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You No Sen, We Still Come

March 2, 2015

- A succinct (yet unabridged and uncensored) commentary on the Cockpit Expedition for Golden Swallows, by Justin Proctor

Why the hell didn’t I bring a change of pants on this trip?!”  That was a reoccurring thought I had almost six or seven times each day while hiking through or around Jamaica’s Cockpit Country.  After 6 months of off-and-on planning, I managed to dream up most of the Plan A, B, C, and D scenarios that would befall us and what gear we would need to combat/survive each of those adventures – yet, that second pair of pants just didn’t seem to hit my radar or the inside of my suitcase back in Ithaca.  [We leave for the second expedition tomorrow and you can bet that I’m currently wearing TWO pairs of pants just to make sure an oversight like that doesn’t repeat itself]

So it turns out that Gary Graves was right when he said it gets hot in those limestone hills.  It also turns out that Susan Koenig was just as right when she told me that you can’t just draw lines over satellite imagery of the Cockpit in a fun loop-de-loop pattern that would be ideal for hiking.  And well, the rest of the people who told us to bring gloves to counteract stinging plants and razor-sharp karst; that even though it rained all the time that there was no potable water to be easily found; and that you won’t understand a damn word that anybody is saying to you – yep, they were all right too.

But life finds a way, and I think that looking back on what I see as a fairly quick, jam-packed assault on the Cockpit, we made some damn good orange juice out of the lemons we were given.  Or maybe that was yam juice with a hint of rusty Nutella flaking off from the inner joints of my pocket knife.  Either way, we gave it our best and left with a good taste in our mouths.

What an absolutely amazing opportunity this has been to connect my graduate thesis work on Hispaniolan Golden Swallows with the Jamaican subspecies that once pocketed the hills and glades of Cockpit Country.  What a twist of good fortune that Gary Graves from the Smithsonian and I would share a common interest and be able to find a way to continue unraveling the mystery that surrounds this bird.  And what total luck that I have had such great friends to accompany me in a search for something that may not even be out there.

Seth and JZ

THE TROOPS:  (Left)  Seth Inman.  Historian, philosopher, rememberer of all things.  Some say he’s a God amongst men.  Others say he’s just a damn good guy. (Right)  John Zeiger.  Philanthropist, nurturer, rememberer of all things that somehow form a solid counter-argument to facts invented by Justin.  Some say his socks could make Gods weep.  Others say that he just has dirty feet.

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Bird of the Day: Blue Rock Thrush – female (Munnar, Kerala)

March 1, 2015

Blue Rock Thrush by Brinda Suresh - RAXA Collective

Craters Of Man’s Devotion

March 1, 2015

StG Ethiopia

Some snapshots of our Ethiopian expedition, just ended, are in order; not of the national parks which were the main purpose of the expedition–more on which later–but from the visit to the north which is where most visitors to Ethiopia currently make a sort of pilgrimage for reasons you can understand looking at these snapshots.

It would be difficult for any photo to do justice to this wonder, a church created by men 1,000 years ago by carving down into the stone mountain. But words are even less helpful for reasons you can probably best understand by seeing another view of the same, following what the UNESCO World Heritage Centre has to say about this and the other churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia:

…The churches were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiselled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc. This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs…

StG 2

As impressive as those craters in Siberia may be, they pale compared to what man can do when he is sufficiently motivated, which may be the one source of hope for addressing the challenges of climate change (one of the seemingly impossible challenges of our own time). This modern challenge, now that I think of it, seems particularly well-suited to the beliefs many hold, across various religious traditions, about the saint who is the namesake of this particular church.

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Understanding Climate Change Through Craters

March 1, 2015

The jury is no longer out on how climate change has been influenced by man, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and especially in the last 70 years. But the jury has not even convened yet on many phenomena in the natural world, including some geological oddities. Thanks to National Geographic‘s news service for this story from the far reaches of Siberia:

New Theory Behind Dozens of Craters Found in Siberia

Scientists narrow down the cause and think it is related to warming.

When a massive and mysterious hole was discovered in Siberia last July (see pictures), social media users pointed to everything from a meteorite to a stray missile to aliens to the Bermuda Triangle as possible causes. But the most plausible explanation seemed to be the explosive release of melting methane hydrate—an ice-like material frozen in the Arctic ground—thanks to global warming.


A Russian scientist prepares to descend into a mystery crater in Siberia in November. More holes have since been found. PHOTOGRAPH BY VLADIMIR PUSHKAREV, THE SIBERIAN TIMES

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Food To Come Home To, Ghana Edition

March 1, 2015

A joint expedition made up of two Zaina Lodge and two Raxa Collective team members just concluded two weeks in Ethiopia sampling the best national parks, scouting for new locations in which to collaborate, and tasting foodways evolved over millennia. The Zaina duo at this moment are headed back to Ghana, and we can imagine they will appreciate this:

01mag-01eat.t_CA0-thumbStandardA Spicy Spinach Stew From Ghana

Ghanaians living within bunting distance of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx can have a taste of home with this dish.

Bird of the Day: Golden-naped Woodpecker (Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica)

February 28, 2015

Libraries of Life

February 28, 2015

Elsie, a former teaching assistant for Cornell’s ornithology course, holds up an Impeyan Pheasant skin specimen. Photo by Rebecca Snow.

At Raxa Collective we’ve always been big admirers of museums, whether focussed on art, culture, or nature. In today’s op-ed section of the New York Times, two biologists write about the importance of natural history museums. The authors, Larry M. Page and Nathan K. Lujan, argue that funding shouldn’t be cut from these types of institutions and that the active collection of specimens from the wild should not be curtailed:

These specimen collections serve as the bedrock of our system of taxonomy — the rules by which we classify life — and are integral to our understanding of the threats, origins and interrelationships of biodiversity. And yet, thanks to budget cutbacks, misplaced ethical critiques, public misconceptions and government regulations that restrict scientists while failing to restrict environmental exploitation, the continued maintenance and growth of these libraries is in danger.

Though most visitors never know they are there, natural history collections are as critical to modern biologists as libraries are to journalists and historians. Indeed, like good literature, each museum specimen allows reinterpretation by every person who examines it.

A couple of our contributors–myself included–are currently working for the Smithsonian Institution, and our supervisor is the curator of birds Read more…


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