Spiny Cactus

Top 5 reasons why I love my mother

NUMBER FIVE: I have never noticed my mom complaining or whining about a difficult situation. She has never tried to weasel her way out of a problem or try to fix it in an unethical manner by lying and trying to protect your own image. My mom taught us that when an unpleasant event or conflict approaches, one should solve it in a direct fashion with the utmost of honesty, patience, and consideration for others.

NUMBER FOUR: One of the greatest delights of my childhood was reading. The worlds I visited and characters I met in books were such an important part of my life, and the creativity I encountered there was a source of much happiness and excitement. I have my mom to thank for reading to me for so many nights, and introducing me to so many wonderful books, and letting me read past bedtime with a flashlight under the covers, and not forbidding me from carrying a pile of 20 library books home from the Darien library - on a weekly basis. Though she did make me pay the massive fines I accrued from that habit.

NUMBER THREE: My mom is more than just reliable, she is truly dedicated to her daughters. No matter what frustration she was facing in her own life, she never took it out on me. Regardless of her own mood, she is always proud of my accomplishments, will always listen to my woes, and offer advice about what path to take next. I feel like I can trust my mom to always be consistent, fair, and loving.

NUMBER TWO: In the town I grew up in, a career like mine would certainly not something you brag about and perhaps even a source of shame. But I have never doubted that my mom was not just supportive but also proud of my decision to peruse a career that was fulfilling, fascinating, and meaningful to me. I feel completely comfortable that no matter what sort of job I have, as long as it is something I enjoy and lets me take full advantage of my potential, my mom will always be proud and supportive.

NUMBER ONE: The single most important thread running through numbers five through two, and through many more of her remarkable traits, is the respect she has always had for her daughters as people. As I try to search through the last 26 years of memories, I can't recall a single incident in which my mom ever derided, belittled, or teased us. She never limited us by placing us into categories or labels. While on occasion her temper might wear thin with endless sibling rivalry, I can't remember an occasion in which she allowed her temper to take over and treat us unfairly. Looking back, this feat seems completely superhuman to me. When my mom talks to me, I don't think she ever thinks of me as just a daughter, or just a geek, or just a teenager, or just a fat girl. She always thinks of me as a real human being, full of complexities and thoughts of my own.

Because my mom consistently treated me with justice, it follows that I instinctively knew that she deserved justice in return. I wouldn't ever dare yell at or insult my mom, not because I'm scared to - having never even tried, I'm not even sure what the punishment would be - but because of the great respect I hold for her. Through simple example, she has taught me that no one deserves unfair and angry treatment, whether it's your pet, your daughter, or the stressed-out workers at airports.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, from a grateful daughter!
Spiny Cactus

Monetary units

I was listening to Assassins tonight, and for some reason possibly connected or probably unconnected to the musical, it gave me great happiness to think that out of the money I paid for the soundtrack, some percentage of it will go to Stephen Sondheim. It may not be a physical coin or dollar, but at least some unit of mine will become some unit of his. Now there's a direct cause-and-effect connection between Sondheim and me! Two actually, since I have purchased two versions of Assassins, the original and the 2004 version with the very lovely Neil Patrick Harris. I feel like I've touched royalty. I wonder what he's spent my money on.
Spiny Cactus

Weekly Mothing, plus what the dog thinks of Sarah's newly nocturnal habits

Sadie grows less and less impressed with all this moth catching, measuring, studying, photographing, and photo editing.

Any time past 9 pm is past Sadie's bedtime. She sneaks into my (very small twin) bed and hogs not only all the covers, but the pillow too!

I wasn't going to put out my blacklight tonight, but driving home in the dark alerted me to quite a few moths flying around. After nothing but Phigalias and little moths that I would have to kill to identify, I finally got another species. Two more in one night! Here is what I believe to be a Gem Moth, Orthonama obstipata. Isn't that a nice common name for a shiny moth, even though it is brown, not gem-colored? Here's another moth that I can identify as a male; females have a white spot where males have a dark one.

Like the phigalias from early February, gem moths are also members of the geometer - aka inchworm - family, the second most numerous. This next moth is a noctuiid, or an owlet moth, the most numerous family in North America.

The unique pattern on this moth led me to believe it is a Common Oak Moth, Phoberia atomaris. This one has a much nicer latin name than common name. Common Oak Moths have a great deal of variety of color, from grays to browns, from light to dark. I looked at many examples of this species online and I am pretty sure that mine was the prettiest, hands down.

"Moth with Cutting Board and Stolen Pen From Work." Instant classic still life.
Spiny Cactus

Why Yes, I am an Alien.

Very, very alien.

This is another Small Phigalia (I think). He wouldn't let me open up his wings to get a peek at the hind wings, but he was much more obliging about hanging out on my finger as I dashed from light source to light source, trying to get the best shot.

Here's the gently patterned back. I guess I need to get one of these in daylight so I can try to capture that beautiful soft pewter shine; the flash brings out the glare of the scales. I believe the two dots along the edge of the wing and towards the body point to this being a Small Phigalia.
Spiny Cactus

Strange Duets

With the Harold and Maude soundtrack as motivation, I just downloaded a Cat Stevens album with a Christmas gift card (Thanks Aunt Sally!). His voice sounds strangely familiar, which bugged me for a while, until I realized who he reminded me of. I wonder if Cat Stevens and Nina Simone ever duetted; when he goes high and she goes low, it's pretty tricky for me to tell their voices apart. :-)

I'm going to set up the moth light tonight, but as I do, I have to start thinking about defining my moral moth line. Moths used to be studied by killing and dissection only. And that's the way it's mostly done, but these days there's a big no-kill movement in the butterfly world. And it's carried over to moths to a small extent. The problem with moth species, though, is that there are over 10000 in the United States alone, and many of those can only be IDed when dead.

I probably kill many moths with my vertically-windshielded Cube, so I can't take any moral high ground. But still, when I hold and look closely at a moth through a hand lens, I feel like I'm holding something magical. Which is not at all scientific of me; it's almost more of a spiritual experience of awe and appreciation for nature's complexity. So I'm happy just releasing them alive for now, and if I can't ID the species, so be it. I'm already busy learning immature gulls, small brown skippers, and high marsh plants. Old-fashioned multi-purpose fascinated-by-everything-that-moves naturalist, that's me!

And yea, I got my gray geometrid IDed by a real entomologist, not just me with a book and a bunch of hope. And he confirmed my gut instinct, Phigalia strigataria! The skills you learn to identify birds - attention to small details, patterns, and proportions - definitely pays off with insects too.
Spiny Cactus

The evils of cereal

I hardly ever get cereal for breakfast, and now I remember why. I was grocery shopping and someone handed me a coupon for a box of cereal, so I bought it, and now I am eating 2-3 bowls at a time. Yum, but also ouch.
Spiny Cactus

I'm a pleb.

I knew I had gone irrevocably plebeian when I started recording episodes of Extreme Home Makeover and weeping off and on throughout the whole show. I know it's somewhat - ok, completely - exploitative, and overly maudlin, and what we see on screen is a lot of fabrication. But despite this list of bad traits, I can't help enjoying it.

Hopefully the combination of my bar towel collection, my cube, and the weekly appearance of a giant glowing sheet in my front yard will separate me from the rest of the Extreme Home Makeover audience.
Spiny Cactus

First Macromoth!

Here's my first big moth on my first night of setting out a light for moths!

Big as in about 3.3 centimeters wingspan. I'm pretty sure it is a member of family Geometridae - aka adult form of an inchworm. Too bad my first one couldn't be pink with blue spots, that would narrow it down much more quickly than "Um, it's small, and gray, and speckly..."

After looking at random pictures online, I gave up for a while until I realized that I do indeed have a moth guidebook, or rather a caterpillar guidebook. But it has lovely color images of hundreds of the most common adult moths - and anything flying at 47 degrees F has to be pretty noticeable simply for its rarity - so I flipped through the Geometrid section, and the genus Phigalia seemed to be the best match - it's the right size, the right color and pattern, and right flight season. Which one out of the three common species of the state, hmmm, still working on that. If it is a Phigalia, it is most definitely a male because the females are flightless, with tiny vestigial wings.
Spiny Cactus

Baby Corn and Blacklights and Loons

Does baby corn in stir fries have any nutritional value? Those things gross me out. Not as much as olives do, but close to it. Bleurgh.

I am super excited about my black light and sheet set up, which is currently glowing an eerie blue outside my window. Moths are the next unconquered territory for me and I want to get a couple of identifications under my belt. I'm not expecting much in January but I already got one micromoth - about the size of this letter A - so a bit beyond me! I can't wait to see what the changing months bring to the sheet.

Oh, and I also got to touch a loon's foot two days ago when we released it on the water. It was surprisingly warm, considering the usual cold scaliness of a bird's foot. The loon was ecstatic to be back on the water again and let out a few calls. It was the first time I have heard a real loon call and it was everything it was built up to be!
Spiny Cactus

Spiders, Spiders, In the Night

When I look for alligators during a nighttime nature walk, I always have known that the best way to do this is to shine the flashlight along the water's edge, looking for a golden reflection from the eyes. I feel rather dumb now, because I didn't realize this would work for all creatures, not just alligators. I discovered from a book that if you hold a flashlight along your eyes, you can even see the reflections of tiny insect eyes. So I decided to try it out.

Theoretically I knew that there are lots of spiders running around the forest floor. But it's easy to ignore what you don't see. Now I've seen hundreds of bright little eyes staring up at me from the forest floor, down at me from the loblolly pine trees. Big old wolf spiders the thickeness of my thumb and tiny little tan things that can squeeze between two adjacent pieces of bark. It's very cool, and a little creepy. Things are so quiet on the web-building spider front in January that I assumed spiders would be pretty low in numbers until spring. But the more active land-and-tree hunting, non-web-building spiders definitely out there! I wonder what they're eating. Maybe each other.