Monday, February 16, 2009

Birthdays galore and wandering off topic

It was a birthday weekend! Abe Lincoln, my fave president; my son Skip, an original Valentine baby who finally admitted it was okay, in fact all right, celebrating his birthday on a significant Hallmark holiday; AND yesterday we celebrated our granddaughter Kayla's third birthday. Oh, time does fly.
Here's a photo of our beautiful B'day girl!
Grandma can never get her to hold still and smile for a photo, but the frosting did.

Speaking of birthdays, in a gardening sense we're celebrating a biggie this year, Darwin's 200th birthday. I was listening to NPR's Joe Palka on All Things Considered (link) reporting on the fascination that worms held in the later life studies of Charles Darwin. Darwin was apparently an earthworm aficionado...
It was an interesting human interest story - telling how the scientist at home involved his young sons in the scientific method - one of his children playing a bassoon to the worm bed to see how worms responded to the vibrations.
And noting the importance of his seminal book on the value of earthworms to human agriculture, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. Which you can read online, here (link) or in scanned book form here (link).
Anyway, today I was listening to Tom Hartmann demonstrating how to successfully debate an anti-Darwinist who had no concept of historical context (link). Sometimes I wonder at Hartmann giving so much free air time to proud members of the Know Nothing Party, but then I'm reminded that Tom is teaching by example how to counter the prevailing meme. But I'm diverging from my train of thought here. Back to Darwin's worms!
Recalling the previous story on NPR led me to Google Darwin and earthworm, and I found this interesting article from Wired Science dot com above the fold:

Darwin, Earthworms and the Importance of Individuality
By Brandon Keim
October 14, 2008

(snip - The beginning of the article talks about a traditional activity called worm grunting.)

"Darwin's worm research began shortly after his historic voyage on the Beagle, culminating four decades later with the 1881 publication of Action of Worms; he showed, among other things, that earthworms do not respond to the notes of a whistle, a piano or a bassoon, and are "indifferent to shouts."

He also realized that England's lush topsoil was the product of ceaseless soil consumption and defecation by earthworms: about 54,000 per acre, depositing ten tons of fresh soil atop each acre of English countryside, every single year.

"It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly, organized creatures," Darwin wrote.

This now-forgotten fascination was chronicled by David Quammen in an essay entitled "Thinking About Earthworms." To Quammen, Darwin didn't merely illuminate the importance of these underestimated invertebrates, but the importance of thinking individually.

"At the time, evolution by natural selection was the hottest idea in science; yet Charles Darwin spent his last year of work thinking about earthworms. And thank goodness he did," wrote Quammen. "More and more in recent years, we are all thinking about the same things at the same time.... Break stride. Wander off mentally. Pick a subject so perversely obscure that it can't help but have neglected significance."

That is, after all, what Darwin did. What about you?

This image is borrowed from the Wired article.

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