Rules of Thumb, 30x30, and the Laws of Nature

Spring Landscape (Rain), A. Krehbiel My mother had a commonplace book in which she recorded, by hand, in beautiful cursive, proverbs, sayings, and quotes that struck her as interesting, thought provoking, or wise. I also love sayings, and quotes, and mantras, but mostly I’ve collected rules of thumb, those short pithy statements that condense ways of dealing with life on earth in the same way that proverbs give advice on how to behave in prudent, trouble-avoiding ways.  Rules of thumb exist for every field of human endeavor. There are the general ones, such as the 80% rule, or Pareto Principle, that gets applied in sometimes surprising ways—"eighty percent of every thing is trash,” someone will say, or another will say that “80% of your output comes from 20% of your efforts,” for example. The 80/20 ratio is useful in all sorts of contexts. For example, in a perennial garden, the general rule (backed up by scientific evidence) is that about 75-80% of the plants should be native (lo

Hummingbird Facts and Nature Rants

Right now I'm finishing a piece about making a backyard hummingbird habitat for Way of the Wilds magazine. The more I learn about hummingbirds, the more amazing they seem--although one could say this about almost any part of wild nature one studies--take puffins, for example: I just learned today that they spend much time during their first summer of maturity digging burrows with their large bills and webbed feet and often don't raise young until the next year. They spend their winters at sea. See this article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But I digress. In the Midwest we have, not the pelagic puffin, but the ruby-throated hummingbird, whose wings move in a figure eight, enabling it to fly backwards, as well as up, down and sideways, not to mention hover and swoop. Whose young are larger than their 3.5-inch parents; whose iridescent feathers are not colored by pigments but contain crystal-like cells that break down light and emit certain wavelengths; who must visit a thousand blossoms a day for nectar that they suck with their long, grooved tongues; who snap flying insects right out of the air. Worth encouraging in the garden, I'd say.

Ill Nature is a book of most excellent, powerful rants by Joy Williams (Vintage, 2002). She has an ability to gather her moral outrage at what American culture is doing to wild nature and hone it into fine dense prose.  Well worth the reading, best in bits, like reading a book of serious lyric poems--these essays need air and reflection time between them. I read the book in one great rush and then woke that night feeling the pity and terror of it all and that I must do something more to help. Thanks to Benjamin Vogt at The Deep Middle who recommended it.

Related Posts:
Hummingbird Sightings
An Excellent, Timeless Book


Diana Studer said…
That about feathers not coloured by pigments. Have just read that if you photograph flies and wasps against black paper - the wings show iridescent rainbows surpassing mere butterflies.
EE--That is really interesting! Now I must go look that up.
Carole said…
Adrian: you are the first person I ever read who so eloquently had Puffins and Hummingbirds in the same piece! I'm off to order that book now. It's one I haven't read yet. Thanks.
Carole--Thanks. Sometimes writing is like cooking. Enjoy the read.