So here we are, the last day of August. This morning when I stepped outside to drop the mail into the corner box, the orange light struck the trees and small flocks of chickadees pecking at the sidewalk just right, a few crickets continuing on the evening chorus of chirps. No one was around despite the relatively late hour and I had the sidewalk to myself, reminiscing about such morning in Florida, a place I am much more fond of. Still, it was not a bad moment to part with my summer, and I’ll be counting the days until it comes again.
Indeed, this is the last weekend before school starts, and I’m pretty tied up for most of the weekend. I hope to get some writing done, but I have no idea how much. On the book front, I’ve been trying to get through as many books as possible before school starts. The other night I read T.H. Huxley’s Man’s Place in Nature and it was an utter delight. Some parts were a bit dry, but when let loose from measuring skulls, feet, or hands to pontificate upon the subject of the book named in the title, Huxley is at his best. I am sorry I had not read it sooner.
At the moment I’m reading The Bonehunter’s Revenge aloud to my wife, and it is one of the most enjoyable popular science/history books I’ve come across as of late. The author, Wallace, gets some of his history muddled in only giving it a brief mention (he fumbles a bit in his discussion of Cuvier and Lamarck and at one point calls a titanothere a titanosaur), but overall the prose flows well and tells and exciting story, tying it all together with the famous feud between Cope and Marsh in the Herald. If you’re tired of simply hearing that Cope and Marsh had long-standing ill-will towards each other and want to know why, I highly endorse picking up a copy of this book (and if you like card games, check out Bone Wars, too!). Being that I have to wait until the evening to read Wallace’s book aloud to my wife, I spent most of yesterday evening reading the companion volume to the BBC series The Velvet Claw. I never got to see the series, nor am I likely to as it seems to never have come out on DVD, but the book is definitely a well-illustrated overview of living and extinct carnivorous mammals. It is a bit dated in some of it’s paleontology(Pakicetus was still thought of as a half-seal at this time), and it can be a bit dry at times, but it has been a very useful book.
In fact, The Velvet Claw and Jeremy’s recent post about the scent-marking habits of Binturongs has inspired me to write about something that I have not yet seen covered in full in the blogosphere; genital mimicry in cat-line carnivorans. Spotted Hyena are the most famous example, but they are not alone in appearing androgynous; Binturongs, Fossas, and some other living carnivores on the cat-side branch of the evolutionary tree also express genital mimicry (the parts of the females looking like those of the males), and upon learning this I definitely became more interested in just how widespread such a condition is among civets and their relatives. I’ll have to do a bit of research before I get churn that one out (I’m now even more thankful that I picked up Walker’s Mammals of the World), but hopefully I’ll have it done soon.
Like I mentioned earlier, this weekend sees me pretty booked up, but next weekend I hope to visit the Philadelphia Zoo (I’ve been waiting to go all summer, and other plans continually got in the way), so expect plenty of pictures of the various critters there. Hopefully I’ll snag some shots of the tiger cubs born this past spring, but if I’m going to do that I’m going to have to get there a bit early.
I should probably get back to work on my post about a certain killer marsupial that was roaming Australia until the end of the Pleistocene, though, and I hope everyone returning to school gets to enjoy the long weekend before the semester sets in full-force.
Update: I nearly forgot a few things I meant to add. First, my wife brought home a 6-bottle pack of Woodchuck Draft Cider last night and it was really good. I’m told that Woodpecker Cider is better, but I won’t complain about the Woodchuck brand, especially since it’s got the scientific name on the bottle.
Second, my wife is interested in the Carnivora as much as I am, and she definitely wanted to read The Velvet Claw. Being a bit tired, she picked up the book to flip through it, and when she had stopped I asked for it so I could start it. She held it close and got a distrustful look in her eye and said “Mine.” I replied “But you didn’t even know the book existed until I bought it.” She shot back “Just because I didn’t know about it doesn’t mean it’s not mine.” She soon relented and will start on the book soon herself.
Lastly, my wife related an anecdote to me of her trip to the liquor store to get the aforementioned
Marmot Woodchuck Cider. Last night was the 1st football game of the season for Rutgers, so hordes of freshmen swamped the streets and stalls of local purveyors of alcohol. In one such establishment, a young man said to my wife (as related by her to me) “Hey, I’m totally, like, having a party later and you should, like, totally come.” My wife, clever as I know her to be, replied “Oh yeah? I’m having a party too.” The young man, somewhat expectantly said “Oh yeah? Really?”, my wife swiftly interfecting “Yeah, with my husband.” I am told that this attempted suitor was rather deflated upon hearing these words and did not utter any more until he had left.
And yes, I am fully aware that I took on a rather erudite tone in that last passage; perhaps I’ve been reading too much 19th century prose…