Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
One of the little guys
Monday, September 7, 2009
Aimee and I paddled the upper section of the St. Marks River this morning. The put-in/take-out is just beyond the Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park. The spot we used was immediately past the park, but there's a better one just a little further up. The trip is supposed to be 2.5 miles upriver to Horn Springs and back, for a total of 5 miles, but we weren't able to get to the springs due to rather large trees that have fallen across the river. We portaged around the first one (somewhere around 2 miles up), and quickly encountered another. We were looking for a short easy paddle today (thus the choice of this one), so we decided to call it quits and float back. Someone suggested that the hunting club that owns the adjacent land cut a few trees to limit access by paddlers. It's going to take a good bit of work to get all the way through. Next time I'll take a handsaw so I can at least clear some OK portages and deal with brushy blockages, but the trees aren't coming out of there without a chainsaw and a lot of hard work, so I'll let them be. Despite not making it to the springs, we still had a nice time. The river isn't very wide, ranging 15'-35' across, running through remote cypress/pine forest with dense undergrowth (a lot of palmetto). We didn't see any wildlife besides a couple of birds, but there were a lot of animal droppings where we portaged and it was very undeveloped, so the potential is there. I want to see a bear. It's a nice spot for a short paddle, but be prepared for the portages/haulovers. I'm going to wait for cooler weather to thin the vegetation and then see if I can get all the way up. There were lots of spiders strung up in the overhanging branches. Cheers.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The rest of the day was spent putting tricolor sage, silver thyme, and garlic in the herb garden, reading, cutting my hair, and hanging with Aimee. Tomorrow we're paddling the short upper section of the St. Marks River from the Natural Bridge to Horn Springs. I'll post the results. Cheers.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Read it. It's quite digestible and informative. Here's my quick synopsis:
Diamond is an evolutionary ornithologist who spends a lot of time in New Guinea. An indigenous New Guinean man asks him one day why Diamond's people, meaning people of European ancestry, have so much cargo (stuff), while his people (and by extension the rest of the colonized or formerly colonized world) have so little. He thinks about it for twenty years, and this book is his attempt to answer the question. In a very simplistic form, his answer is this: geography. Eurasia had the good luck to have an east-west orientation in which there is less climatic variance than is found on north-south oriented continents (the Americas and Africa). Additionally, Eurasia possessed abundant natural resources which included plants that were both nutritious and domesticable, large mammals that were domesticable, and the minerals that could be manipulated into metal tools and weapons. Plants that could be domesticated and were nutritionally rich enough to supplant hunter/gatherer lifestyles led to settled and semi-settled populations and a food surplus. A food surplus frees members of said society from the otherwise constant duty of feeding themselves and allows them to become specialists in other things, which leads to innovation (in things like metal tools, weapons, and writing). East-west orientation means that new knowledge in farming is easy to transmit over a landmass because the climate is more constant and in Eurasia there are fewer geographical barriers (like the Andes or the Isthmus of Panama) to inhibit the flow of information and technology. Settled populations with access to domesticable mammals learn to use those animals and therefore live in close proximity to them, which leads to the germs that infect those animals eventually learning to infect humans too (which is where we get the flu and all of the other modern and historical epidemics). Those humans develop resistance to those diseases. So by the premodern period we have cultures in Eurasia (like the Spanish, English, Dutch, and French, among others) who have the good fortune of centuries, millenia, of information passed along to the from the trials and errors of their ancestors, writing to pass information along with, a host of diseases and resistance to many of them, metals that have been shaped into swords and guns and armor, domesticated horses to ride into and out of battle or to carry information quickly over long distances, and food enough to supply (with varying degrees of success) long open ocean voyages of discovery. Transport those people to other parts of the world, where large mammals succumbed to quick extinction upon the arrival of humans that they hadn't evolved to fear and thus were easy dinners, and were therefore without animal borne disease or resistance to it. Diamond estimates that 95% of the pre-1492 population of the New World was killed by disease before they every saw a white man. They had much less advanced metallurgical technology with which to defend themselves, and thus the survivors of the sicknesses had to contend with guns and steel swords and armor with wood and bone weapons. This is why the Incans were subdued by the Spanish rather than the other way around. Diamond expressly dismisses any notion of racial superiority. He points out that people, the world over, have become adept at surviving and even thriving in the geographical and natural situations in which they have developed. Most of us would die if we were suddenly dropped in the Congo or New Guinean rain forests, where those respective peoples have managed to live for thousands of years.
So that's the meat of it. I just reduced a four hundred page book to a few hundred words, so of course you can poke holes in it. But Diamond makes a good case for his theory while recognizing that he is, himself, spending 400 pages on the whole of human history, and thus necessarily simplifies. On the whole, though, I'd say he's got it right. In any case, you'll learn a lot about the world by reading it.