giant Lemur, which was as big as a gorilla), a species of pygmy hippopotamus, a species of giant tortoise, and the Giant Fossa.


Interested in supporting Madagascar’s remaining wildlife? Gerald Durrell and the organizations he founded are one place to consider.


Illustrations: top: Photo of Elephant Bird Skeleton and Egg; Monnier, 1913; WikiCmns; Public Domain. middle: Reconstruction of a Live Elephant Bird; Acrocynus; WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported; bottom: Sloth Lemur; Smokeybjb; WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.

Seven Ingredients of Good Writing

December 28, 2011 1 comment

It’s always the right time to brush up on the basics…


Seven Ingredients of Good Writing.

Back to the Village

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment


An end-of-year escape…St Mawes, a beautiful village in England. Enjoy!


Back to the Village.

A Poulter’s Dozen: RT’s Selected Posts, 2011

December 26, 2011 4 comments

Remember this little guy? He appeared all the way back in February as a kind of tropical antidote to winter. Now it’s nearly 2012, and soon (but don’t quote me on this), WordPress will be sending us our annual stats & list of most popular posts. It’s a great service, and an e-mail I’ll be posting, but I’m not sure that it’s completely representative of a year that saw more than a hundred posts added to The Rag Tree.

RT’s solution? Make my own selection of 2011’s best, and in particular, those posts that won’t make WP’s Top Five. So here are twelve posts, chosen from across the months, that I have a soft spot for–and think deserve a second viewing:

1. Print, Applause and $$. January. Perhaps a bit argumentitive, this essay defends my claim: Writing isn’t about getting published; writing is about community. A consideration of the larger issues at play in the writer’s life.

2. Sappho. February. She defined the lyric poem in the West, is perhaps the greatest woman poet who ever lived–and her poetry survives mostly in fragments. Here is my translation of one of her most intense moments.

3. Gliese 581. February. You couldn’t say that it’s a next-door neighbor, but the star Gliese 581 has a mind-boggling solar system, and Gliese 581-g is the most earth-like planet discovered so far. What a vacation!

4. Did Jacob Climb his Ladder? March. For centuries, scholars have been working to identify the sources that were compiled to create the Hebrew Bible. This post introduces the Elohist, the most mysterious of the Bible’s four main sources.

5. Sor Juana. March. A consideration of a woman who has been called Mexico’s greatest poet–and of the more enlightened side of Spanish colonial rule.

6. The Tax to Ceasar. April. Over the centuries, this episode from the Gospels has been used to define Christianity’s relationship to political authority. RT thinks the Tax is just one of the most extraordinary moments in Jesus’s life.

7. The Novgorod Codex. July. The discovery a decade ago of a hyper-palimpsest–a document that contains hundreds of pages of over-written text–has spurred one Russian scholar to extraordinary lengths in deciphering the material.

8. How to Eat an Essay. July. Ladies and gentlemen: tuck in your napkin, pick up your fork and knife, and dig in!

9. A Global Trust Bank? August. It could help track funds used in relief efforts–and other monies, too.

10. Idiolects. September. A big topic, a surprising answer.

11. Pitman Shorthand. October. Working on your first novel? Lighten the load.

12. Confessions of a Disorganized Poet. November. Paper, paper everywhere! I mean, what do you do with all this stuff?

& now for the extra eggs:

13. The Thunder Throne. January. An amazing work of art–created by a black janitor.

14. Ni L’Un, Ni L’Autre. August. OK, OK, it’s one of RT’s own poems; on the other hand, it’s pretty good!

& here’s to a productive 2012!   RT


Photo: Microcebus Rufus. Photographer, Alex Dunkel; Camera, Freddie Barber; Modifications, WolfmanSF. Source: Wikipedia; License: CC 3.0 Unported.

Peace on Earth

December 25, 2011 Leave a comment


   Peace on Earth

        Goodwill to All Men 

Image: The Nativity (Byzantine Icon); WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported; User: Tetrakys

Mystery & Perfection: The Sombrero Galaxy

December 23, 2011 3 comments

Sometimes things just work out right. We’ll never understand all the reasons, and sometimes there’s no need to. Mystery and perfection…  Happy Holidays!!   RT


Photo: The Sombrero Galaxy; Source: Hubble Telescope, NASA; WikiCmns; Public Domain w/ attribution.