Archive for February, 2018

Nature Just Is


Today, I was reading in one of the West Virginia local papers about a wildlife photographer who has captured some amazing images of creatures in the East.  He talked about his travels and about how he could sometimes become so immersed in his hobby that he would come in until well after dark.

I felt a certain amount of kindred spirits with the fellow, but at the end of the article, he mentioned that his work photographing wildlife brought him some knowledge of God.

And there, my connection was severed. The same wildlife he photographs includes species like black bears in which the boars often kill and consume cubs.  The beautiful red fox he photographed is not immune to bouts of surplus killing, and the same animal often dies horrifically when the sarcoptic mange overwhelms its pelt.

I find in none of these animals an intelligence that forged them. Instead, I see “the other nations” that are “other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” The processes of nature produced these beings just as I was produced from them.  The only thing about me that is special is that I am part of an unusually large-brained species that has created such complex social systems and has created all sorts of moral philosophies and codes by which to live in these societies.

I confess my doubt openly and honestly. I no longer believe in the Christian deity. Indeed, I don’t think I ever did. When I became baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church, I was something like 13 or 14 years old. I never denied evolution. I never truly believed in miracles.

But I was culturally Christian, but the deity I recognized was very wishy-washy.  By age 16, I was a deist.

And now, I believe in nature and nothing else. If there is something else, it will be fully demonstrated to me through tangible evidence and not tired bromides,constantly moving goalposts, or idle speculation.

And the more time I spend in nature and the more time I spend reading about it, the less I am convinced of any deity’s existence.

I reject the term atheist, but only because the behavior some vocal atheists has given me pause. I don’t think that the public can be won to our way of thinking by railing against people’s stupidity or delusions, because it is not reason that causes people to believe.

And in some areas of the world, it takes courage to let it go. I’m not just talking about countries that are run as theocracies. Even in the United States, it can be so difficult to admit that one no longer has supernatural beliefs.

It took me years to realize that I had no supernatural beliefs at all. The beliefs themselves are lost or lost then rearranged in the cognitive space to make some sense of it all.

In the end, I lost my ability to rearrange these problems in my brain, and I honestly just dropped them all. It was the only way I could make sense of existence.

I had to accept that we don’t know it all, and the only way to know anything is to study the evidence. The best way to study the evidence is through the scientific method, and science makes this whole question unworthy.

Science knocks man off his throne at the pinnacle of creation.  Science makes us smaller and more insignificant. It is far more profoundly humbling to enter into these questions with a doubt that you know will never be answered fully than to enter into them with a predetermined conclusion.

I no longer ask questions about God. Instead, I accept that there is Nature. And Nature just is. Nothing more and nothing less.




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This is something that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere, but gray foxes (Urocyon) can have blue eyes:

And another (perhaps the Western version, which might be a distinct species):

Most of them have very dark brown eyes, and you really can’t see that they don’t have the exact same cat-like pupils of the red fox. However, the blue-eyed ones really do show off their oval-shaped pupils quite well.

Gray foxes are the most basal species of canid and are not closely related to any other canids, except of the island fox of California, which is just an insular dwarf of the mainland species.

The exact systematics of gray foxes are still being worked out, but I do expect surprises in the future.  These animals have an extensive range in the Americas, and their lineage is really quite divergent from anything else we think of as being in the dog family.

Blue-eyes, well, they certainly make them more stunninglybl attractive.



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yellow-bellied marmot

A yellow-bellied marmot can’t predict the weather. Its cousin, the groundhog, can’t either.

I have not written anything about this in a while, but those of you who live outside of North America need to know something:

Every Candlemas, local news stations across the Anglo-American world will be covering a bizarre ritual. At the local zoo or wildlife center, some people with super-thick gloves will be annoying the resident marmot this morning. In my part of the world, it will be French Creek Freddie, a groundhog, who will be roused from his deep hibernation. He will be taken out into the broad daylight.

And somehow, it will be determined if he saw his shadow or not, and if he sees his shadow, then we’re in for six more weeks of winter.

The big ritual happens at Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and it is supposedly based upon an German custom of annoying a badger or hedgehog on Candlemas for the same purpose. Neither species is found in Pennsylvania, although wandering American badgers have occasionally turned up in Western New York and even West Virginia.

So they went with the local marmot species as a stand-in. The one in Punxsutawney is called Punxsutawney Phil. There is already a livestream set up for his prediction this morning.

In Montana, a yellow-bellied marmot named Bitterroot Bill. He’s not exactly the ground of Pennsylvania, but if the groundhog of Pennsylvania is a stand-in for a badger or hedgehog, shouldn’t a yellow-bellied marmot do just as well?

At least Van Island Violet, an endangered Vancouver marmot, will be left alone to sleep through her hibernation. Canadians, at least on the West Coast, are nicer to their local marmot than most of us are.

Indeed, this is about the only day that groundhogs get any truck with people in my area. Groundhogs are agricultural pests, and during the hot days of summer, they are frequently used as target practice by those hunters with itchy trigger fingers or those who are starting to doubt their marksmanship skills.

But if you ever see the Candlemas rodents when they are roused from their winter naps, they are quite grouchy. That’s why the handlers have to wear such thick gloves. I’ve never hibernated, but I can imagine that being roused from such a state is pretty traumatic.

I’ve always thought this is a bizarre custom for several reasons:

One is that I can’t imagine the groundhog is looking for its shadow when it’s hauled out into the light. I don’t even know that groundhogs even know what shadows are. The main thing these animals seem to be caring about is why they can’t be put back to bed.

The second is that, um, if an animal sees its shadow, that means the sun is out. If the sun is out, then that will melt the snow, and I would think that the sun shining would be a sign that winter is on its way out.

I suppose I’m thinking this stuff out too much.  It is, after all, just a regional folk custom that went viral long ago.

Most people don’t even know that today is Candlemas, because it’s not an Anglo-Protestant holiday at all.

In North America, it is Marmot Day.

The national news will let us know what ol’ Phil saw. Of course, he won’t be interviewed. There will just a proclamation read, and the news will report on his prediction. The local news affiliates across the country will report on the local marmots, and we will go on our merry way.

And then the real meteorologists will produce their forecasts. People will follow those a lot more closely than the rodent predictions.

And we’ll go back to our lives. The marmots will go back to sleep. When the grounhogs arise in spring, the guns will go off as soon as the find the vegetable patch.

But for one day, they are feted, even if they are too grouchy and dazed to realize it.

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