Saturday, July 8, 2017

There was this guy...

Long ago and far away I was a college student working at a camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. I worked there for three summers 1970, 1971, and 1972 for for the McKennas, William Brewster (W.B.) McKenna (cousin of Murr Brewster) and his wife, Patricia Alden McKenna. They were well educated and you may see in their names that they descendants of early European settlers in North America. They had many friends and relatives that would come to visit them during their summer stays in the Adirondacks, but they wintered in Tucson, Arizona.

My job was to be their "Boy" for lack of a better title. I took care of the driving, the cleaning, firewood, dishes, a little light cooking, and chauffeuring, including transporting the McKennas and their guests by boat from the parking lot and landing across the lake. My uncles Audun and Kaare had also had this same position back in the 1940s and 1950s when the McKennas spent most of their time in Cleveland, Ohio. My uncles were continuing their engineering studies at Case Western Reserve University at the time before they went on to their PhDs at MIT, but I digress.

Mr. McKenna had a cousin who came to visit us either the first or second summer I was at their camp. His name was Dr. Donald (Redfield) Griffin, a professor at Rockefeller Institute (now University) who seemed to know a bit about animal behavior. His wife, Jocelyn Crane Griffin was also a well known (in those circles) animal behavior scientist. She was primarily known for her fiddler crab research, mostly done in Venezuela and Trinidad. I was a college freshman/sophomore majoring in biology. I was somewhat in awe of these two very interesting and very nice people.

Dr. Griffin had been banding bats since he was in high school (early 1930s) and continued doing it throughout the years. He banded many thousands and some of this was based out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts where his uncle, Alfred C. Redfield, was affiliated (later Associate Director). Redfield was also chairman of Harvard's Biology Department.

What Dr. Griffin was most noted for was that bats navigate by radar. He was working for the U.S. government during the Second World War on a project using bats to guide bombs. Early editions of smart bombs, I suppose. He termed the word echolocation. He also became Chairman of the Biology Department at Harvard University in the mid 1960s for a few years. His pioneering work in bird and bat migration led to many new discoveries.

One day during his stay with his cousin he wanted to go for a walk in the woods and this 19 year old college student said, "Sure!" We went a couple of miles back to a large, but abandoned beaver pond back in the forest. He explained to me how they had made trails to skid logs and branches from places farther away from the pond as they ate themselves out of house and home. You could see the remnants of the trails and signs of the forest growing back in. The pond had been abandoned for some time, so I essentially got a lesson in beaver archeology. I had never had personal tutoring of this caliber, nor would I ever again, but I never forgot it.

Dr. Griffin was at this time beginning his more formal studies on animal communication and interaction with their environment that showed reasoning ability and real thinking in a way that no one had dared study before. It was said that had it not been  him who was doing these studies that anyone else would have been scoffed at in the scientific community.

We now understand animal echolocation in whales and dolphins as well as tool use by birds and mammals. Basically, he was studying the thought processes in critters. While we all know some "smart" animals and have stories about things we have seen them do, Dr. Griffin was one of, if not the first scientist to document and publish scientific papers on these things. Many others have carried on this type of work. Dr. Jane Goodall comes to mind.

Here he was later in his life still doing the things he loved.
(picture lifted from the internet)

My own interest in birds and animals took some giant steps from my summers in the Adirondacks. If you are interested I  have some older posts about my time in the Adirondack Mountains. Woodswoman and Summer in the Adirondack Mountains, where I previously mentioned my time with Dr. Griffin.
His and his wife's achievements in the behavioral sciences are much more that what little I have mentioned. An internet search will find you some more information if you are interested.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


Everything is so green here. "How green is it?", you might ask. It is so green that when I come indoors my eyes take several minutes to adjust to other colors. Nearly daily rain is the culprit and while June tends to be our rainiest month it got a bit carried away this year. I have barely been able to cut the grass without leaving a wake. Since we have about 28 feet of clay under our feet it can be squishy and slippery.

The Cooker and I took a short walk int the woods yesterday and once we got used to talking over the squishing of our boots we found a few things other than just green things. It wasn't easy. It has been cool, also, so things that tend to have other colors have not all shown themselves. We did find the beginning of some chanterelles, but just barely. They should be pick-able in a couple of weeks if we get some warmth.
 We hardly saw any other fungi at all. Maybe they have drowned.

Our fallen "mother of all birches" is still giving life to other things like this baby birch which should start growing upward if the sun ever decides to show itself.
These will be recognizable Jack-in-the-Pulpit when Jack comes out of hiding. It looks like this now.
Soon it should look like the insectivore that it is. Like this one.
There were some Anemone canadensis (Canada Anemone) which is so appropriate for Canada Day (July 1st).
The rest are from around the front yard.

And last, but certainly not least, I present the rhubarb.