Hippos in Colombia

April 2, 2020

I like to watch the Neflix series, Narcos, but I’m always disappointed in the ending of the story arcs.  The series chronicles the real story of the Colombian drug cartel.  The drug kingpins ingeniously avoid capture for most of the season until DEA agents eventually capture or kill them in the season finale.  This disappoints me because I root for the cartel.  These supposed bad guys are providing a product that people want, and that makes them heroes in my opinion. It’s the law enforcement agents who aim to ruin everyone’s fun.  The first 2 seasons featured the infamous Pablo Escobar, a man elected to Colombia’s parliament but was not allowed to take his seat due to his massive illegal drug operation.  (Decades of Civil War could have been avoided, if he had been allowed to serve in the legislature.) Pablo gave tens of millions of pesos to poor peasants–more than the Colombian government did.  Unfortunately, during 1993, American DEA agents murdered him.

Who Really Killed Pablo Escobar? - A&E

Pablo Escobar.  Why do U.S. taxpayers pay the government to murder citizens in 3rd world countries?

Pablo Escobar loved animals and had his own private zoo.  Following his death, hippos from his zoo escaped into the wild and they are flourishing.  From a founding population of 4 the hippos in Colombia have increased to between 80-100, and biologists predict it could reach between 400-500 or possibly even 5,000 by the year 2050.  Hippos begin bearing young at 3 years of age and can keep giving birth every 2-3 years until they die between the ages of 40-50.  Adult hippos, even in Africa, have almost no natural predators other than man.  (Lions, with difficulty, can kill juvenile hippos.)

Pablo Escobar's Hippos Are Thriving in Colombia and Wreaking Havoc ...

Hippos in Colombia.

Some researchers fear hippos, as an invasive species not native to South America, may be detrimental to the Colombian environment.  Concentrations of hippos can foul non-flowing water holes with excessive manure that turns them anoxic.  The concentrated nitrogen leads to algal overgrowth, resulting in water with no dissolved oxygen in it–killing all the fish.  However, other scientists think hippos may be filling an ecological niche formerly held by extinct Pleistocene megafauna and maybe  in some ways beneficial to the environment.  Hippos in Colombia inhabit floodplain lakes, cattle tanks, and streams.  75% of their range has been man-modified into farmland including cow pastures and palm oil plantations while the balance consists of the original tropical forest. In some areas, especially where the water flows, hippo manure fertilizes aquatic plants and increases fish and insect populations.  This means more food for birds.  Hippo wallowing and movement breaks up thick vegetation, and their aquatic trails connect ponds, allowing fish to migrate and colonize new areas.  Their close cropping of streamside vegetation creates lawn-like habitats that attract some species of birds.

Hippos may be a modern day substitute for the Pleistocene haplomastodons that used to occur in this part of South America.  Haplomastodons, a species of gompothere, were probably semi-aquatic. North American mastodons definitely were semi-aquatic–they ate aquatic plants and had fur similar to that of otters and beavers.  Some notoungulates endemic to South America may have also been semi-aquatic, but not enough is known about them to determine this for sure.

Haplomastodon | Dinopedia | Fandom

Illustration of a haplomastodon.  Fossils of this species have been found in Colombia.

Hippos are in Colombia to stay.  Years ago, some government jerks with a stick up their ass decided to start eliminating the hippos, and they killed a male popular with the locals and tourists.  The outrage among most Colombians put a stop to this.  Animal rights groups sued, and there are now no plans to wipe them out.

References:

Subalusky, A; et al

“Potential Ecological and Socio-Economic Efforts of a Novel Megaherbivore Introduction: The Hippopotamus in Colombia.”

Oryx December 2019

Svenning, J., and Soren Faulby

“Pre-historic and Historic Baselines for Trophic Rewilding in the Neotropics”

Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation 15 (4) 2017

The Carolina Bay Nature Reserve in Aiken, South Carolina

March 26, 2020

I finally visited a Carolina Bay.  I’ve written several articles about these curious geological features (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/?s=Carolina+Bays ), but this was the first time I ever had an opportunity to see 1 in person.  Carolina Bays were formed during Ice Ages when local environments were much more arid than those of the present day.  Wind blew out sand and sediment leaving oval pits behind.  During subsequent wetter climate cycles, these pits filled with water, and wind-pushed water continued to erode the pits into elliptical shapes.  Carolina Bays actually migrated across the land, gradually pushed by wind, leaving behind visible scars.  There are thousands of these Carolina Bays across southeastern North America, and they provide important wetland habitat, especially for amphibians.  Most Carolina Bays have been drained for agriculture, but the 1 I visited in Aiken, South Carolina is used as a retention pond to prevent flooding in the local subdivisions and shopping center parking lots.

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Carolina Bay in Aiken, S.C.

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Another view.  Note the willow and cypress trees growing in the water.

I talked to a man who caught a green sunfish while I was there.  He says this Carolina Bay dries out during summer.  Many Carolina Bays hold water just seasonally.  He said all the fish die out during summer droughts, so  the fish here are young and small.  The pipes draining into the Carolina Bay must be connected to nearby streams where the new population comes from every winter and spring.  Before the Bay was used as a retention pond, it was probably fish-less.  The absence of large predatory fish allows amphibian populations to flourish here.  I saw many green frogs (Rana clamitans).

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I saw this green sunfish being reeled in.

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Green frog.  Extremely abundant here.

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Mr. Snapping Turtle.

A single solitary goose floated on the pond.  I saw a pair of hawks that may have been ospreys, but I didn’t get a good enough look at them for a positive identification.  I also saw a robin and heard cardinals, Carolina wrens, and a cuckoo.

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Canada goose.

The Bay is surrounded by a forest of loblolly pine, slash pine, water oak, red maple, sycamore, sweet gum, and holly.  Cypress, willow, and ferns grow directly in the Bay.  I saw a gray squirrel and a muskrat lodge.

1 Thing I Knew and 2 I Didn’t

March 19, 2020

I’ve learned a couple things this past week in my search for blog fodder.  A new study presented evidence saber-toothed cats fought each other.  This is not at all surprising–I always just assumed this was true.  All extant large mammals battle each other in intraspecific conflict over mates or territory.  Of course, saber-toothed tigers were no different.  However, scientists found actual evidence–2 Smilodon populator skulls found in Argentina (1 by an amateur and 1 by a professional paleontologist) have punctures in them that exactly match the canine of another saber-tooth cat.  Smilodon populator was a huge species of saber-tooth, reaching 750 pounds in weight, that lived in eastern South America until about 11,000 years ago.  It was closely related to the more widespread Smilodon fatalis which ranged throughout most of North America and western South America until the end of the Pleistocene.  Previous studies have suggested Smilodon biting pressure was weak compared to most other species of cats, but apparently it wasn’t that weak…they were capable of puncturing bone.  The same kinds of injuries occur in extant species of cats.  Undoubtedly, most of these wounds are fatal, and the canine of a Smilodon was so long it definitely caused a fatal bite because it penetrated well into the brain.

saber-toothed cat skulls

Saber-toothed cats sometimes died during intraspecific fights.

I was watching a nature show on National Geographic wild entitled Wild Portugal and learned there were wolves still living in Portugal.  This, I did not know.  There is a population of 2000 wolves living in northeastern Spain and northern Portugal, and they are protected, though farmers try to kill them when they can get away with it.  The wolves take an heavy toll on the local sheep.  Some consider them beneficial because they control populations of wild boar.  They also hunt feral horses and deer.  Genetic evidence suggests the Iberian wolf has been isolated from other European wolves since before the Last Glacial Maximum when the populations were separated by a glacier.

Iberian wolf.

I also didn’t know there was a feral population of cats in Madagascar that already evolved to twice the size of a regular house cat.  Arab traders brought cats to Madagascar about 1000 years ago, and they went wild.  The evolution in size is an adaptation for hunting lemurs–a regular part of their diet along with rodents, snakes, and birds.  They outcompete a native predator, the fossa–a distant relative of the mongoose.

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Feral cat in Madagascar.  They are twice the size of a regular house cat.

Reference:

Chimento, N; et. al.

“Evidence of Intraspecific Agonistic Interaction in Smilodon populator (Carnivora, Felidae)”

Comptes Rendus Palenal 18 (4) June 2019

The Niles Daily Times (1923-1989), a Defunct Small Town Newspaper

March 12, 2020

The Georgia Bulldogs have been my favorite football team since 1975, but before then my favorite team was the Niles McKinley Red Dragons.  I rooted for this Ohio high school football team and went to most of their home games between 1969-1975 (until my family moved to Georgia). The Niles Red Dragons enjoyed a 48 game unbeaten streak from 1959-1964 and did not lose an home game from 1958 until 1968.  Within this time span they won 2 state championships and earned an additional undefeated season in 1966, though they finished ranked 2nd in the state that year.  The 1961 team was particularly strong, destroying every team they played by ridiculous scores.   By the time I started following them, Niles still fielded good winning teams but no longer contended for state championships.

Location of Niles, Ohio

Location of Niles, Ohio.  It’s between Youngstown and Warren and is the birth place of President William McKinley.

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Headline announcing Niles Red Dragons as the 1963 Ohio state champions.

I occasionally suffer anxiety attacks that interfere with my sleep.  Alcohol or sex calms down my anxiety attacks, but I don’t want to drink more than once a week, and I don’t want to bother my wife at 3 am.  Memorizing old seasons of football scores and reciting them back in my head at night when I am trying to sleep is an alternate cure for my anxiety attacks.  It’s my substitute for counting sheep.  A football season is like a lifespan; there is a beginning, an end, and in between the results can be good, bad, or average–just like a person’s life.  I find this relaxing and the variations and number patterns in the scores also soothes me.  I live many lifespans thinking about these season’s of scores before I eventually relax and fall asleep.  After 1 recent sleep-deprived night I pulled up a library website that holds most of the past issues of the Niles Daily Times, a defunct newspaper published between 1923-1989, and I memorized old seasons of football scores in case I suffered another anxiety attack the next night.  I started turning the pages away from just sports and discovered interesting history in the little things that made up daily living during the middle of the 20th century.

Grocery store ads amused me.  Pork spare ribs advertised for 29 cents a pound, next to sour kraut for 10 cents a pound. Spare ribs and sour kraut (my late grandfather’s favorite)–now there is an old fashioned dish.  Cauliflower–15 cents a pound.  I’m not going to do the math but considering inflation how would that compare to today’s prices?  The local specialties interested me as well.  Winesap apples, then a popular variety, are rarely found in supermarkets today.  Lake Erie pike fillets are definitely not sold in Georgia.  My late grandmother made a great courtboullion with pike.

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Farmer’s market ad circa 1960.  Note the prices.

The editorial pages were staunchly anti-communist during the middle of the 20th century.  One editorial justified the overthrow of a democratically elected President in Burma by a military coup because that leader was “playing footsie” with the communists…whatever that means.  A political cartoon suggested unions should rid themselves of communists.  The creator of that cartoon undoubtedly doesn’t understand how unionism is a communist concept.

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The anti-communist hysteria of the 1950’s.  This edition was published in 1949.

The comic strips of the 1940’s were not at all funny.  At best they were puzzling–I just didn’t get the joke.  Others were sadistic and violent, kind of like The Three Stooges.  For example a Thimble Theater strip (characters from Popeye) depicted a mermaid slapping some goofball with her tail over some minor slight.  What?  Comic strips started improving during the 1950’s with the introduction of Peanuts, Beatle Bailey, Nancy, The Phantom, and Mark Trail. Radio and tv listings gave entertainment options for the day.  People could listen to Bob Hope, Red Skelton, and Al Jolson during the 1940’s.  Sunday was the best night of television during the early 1960’s with Ed Sullivan followed by Alfred Hitchcock.

I searched for articles about my dad and found 1 from 1963 announcing the opening of his private practice on Robbins Avenue.  My dad offered house calls for $5.  Try getting your doctor to drive to your house for $5 today. We lived in the apartment over my dad’s office until 1970 when my dad could afford to move us to a nicer newer house.  His office was built in 1909 and was a neat old house.  Another article noted a break-in at my dad’s office in 1974.  A drug addict searching for drugs broke into my dad’s office at night, but a bachelor renting the apartment upstairs heard the prowler and called the police.  I still remember the police calling my dad to fill out an arrest report in the middle of the night.

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My dad opened his private practice in 1963.

During 1953 the Niles Daily Times reported upon the 150th anniversary of the founding of Niles.  Settlers began arriving in the area during 1803 to process salt at a nearby salt spring.  However, the concentration of salt was too low to make it a profitable enterprise.  Instead, the pioneers turned to farming the land and hunting the deer attracted to the salt lick.  Not long after, some settlers started mining local iron ore and with charcoal made from the abundant oak forests began manufacturing pig iron.  The original name of the town was Heaton’s Furnace named after 1 man’s operation, but was later changed to Niles, named after the publisher of a newspaper in Delaware.  Some of the descendants of the earliest settlers still lived in the town 150 years later.  The original settlers were English, German, and Irish; but as early as 1866 Italian immigrants began arriving to work in the steel mills.  By the time we moved to Niles it was a little Italy with Italians being by far the most common ethnic group.

Perhaps the most interesting historical event in Niles, besides the dominance of the local high school football team during the early 1960’s, was the KKK vs anti-KKK riots of 1924.  The KKK was extremely popular and mainstream during the 1920’s.  The KKK hated Catholics, Jews, and foreigners from Southern Europe, not unlike the way modern Trumpanzees hate Mexicans.  There was a cultural void between white Protestants and Catholics then as well.  The former wanted to enforce prohibition, while Italians wanted to drink wine and Irish wanted to drink whiskey.  The KKK marched through Niles during May of 1924.  The KKK planned to march through town again in June, and they threatened to destroy property and rape nuns.  The Catholics in Niles formed the Knights of the Flaming Circle to defend themselves.  They bombed the mayor’s house because he didn’t revoke the KKK’s permit to march. (Harvey Kistler, the mayor, was reported to be a member of the KKK.)  Niles turned into a war zone for 18 hours when the KKK attempted to march.  There were running gun battles between moving cars, stationary gun fights, and hand-to-hand knife and club fights.  Dozens of people were injured and a few died.  The Ohio governor called in the National Guard and declared martial law that lasted for 10 days.  Over 100 people were arrested, and the National Guard stopped a trainload of Klan reinforcements from West Virginia.

Ironically, the racial integration of Niles resulted from this incident.  The Italian and Irish Catholics asked African-Americans from nearby Youngstown for support in their battle with the KKK, and in return they lifted the ban on black people that had prevented them from moving into houses located in town.  Years later, many white Protestants who marched with the Klan in 1924 were embarrassed over their participation in the riot.  After living alongside Italians for many years they realized Italians were hard-working people just like they were.  Many admitted they joined the Klan to get better jobs and shifts within the mills owned by Klan members.  Most refused to talk about it, and the incident was swept under the rug for decades.

Steel mills in northeastern Ohio began closing down in 1977, decimating the local economy.  Newspapers operate on a fine line between profit and loss, and The Niles Daily Times failed to survive past 1989.  Youngstown still hasn’t regained population lost since 1980.  115,000 people lived there then, almost twice the present day number.  Just this year, even the Youngstown Vindicator went bankrupt and ceased publication.  One paper, The Warren Tribune, serves 2 counties–a population of over 429,000.  Across the country too many local newspapers are going bankrupt and shutting down.  This is a bad trend for democracy.  Without local journalists there are fewer watchdogs uncovering public and private corruption.  To make things worse, the insane President Trump is now suing newspapers and news networks for libel when they are simply reporting the truth.  Trump is suing The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN because they reported he asked Russia to interfere in our elections.  But he did–he’s been video recorded asking Russia, China, and the Ukraine to interfere in our elections.  These lawsuits will never hold up in court, but they are costing news organization money in legal fees, and they operate on narrow margins.  Trump is a wannabee dictator who wants to destroy the truth because he knows reality makes him look bad.

My blog is supposed to be nature-oriented, so I would be remiss not to mention an interesting tidbit I came across while researching the archives of The Niles Daily Times.  A nice natural stretch of land exists just west of Niles known as the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Area.  Apparently, before game laws were enacted, hunters from all over the Midwest would come to hunt woodcock along the Mosquito Creek bottomlands.  Some hunters would bag 300 a day–an astonishing number for this species of bird.  Today, 9000 acres of this area are protected and regulated.  Half is 2nd growth oak and maple forest and the rest is wetlands and managed grain fields for ducks and geese.  Hunters shoot waterfowl, deer, fox squirrels, and rabbit.  Mosquito Lake, created in 1944 for flood control and drinking water, was stocked with walleye and is also known for bass, flathead catfish, crappie, and perch.  When I was a boy, I caught the latter species the first time I ever went fishing.  Originally and perhaps still, bullhead catfish were abundant in the creek itself.

Reference:

http://mckinley.advantage-preservation.com/

The 10th Anniversary of Georgia Before People

March 5, 2020

I started this blog during March of 2010 to promote my book.  I never imagined that I would enjoy my blog more than my book.  I looked at some of my early entries, and at first the blog seemed to be my private nature notebook opened to the public.  I was merely sharing what I studied and learned about pre-historic ecology along with my thoughts and opinions.  But gradually, I began writing more extensive essays.  Now, I have 113 followers who receive my weekly essay in their email box, though I wonder how many of them get marked as spam.  The number of people who read my blog has varied over the years.  2012 and 2017 were my biggest years.  I think I wrote some of my best essays during those years, but I don’t know if that is why the numbers were higher then.  I don’t really promote my blog on message boards like I used to, and my blog readership largely depends upon search engines.  Lately, readership has fallen off, and the effort I put into my blog has as well.  I’m spending more time looking at naked women on Twitter than researching the latest scientific papers.  If I was ambitious, I could go back and correct all the factual errors in my earlier blog entries and replace the photos that no longer show up, but life is too short.  I’m not getting paid to keep this blog up.  It is just an hobby for me.

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Site stats for my blog since 2011.

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Site stats for my blog since September of 2017.  Note the decline in readership.  I almost have 1 million views all time.

I reviewed my past blog entries and found a few of my favorite photos I’d like to share in celebration of my 10th anniversary.

This photo is from 2010 in an article entitled “Atlatl Adventures Part 1.”  There was never a part 2.

I can’t believe my luck.  I actually got a photo of a large bobcat.

Another lucky photo–a loggerhead shrike.  Unfortunately, my computer crashed in December of 2017and I lost my photo of a black bear I took at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I have that photo on my Facebook page, but a reader has to be friends with me to see it.  I didn’t realize that when I initially linked Facebook photos on my wordpress blog–hence the articles in 2016/2017 with a bunch of photos that don’t show up.

Bison at Land Between the Lakes.

Wakulla Springs 011

Wakulla Springs egret rookery.

 

At Least 1 Species of Giant Ground Sloth (Eremotherium laurillardi) Lived in Groups

February 28, 2020

Some scientists have long suspected at least 1 species of giant ground sloth lived in groups.  The bones of Eremotherium laurillardi are often found in intergenerational assemblages, and there is a large degree of sexual dimorphism within the species.  Animals with large males and small females or vice-versa tend to live in social groups.  Lions are an example of this.  However, most of the sites where mixed-age assemblages of E. laurillardi occur were difficult to interpret–scientists were unable to determine whether the collection of bones came from a simultaneous die-off or accumulated over a long period of time.  But a site in southwestern Ecuador known as Tanque Loma does contain bones of E. laurillardi that clearly resulted from a simultaneous die-off.

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Photo of the Tanque Loma excavation from the below reference.

Scientists excavated 575 specimens of E. laurillardi from at least 22 individuals at the Tanque Loma site.  They found less than 100 bones of other species including  gompothere (a type of mastodon), glossotherium (a smaller species of ground sloth), pampathere (a very large armadillo), horse, and deer in the same genus as white tail deer.  The bones of E. laurillardi come from individuals of different ages and sexes, suggesting it was a social group. Sloth coprolites and stomach contents were found as well, but the plant remains have not been identified or if they have the results have not been published yet.  Tanque Loma was a temporary marshy pond that apparently dried up during dry seasons, then periodically refilled during rainy season.  This region of Ecuador was a tropical grassland during the Last Glacial Maximum, similar to modern day East Africa.  The remains are estimated to be between 18,000-23,000 years old, but the conditions of this site make radiocarbon dating less reliable.  Humidity and the presence of tar interfere with accurate radio-carbon dating.  It was not a tar pit trap because the tar seeped into the deposit after the animals had been dead for a long time.  The bones were preserved when they were quickly buried in a low oxygen environment.

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Replica skeleton of Eremotherium laurillardi mounted at a museum on Skidaway Island.  They were common along the Georgia coast during interglacials.  They reached 20 feet in length and weighed over 4 tons.  They may have been hairless like elephants and unlike other ground sloths.

The authors of this study believe this group of sloths died when the marsh shrank and the sloths fouled the water with a concentration of their own fecal matter.  The high nitrogen input may have caused a toxic algal bloom that poisoned the group, the members of which died within a few weeks.  Large mammal die-offs like this occur in East Africa today, especially among hippos when they are congregated around shrinking water holes.

E. laurillardi ranged into Florida and coastal Georgia during warm interglacials, but they disappeared from the region at least 30,000 years ago.  They were not as well adapted to temperate climates as Harlan’s ground sloth and Jefferson’s ground sloth (which occurred in Alaska).  These latter 2 species had furry coats and dug deep burrows.  Eremotherium may have been hairless and may not have dug deep burrows.  The temperate species of ground sloths didn’t become extinct in North America until men wiped them out.

Reference:

Lindsay, Emily; et. al.

“A Monodominant Late-Pleistocene Megafauna Locality from Santo-Elena, Ecuador: Insight on the Biology and Behavior of Giant Ground Sloths”

Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology 544 April 2020

The Red River Raft

February 21, 2020

I came across this remarkable phenomenon while re-reading America as Seen by Its First Explorers by John Bakeless. About 900 years ago, a flood washed a bend of land and all the trees on it into the Red River.  (The red clay substrate makes the water red, hence the name.) The trees and sediment caused a logjam and subsequent floods kept washing more and more debris into it so that by 1830 the logjam, known as the Red River Raft, was an incredible 165 miles long.  The sediment was so deep trees, bushes, bamboo, and grass sprouted on the logjam.  Forests of cypress, cedar, cottonwood, willow, sycamore, oak, and persimmon grew over the river, and many pioneers didn’t even realize they were passing over a river when they crossed it. Some of the trees were 10 inches in diameter. The logjam forced the river to shift positions, often leaving behind fertile soil where the Caddo Indians planted crops.  The impenetrable thickets and unnavigable river protected the Caddo Indians from European settlers and kept them isolated from other hostile tribes.  The logjam created 5 major lakes as well, and these attracted huge flocks of waterfowl.  Natural channels wove their way through the logjam, but it was impossible to travel through it by boat.

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Map of the Red River and some of its tributaries.

Great Raft

Photo of part of the Red River Raft after it reformed during the 1870s.

Henry Shreve (the city of Shreveport was named after him) began dismantling the Red River Raft during the 1830s.  He used a giant winch on a steam boat to remove logs from the bottom up and he dug channels through the raft itself.  He successfully cleared the Red River Raft but warned that it could reform, and a few decades later it did.  Eugene Woodruff dismantled the reformed raft during 1873, but this increased water flow through the Mississippi River and flooded parts of Louisiana.  The Army Corps of Engineers was forced to build the Old River Control Structure to prevent disastrous flooding downstream.

Great Raft

Boat with winches used to clear trees from the Red River Raft.

Log jams over 100 miles long must have occurred sporadically during the Pleistocene, providing unique habitat for land and aquatic flora and fauna.

The 57 Year Old Fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania

February 14, 2020

A month after I was born, the town fathers (or maybe they should be known as the village idiots) of Centralia, Pennsylvania thought it would be a good idea to burn the county landfill.  This garbage dump was located next to a coal strip mine in operation since 1935.  The fire ignited an underground coal seam, and it is still burning 57 years later.  3 major attempts to extinguish the fire failed.  Authorities estimate the fire will keep burning for another 250 years, and it will continue to release mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, heavy metals, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide–all the poisons found in coal.  Heat from the underground fire buckles streets and kills trees.

Centralia

Location of Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Centralia

Aerial view of Centralia–abandoned homes and dead brown trees.

Centralias PA, route 61

This road is destroyed and smoke sometimes comes through the cracks.  These photos and more can be found within this Business Insider article.  https://www.businessinsider.com/photos-of-abandoned-centralia-pa-2012-5#centralia-is-a-borough-in-the-northeastern-mountains-of-pennsylvania-in-2002-the-us-postal-service-revoked-the-towns-zip-code-17927-1

The town of 1,492 people became quite uninhabitable. During 1984 Congress allocated $42 million to relocate the residents, and the population today is 5.  I tried to determine if wildlife has moved into the area since the people left (like what happened at Chernobyl and the Korean demilitarized zone), but I can’t find anything about it.  For sure this ghost town is an example of the folly of man and in stark contrast to the blog article I wrote last week describing the travels of a man who visited Pennsylvania when it was still mostly a beautiful wilderness.

 

Thomas Ashe’s Journey through Pennsylvania and Down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during 1806

February 7, 2020

An Englishman by the name of Thomas Ashe visited the United States during 1806 and wrote about his experience in a book that was published during 1808 and is available for free online (See: https://books.google.com/books?id=Qz8VAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA44&lpg=PA44&dq=Thomas+Ashe+journey+through+pennsylvania&source=bl&ots=c2zVsqVifo&sig=ACfU3U2hyAJ1LaSWy_ztMUG0zi5t-bKWVw&hl=en&ppis=_c&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjHopfxsY3nAhVNeKwKHXSeDR4Q6AEwCXoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=Thomas%20Ashe%20journey%20through%20pennsylvania&f=false ).  His account of the natural history, people, and early American towns fascinates me.

He began his journey in eastern Pennsylvania and traveled over some mountains.  One night, darkness overcame him before he could reach the next settlement, and he was forced to stop on the trail because he was afraid he or his horse might walk off a cliff.  Animals kept him awake all night.  First, a bobcat noisily toyed and killed an opossum next to his camp.  Then whip-or-wills, owls, and wolves serenaded him.

Ashe was already too late to see live bison, though all of the overland trails followed former bison migration routes.  He talked to 1 old-timer who told him that he made the mistake of building his log cabin on a bison trail.  When the bison came through, they rubbed themselves on his cabin and eventually pushed all the logs apart and destroyed it.  The next year he killed more than 600 and when the rest of the herd saw the carnage they never returned to the area.  Deer and elk were still abundant in some areas Ashe visited but not all.  Bear were so common that a bear skin rug sold for $1.  Ashe shot and killed a bear for no reason, though he instantly regretted it.  Wild hogs roamed the forest for acorns and roots.  Settlers didn’t want them near their cabins because they attracted predators.

Ashe bought a 40 foot long Kentucky boat complete with roof, chimney, and chicken coop; and he brought along 2 servants and a dog.  He boated down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and explored some tributaries.  Occasionally, he anchored his boat and took some overland forays.  In Louisiana he bought some ducks and put them in his chicken coop, but a large alligator stopped the boat, seized the chicken coop in its jaws, carried it to shore, smashed it, and ate the ducks.  Ashe claims the alligator was 20 feet long, but I’m sure that was an overestimate.  He killed another “20 foot long” alligator with 3 shots and kept 2 juveniles as pets to take back to England.

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A Kentucky boat.  They had flat bottoms.  Snags and rapids made boat travel difficult during the 19th century.

Ashe saw 30 species of snakes and over 180 species of birds.  The richest forest he saw was near Dayton, Ohio–it consisted of sugar maple, sycamore, mulberry, oaks, walnut, butternut, aspen, basswood, ironwood, ash, sweetgum, chestnut, hickory, cherry, horse chestnut, honey locust, magnolia, elm, crabapple, sassafras, pawpaw, plum, crabapple, dogwood, grape, and wild cotton.  Past Dayton were a chain of beautiful prairies with geraniums and passion flowers.  The topsoil in some areas he visited was an astonishing 30 feet deep.  The soil was too rich for wheat, causing it to grow tall and make little seed.  Settlers told him they had to grow corn 7 years in a row on a plot before it was exhausted enough to produce a wheat harvest.  Ashe also came across salt springs which attracted game, and places where petroleum flowed near the surface.  People then didn’t know the future value of this resource and thought it might be medicinal.

At this early date developers had yet to level or bury Indian mounds and abandoned villages.  Ashe was critical of the locals for pilfering through old Indian gravesites and mounds, yet he did it too.  At 1 site he went through hundreds of graves searching for gold.  All he found was fools gold.  He explored a cave in Indiana that sported hieroglyphics.  These possibly represented Pleistocene mammals–elephant (mammoth or mastodon?), wild boar (peccary?), and sloth. I’ve never found a report of this in the scientific literature.  Ashe got lost in the cave and fired his gun, so his companions could locate him.  This aroused all the owls and bats in the cave.  The cave was the former haunt of a gang that robbed and killed hundreds of river travelers.  It was also the site of a battle between Indians and settlers, resulting in hundreds of deaths as well, and there were piles of human and animal skeletons all about.  Ashe did find fossil bones at several sites, including a mammoth tusk.  1 site was known as “bone valley.”

It’s interesting to read Ashe describe modern day large cities the way they were during their infancy.  Pittsburgh was a town of 400 houses, 2000 people, and 40 stores where beef sold for 3 cents a pound.  Most residents were Irish.  Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) had 250 homes along with saw mills and flour mills.  St. Louis was a town of Cajuns where the women worked, the children played, and the men performed music all day.  Every house had a band with a guitar player, fiddler, and lead singer.

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Earliest known painting of Pittsburgh, circa 1804.  

When Ashe traveled through the wilderness between towns there was usually an inn within a day’s journey.  An inn meant a log cabin where cornbread, bacon, and whiskey were served–not necessarily in that order.  Lodging was 25 cents a night and meals were the same.  Back then, a dollar was a coin and to make change the dollar was literally cut into quarters, dimes, and nickels.  The culture in some of the frontier towns was rough.  In Wheeling the entire town closed up shop for the rest of the day when there was an horse race or cock fight.  Fighting between men was popular too.  Ashe witnessed 2 men fighting in a “rough and tumble” bout.  They were given a choice of fighting with rules but they chose “rough and tumble” which meant anything goes.  While a crowd of people bet on the outcome, the 2 men fought a brutal battle, and the smaller more skillful man “won” by permanently blinding the larger man.  He suffered an ear completely torn off.  At a bar in town later that night 2 naked black men played banjos while people drank, gambled, and danced.  The noise was so loud Ashe couldn’t hear the banjos.  Towns settled by Irish were mostly like this.  Towns settled by transplanted New Englanders were more orderly and the town fathers outlawed gambling, fighting, and horse racing.

The first cabin Ashe stopped at on his journey served passenger pigeon, cornbread, and coffee made from burned wild peas.  He ate wild game often when traveling through the wilderness.  For example he shot 12 ducks, 1 turkey, and a deer in 1 afternoon.  Boating down the river gave him constant access to a variety of fish including catfish, bass, bream, sturgeon, shad, pickerel, and paddlefish.  He visited a French settlement at Gallipolis where 1 man produced 400 gallons of peach brandy per year for barter.  He shared a feast with them, and his biscuits were the first wheat flour they’d had in months.  They gave him cornbread, cheese, milk, and fruit.  The kids at Gallipolis kept an array of pets–piebald and albino deer, Carolina parakeets, blue jays, wood ducks, woodchucks, opossums, and even a bear.  Some of these doubled as a food source.  One meal Ashe enjoyed was turtle steaks.  During this meal he was serenaded by a flock of Carolina parakeets–what a forlorn nature scene.  Ashe met a man on the road in Kentucky and followed him to his home.  His wife served hot toddies, bacon, squirrel soup, and hominy.  Though the man had been away from home for months, Ashe noted he showed absolutely no affection for his wife or children and didn’t even talk to them.  Divorce wasn’t much of an option then.

In Louisiana at a fort on Chickasaw bluff Ashe was honored with a supper of fish, squirrel, venison, bear, fruit, and pecans.  They served wine made from local grapes, and many of the men ended up literally sleeping  under the table, but Ashe made it back to his boat about 2 am, nearly breaking his neck climbing down the bluff.  Nevertheless, this was a welcome diversion of civilization because most of this region until he arrived at New Orleans consisted of uninhabited forests, canebrakes, and bayous.

Reference:

Ashe, Thomas

Travels in America Performed in 1806

William Savage Company 1808

 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is Politically Correct Bullshit

January 31, 2020

I was listening to NPR the other day and heard 2 women lamenting the low number of female artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They thought the Hall should be more diverse.  What a load of politically correct bullshit!   Rock and Roll was born from a fusion of African rhythm and blues with what used to be known as hillbilly music, but since its birth 70 years ago, a great majority of rock artists have been white males.  Perhaps 85% of rock artists have been white men.  Just think of the greatest rock groups of all time–Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc.–and most consist of 4 or 5 white men.  So demographically, it makes sense that most Hall of Fame inductees have been white men.  Induction into the Hall of Fame should be based entirely on talent, musicianship, great song production, and influence; not race, ethnicity, or gender.

A bigger problem with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is its long time prejudice against hard rock/heavy metal, and in recent years its capitulation to the rising tide of political correctness.  I declare Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and dead gangsta rappers DO NOT belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They are not rock artists.  How can they even be considered for the Hall of Fame when many of the acts I list below have never been nominated?  The Hall originated in 1983, yet a hard rock/heavy metal band was not inducted until 2003 when AC/DC finally made it in.  Since then, an additional 5 hard rock/heavy metal acts have been inducted but in almost every case it was like pulling teeth.  Rush and Deep Purple were nominated a whole bunch of times before they were eventually inducted.  In other cases the voting committee showed complete ignorance of the genre. Metallica was inducted in 2011, and Guns and Roses were inducted the first time they were nominated a few years later.  This is like inducting Joe Cocker before the Beatles.  Without Judas Priest there would be no Metallica and Guns and Roses.  Yet, Judas Priest, though finally nominated twice, still has not been inducted.

I’m not going to lie.  Judas Priest is my favorite rock band, and as long as they are kept out of the Hall, I’m going to be outraged, especially when younger less talented acts make it in. Nirvana was inducted a few years ago.  Half of 1 of their albums is pretty good.  Judas Priest has made at least 6 albums better than Nirvana’s best.  Green Day has been inducted.  I like Green Day.  But I listened to Judas Priest and Green Day back to back, and compared to Judas Priest, Green Day sounds like shit.  Green Day would not want Judas Priest to open for them.

The following is my list of 15 artists or acts who should already be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I guarantee they are all better than this year’s inductees.

1. Judas Priest–Judas Priest originated in 1969, and they are still touring and producing quality albums.  These rockers invented thrash metal and influenced countless heavy metal bands but know how to make popular radio friendly songs–something other metal groups struggle to accomplish. They’ve made 18 albums, selling over 50 million copies.  Some of their best albums are British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance, Hell Bent for Leather, and Firepower.  Below is an example of radio friendly metal.

 

2. 10 Years After–10 Years After began in 1960 and are most famous for playing at Woodstock.  They played an heavy blues rock that sounds particularly energetic when performed live and in fact recorded 16 live albums along with 12 studio albums and 26 compilation albums.  They sold over 22 million albums and 8 of them landed on the U.K.’s top 40 list.  Their best songs  include “Going Home,” the thought provoking “I’d Love to Change the World,” and “I Woke up this Morning.”  The below link plays a 10 Years After cover of jazz great Woody Herman’s “Woodchopper’s Ball.” and shows why this band should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame based on musicianship alone.

3. The Scorpions–The Scorpions formed in 1965 and have sold over 110 million albums worldwide.  They are the best rock band to ever come out of Germany.  They are most famous for “Rock you Like a Hurricane,” but Animal Magnetism is the best of their 18 albums.  Nevertheless, they’ve never even been nominated.  Below is a link to 1 of their little known but great songs.

 

4. The Carpenters–The Carpenters have also never been nominated, despite inventing the power ballad and nailing 15 number 1 hits on the top 40 billboard.  All hard rock bands from the mid 1970’s to the late 1980’s had to have 1 power ballad on their albums because they knew you can’t go 150 mph all the time.  Some times you have to slow down and enjoy the scenery.  The Carpenters were a big influence on hard rock, though all of their songs are soft rock and easy listening.  The critics who have kept them out of the Hall are the same critics who love Elvis Costello and inducted him years ago.  Elvis Costello made 1 song that got a little radio play over 30 years ago, but no songs he ever wrote are close to being as good as any Carpenter’s song.

It may be a mellow, but just listen to the wall of sound on this song.

5. Bernie Taupin–He wrote the lyrics for 99% of Elton John’s songs.  Without Bernie Taupin no one would have ever heard of Reginald Dwight, aka Elton John.  His absence from the Hall is an astonishing oversight.

6. Ozzy Osbourne–He’s already in as the lead singer for Black Sabbath, but his solo career has arguably surpassed the quality of his work with Black Sabbath.  “Crazy Train,” “Flying High Again,” “I just want you,” and “No More Tears” are some of his most outstanding songs.

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Ozzy Osbourne is already in the Hall as a member of Black Sabbath, but his solo career has arguably surpassed the group that spawned his career.

7. Boston–Boston is another group never even nominated.  Their music is very polished rock.  All 8 songs from their debut album still get heavy radio play on classic rock stations today over 40 years after it was released. I think people don’t realize how good they are because their songs are overplayed and taken for granted.

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The cover of Boston’s first album.  All 8 songs from this album still get heavy radio play on classic rock stations.

8. The Monkees–The Monkees were a made for television band, but their music became more popular than the tv show.  At first they weren’t even allowed to play their instruments.  Eventually, they did compose their own songs.  During 1967 they sold more albums than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  I don’t care what anybody says–I like their music and they deserve to be in the Hall.

9. Huey Lewis and the News–The Hall seems to have skipped over a big chunk of 1980’s music.  Huey Lewis recorded 9 albums that sold over 30 million copies, and his music videos played constantly on MTV through the early 1990’s.  They are known for such iconic hits as “I Need a New Drug,” “Heart of Rock and Roll,” “Perfect World,” and “Hip to be Square.”  Another never been nominated snub.

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His 2nd album.  This album alone should get Huey Lewis and the News into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

10. Robert Plant–He’s already in as the lead singer for Led Zeppelin, but he has had an outstanding solo career.  He’s released 11 studio albums including Pictures at Eleven, Manic Nirvana, and the critically acclaimed Mighty Re-Arranger. 

I was listening to Robert Plant’s Manic Nirvana album the first time I laid eyes on my wife.

11. Blue Oyster Cult–Blue Oyster Cult originated during 1967 in New York.  “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is their most famous song, but they had a number of other hits including “Godzilla,” “Burning for You,” and “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll.”  They’ve sold over 22 million albums, and their induction into the Hall is long overdue.  They were nominated once.

This song alone should get BOC in the Hall.

12. Joe Cocker–Joe Cocker is best known for his Beatles covers such as his version of “A Little Help from my Friends,” but he has many great songs of his own–“You are so Beautiful,” “High Time we Went,” and “The Letter.”

This song always makes me think of a woman who would write a letter about me to Penthouse Forum.

13. The B-52’s–The B-52’s originated in Athens, Georgia and were a big influence on the New Wave rock of the early 1980’s.  They are yet another 1980’s band ignored by the Hall.  They had a unique sound that no other band could duplicate.

What a unique sound.

14. The Georgia Satellites–Yes, another 1980’s band ignored by the Hall.  “Keep your Hands to Yourself” is their most famous song and was played often on MTV during the mid-1980’s.  That song reminds me of my first date, but their song “Tied Down with Battle Ship Chains,” reminds me of my marriage.

This song reminds me of marriage.

15. Ted Nugent–Ted Nugent, also known as the Motor City Mad Man because he hails from Detroit, will never get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though he deserves it.  He is just too politically incorrect.  I don’t care if he does make racist comments and said he’d like to stick a machine gun up Hillary Clinton’s vagina, his music is great.  “Cat Scratch Fever” alone is enough to get him in the Hall.  Personally, I think he’s an howling idiot when it comes to politics, but I still love his guitar playing.  When the Hall of Fame airs their induction ceremony on HBO later this year, I am turning the television off and listening to “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” (studio version) and “Wango Tango.”