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Goals for 2009

January 2nd, 2009 by desultor
  • Get into grad school (check! March 10th)
  • Deadlift double my bodyweight
  • Overhead squat my bodyweight
  • Press into handstand
  • Walk 100 yards on my hands
  • Twenty kipping pull-ups in a row
  • Twenty double-unders in a row (I can’t do any at all)


June 19th, 2008 by desultor

My doodles in my last meeting went from “does this pen work” to “this looks like some sort of Sinhala character or something” to what I consider an extremely creditable snail. Here’s the progression:



May 20th, 2008 by desultor

I saw a common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) on the deck at work today! It was skulking in the shrubs at first – hard to see more than leaves wiggling – but I had a pretty good feeling based on the song. The wee creature eventually obligingly flew into pretty decent view and sang a bit.

Of all the luck!

May 5th, 2008 by desultor

I just started re-reading Pale Fire over the weekend. And today, coming onto the deck at work, heard a bird-sound that grabbed my attention. Massed reedy scrapes. The sounds made me think of Cedar Waxwings, and sure enough, a still-bare tree by the door had a few dozen of them perched and chattering with each other. They were annoyingly backlit, but I found an obliging, handsome one in some sort of red maple (v. triloba?) which was starting to leaf out. Mellow and well-lit, the waxwing allowed me to pull up a chair close to it and sit and watch for a spell. Gorgeous.

Some points:

  • I had never seen these birds in the city before – only up at a campground in New Hampshire.
  • I was a little surprised by their being present at all, since there aren’t any junipers or other berries around on the deck. My guess is that they were resting during migration. They all flew off together except for my special friend, who stuck around and let me watch him for a few more happy minutes.
  • I saw my friend peck at a few twig interstices. Sure enough, wikipedia says that during the breeding season, they will supplement their diet with insects. From what I saw, I’d guess that this is also true during migration.
  • Despite the abundance of windowpanes and false azure in the vicinity, no waxwings were slain in the making of this blog post.

Doves in wuv

May 2nd, 2008 by desultor

I spent a while today watching a mourning dove wandering around, picking at twigs. It was quite singleminded at this task, and didn’t pay any attention to my watching from within ten feet or so. It would discard any twigs that were too small or floppy, or that turned out to be roots or otherwise attached to the ground. When it found one it liked, it was usually about as long as its body from beak to tail, and stiff enough not to bend under its own weight. It would hold it and shake it around in it beak a little bit and then, when the twig was apparently adjudged satisfactory, wing up to the tree nearby with it. The tree was some kind of fir, I think – a landscaping tree on the deck at my work in Kendall Square. The dove exhibited an excellent ability to hover as it worked its way into a particular spot in the tree, where it handed off the twigs to another dove. The latter was pretty well obscured by branches, but it looked like it was probably doing the nest-building after the handoff of materials. I assume that he was a man-dove and the other was his lady-love… but this is Massachusetts, so who can say for sure?

In which Desultor revisits his roots

April 23rd, 2008 by desultor

I was excited today by “prodrome“, which is sexy and fancy and new to me. This breaks down to “pro” – ahead – and “drome”, which contains a notion of running or a race. So we could call a prodrome a “forerunner” if we were feeling Englishy.

We see drome in “hippodrome” – a racecourse for horses – and in “syndrome” – a running-together. So we could say that the defining feature of a syndrome is symptoms running together – or “concurrency” if we were feeling Latinate.

But it’s January, guys!

January 10th, 2008 by desultor

Nice and warm, and I wonder if it might be blowing the birds’ minds.

Yesterday I heard a house finch in full song on the parking garage across the street from work.

And today, a cardinal doing the “Feww, feww, wheat wheat wheat wheat” business!

Never Before

September 19th, 2007 by desultor

OMG I saw a melanistic squirrel in Brookline last night!!!!!

White Mountains, July 27-30

August 8th, 2007 by desultor

A backpacking trip.

  • Purple Fringed Orchis (Habenaria spp.) (orchis family) – This was growing by a wet trailside. I couldn’t tell whether it was H. psycodes or H. fimbriata, but Newcomb says they intergrade anyways, and may be the same species.
  • Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris) (primrose family) (pic) – The first one I saw was growing on an abandoned beaver dam. Another dam had broken, leaving this one well above the water. The others I remember seeing were by trailsides. When I saw the first one, a wild hope welled within me that it might be solanaceous. I wasn’t disappointed to have it be swamp candles, though.
  • Moss Campion (Silene acaulis) (pink family) (pic) – Apparently only to be found on the summits of the White Mountains! In the Eastern U.S., that is. That qualification was lost on me in my excitement when I first read about this, atop Mt. Garfield. It’s a global North-dweller, and in the U.S. it’s also found in the Rockies.
  • Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana) (wood sorrel family) – I was shocked to hear this lovely white-and-pink flower described as “common”, when I’m so used to the omnipresent yellow stuff. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t even realize that there were multiple wood sorrel species.
  • Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) (pinaceae) – This is the one that smells so warm and wonderful.
  • Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) (pyrola family) – The pistil was to one side and all the stamina to the other.
  • Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium) (honeysuckle family) – Or at least so I think. The viburnum I saw was pervasive, and grew caned over like brambles in the understory. It hardly branched at all. Someone I read figured the name was from it hobbling horses, and I could see it growing across paths in some places, low enough to be a hindrance.
  • Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) (pyrola family) – I’ve seen Chimaphila maculata at the Fells, and I wanted to call it pipsissewa. This was on the same glorious day I first noticed the bristly sarsaparilla, and I was thrilled to have such picturesque names. But the C. maculata seems to go by “striped wintergreen”. The C. Umbellata is pipsissewa, or prince’s pine.
  • Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) (rose family) – Another understory plant with li’l white flowers.
  • Northern Bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) (mint family) – A li’l minty plant seen by lots of trailsides and water features.
  • Clasping-leaved Dogbane (Apocynum sibericum) (dogbane family) – This was growing in a marshy meadow, and seemed unhappy; the leaves seemed to have gone red. I wasn’t 100% positive about the ID.
  • Marsh St. Johnswort (Hypericum virginicum) (St. Johnswort family) (pic) – This was growing by the shores of Black Pond. Also present around here: blueberry, sphagnum and some bog plants (below). The pond itself was home to leeches, which we stirred up and watched. Also tadpoles, newts, bug nymphs etc…
  • Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) (sundew family) (pic) – These are tiny jewels! I captured a mosquito and fed it to one of these. It got good and stuck, but the leaf didn’t curl around at all during the few minutes I watched. I’d hoped for a sort of horror-movie timelapse of the mosquito being enveloped.
  • Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) (pitcher plant family) – Hooray! One of these that I looked into had three living bugs of totally different kinds thrashing about in its water. I forget what kind. I sacrificed another mosquito to these guys’ wrath.

Weed This Morning

July 11th, 2007 by desultor

Just back from vacation. I noticed this morning that a lot of the low sidewalk weeds are in flower. On the walk to work, the carpetweed, doorweed, pimpernel and sand spurrey were in evidence, and possibly knawel as well. I have a feeling that the spotted spurge is about to burst, and the purslane can’t be far off. Sowthistles abound, and various solanaceae are of interest; black nightshade in flower, bittersweet nightshade with big new swollen green berries.

But most interesting of all these solanaceae is a charismatic weed, completely new to me! That hasn’t happened to me in the city for at least a year. The weed is:

  • Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) (nightshade family) – Big old papery yellow flowers. Fascinating pinnately-lobed leaves, reminiscent of white oak. Cruel, bristling, omnipresent prickles. Unbelievably wicked-looking spiny fruit. Apparently this was originally a weed of the great plains, named for its liking for buffalo wallows. It’s supposed to have a tumbleweed mechanism of seed dispersal. Buffalo bur truly has it all!

It was growing in the vacant lot next to my work building. (Where? I’ll never tell!) I’ve also seen crown vetch in there: which I think is the only place in Massachusetts where I’ve run into it. It’s common as all get-out around Sodus Bay; I suppose it was probably planted for erosion control. There’s a leguminous shrub growing in that site too, and maybe it’s also a rarity which came in with the construction dirt? I burn with anticipation!