A mystery: 8: solved

Alonso Abugattas identifies the mystery spiders that I met two autumns ago: Neoscona sp., probably N. crucifera. He explains why they “seem to appear” in fall:

During the earlier part of the year you likely never noticed them. Not only were they much smaller as spiderlings, but they hide during the day. They would tear down and consume their webs every morning, so you often didn’t notice their webs they constructed nightly. They did this to avoid daytime predators such as birds or wasps from finding them. Mud Dauber wasps for example often sting and paralyze many of these when they’re young, stashing them in their mud nests as living paralyzed food for their own babies.

But by Fall, they’re often too big for wasps to eat. Many wasps have also concluded hunting and egg laying by this late in the year. So the spiders sometimes hang out during the day. Many birds also don’t go after them as much, having no babies to feed or they themselves leaving on migration South. Prey also gets scarcer as it gets colder, so leaving the web up during the warmer day increases the chance of a catch. Consequently, Spotted Orbweavers don’t hide as much and also don’t tear down their webs and rebuild them at night as much once autumn arrives.

Posted in Natural Sciences | Comments Off on A mystery: 8: solved

Silver Line progress report: 42

Lori Aratani has an update on Phase 2: design and construction 67% complete, and the project is two years from “substantial completion.” Come Phase 2 in 2020, I will miss boarding at the terminus in the morning, but presumably I will be jostling with fewer people on the platform for a seat.

Posted in Transit in D.C. | Comments Off on Silver Line progress report: 42

Love and Information

enigmatic
70 possible short scenes, merely text, no characters, no given situations
love
memory palace
missing information
the impossibility of describing the sensation of fear, of plain, of longing
shotgun DNA sequencing
love and remembrance
cocktails and [illegible]
interrogation and torture
opening scene: Alice shares a secret with Bob, but we never get to hear it
house configured galley style, watching other audience members
Palestine
half a line, fishermen in slickers, a phone call to a Las Vegas showgirl
specimens
information exchange
ensemble of fourteen
strong work

  • Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Michael Dove, Forum Theatre, Silver Spring, Md.
Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on Love and Information

In the Heights

In the Heights is a richly-textured soundscape and dancescape of immigrant life in New York’s Washington Heights in the early years of this century. From the broad strokes of redevelopment pressures to the fine details of transit (“There’s no 9 train now”), the rendering is vivid and precise. Miranda and Hudes skillfully advance character and plot within a big set piece like “The Club”/”Blackout” in short, economical phrases.

The text is brought to marvelous life by director/choreographer Marcos Santana. For the most part, the downstage thrust area is kept open; Milagros Ponce de León’s set pieces can be pulled on wagons to bring us into the interior of Usnavi’s bodega, or Daniela’s hair salon, or Kevin and Camila’s car service office.

Although the young people’s hopes and dreams drive most of the story, I was particularly smitten by Danny Bolero’s “Inútil,” a song of mature longing in which he sings of the frustrations of being his father’s son and of not being able to do well enough for his family. And the Piragua Guy’s (Tobias A. Young) interludes are a pleasant mood-relaxer.

The offstage band sounded somewhat disembodied, and at Sunday’s show, some of the mic cues could have been executed later rather than sooner.

  • In the Heights, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, directed by Marcos Santana, Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre, Olney, Md.
Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on In the Heights

Manassas

This is what we so often find when searching for history—emptiness, quiet, acres of mowed grass. Battlefields where hundreds of men died on a single day become vast, pristine lawns, as lovely as a landscape by Constable or van Gogh, and historic birthplaces are so lovingly maintained that it’s hard to believe anyone ever lived there. Edith Wharton’s cellar becomes a gift shop. In the cemetery quiet of these places, all the clangor and hell of actual history—the smell of manure where horses were bedded, earth scorched from fire pits or cannonball explosions, the stench from bayonets ripping flesh—has been sanitized away. While preserving history, we remove it. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I’d rather see a beautifully maintained battlefield than a Wal-Mart parking lot. But that is what we’re doing while visiting historic space. It’s Versailles without the hideously overdressed and clownish aristocrats, a Potemkin village without the rotting slums behind the facades.

—Rinker Buck, The Oregon Trail (2015), chap. 16, pp. 215-216
Posted in History, Quotable | Comments Off on Manassas

VNPS 2017: Ferns with Carl and Jerry Taylor

Carl and Jerry Taylor did a fern-intensive walk, bushwhacking up ravines from the C&O Canal towpath near Snyder’s Landing.

lacier than Marginaland reverseWe sorted out our Dryopteris species, among them Intermediate Woodfern (D. intermedia) (left, and with sori, right)

not quite leatheryand Marginal Woodfern (D. marginalis).

love the spleenwortsIt was a good day for spleenworts, four species in all, including this lovely Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).

twoferAt a quick stop on the way back to our meeting point, Carl pointed out some cliff-preferring species, like this pair of Wall Rue (A. ruta-muraria) (above) and Blunt-lobed Cliff Fern (Woodsia obtusa).

But the WOW moment was the look at, with hand lens assist, a few gametophytes (prothallus) of Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostochoides). The trick to seeing gametophytes is to find a nurse log or other suitable substrate, then look for tiny sporophytes just getting started (a few millimeters tall). At the base of the sporophyte, you might find the remnants of the gametophyte.

Posted in NOC | Comments Off on VNPS 2017: Ferns with Carl and Jerry Taylor

VNPS 2017: Ice Mountain Preserve

quiet nowKevin Dodge, Shirley Gay, and Steve Kite led a walk though Ice Mountain Preserve. The northwest face of the ridge is an immense talus slope, as the North River gradually eats away at the base of the mountain.

it's cool insideThe pores between the boulders are a magnet for cold air. The air vents out at the bottom of the slope. In winter and spring, these vents are covered with ice.

at least oneThe trapped and released cold air provides growing conditions that are closer to boreal than mid-Atlantic. Most of the veg we saw was mostly gone by, but one Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) was still holding on.

Closer to the trailhead, we found a few examples of Cut-leaved Grape Fern (Botrychium dissectum).

Posted in In the Field | Comments Off on VNPS 2017: Ice Mountain Preserve

The Arsonists

Woolly Mammoth takes a bold step… into the past, with its mounting of a play from the mid-20th century. The Swiss playwright Max Frisch’s fable, first presented in 1958 (as Biedermann und die Brandstifter) and in a new translation by Alistair Beaton, is a cry against middle-class complacency when confronted with looming evil. It’s not a particularly subtle work, with a narrative arc that angles straight down. There are Brechtian touches of distancing. Bits of dialogue are repeated, and the language can be rather stilted–cut across with fourth wall-breaking direct addresses to the audience.

Businessman George Betterman (Howard Shalwitz, dusting off his nebbishy) is visited (or invaded?) in his living room by Joe Smith, a down-and-outer, played by Tim Getman. Getman (skinheaded and bushy-bearded) does some strong work here, riding a line of simmering threat and emotional blackmail. Betterman (a bit of a sketchy dealer himself, truth be told) invites Joe under his roof, probably against his better judgement. There is a suspicion, at first just a soupçon, that Joe has something to do with the rash of arson fires that have plagued Betterman’s city. Betterman wants to show compassion, to engage with Joe. But Joe just ramps up the stakes, first bringing his friend Billie Irons (Kimberly Gilbert, all sweetness and sand) into the house without asking, and then rolling in some very ominous looking storage drums. There’s no guile to Joe and Billie: every time they’re asked, they tell you what they’re doing at that particular moment.

The question that Frisch poses to us (nay, flings at us) is simply: at what point do you say no to Joe and Billie? When Joe first walks in the door? When they are asked what’s in the drums, and they flatly reply, “Gasoline”? When, at the play’s culmination, they ask Betterman for a mundane favor that is the key to the final conflagration?

The play’s strength is its weakness. We can read so many different conflicts into it, from freedom fighters vs. fascists of all stripes, to narcissist national leaders who escalate pissing contests into nuclear exchanges.

  • The Arsonists, by Max Frisch, in a new translation by Alistair Beaton, directed by Michael John Garcés, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on The Arsonists

Smart animals

Netting bats on the ashes of a Staten Island landfill, from Laura Bliss.

A lot of New Yorkers still think of Freshkills as a dump, [Danielle Fibikar] says, even though it’s coming back to life. The place is misunderstood, sort of like the bats.

“There’s a lot of stuff people don’t pay attention to in this city,” she says. “I think they’re scared of what they don’t know.”

Alas, the story is marred by a copy editing blunder:

In New York City, where nine species of bats are known to migrate during the summer, a single little brown bat is capable of devouring up to 100 percent of its body weight in insects, a diet that includes mosquitoes.

Devouring up to 100 per cent of its body weight… per day? per minute? per fortnight?

Posted in Annoyances, Gotham, Natural Sciences | Comments Off on Smart animals

My name is…

Wolf Trap Opera company offers some guidance to Studio Artist applicants about preparing a one-minute spoken monologue.

… when we briefly remove the vocal [i.e., musical] component, we sometimes have a chance to learn a bit more about the actor in front of us.

One quibble: what’s missing from this list of playwrights?

If you go with a play, you can’t go wrong with the modern master playwrights: Mamet, O’Neill, Labute, Miller, Williams, Shepard, Albee, Wilson, Kushner…

… Wasserstein, Parks, Nottage, Ruhl, Vogel, Hellman, …

Posted in Theater | Comments Off on My name is…

Whataboutery

Clyde Haberman gets relative about baseball.

Oh yeah, what about Maris hitting his 61 in a longer season than Ruth had, and at a time when pitching strength was diluted by major league expansion?

Posted in Baseball | Comments Off on Whataboutery

Turkey Run Ridge

For Labor Day, a 5-mile loop in 3:50 through Prince William Forest Park. More or less tracking the hike in PATC’s Hikes in the Washington Region, Part B. My edition is from 1993, so some crossings have been rerouted since then.

The only butterflies about were some Red-spotted Purples in the parking lot. Big patches of running cedar; the trails still somewhat wet after Saturday’s rains. Definitely folks on the trail, but not what you could call crowded: one large group of hikers, but mostly couple and trios. Lots of (generally leashed, well-behaved) dogs.

The High Meadows Trail (simply trail T-10 in the PATC guide) is a misnomer, as it traverses very beechy-hickory woods. Laurel hells along the South Fork of Quantico Creek. A muggy day, if not that warm: wind in the treetops, but rarely for me.

Many of the streams with heavily scoured banks, evidence of the hard use this land had been put to.

coralSome interesting mushrooms, again many of them popped from recent rains. The best match in my field guide for this is Ramaria aurea.

not yet ripeI stopped for lunch at a small stream crossing. As I munched, I found a single Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) in fruit, if not yet ripe. I’d never seen the red creeping into the base of the upper leaves before.

Posted in In the Field | Tagged | Comments Off on Turkey Run Ridge

Unintended consequences

Ed Yong reports on research by Jianqiang Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences into one of my favorite creepy plants: dodder (Cuscuta sp.). Wu’s work indicates that distinct plants parasitized by a connecting dodder vine can use it to exchange chemical signals, say, in response to herbivory.

It’s not that dodder has evolved to do this. The parasite is a generalist with unfussy taste in hosts, so it doesn’t really benefit by improving the lives of the plants it attacks. And Wu still suspects that the transmission mechanism does more harm than good, by sapping its hosts of water and nutrients. But it’s perhaps surprising that it does any good at all.

Posted in Botany | Comments Off on Unintended consequences

99

Alex Vadukul visits the 13th Street Repertory Company, an Off Off Broadway venue in Greenwich Village from way back: equal parts Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the old barn and You Can’t Take It with You:

… a man who was homeless before Ms. [Edith] O’Hara offered him a crawl space above the lighting booth. That man, Tom Harlan, 60, sat barefoot in the theater’s dimly lit office recently. “She took me in,” he said….

After Mr. Harlan moved in, Ms. O’Hara discovered he was artistically gifted, and she made him her resident costume and set designer.

Posted in Gotham, Theater | Comments Off on 99

Py-we-ack

yes, that's snowA few days ago, I was flipping back through my posts from my California trip in 2011, including notes I made at Tenaya Lake. In today’s paper, Daniel Duane explains how it got that name, and the story isn’t pretty.

… Tenaya Lake — a place so important to me that I want my ashes scattered there — is named not in honor of Tenaya but in joyous celebration of the destruction of his people.

Posted in Golden State, History | Tagged | Comments Off on Py-we-ack