Bytes – Cuteness

Day_old_chick

Luckily this bird has down, because naked birds are horrifying.

Bytes is a series briefly explaining a biological phenomenon. It’s name is a bad pun, but that’s alright. It’s bite-sized information about cool stuff.

Is this post just an excuse to include some cute animal photos in this blog? I can neither confirm or deny such an accusation. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am a huge fan of cute stuff. I enjoy miniatures and other things that as a young male I am not culturally supposed to like, but I accept the biological factors that cause me to react in a giddy way to stimuli that I perceive as cute.

On a somewhat related note, I would highly recommend that you search for “kittens in cups” if you would like to be overloaded with extreme cuteness.

So what causes us to find things cute?

Well, most of the science related to what we deem cute is psychological research instead of research from a real science, such as biology. Just for this one little Byte we will pretend that psychology is a real science and its conclusions aren’t derived from subjectivity and easily  overturned within a decade. Why are we ignoring this? Anecdotal evidence from everyone that has ever lived.

Psychological studies have showed, actually measuring changes in behavior instead of self-survey results, that we act differently (primarily more carefully) when we reacting to a stimuli that might conversationally be referred to as cute. We react this way to things that exhibit the same morphology as a human infant.

Big heads, big eyes, and overall silly body proportions are what we perceive as cute. Individuals are also more likely to perceive something as cute according to their hormonal levels, especially estrogen. Women who have gone through menopause are less likely to find something cute than a woman of the same age who has not yet gone through menopause.

1260px-June_odd-eyed-cat

An odd-eyed cat.

What about cats though? Not kittens, but cats. They have normal body proportions. This does have a small biological cause–the eyes. Cats have big, beautiful eyes. It is  important to remember that cuteness is not something that can be described purely through biological means, because there is a huge cultural aspect of what we see as cute, or what we allow ourselves to perceive as cute.

Jack_Russell_Puppy

For example, in most of western culture we see puppies as adorable. In some regions, such as the Middle East, they do not find puppies cute. The way Middle Eastern culture relates to dogs is different than how our culture relates to dogs. Here in Western Culture dogs are often owned as pets and kept well-groomed and in close proximity to the owner’s household. In other cultures, this is not the case. In areas that have substantial amounts of feral dogs especially, the people that live in those areas generally don’t find puppies to be cute. This is because they culturally associate these adorable puppies as simply younger feral dogs.

Of course this is a bit of a generalization. Within a culture there is a great variance in what otherwise similar individuals might perceive as cute. For example, even though kittens possess the entirety of the morphology found in infants some young males say that they don’t think kittens are cute. This may be because of a past bad experience with a cat, or perhaps they are trying to seem more tough to their friends.

Now that we understand why we perceive things as cute, we must answer why we even have such a perception? As previously discussed, while it is not entirely accurate it is fair to say that the primary response to handling something cute is to be careful.

Babies are pretty fragile. Your species isn’t going to last long if you are snapping them in half all the time. Thus, we are careful with cute stuff so we don’t go accidentally killing our own children–a bad strategy for the continuation of a species.

 

The Limits of Science

Greetings readers! I would like to do an editorial once more. I will be returning to describing the wonder and majesty of a specific species again very soon, most likely with a post about the blue sea angel. Hopefully this will tide you over until then!

“There are some things that science will never know.”

A dubious assertion. I disagree with it for a number of reasons. Primarily, imagining that which we do not know is something that is incredibly difficult to do. It is pretty difficult to imagine everything about the universe that we could possibly not know. Try to imagine a color that is not a combination of red, green, and blue.

Oh you can’t? Well don’t feel bad, because this is impossible to do. Understanding that which we do not know makes no sense semantically and it makes no sense when you really try to think about it.

That being said, I think that there is probably one thing that we will never know: what came before the beginning of the universe? It is possible that there have been other universes before this one. Using what we know about the universe now, one would assume that this universe will eventually collapse into a single point once again re-creating our current conception of how the universe began, in the big bang.

Using the current positioning and trajectory of objects in the universe, we could possibly deduce where everything used to be and construct a model that details the entire history of the Universe. However, there is no conceivable way for us to know what happened in any universe before the one that we are currently experiencing. Unless every universe that has existed or ever will exist is actually occuring all at one time, and they are just happening in seperate dimensions.

Well I kind of just took all the wind out of my own sails there, but I still stand by what I said. I find it unlikely that any of the various theories about “multiple dimensions” in the layperson sense are actually correct. I think this because there has never been any actual evidence to support these ideas. Ever. I mean, there aren’t even equations or other mathematical abstractions that support the idea of a multiverse.

Science will eventually know effectively everything, and I personally can not wait until this happens. I feel that we are sort of still on the “tutorial stage” as a species, and once we unlock the secrets of the universe we will finally start doing amazing stuff. If one really sits down and thinks about it, I don’t see how it could take more than a few thousand more years before we literally know everything that there is to know about the universe around us. If you take into account the certainty that artificial intelligence will be created and will accelerate our rate of knowledge acquisition, this number could be far too conservative.

I’m not just talking about a “Theory of Everything” in physics that unifies relativity with quantum physics. I am talking about a true Theory of Everything that explains and defines the trajectory of the Universe. I believe in determinism, because I don’t see any reason not to. If you don’t think that we live in a mechanical universe governed by obserable and definable laws, then perhaps you do not ‘believe’ in determinism. I would prefer to phrase my belief in determinism as an acceptance of determinism, based on everything that I have ever personally seen and everything I have ever heard about the universe.

If you do accept that we live in a determinist universe, than a True Theory of Everything, or a Universal Theory will eventually be figured out. That’s simply incredible. What are we going to do after we reach this point? No idea. That’s more for my political blog than my scientific one.

I think that the one thing thats science will never know is what happened before our current universe, and I look forward to the time when we reach this point.

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think that our meager species could be over half-way to reaching this point. I don’t think that three millenia is an unrealistic estimate to reaching this point, and human civilization has existed for about ten thousand years.

Using these completely unscientific numbers based on nothing, that means that we could be as close as 75% of the way to knowing everything that can be known. That’s some crazy stuff right there.

As always, thanks for reading. Please tell me in the comments below what you would do if you were alive when a Universal Theory came about! I’d probably just watch Breaking Bad again. Hopefully you all have some higher metaphysical aspirations than myself.

Cetacean Intelligence

With the recently released “Blackfish” documentary, this has become once again a prominent issue. I am going to give you an opinion, not a list of facts with minimim editorializing like I usually strive to do. I repeat that this is not an assertion of fact, but rather my personal view on the issue as someone who knows only slightly more than the layman about biology, even though marine biology is my specific field.

There are a lot of people that will tell you that we know conclusively that whales and other marine mammals are sentient organisms with complex social structures and intellects that rival those of adult humans.

These assertions of fact are in a word, dubious. The emotional nature of these conclusions is often clearly demonstrated by the people that are making them when they frame these arguments with sentences such as, “You can see the light in their eyes.” That’s a fair thing to say. I’m not sure what the scientific basis for the “light” in the eyes of someone or something, but judging by the fact that it is a universal human experience to be able to see this vague “light” in someone or something’s eyes it is fair to say that we likely simply haven’t specified scientifically what makes us notice this.

I will also mention that I have looked into many a man’s eye and seen no light.

The main arguments for cetaceans intelligence revolve around the diversity of their vocalizations and their social structure. Do their vocalizations make up a language? Highly debatable. if you have ever owned two dogs, you know that over time their barks and vocalizations will grow more similar. It has been shown that the vocalizations of dogs have meaning but not in a way that could be described by a reasonable person as language. Dogs do however have far fewer vocalizations with much less consistent complexity than those of whales. Does that mean that whales have language, which is something that has never been found outside of Homo Sapiens?

Again, dubious.

Whales and other cetaceans have complex social structures, this is a fact. It is the interpretation of this fact where opinions can differ. I personally do not find anything spectacularly intelligent about their social structures. Where some people see emotional connection, I see a survival tactic. Orcas in particular are noted for this, because the offspring stay with their mothers for their entire lives. Does that mean that whales love their moms? No. I haven’t stayed with my mom my entire life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her. This is a false equivalency, but it is something worth thinking at least a little bit about.

The complexity of the social structure in whales is not something that is without equal in the natural world, as many proponents of cetaceans intelligence will tell you. The complexity in group hunting behaviours has been shown to be matched in humboldt squid. Squids and other cephalopods do not have brains in the traditional sense. It’s more like a centralized mass of nerves. If animals that are literally brainless can pull of behaviours involving just as much coordination and a higher number of individuals, I don’t think that it is fair to say that cetaceans are sentient organisms based upon this argument.

I do think that whales are intelligent animals and should be respected… But I have a huge issue with people that act like cetaceans are the group of animals that we should extend more rights to.

These people do not understand the full biodiversity of the planet, and just how many things are intelligent. Predators tend to be more intelligent than prey species. If you want to extend human rights to cetaceans, you better be wanting to extend those rights to all mammalian predators because there is no scientific basis to suggest that whales are abnormally intelligent in comparison to other mammalian predators–except for their encephalization quotient which is again a quite dubious measure of intellect.

The problem I have with these champions of cetacean intelligence is that they are encouraging something with is so basic and easy to accept, especially since there has effectively been a PR campaign for whales for four decades now.

It is not the intelligence of whales that we should respect, but the intelligence of all the animals around us from ravens to bears that we should respect. Life is a wonderful thing. Let’s appreciate every aspect of it, especially intelligence.

The Magpie

Pica pica!

The Science:

The European/Eurasian/Common Magpie, P. Pica, is a very noteworthy animal. Even its classification is distinct, as ‘pica’ is Latin for… The European Magpie. This repetition of the Latin name is used mostly for the typical European or “true” member of a species. In this instance, it produces something extremely fun to say.

Magpies along with most other corvids (raven family of birds) often live in close contact with humans. Humans are often quite annoyed by these birds for a number of quite legitimate reasons. Magpies are not song birds, a fact that is often reinforced by their cawing as soon as the sun rises right outside our windows.

They are an extremely successful species, which is attributed to their intellect. Although it is difficult to determine and likely impossible to say with certainty, P. Pica is likely the most intelligent non-mammalian animal on this Earth with us.

The enlarged nidopallium in magpies is often cited as the source of their high intellect. For those of you who don’t know what a nidopallium is, which I assume is basically all of you who aren’t ornithologists, it’s a region of the avian brain that seems to be responsible for higher cognitive tasks. They have an encephalization quotient (brain to body mass ratio) similar to that of humans and cetaceans. However, this quotient is basically just a number that has limited demonstrated relationship to actual intellect.

They are the only non-mammal to have passed the Mirror Test. This test is effectively the first scientific test developed to determine whether a being is sentient. Considering the extremely difficult and dare I say unscientific nature of defining sentience, this test can only say so much. For those who aren’t familiar with the experiment, it involves partially covering an animal with dye and putting them in front of a mirror. The idea is that an animal who is aware of itself will understand that the dye is different from its natural state and will try to remove it.

P. Pica demonstrably uses it brain in a number of ways. They have been documented using tools (debatably) and they have complicated social interactions that have been well-documented. Almost all birds have complex social structures, and the Common Magpie is no exception.

I could go on about avian neuro-science but… It’s an emerging field of research and well outside my area of expertise. It’s safe to say that The Common Magpie is an extremely intelligent animal that deserves to be respected. Don’t shoot them… No matter how tempting it can be at times.

The Soul:

I admire the beauty of nature, and have worked extensively on increasing my patience and understanding so that I can begin to understand the majesty of this amazing world we are lucky enough to inhabit. Even so, I can’t help from being enraged by a magpie from time to time and in my experience many people are also frustrated by the well-named camp robber.

It is said that one often despises that which he sees in another and in himself. The anger that magpies, one of the most cunning of birds, elicit from us is evidence of this.

They are exceedingly easy to personify. They seem to be proud, perhaps even arrogant birds bursting with a loud and obnoxious personality. When I see a magpie perched atop a pine tree take a break from surveying the land and turn his eye towards me, I can’t help but feel like the creature looks at me as an inferior. When they take off I can imagine them taunting me saying “Ha, don’t you wish you could fly?”

The Common Magpie is not mentioned in many mythologies, but it’s close cousin the raven appears in almost all of the mythologies of regions that they live–which is almost everywhere. From Hugin and Mugin, the ravens of Odin, to the Creator Raven of Inuit myth, corvids are recognized as intelligent creatures set apart from humans.

Perhaps this is because they seem to be alive very much so in the same way that we are alive. They play; they have curiosity. When you look at a magpie, it’s hard not to see something like the spark of life that seperates humans from the other animals.

One might even say they have a soul.

The Basics of Evolution

The purpose of this blog is to inform people about biology, and no concept is more critical to understanding biology than that of evolution. In a perfect world, where everyone has had a basic education you would think that people would understand how evolution works but that is not the case. So let’s get down to business.

Evolution is as proven as things can be scientifically. A ‘theory’ in the scientific world has a much different meaning than the use of the word outside of that realm. The common usage of the word ‘theory’ is equivalent to the scientific of the word ‘hypothesis.’ A scientific theory has been tested hundreds of times and found to be correct.

Natural selection is the propagation of species most able to reproduce. The life of the individual only matters in terms of evolution until that individual reproduces. You can see the value of individual life in terms of evolution in many highly successful species which die after spawning such as octopi and salmon.

The idea of “survival of the fittest” is not equivalent to natural selection. The biggest and strongest organisms may not be the best suited for their environment. This can be seen in the Arctic Fox. The Red Fox is unable to live in the Arctic because it is too large and muscular, meaning that it requires more energy from feeding than the environment can provide. The most fit for living in the arctic is not the ‘fittest’ animal. The Red Fox is quite clearly more fit, as they routinely kill Arctic Foxes. This is not how natural selection works, though.

Evolution is happening all around us. You want proof of evolution? Antibiotic resistant bacteria. Discussion over.

Evolution is non-linear. Many people say things like, “If we evolved from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?” Ignoring the fact that the common ancestor modern monkeys and we have in common is no longer extant, this is still a fallacy. A common retort to this is, “If we were an English colony, why are there still English people?” Species evolve from existing species in a process called speciation. This does not necessarily mean that speciation results in the extinction of of the original species.

Evolution is continuous. All of the worlds organisms are continuously progressing. This can be a little confusing, as the “progress” of organisms is not as straight-forward (forgive the pun) as one might think. For example, jellyfish and sponges have both existed for about a billion years. Why haven’t they involved into something better? They are both fundamentally highly efficient organisms. Both jellyfish and sponges are capable of exponential reproduction from budding. They are also both highly efficient at feeding. Instead of evolving into better organisms, they have specialized because they are both extremely good at what they do.

Jellyfish in particular have some incredibly specializations. P. Hydriforme for example is an intra-cellular parasite. This reinforces the idea that evolution is non-linear. Intracellular parasitism is likely responsible for the evolution of more complex bacteria. This is evidenced by the fact that mitochondria have their own DNA. P. Hydriforme evolved, like all multi-cellular organisms, from these animals and yet returned to the same trophic strategy.

Evolution’s effects are countered by society. Why haven’t human beings evolved in tangible ways for the last 40,000 years? Because we have had society. Our capacity for society is a product of evolution, but because of society we are outside of the influences of natural selection. We take care of those that would die before reproducing in the natural world.

These things are just the basics of evolution, but hopefully you have a stronger grasp of this fundamental concept now!

 

The Aspen

aspen leaf cropped

I have yet to feature any organisms other than animals. It’s time to change that. Let’s talk about the majesty of the aspen tree.

The Science:

Aspens (Populus) are significantly different than most other trees in a fascinating way. Most groves of aspens you see are in fact a single tree. They are all clones, in the most scientifically accurate sense of the word. Aspens send out suckers which poke up through the soil and grow into a whole new trunk that is connected to the same root system.

Aspens are spread through out the Northern Hemisphere. They can grow nearly to 100 feet tall and live for nearly for a century and a half.

Aspen colonies can regrow very quickly from wildfires and lumber harvesting because even if the stems (trunks) are the trees are removed, the inter-connected root network remains intact.

They are some of the largest biological organisms on the face of the Earth. Pando, “The Trembling Giant” is a aspen colony in Utah. It is estimated to be about 80,000 years old and way six million kilograms. In comparison, the largest known living (or extinct) animal is the Blue Whale which can grow up to about 170,000 kilograms. Pando is about 35 times more massive than a Blue Whale.

fall aspens cropped
The Soul:

They are the dreams of mankind in the most inhuman of forms. They are testaments to their own greatness; they do not command respect for it is impossible for respect to not be given to them.

From the smallest of seeds they rise into the most dominant living feature of any landscape. They need nothing but the very essence of that which gives life to rise into the sky.

They can break through stone and form deep roots even into the side of cliffs. They are a force of nature, and a testament to weathering natures force. They may sway vigorously in the winds of winter storms, but rarely are they toppled by the might that Gaia has at her command.

The Aspen embodies the idea of wild growth; unrestrained, majestic reclamation from disaster. Huge colonies can arise in human lifetimes.

They are the first trees to come back from wild fires, and indeed the aspen relies on them in a way. Pine trees, since they have a lower sunlight requirement than aspens will over take an aspen grove slowly. This is why one does not see entire forests of aspens, in the same way that one can see entire forests of pine trees. Aspens are almost always encircled by pines, and over time aspen colonies can be completely overtaken by pines.

There is something truly incredible about the massive size that one single genetic individual aspen tree can reach. I have personally seen Pando, and it is an incredible sight to behold and to concieve of. One organism that has lived for almost the entire time that modern human beings have walked the Earth is only able to be described as truly awe-inspiring.

Aspens often create beautiful landscapes because whole colonies of aspens often have the same exact hue in the fall, creating a striking difference from many other deciduous trees.

They are truly beautiful organisms.

Basics of Bio Terminology

 

erudite owl graphic

Scientists and fancy bloggers on the internet trying to sound intelligent, such as myself, often use terms that are not well known. So here is an overview of commonly used biological terms that a layman might not know.

Crepuscular – From the Latin, “crepusculum” meaning twilight. A crepuscular animal is one that is primarily active during sunset and sunrise.

Trophic Strategy – How an animal or plant acquires energy/nutrition. The trophic strategy of plants, for example, is photosynthesis. Describing the trophic strategy of an animal is describing how it feeds.

Pelagic – The top layer of the ocean. This is the largest habitat on the Earth.

Cosmopolitan – A cosmopolitan animal is one that is effectively worldwide, such as jellyfish or foxes.

Ecology – The study of how organisms interact with their environment. Most people have a good idea of what ecology is, but it is important to note that studying ecosystems includes studying the nonliving parts of those habitats.

Aerobic – Needing oxygen. Aerobic organisms require oxygen. Anaerobic organisms either do not need oxygen or are intolerant to it.

Aphotic – Literally “without light.” This is usually used to describe the layers of the ocean that are so deep that light no longer reaches them.

Euphotic – With light. This is usually also used to describe the ocean up to a depth about 100 meters. After 100 meters not enough of the light passes through in order for photosynthesis to properly function.

Stimulus – An outside event that causes an organism to react. Plural is Stimuli.

This is nowhere near a complete list of the terms one needs to know to say, read a scholarly journal pertaining to biology, but I hope that it has atleast my blog easier to understand.

Knowledge is power!

The Red Fox

Red_fox_male

The Science:

The Red Fox, (Vulpes vulpes) is spread across the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere, as well as Australia. They are highly intelligent, with excellent hearing, sight, and smell. There incredible ability to adapt has made them the most successful mammalian land carnivore.

They have many behaviors that we associate with dogs, a fair comparison as both animals are canids. Their domestication has proven particularly difficult among the Carnivora. While there is limited evidence, it is a fair assumption to make that ancient humans likely came into contact with foxes as they did with wolves and attempted to domesticate them. In stark contrast to dogs, which have been at man’s side for ten thousand years or more, foxes have only been domesticated in recent history via four decades of selective breeding by a russian geneticist.

This breeding process has been used as a great example of the extreme difficulty of breeding for only one trait. The final product, a fox with no fear of humans, looked much like a dog. The specific changes in the phenotype of the animal were congruent with the phenotypical changes in the domestication of dogs from wolves.

There are dozens of sub-species of the fox, but the Red Fox is the largest and the one that most people are familiar with.

Their fur has been long sought after for its warmth and softness. Even after millennia of hunting the population of foxes worldwide still mains extremely strong. The Red Fox traditionally has red and white fur as an adult. When they are first born, red foxes have dark fur. Northern foxes are known to have much more desirable and silky fur than more southerly ones. The Red Fox displays both a red/white coloration and a silver/black coloration, along with several mutations in between these.

The Red Fox can also be albino, which sometimes gets them confused with arctic foxes. However, the Red Fox is significantly larger than the Arctic Fox and their ranges do not overlap. This lack of overlap is caused by the Red Fox’s larger quantity of needed food, and the fact that Red Fox’s can and will easily kill Arctic Foxes.

Although the Red Fox is anxious around humans, they are still quite prevalent in urban areas. One might easily confuse an urban fox for a raccoon, as they do many of the same things and cause the same problems, and both will do their work under the cover of darkness if they can. Similar to raccoons, the Red Fox strongly prefers suburban areas to highly urban ones.
What DOES The Fox Say?

A certain popular internet video has postulated a fair question: what does the fox say? Well… Not much. Foxes are not a very vocal species. This is kind of a good thing, because they make pretty unpleasant noises.

When they are scared, they will let out a high sharp barking sort of sound. It’s a little grating. They make a variety of other sounds similar to a woman screaming. The only real word for what a fox says, is “gekkering.” It is the sound that foxes make when play-fighting or really fighting.

So when someone asks you what the fox says, don’t answer “Ringdingdingringringerring,” simply inform them: “Foxes gekk. Who doesn’t know that?” in your most snooty tone.

Local_resident,_the_red_fox

The Soul:

The fox is a character in mythology across the entire world, and often plays a similar role. We see a lot of humanity in the fox, because they are so clever and tricky.

It is interesting to think about the relationship between our personification of animals and how “tricky” they can be. The fox and the raven in particular are often called ‘tricksters.’ When you really think about the thought processes, humans across the entire world closely relate being human to being able to deceive.

The Nine-Tailed fox is a particularly interesting mythological figure, being featured in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythos.

In-keeping with the use of “vixen” to describe a beautiful and cunning woman, the nine-tailed fox is a mythical beast that can turn into a human being during a wide spread of conditions. The legends vary significantly according to the culture, but most of them feature the nine-tailed fox as female, cunning, and inherently malevolent. In Chinese lore the nine-tailed fox bewitched both males and females and forced them to do things that they would normally not.

In Western Society, our ideas of the fox are much more positive. The fox is depicted as sometimes causing trouble, but only doing so in a playful manner similar to the depictions of Ravens in Native American myth.

The Red Fox is an excellent animal for us to learn from. It displays once more that adaptation is the most critical aspect to the success of a species.

The Fox is beloved in Western Society because it is often scene as a strongly independent animal that uses its wit instead of its brawn to overcome obstacles. This is somewhat untrue, as foxes are monogamous and have strong maternal instincts. Foxes are effectively never seen in packs like most other Carnivora, so there is some truth behind the image of their independence.

The Red Fox has an intriguing essence to it, and one that I think most people find easy to personify. V. Vulpes is an beautiful avatar for independence, intelligence, and resourcefulness.

The Lilac

1280px-Syringa_vulgaris_Bulgaria_4

The Science:

In Syringa vulgaris, a relative of olive trees coming from the Balkan penninsula, we find a wondrous scent and a bloom that impresses every thing from passerby to bee. Their allure is clearly demonstrated by the sheer scale of their cultivation; one would be hard pressed to find a town in the United States outside of the harshest desert reaches where no lilac can be found.

Lilacs were once very rare. They were spread to Europe from the Ottoman Empire, but it is not entirely clear how quickly they spread across Europe after their initial introduction. They were likely not common in the time of Shakespeare, as he did not mention them at all.

Lilacs are extremely hardy, growing primarily on rocky hills in their native territory. Their hardiness allows them to be gorwn in every state. Lilacs can spread through succors, creating clonal colonies. This is rarely seen however as the process takes decades and the succors are usually cut down.

Lilacs routinely reach heights up to seven meters, but are not rapidly growing plants.

The lilac bush made its way into European gardens during the latter portion of the sixteenth century, and began its conquest of America almost as soon as America became a nation. The lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire. It is naturalised in most of Europe and North America. Naturalisation occurs when a non-native species spreads into the natural environment enough to have a population large enough to maintain itself.

 Syringa_vulgaris_002

The Soul:

Why exactly is this Balkan bush so incredibly popular?

It is a tamed wildness, with its eruption of color and scent coming just when the summer starts to come and the outdoors are universally enticing.

The bush survives in almost every place that we find suitable to live, asking for only the most meager of accommodations. The simple lilac provides us a bit of beauty in an easy to manage, simple to enjoy plant.

There are many more lilac bushes in our well kempt decidedly domestic gardens than orchids. This is no coincidence. An easily achievable beauty is sufficient for the simple mind that seeks only perfume to hide the odor of discontent.

The lilac is a perfect respite from the troubles of this world. Greater beauty would only pose a challenge, the core of what we are always trying to escape. Simple pleasures allow further avoidance of the complex problems that ail us. They shield our eyrs from the reflection of our inner plight–the dreadful world we have made in our own beloved image.

The scent can keep the stench of the dead away. The gentle breeze rustles the leaves and covers the wailing of those who will never see justice. The roots dry the blood of the ancestors we have betrayed, and the great bloom obscures even the most monumental of their burial mounds.

And so we dutifully sew seeds in each new conquered plot of desert, meadow, or forest… So that our buried dreams might have noble company.

On a lighter note, they also smell fantastic.