Bear blogs

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You wouldn’t think bears would have much to blog about, but they do. I rarely find living trees – or even dead snags in the woods – marked up this way. Bears seem to have grasped the link between telephone poles and communication. This is the pole on top of our Sapsucker Ridge.

The pole on top of Laurel Ridge has served as a group blog for bears for a number of years now. Scratches range from one to seven feet off the ground. After making the scratches, the bear will turn and rub his or her hair and scent glands against them; unlike us apes, bears are more olfactory than visual. Most of the information conveyed here is invisible to us.

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Among the other things that caught my eye this morning was this bull thistle. The field is just beginning to come into its own as a repository of autumn color, with most of the goldenrod species yet to flower. Since the non-native bull thistle is a biennial rather than a perennial, the native goldenrods are in no danger of being out-competed by it, despite the hysteria of the weed-control crowd. And despite the name, cattle, including bulls, won’t eat it. Funny all the things we blame the bulls for.

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In the woods, late summer flowers such as pinesap (too small for my camera to be able to capture effectively) and the intriguingly named smooth false foxglove (shown here) offer a bit of color. Pinesap, a close relative of Indian pipe, is a saprophyte, producing no chlorophyll but relying instead upon a mutualistic relationship with a species of fungus in order to extract nutrients from dead and decaying organic matter. The fungus also serves as a nutrient bridge between pinesap or Indian pipe roots and the roots of various species of trees; botanists argue whether the saprophyte-tree relationship is mainly parasitic or symbiotic in nature. Nature usually isn’t as neatly dichotomous as the Western mind would like, and we have trouble categorizing many forms of plant and animal behavior as a result. (Are the markings of black bears territorial, for example? Probably not – at least, not in a way we’d understand.) Smooth false foxglove is classed as “partially parasitic” on the roots of oak trees.

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When I was a kid, I used to collect wild turkey tail feathers to make pens. My brothers and I had a mimeographed nature ‘zine called The Screech Owl, which we illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings. We typed the text on an old Smith-Corona typewriter, except for the titles and the masthead, which I drew by hand. The Screech Owl had 35 subscribers and ran for three years; Via Negativa has 45-50 subscribers, plus a few dozen additional regular readers, and I’m on my second year. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve come full circle here.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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