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Learning to Fly

At my first SCBWI Conference in LA…. Nervous and excited…. Feeling like a bird trying to launch for the first time; teetering on the edge, gathering my courage for the leap:

 

Braving the Blue

What bird has a fear of the heavens     

Though its blue is more vast than the seas

Yet with no hesitation it opens its wings

And flings frail bones to the breeze

 

What bird stays abed on a morning   

That blows chilly and frosty with snow

Instead with persistence it puffs out its chest

And faces straight into the blow

 

Yet I lack the wings and the courage

To lunge toward the wonder of why  

I’ll borrow the tough little soul of a bird

And fearlessly learn how to fly

 

– Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

 

How do birds learn how to fly? They have no instruction manuals, no aviation life preservers, no formal flight school. They do have instinct, they imitate those closest to them and they practice. Their flight instructors, their parents, can be strict teachers.

Birds learn to fly by instinct, but they also need their parents to teach and encourage them. An eagle, for example, will flap its wings vigorously directly above the nest when the chicks are almost ready to take flight on their own. And while flapping its wings, it holds a tasty morsel in its beak, just out of reach. The young eagles, eager for food, imitate the parent and flap their own wings. Their first attempts at flight are helped by the wind from the wings of its parent directly overhead. The food is also a wonderful motivation to rise up.

As the fledglings, or growing chicks, get to the point where their wings and feathers are big enough to support them in flight, the parent will try to coax them out of the nest with food. The young bird shrieks for its meal, but the parent flies past dangling the food just out of the fledgling’s reach. It might even perch nearby and start eating the meat in plain sight of its hungry chick. If the young bird expects to survive, it is going to have to learn how to fly and capture food for itself.

Eagle parents must be cruel to be kind. This teasing behavior only happens when the fledgling is big enough to actually manage flight on its own. Sometimes, the young eagle remains in the nest for many days, losing weight, until it is hungry enough (and light enough) to successfully fly to where the parent waits with sustenance… a juicy rabbit or freshly-caught fish, to fill its belly and give the bird strength to keep learning how to fly.

Just as with birds learning how to fly, writers like me need practice. We need to stay hungry and keep on writing, even if we take a few nosedives in the process. At a writer’s conference, we experience the company of seasoned authors whose words are like wing strokes helping to lift us out of our protective nests and niches.  We are also challenged to consider our motivation; our reason for writing, the “wonder of why.” What drives our need to write? Is it a strong enough “why” to keep writing despite the pile of rejection letters?

It’s no wonder that beginners in this business are referred to as fledgling writers. We are attempting to do something that, at first, seems impossible. It is appropriate that the first writing pens were made with the long, strong flight feathers of birds. Writing that soars only comes with fearless practice.

Eternally Jellified

Do you want to live forever?  

Do you think it could be done?

Where might mortals find the magic

To ensure immortal fun?

 

Take a look deep in the ocean 

Where the jellyfishes form  

For one tiny bell-like jelly

Living backwards is the norm

 

One immortal little jelly

Can grow up and then grow down

It becomes once more a polyp

If it senses it might drown  

 

If you want to live life over

There’s one way to have your wish

Swim on back to your beginning 

And become a jellyfish

 

— Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

 

The immortal jellyfish or “turritopsis dohrnii” as it is known by its scientific name, is the only living creature capable of transforming back into its infant or polyp state. Because it can reverse its life cycle in this way, it is essentially immortal. It is a tiny jelly, growing up to only 4.5 mm or .18 inches in width and height.

If the jelly, in its adult form, is threatened with death by starvation or dangerous change in its environment (a change in the saltiness of the ocean, for example) or even if its delicate bell-like body structure is cut or damaged, it can immediately start to change. The bell and tentacles of the adult jelly disintegrate and it becomes a tiny round polyp, a baby version of itself, again.

From the polyp stage, it can once more develop into a mature, free-swimming immortal jellyfish. This process can happen again and again. In fact, this tiny jelly can be reborn indefinitely.

These jellyfish are hard to raise in captivity, but there is one scientist who has succeeded in keeping a group of jellyfish alive for more than eleven cycles of rebirth. The scientist’s name is Shin Kubota from Kyoto University. He loves his jellyfish so much that he has even written several songs about them. Here is Shin singing one of his “Immortal Jellyfish” songs. — Listen

Scientists are now looking into ways in which this unique creature might help humans heal from serious injuries or be able to regenerate healthy tissue. The tiny turritopsis dohrnii is, indeed, an amazing beloved beast.

 

Squeaking By

Behold the famous Squeaker Frog

Whom we all thought was lost and gone

He last was seen in sixty-two

Then disappeared without a clue

 

But Squeak was hiding, tucked away 

In caverns of Zimbabwe 

This arthroleptis troglodyte

Hid in the dark, just out of sight

 

The tiny frog played hide and seek

Till one day seekers heard a squeak 

Into a cave they tracked the sound

The vanished frog was finally found

 

It happens faster than you think

How critter species go extinct

A fact no human can deny:

This little frog has just squeaked by

— Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

The arthroleptis troglodyte, or “Cave Squeaker,” had hopped off the radar in 1962 and was thought to have gone extinct. Then, in 2017, a scientist heard the distinctive squeaking call of the tiny frog, and found a living specimen in the Chimanimani Mountains of Zimbabwe. Since then, several frogs have been collected to breed more and finally release them into the wild again. This critically endangered frog might be able to make a comeback.

The Squeaker is not a “true frog” in that it hatches out of its egg, not as a tadpole, but as a tiny frog. The tadpole stage happens inside the egg before hatching occurs. The eggs must be laid in a damp place, but this species of frog does not need standing water in which to live through a tadpole phase of development.

Luckily this tiny frog has scientists on its side, working to make sure it does not completely disappear from the earth. To learn more about the Squeaker Frog, click here on the “Red List” which keeps track of endangered species. You may see that the list has not yet been updated to reflect this recent rediscovery of the Squeaker.

Snubbed and Blue

 

Don’t snub me ‘cause my face is blue

From: elelur.com

I’d rather look like me than you

I sport a golden, flowing cape

My long tail shows I’m not an ape

 

I live up high among the trees

If I could talk, I’d speak Chinese

I like tree lichen for a snack

My meals are plants; they don’t attack

 

My canines might be sharp and long

From: WildWondersofChina.com

They grow for show; don’t get me wrong

I’ll use my teeth for self defense

And show them off if I get tense

 

But mostly I just like to cuddle

To survive, we monkeys huddle

Days are short and nights are cold

It helps to have some friends to hold

 

My bluish face and lack of nose  

Is from the coldness, I suppose

And if you lived where my kind do

You’d probably have a blue face too

 

— Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

 

The Snub-Nosed Sichuan monkey is a unique creature that lives in the remote and mountainous regions of central and southwestern China. It is also called the “Blue-Cheeked Monkey” and the “Chinese Golden Monkey.” No other primate can survive such extreme temperatures. Scientists are not sure why this monkey’s face is blue… it’s not really because of the cold. But the adaptation of no protruding nasal bone structures resulting in its snub-nosed appearance, might prevent this little guy from getting a frost-bitten nose. There’s no nose for the frost to bite!

The Snub-Nosed Golden Monkey also has thick fur for insulation, and it has a habit of cuddling in groups when it is cold or threatened by predators with the babies in the middle of the huddle for warmth and protection. They are usually gentle creatures who eat plants, including lichen which comprise a large portion of their diet. Those long canine teeth are for expressing bravado or fear; they do not mean that it is a carnivore. They will defend their territories against other bands of monkeys and can use their teeth to fight off predators such as wolves, foxes, weasels and raptors.

These fascinating beloved beasts are in danger of disappearing altogether as their habitat disappears and, despite protections, they are hunted illegally for their meat and fur. One group of these monkeys, the Hubei golden snub-nosed monkeys, have only 1,000 to 2,000 members left.

There is an old Chinese legend about a warrior monkey named Sun Wukong who had supernatural powers. If attacked, Sun Wukong could create an army by turning each of his long guard hairs into an powerful warrior, a clone of himself. Unfortunately, these little creatures cannot actually clone themselves and their numbers continue to dwindle. They need our help and protection.

The Nature Conservancy is one group that is working to save populations of the rare snub-nosed monkeys. A determined and dedicated biologist, Long Yongcheng, worked for many long years, with help from the Nature Conservancy, to save these monkeys. He succeeded in getting areas of forest set aside for habitat reserved for the snub-nosed monkeys. One person can make a difference in saving an entire species.

The Saiga Saga

Photo by Tim Flach

How can this be?

You can’t be true!

How could a beast

turn out like you?

 

Your horns are ridged

and pointy too

Your trunk-like nose

divides in two!

 

You stand at only

two feet high

A child could look you

in the eye

 

You’re kin to cow

iflscience.com

and buffalo

You live on plains

where no trees grow

 

You’re native to

Mongolia

and prone to

melancholia

 

There are so few

saigaresourcecentre.com

dear saiga left

If you were gone

we’d be bereft

 

We all should recognize

your worth

An ancient treasure

of the earth

 

The saiga is a diminutive critter about the size of a small goat with distinctive horns and a highly unusual face. It has a nose like no other; long, inflatable nostrils that appear to be a sort of double-trunk. This nose serves a very important purpose. It filters out the dust which always seems to blow about in its western Mongolian native habitat, and when temperatures drop to below zero, the spacious nose pre-warms the air before it reaches the saiga’s lungs.

It is an herbivore and eats plants; lichens, sagebrush, grasses and bushes. They are ruminants, which means that they bring partially digested plant matter back up into their mouths to chew it again. This is called “chewing their cud” and it helps them get as many nutrients and energy as possible out of the plant matter that they eat.

This critically endangered animal has suffered a series of alarming die-offs in the past few years. In one terrible year, in 2015, over 200,000 saiga dropped dead. Scientist discovered that the cause of death was a bacteria, called “Pasturella” was the cause. With normal temperatures, this bacteria, which lives in the large noses of the saiga, is not a problem, but global warming has increased temperatures in the saiga range and that has proved deadly to the poor little animal. A hot, wet climate with the presence of this bacteria causes internal toxins to form and the saiga drown in their own internal fluids. More info at: The Atlantic  and also at: blueplanetbiomes.org

While the saiga are hunted by wolves, foxes and birds of prey, like the Golden Eagle, the biggest threat to the saiga is humans and the global warming that is caused by human activity.

Hopefully, saiga populations will be able to bounce back. These animals can reproduce from a young age and a mother saiga often gives birth to twins. They are ancient critters that roamed across the earth during the Pleistocene or Ice Age period. The saiga survived while the wooly mammoth and saber-tooted tiger died out. We hope this little wonder will be around for generations to come. It is indeed an ancient treasure of the earth.

 

From theatlantic.com

 

A Jolly Polyextremophile

A color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a tardigrade found in moss samples from Croatia in its active state. Credit Eye of Science/Science Source

A Jolly Polyextremophile

Credit: Dailymail.co.uk

The tardigrade is not dismayed

By fifty below centigrade

He’s equally quite unafraid

Of scorching high temps in the shade

That tardigrade has got it made

 

He’s also called a water bear

Although this critter has no hair

And can live almost anywhere

Withstanding endless wear and tear

For toughness he has no compare

 

Water bear. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear

A true polyextremophile

No need to eat for quite a while

A fasting, Spartan, spare lifestyle

Yet still his plumpness makes us smile

Slow-walking with his round profile

 

Tough Water Bear

The tardigrade will be tardy to its grave; it is one tough tiny critter. It may be the toughest little beastie in the whole world. This creature is a true “polyextremophile.” This means that it can tolerate two or more extreme conditions, like extreme temperature, pressure, dryness, lack of oxygen or radiation. I am definitely not a tardigrade. My hands get cold very easily and I’ve already had hypothermia once… and it wasn’t even below zero when I was on that camping trip.

Tardigrades are also called “water bears” or even “moss piglets” since they are commonly found in moist moss. However, these little guys do not just hang around lounging on velvety moss. They can survive extreme cold and extreme hot conditions. They are found high on the tops of frozen mountains, deep in the ice of Antarctica and even in the boiling water of hot springs. They need some moisture to survive, but they can tolerate long periods of extreme dryness as well. They simply slow their bodily functions way down and turn into a dehydrated version of themselves called a “tun.”

The tardigrade doesn’t weigh a ton, though. It is teeny-tiny. It is a microscopic creature that is found all over the world. You could probably find one near you if you have a good microscope. An adult is about 1.5 millimeters. A 10 – 60X power microscope should be strong enough to observe one of these critters.

Even though they usually only live about one year, water bears that have been dried out in their youth, (or curled into their “tun” state) have been brought back to life with a drop of water and seem perfectly fine after their hundred-year nap. They are one of the few creatures that can even survive the vacuum and solar radiation of outer space.

The name “tardigrade” or “Tardigradum” means “slow walker.” Coincidentally, after becoming interested in tardigrades, my husband began working at a company called “Slow Walkers.” I am eager to see what sorts of tough products they will produce. Tardigrade is a tough name to live up to.

Would you like to see a water bear in action? Want some tips on collecting water bears? Click on the following link: thekidshouldseethis.com

Have you ever seen a water bear? A water pig? A slow walker? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Kissing the Whale

 

Justin Hoffman Wildlife Photography

Kissing the Whale

 

Can I kiss the ‘normous whale?

Beluga Whales

Could I perch upon its tail?

I adore him, sleek and black

Would he take me on his back?

 

We could dive deep in the sea

I would meet his family

Greet his wife and baby calf

Sing a song and share a laugh

 

Could I hide them from the ship

National Geographic Image

Hunting on its whaling trip?

Could I save him from the spear

From the dangers creeping near?

 

I could wrap him in my arms

Would that save him from all harms?

How could such a giant beast

Need assistance from the least?

 

— Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

 

Reuters Photograph of Whale Rescue

 

What is the largest animal to have ever lived on the earth? Much larger than an elephant? Bigger than the biggest dinosaur? The blue whale, of course! For such a gigantic critter, this mammal eats such tiny things. The krill, which make up most of the blue whale’s diet, are tiny shrimp-like creatures. The whale takes a huge mouthful of ocean water where lots of krill are swimming around, and filters its dinner out with its baleen strainers.

Whales sing loudly under the water, and their songs can be heard by other whales as far as 1,600 kilometers away; that’s as far as from Seattle to San Luis Obispo, which is farther than most of us can yell. And they communicate because they care. Blue whales appear to form close attachments over their lifetime of 80 to 110 years… Yes, they can live to be 110, as long as they aren’t captured by a whaling ship.

Blue whales were once hunted so extensively that they were in danger of disappearing altogether. Now, because of the efforts of scientists and conservationists, their numbers in some areas are recovering. Other whales are truly endangered. Only 79 Southern Resident Killer Whales are left. Not many Right Whales are left, even the right-finned ones. Belugas and Bowheads are endangered. Only 100 Western North Pacific Gray Whales remain. These giant, beautiful creatures do need our help to survive.

Here are some links that provide more information and ways that you can help:

Endangered Whale Chart: http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/03/26/worlds-most-endangered-whales

Oceana ( http://oceana.org ) works to restore and protect the world’s oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education.

The Cousteau Society ( http://www.cousteau.org ) is dedicated to the preservation of nature for future generations.

The Ocean Conservancy ( https://oceanconservancy.org ) seeks to inform, inspire and empower through science-based advocacy, research and public education.

 

Mompossumbus

 

Come hop aboard the possum bus!

This omnibus takes all of us

Mom-possum navigates the trail

With whiskered nose and long pink tail

 

All of us children clamber on  

We cling to her, a possum throng

No fights aboard this crowded bus

‘Cause momma is the boss of us

 

Our possum momma is so strong

To ferry all her kids along

And seat belts are superfluous

We’re safe aboard our possum bus

 

When we were smaller, we’d all crouch  

On lower decks, inside her pouch

But as we grew, we made the swap

And now we ride in style on top

 

— Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

 

The opossum is the only marsupial (or animal with a pouch) native to North America. This nocturnal critter finds a safe, dry hole in a tree or a log to make its home. It sleeps during the day and trundles about at night looking for all sorts of delicious things to eat: insects, mice, fruit, slugs and snails, dead things, even poisonous snakes (they are not affected by the venom). They eat just about anything and so are called “omnivores.”

This marsupial can hang upside down from its strong tail, (which is impressive) but cannot run very fast. It does not have big teeth or claws to defend itself against predators (animals that might want to eat the possum). If it feels that danger is near, sometimes it will lay down and play dead. It does not decide to do this; it is for the possum, a bit like fainting. It happens naturally when the possum is frightened. It even produces a rotting smell that helps to convince predators that the animal has been dead for too long to make a tasty meal.

The mom-possum is strong and takes care of her children by letting them ride in her pouch when they are small. When they have outgrown the belly pouch, they crawl up onto her back to get a ride through the forest on the momma-bus. A mother possum can carry up to fifteen baby possums as she trundles through the forest highways and byways.

Swimming Pinecones!

Wikimedia Commons

Pinecone Swimmer

 

Wikipedia

The perky little pinecone fish

Is such a charming fellow

Diminutive but diving deep

With scales bright and yellow

 

 

Below his sloping, fishy chin

He plays the genial host

With glowing green bacteria

Wikipedia

He’s like a deep-sea ghost

 

 

He hopes that with his tiny spines

You would not want to eat him

But with his luminescent charms

You really ought to meet him

 

 

 

From “Fishes of Australia”

–Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinecone Fishfacts:

The pinecone fish, sometimes called the pineapple fish, is a tough little deep-sea dweller that grows to about 5 inches or 13 centimeters in length. It is covered with bright yellow to orange hard scales, called scutes, that are vibrantly outlined in black accentuating its pinecone-like appearance. Its sharp spines and locking dorsal and pelvic fins discourage predators. If they attempt to swallow the swimming pinecone, they risk getting it stuck in their throat.

It prefers to live in rocky areas of the deep ocean with reefs and caves where it can hide during the day. The fish emerges at night to feed on brine shrimp, small fish and plankton that it attracts to its mouth by way of two glowing organs located on its chin. These organs house bioluminescent bacteria that glow an orange-yellow during the day and dim to a bluish-green at night. The bacteria benefits by having a host that provides it with an advantageous place to grow. The pinecone fish benefits by using the the glow to attract meals. This is called a symbiotic relationship where both organisms have something to gain from the relationship.

Ice Is Nice

 

 

 

Nice Ice

You may like this balmy weather

You might think it’s kind of nice

That the oceans are all warming

And they’re slowly losing ice

 

 

But this polar bear is worried

That the Arctic’s turned to mush

And I cannot hunt for seals

On a platform made of slush

 

 

Now I have to swim for miles

Just to find a place to hunt

I am losing so much weight now

I’m a total polar runt

 

 

Polar seals, birds and walrus

Need cold weather to survive

Even tiny arctic algae

Need the ice to stay alive

 

 

If you still need more convincing

Ask this polar bear’s advice

I would very gladly tell you

That the North Pole needs its ice

 

 

– Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

 

 

Polar bears are in serious trouble. As global temperatures rise, the arctic ice melts and polar bears are finding it harder and harder to survive. These bears depend on polar ice for their hunting platforms. They wait by a breathing hole of a seal, and when it pops to the surface to take a breath, the polar bear snatches its dinner. Scientists who study polar bears have watched the bears lose weight and even starve to death. These beautiful, powerful creatures are becoming weak because of how we are treating our environment.

What can be done to help? Do everything in your power to save the arctic wild spaces. Sign petitions and write letters to keep polluters out of the arctic. Walk, bicycle and take public transportation to travel. Limit the number of flights that you take. Make your homes and workplace as energy efficient as possible. Polar bears are depending upon us.