Category Archives: Nature

Look up

The sky above, its sun and stars,
declares the order of the world.
The sun pours down its words by day;
the stars at night their knowledge show.
Though neither sun nor stars can speak,
yet still their voices loudly sound
unto the very ends of earth.

Paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-4

Duties of the household gods

What is the responsibility of the household gods in this day and age? We lived in one house where bread rose better than in any other house we have lived, and when apple cider fermented it was always perfectly dry and fizzy; I credited the household gods for that. Since then, we bought a bread machine, and all the apple cider is pasteurized now so it won’t ferment properly. So what do the household gods do now?


“Sensawonder” is a slang term among science fiction fans to refer to that awe-struck sense of wonder you get when contemplating the amazingness of the universe. I’ve been getting my sensawonder fix from following the Phoenix Mars mission over the past few months. In its five months of operations since landing, the Phoenix Mars lander has sent back some amazing observations, including a video of snow descending from Martian clouds, and evidence that there was running water on Mars in the past.

But now the Martian winter is closing in, with shorter daylight, more clouds, and more dust in the atmosphere, with the result that the lander is no longer getting enough power from its solar panels to send or receive radio signals to and from earth. The control team on earth issued a press release on November 3 to say that although they had hoped to get another couple of weeks of weather observations, dust storms were making that seem unlikely. As of today, they are reporting that they haven’t heard from the lander since November 2, making it seem likely that the lander has completely lost power.

The lander was designed to operate for only three months, so the last two months of operation have been a welcome bonus of additional sensawonder for us. Analysis of the data collected over the past five months has barely begun, and we can expect lots of additional science (and more wonder) to come out of the Phoenix Mars mission.

We should discuss creationism in the classroom?!

That’s what Michael Reiss says. He’s a former teacher with PhD in evolutionary biology, now director of education at the Royal Society in the U.K.: “What Reiss believes is that when the issue of creationism or intelligent design is raised in the class room (and he expects it to be raised increasingly frequently) the teacher should discuss it as an alternative ‘worldview’ but show why it is not a scientific theory and why evolution is a scientific theory.”

More at the Nature Web site.

It’s snowing on Mars…

Yup. The Phoenix Mars mission has discovered that it snows on Mars. News release on their Web site. They also have this video showing clouds on Mars — and although they don’t claim it’s snow, in the video you can see occasional white schmutz blowing by the camera.

I grew up on science fiction stories that talked about life on Mars. Planetary science long ago demonstrated that the Martians of H. G. Wells, Stanley G. Weinbaum, and Ray Bradbury are nothing more than fairy tales. Now science is showing us something even more fascinating than the old science fiction stories:– the existence of frozen water on Mars, and the possibility that Mars have have seen liquid water in the past; all of which suggests a possibility that Mars once had life forms of some kind.

This happened this morning

 Right in the middle of church
 outdoors in the pine woods chapel
 the preacher gets stopped
 by a loud caw. The preacher
 pauses, smiles, and says,
“He was outside my house
 early this morning,” and we laugh.
 The crow caws again and grows
 more raucous. The crows always
 have the last word. They’ll be
 cawing here long after
 preacher and people have died and
 gone to dust and dirt.
 After church ends, as I
 sit and write this down
 three crows come close and watch me,
 hoping for food, impatient.


Saco, Maine

After dinner, I walked up the road to Ferry Beach State Park, hoping to hear a Veery sing. Two of them have been singing regularly every evening and every morning. When I went up this morning at about 6:30, I listened to one of them singing for ten or fifteen minutes; the second one only sang for less than a minute. This evening, I listened for five or ten minutes and didn’t hear either bird. Perhaps they are done for the year. On the way back, I realized the sun is setting noticeably earlier. Summer is already starting to wane.

Summer evening

Out on the bay, wind
blows whitecaps. Here, one small bird
sings the twilight in.

This one bush covered
with ripe blueberries, while still
the rest are unripe.

A secretive bird
calls from treetops. Suddenly,
there it is! and gone.

Saco, Maine