Shades of Memory


Once upon a bright Californian desert, I lived in fear of the sun.

That fear might have been inspired by an incident with a seat buckle when I was a toddler. Back then, car seats exposed more metal than what’s allowed today. I don’t remember the incident but know I witnessed my sister burn on her seat that heated in the desert sunlight coming in on her side of the car. The babysitter said she screamed and screamed. The burn left a permanent scar on my sister and (maybe) emotional ones on me.

I’m not sure I liked direct sunlight or heat before that. My parents insisted that I stay out in the sun on decks and beaches long enough for my skin to burn, and I remember wanting to stay inside. I do believe the incident in the car intensified my fears.

We moved north to green woods and valleys deepened by whitewater rivers. My family complained of the overcast skies that lasted for months. I explored the cool shadows of the forests.

Sure, animals that could eat me lived in the shadows, too. I knew to avoid routines while outside during the dawn or dusk, those glorious times between night and day when shadows filled with rainbow colors. Those were hunting times. I hunted for beauty.

I’ve known since early childhood how to avoid dangers where the light is dimmer. Don’t look like prey. Feel for each step. Know the difference between a baby oak and poison oak–I mean, know what’s actually dangerous. These are important lessons for living in the shadows.

foggy mountain rang at dusk

In my twenties, I learned to live in cities. The human to non-human ratio is higher in urban environments than it is in the country. Most of the dangerous predators are of the same species as their prey. Construction interferes with routes as much as weather does. Toxins are everywhere in higher doses than one finds in an old-growth forest.

Shade can take on new meanings* with greater exposure to human cultures. Shadows are cast by the people who attract the most notice.

As a writer, I like to take the places and types of characters hidden behind stereotypes. They’re buried in history. They’re too alien/unfamiliar. The characters aren’t the typical age or gender, or they’ve blurred the lines between heroes and villains. I blend the light and the dark. That looks familiar to me.

These days, I also try to fill shadows with rainbows.

That’s what I’d needed when I was younger.

* Just Wanna Share: “Throwing Shade”

What is the correct usage of ‘throwing shade’?” on Stack Exchange

Jellyfish glowing green © sgrunden

Weird Science in the News – 180622

Jellyfish glowing green © sgrunden

This is a glowing bonus post for Weird Science in the News! Another post with news from this month should go up next week. I think we could all use reminders today of the weird and wonderful in our world.

Glowing Bacteria

A team of biologists recently made the bacteria responsible for cholera glow to watch its behavior. Science Alert explained,

What the team did – and the reason those bacteria glow with an eerie green light – is develop a new method of painting both the pili [an appendage] and the DNA with fluorescent dye. When they stuck the whole kit and kaboodle under a microscope, they were able to see the process with their own eyes for the first time.

Using the fluorescent dye to see otherwise undetectable movement, scientists recorded one Vibrio cholerae fishing for pieces of the deceased to consume.

When bacteria die, they split open and release their DNA, whereupon other bacteria can snare and incorporate it. If the dead bacterium had an antibiotic resistance, the bacterium that caught the dead fellow’s DNA also develops that resistance – and spreads it to its own offspring.

The description on Science Alert sounds like the premise to a horror story, but it depicts one way that life adapts. Take a look at the glowing bacteria.

Glowing Sea Creatures

One of the inspirations for this post was a National Geographic presentation, See Amazing Ocean Creatures That ‘Glow’.

“Biofluorescence in the marine environment is like this constantly unfolding mystery novel,” says David Gruber, a marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer at Harvard University.

Lesson Flash: Biofluroescence vs -luminescence

Biofluorescence is technically different than bioluminescence, which occurs when animals use a chemical reaction to produce their own light.

If bioluminescence is the equivalent of glow sticks that you crack open on the Fourth of July, biofluorescence is more akin to fluorescent paint glowing under a blacklight, Gruber says.

Scientists are continuing to make fascinating discoveries from explorations with glowing biology. However, this is not a new area of research. The video below is a TED Talk from 2011 by the bioluminescence expert Edith Widder.

Isn’t it interesting how life can twinkle, sparkle, and flash?

Video: More Images and Explanations

painting of the yellow rat among dinosaurs, by Jorge A. Gonzalez

Weird Science in the News – 180601

The best science messes with our perceptions.

Here’s my first of the Weird Science in the News series for 2018!

Way back, I tried to maintain a monthly series of posts called Weird Science in the News. Each post took hours to research, draft, and edit. The majority of my drafted posts never made it through edits by the end of their month.

I’m now trying a simpler format. This month’s theme is “Life is Complicated“.

Animal farts lift researcher’s book to NYT bestselling list

[Update: Link to article on no longer working]

A Virginia Tech researcher and a zoologist from London Zoology Society co-authored Does it Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence, which is ranked eighth on the New York Times monthly best-seller list less than two months after its release.

My thoughts: One of the book’s author reportedly said, “We never thought anybody would read it other than our family and friends.” That’s the weirdest part of this news. They didn’t know the world wanted a book about animal farts? Publishing a publicly-released book just for family and friends is kind of strange.

Why did the human cross itself with a chicken?

Seriously… why?

Hoping to take the first step toward recreating a human organizer, the Rockefeller team grew colonies of human stem cells using certain growth factors and a forced culture shape, causing them to adopt the features of an early embryo. These clusters were then transplanted onto chicken embryos[…].

My thoughts: A second nervous system developed in this embryos in the short amount of time that they existed as chimeras. I’m not actually what to make of that, but I’m tempted to write about accidental hatchings of two-headed human-chickens.

Utah fossil reveals global exodus of mammals’ near relatives to major continents

painting of the yellow rat among dinosaurs, by Jorge A. Gonzalez

A small reptilian mammal dubbed Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch (“yellow rat” in Ute) has moved a continent back by 15 million years.

My thoughts: The mockup looks as if the creature came out of Fantasy. I’m calling it a rattoon for my own purposes.

How stress echoes down the generations

The Economist discusses how changes to sperm may transmit epigenetic changes to children. Emerging evidence suggests that mistreatment of children impacts the genetics of later generations, affecting even a victim’s descendants who experience no abuse themselves. My thoughts: This news might help shift the general perception that focusing only one generation of issues is enough to repair the damage to its members.

“Are Plants Conscious?”

Environmental scientists, philosophers, and a professor of “plant neurobiology” answered the question for this week’s Giz Asks. My thoughts: This is an important question to ask at this time, not only to open up discussion on human’s responsibility to the our environment, but to do help refocus how we’ll identify when artificial intelligence is conscious.

Weird enough for you? What else have you seen in science news of interest?