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 […]

Girasol

There’s an unclaimed patch of ground right next to our driveway, the planting strip between the sidewalk and the street. Over the years it’s been filled with many things. Weeds, mostly. Orange poppies. Maroon-colored amaranth that toss confetti seeds across the sidewalk. Weeds, again. This year, my husband and our youngest son planted sunflowers in […]

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 […]

Why Is Singletrack So Awesome?

I never knew it needed explaining until someone asked me — why is singletrack so much more fun than wider trails like double track or dirt roads? We’re talking here about mountain biking and the allure of the singletrack trail — a narrow path, usually 18 to 24 inches wide, that meanders through a given […]

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 […]

A wild flower, caged.

About 150 miles northwest of Tahiti lies Raiatea, 65 square miles, and the spiritual center of the Polynesian world. This week, a holy site there, Taputapuatea, was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. Another world-famous marvel on the island is the tiare apetahi, an incredibly rare flower found only on Raiatea, and […]

Bat Facts

Last week was National Pollinator Week. Did you eat your pollinator cake and enjoy pin-the-tail-on-the-pollinator games at your neighborhood pollinator party? Yeah, me neither. But, thanks to an observant friend who’s on a lot of e-mail lists, I did get to celebrate with a bat walk. Some bats are pollinators. None of them happen to […]

Doom and the dogmometer

One way to understand a really big problem is to break it down into more manageable parts. That’s why scientists use specific, smaller systems to help them grasp the overall health of the planet. The Arctic, for example, is regarded as a bellwether for the catastrophes of climate change that will soon afflict us all, […]