The ritual: When science feels like elegy in advance

Each morning, when the fog was thin enough to see, I went to the cliffs. I’d park the white pickup down a grassy ATV trail. Or off the main dirt road on a pullout. Or in the turnaround at the island’s southwesternmost point, where, when the wind was up at sea, waves coming from the […]

Guest Post: Begging Babies

Two birdfeeders hang from the deck of my house in the woods, a waystation for locals and migrants alike. They are a locus of activity — except when I forget to refill them. That happened again last month. I grew too distracted by the daily feeding and maintenance of two small humans, both of whom […]

Mourning the Dove

There’s great dignity in the mourning dove. Rarely does one demand attention. A pair’s gentle cooing is a pleasure, the whisper of parents trying not to wake the baby. The whir of their wings in flight (called sonation) recalls a wind-up toy. A couple of them, in velvety gray-brown with daubs of black low on […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Arctic Resignation

The Svalbard archipelago, midway between continental Norway and the North Pole, is famous for its polar bears, but it is also home to the distinctive (and distinctively adorable) Svalbard reindeer. Shaggy-haired and stubby-legged, the Svalbard reindeer is not only the world’s smallest subspecies of reindeer but also the world’s northernmost herbivorous mammal, and its survival […]

Snark Week: Backyard Domestic Terrorists

Welcome to Snark Week at LWON. A number of years ago, when my wife was still in college, a prowler tried to break into her tiny bungalow in Berkeley, California. She heard him, first on the roof then at the door, furiously trying to get in. Normally she would rely on the dogs that lived […]

We Humans Know Nothing About Sharks

Next week is Shark Week, which means that we at the Last Word will be spending the week specifically not talking about sharks. Instead, we will scour the globe for far more dangerous and adorable critters in a yearly tradition called Snark Week. And while I might argue that Snark Week is a far bigger […]

Wild-Animal Painting in the Jungle

It’s not obvious how to draw a snake. Here, let Isabel Cooper tell you about it, in a 1924 article she wrote for The Atlantic Monthly. For instance, there’s no such thing as a school of snake artists, so when the problem of making a portrait of a snake presented itself I had to think […]