Curiosity is a well-known field mark of a naturalist, and I have learned to indulge my curiosity when an opportunity arises. Some years ago, I stayed with friends in the Chiricahua Mountains of SE Arizona, one of the dramatic “sky islands” of the Southwest. Back in the cooler, wetter Pleistocene, the forests marched across the valleys, allowing free commerce for animals and plants among the ranges. As conditions warmed and dried, the forests retreated to higher elevations, trapping survivors on habitat islands. Continue reading →
The scene: The Madrean Sky Islands, an archipelago of dozens of mountain ranges that unify the spirits of the Rockies and the Sierra Madre, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. This is a land of astonishing diversity by almost any measure. The following story is based on a visit more than a decade ago to the Ash Canyon property of Noel McFarland in the SE part of the Huachucas, a range noted for abundant and varied birds, mammals, and reptiles.
But birds, mammals, and herps are not why I came to see Noel McFarland. He is a collector of diversity with a twist all his own. McFarland knows moths. I follow him through several rooms where he works. Noel collects more than moths, it seems, and twenty years’ accumulation of boxes, books, papers, and other memorabilia fills his spaces the way floral diversity fills a rainforest. Continue reading →
Though each organism is inherently a time traveler, its genes a partial chronicle of its evolutionary history, we may be the sole species to be able to reflect on that deeper history. People with deep imaginations can visualize the ape in our behaviors, the prototypical vertebrate in our embryos, the symbiotic merger reflected in our mitochondria. Some can look at a hillside and envision it as a product of tectonic upheavals, erosional incisions and depositions, the lithification that turned sediment into rock that has weathered into a substrate supporting juniper, cactus, and spiny lizard. With some training, there is hope for those of us who don’t normally see so well. Our temporal blinders may be lifted, our spirits uplifted by the joys of discovery and insight. Informed imagination – that greatest of time machines – can take us further toward understanding the Sky Islands than mere physical descriptions ever will. Join me, then, for a little time travel, not to see it all (who has time?), but for a sample of how informed imagination works. Continue reading →