Across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: 1

I’m back from a week traveling in Iceland, most of my time spent on a 19-seater minibus making a three-quarter turn around the island from Reykjavík to Akureyri.

Birds Report

I’m pleased with the results from my birding, considering that our guide Elis made only a couple brief stops specifically to look at birds. Fourteen lifers and 28 species altogether. Just a few photographic records: Greylag Goose (Anser anser) and Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) in Tjörnin hard by Reykjavík’s city hall, and Black-legged Kittiwake Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialus), photographed at Skogafoss.

foldedThe photo opportunities for the kittiwakes were better later in the day at Reynisfjara, but I was looking at other things at the time, like my first Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) nesting on the cliffs.

wide viewcloserAs we were hotelling nearby, I had the chance to bird the other side of the mountain the next morning. In glorious solitude. The sea stacks, Reynisdrangar, are rather birdy albeit distant.

bitsNot a new bird for me, but I got excellent up close looks at Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) perched up on the bergy bits in Jökulsárlón.

White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) seemed to be ubiquitous; I heard them in some quite inhospitable places.

Easiest life bird was a Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) outside my hotel room window in downtown Reykjavík. I worked hardest keying out Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritimus) on the beach along Eiðsgrandi.

Drop by drop

Joe Palca and Susie Neilson report on a phone-sized device that can test for cholera in 30 minutes. It’s the work of Katherine Clayton and colleagues at Purdue University.

Still early days; more field tests are planned.

[Clayton] knows making a cholera test doesn’t put her on a fast track for financial success.

Instead, she says, her background in engineering has made her feel a sense of obligation to help find solutions to global problems: “That’s what I enjoy — knowing what the future could look like.”

It was the engineering

The irritating canard about Metro service to Georgetown, exploded one more time: “How the urban legend of Georgetown residents halting a Metro stop came to be,” by Topher Mathews.

I researched the archives of the Washington Post and the Washington Star, looking for contemporaneous mentions of local opposition to a Metro stop in Georgetown. Throughout the period of the planning of Metro (i.e. the 1960s through to the system’s opening in 1976), I could not find one example.

Succession

Some wildflower species don’t need organics in the soil to thrive, and don’t need what we would call hospitable temperatures. Rachel Cohen of Boise State Public Radio takes a botany walk through Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, which has 750 species on its checklist.

It’s too darn hot

A roundup of coffee agriculture-related stories:

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2019: 4

Michael Weller’s self-described work of “surreal slapstick” is the most challenging play of the festival, and ultimately the most rewarding, the one that gets under your skin. “Challenging” in the sense that some theatergoers don’t know what to make of it (as I consoled a seatmate) as well as in the technical sense. There are preposterous overnight transformations of the five characters’ living quarters, a remote-controlled bulldozer, and a series of silly headgear worn by the generator of all this surreal slapstick, one Mr. Shimeus (Wade McCollum). Shimeus spends most of the play wearing a tiny umbrella on his head.

But to back up a bit. McMoley (no-nonsense Lou Sumrall) and his family of Shananana, Frizzby, and Zazu, a Christian rock and roll band, are living in an abandoned factory at a time in the future when civilization has nearly collapsed and cities are vaporized by accidental/intentional detonations of “weapons dumps.” Strong-armed by the local housing authority, they are required to make space for Mr. Shimeus. When we first meet him, he is an abject puddle of a man, having lost his family, property, and livelihood, bringing nothing with him but some peculiar food customs. But not for long.

Shimeus immediately establishes a border between his side of the factory floor and McMoley’s side. His command of English improves by the hour, like an infernal version of Larry Shue’s Charlie Baker; there’s something of Edward Gorey’s spheniscid doubtful guest in Shimeus. His command of technology verges on the magical. Whatever he is, his power increases daily, pushing his boundary deeper into McMoley’s turf.

McCollum’s Shimeus is a verbal shape-shifter, keening, roaring, muttering in some tongue to offstage family members who somehow have materialized—stumbling in his English at one moment then hyperarticulating the next.

Is the rise of Shimeus a parable of the westward expansion of Europeans in America? Or a parody of the Jewish relocation into Palestine (Shimeus always sets an extra place at table for missing guests)? Or a recounting of the arrival of Latter Day Saints in Utah (there is a subplot with a mysterious bundle that bears a strong resemblance to Joseph Smith’s golden plates)? Or a recap of the Cold War and the strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction?

A Brechtian coda doesn’t answer the question, dismisses it altogether. But the conflict remains.

Michael Weller, in an interview for the program book, says,

… the level of discourse on my social media newsfeeds about politics is psychotic. Things have become so crazed that the attempt to actually speak quietly in the middle of it to try and unravel what’s going on isn’t nearly as strong, at least to me, as trying to yell over it more stupidly than the discourse itself. By screaming that loud and that irrationally, could you make people think, for a moment, “That’s actually what we sound like?” I gave myself permission to take that route and that’s how the play resulted.