outbreak

“Cleaning Corpses During an Epidemic” by Fyodor Bronnikov

The other day I finished reading a riveting book, Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. A terrifying account of the recent history of disease scientists investigating bizarre and unheard of new diseases of animal origins, a thriller written by a gifted storyteller. Quammen explained the science so well in layman’s terms. This is one of those rare books I couldn’t put down. The fact that it was published eight years before our current worldwide coronavirus pandemic, a fair warning, makes it all the more pertinent.

Spillover is the process by which pathogens, hiding in wild animal reservoirs (also in factory farmed animals), travel into and infect the human population. But near the end of the book, after discussing the plagues of gyspy moths, which come and go, Quammen introduced the concept of outbreaks. We had a memorable outbreak of gypsy moths here in Connecticut in the 1980s so I could easily grasp the concept.

Ecologists have a label for such an event. They call it an outbreak.

This use of the word is more general than what’s meant by an outbreak of disease. You could think of disease outbreaks as a subset. Outbreak in the broader sense applies to any vast, sudden population increase by a single species. Such outbreaks occur among certain animals but not among others. Lemmings undergo outbreaks; river otters don’t. Some kinds of grasshopper do, some kinds of mouse, some kinds of starfish, whereas other kinds of grasshopper, mouse, and starfish do not. An outbreak of woodpeckers is unlikely. An outbreak of wolverines, unlikely. The insect order Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) contains some notable outbreakers — not just tent caterpillars of several kinds but also gypsy moths, tussock moths, larch budmoths, and others.

We are prodigious, we are unprecedented. We are phenomenal. No other primate has ever weighed upon the planet to anything like this degree. In ecological terms, we are almost paradoxical: large-bodied and long-lived but grotesquely abundant. We are an outbreak.

And here’s the thing about outbreaks: They end. In some cases they end after many years, in other cases they end rather soon. In some cases they end gradually, in other cases they end with a crash. In certain cases, even, they end and recur and end again, as though following a regular schedule.

What could account for such sudden and recurrent collapses? One possible factor is infectious disease. It turns out that viruses, in particular, play that role among outbreak populations of forest insects.

~ David Quammen
(Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic)

Chills have been running up and down my spine ever since I read the excerpts quoted above. We are an outbreak on this earth. Our population explosion can be fairly compared to an infestation of gyspy moths. Provocative thought, I know. But it’s humbling and sobering to appreciate that we are part the cycles of nature and while we like to think we can control our environment to some degree, when all is said and done, we know so little about the forces shaping our existence here on this little blue planet.

We now have 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,276 confirmed cases. Of those 7 are still in the hospital and 102 have lost their lives. Hospitalizations are way down here, which is encouraging, but we are still staying home due to our health risks. Please stay safe!

forgetfulness of living

wolfpack800
image source: WallSave

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.
~ Jack London
(The Call of the Wild)

identifying gulls

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
young and mature laughing gulls ~ 8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

Gulls – a word of inherent paradox. Almost anyone can recognize a gull – or “seagull” – as such, but to identify certain gulls to species can vex the most experienced observers.
~ Steve N. G. Howell & Jon Dunn
(Gulls of the Americas)

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
“regular” ring-billed gulls with their new and smaller laughing gull neighbors ~ 8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.18.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
I love these petite laughing gulls and their little black legs! ~ 8.18.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

Until April of 2012, when we were visiting our son and his family in Georgia, I was unaware of the fact that there were about 50 different species of gulls, about 22 of them found in North America. At Cumberland Island National Seashore I was very surprised to see two black-headed gulls perched on a dock.

Then in the summer of 2012 we noticed a couple of HUGE juvenile gulls at our local Eastern Point Beach here in Connecticut. After some sleuthing we determined that they must be the largest of all the gulls, great black-backed gulls. Awe-inspiring! I took pictures of them next to what we started calling “regular” gulls to show the difference in size.

This summer we were hoping to spot some adult great black-backed gulls, which we finally did. But before that, I noticed we had more new visitors, these little gulls with black legs. Time to purchase a reference guide! I’m not 100% positive, but I think they are laughing gulls.

Now what species are my beloved “regular” gulls? Again, not absolutely sure, but I think they are ring-billed gulls. The problem I seem to be facing is that gulls molt several times as they mature and look a little different during each of their four cycles, sometimes dramatically different.

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
an adult great black-backed gull with a “regular” ring-billed gull ~ 8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
great black-backed gull contemplates taking off ~ 8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

It was considered unlucky to kill a seagull, as they are the souls of dead sailors. So if a seagull were to land on the bow of the ship, you didn’t want your captain to see you chase it off as a comrade has come to visit.
~ K. E. Heaton
(Superstitions of the Sea)

So many of my ancestors were lost at sea – I have to wonder sometimes…

8.21.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
perhaps the great black-backed gull is headed for the approaching ship ~ 8.21.13 ~ Eastern Point Beach

contradiction and paradox

“Little Girl in Blue” by Amedeo Modigliani
“Little Girl in Blue” by Amedeo Modigliani

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.
~ Barry Lopez
(Arctic Dreams)

a new science of complexity

“A Paradox” by Frances MacDonald
“A Paradox” by Frances MacDonald

There is a new science of complexity which says that the link between cause and effect is increasingly difficult to trace; that change (planned or otherwise) unfolds in non-linear ways; that paradoxes and contradictions abound; and that creative solutions arise out of diversity, uncertainty and chaos.
~ Andy Hargreaves & Michael Fullan
(What’s Worth Fighting for Out There?)

human spirituality

“Soria Moria Castle” by Theodor Kittelsen
“Soria Moria Castle” by Theodor Kittelsen

I am not interested in a spirituality that cannot encompass my humanness. I find little comfort or guidance in traditional dogma or unqualified New Age optimism. Because beneath the small daily trials are harder paradoxes, things the mind cannot reconcile but the heart must hold if we are to live fully: profound tiredness and radical hope; shattered beliefs and relentless faith; the seemingly contradictory longings for personal freedom and a deep commitment to others, for solitude and intimacy, for the ability to simply be with the world and the need to change what we know is not right about how we are living.
~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer
(The Invitation)