In Warm Water


Demont-Breton-la-plageRight now the ocean is glorious. In the evenings, even if the day hasn’t been too hot, you can throw yourself into the saltwater and float between the waves for a while without your teeth chattering.

This is not normal. Continue reading

Guest Post: Writing a Relationship


Model_of_the_Structure_of_Penicillin,_by_Dorothy_Hodgkin,_Oxford,_c.1945.jpegAbout a year ago I sat in the Members’ Room at the Royal Society as Professor Judith Howard FRS, once a doctoral student of Dorothy Hodgkin’s, explained how crystallographers worked in the early days. She showed me how Dorothy would begin by calibrating the black circles in an X-ray diffraction pattern by eye, to begin the long process of assembling from the shadows cast by an X-ray beam the complex three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in the molecule. Hanging on the wall  outside was a Henry Moore drawing of Dorothy’s arthritic hands , the hands she said she thought with.

What intrigued me in seeing the combination of skills she needed, not only mathematics but hand and eye co-ordination and vision to work out how the thousand atoms in say the Vitamin B12 molecule fitted together. It was somewhere between chess and Rubik cube- a giant jigsaw puzzle where she couldn’t see the picture, or even all the pieces. Continue reading

Very Aromatic Plant Chocolate Chip


mint leaves
In my freezer is the last of a batch of mint chocolate chip ice cream I made early this month. The ice cream maker had lived in my kitchen since Christmas. It had been hidden in a closet for a few months before that, so its intended recipient wouldn’t see it. Now that recipient has moved out, with his ice cream maker, his clogs, and his everything else. Before he retrieved his things, I wanted to make one last batch.

I learned how to identify plants like a pro in college, when I spent two summers doing ecology research in Colorado. Then–and maybe still today–if you wanted to know a plant, the answer was in the pages of Rocky Mountain Flora. I haven’t needed to definitively identify a plant in the Rocky Mountains since  1996, but I can’t just throw away out the worn yellow paperback that I lived by for two summers. I got it down from a high shelf yesterday to remember how it works. Continue reading

Redux: Ixnay on the iPod: In Praise of Crap Technology


Tom Hayden, an ex-LWONian whom we miss beyond measure, posted this on Nov. 2, 2011.  At the time it seemed to hit a national nerve, but knowing Tom, we bet every detail of it is still true.

I’ve been thinking about my Zune a lot since Steve Jobs passed away. You know, the revolutionary portable music device that lets users carry thousands of digitized songs around in a pocket or a purse? Oh wait, what am I saying — it’s not a Microsoft product I’ve been thinking about. I don’t have a Zune. I don’t even have an iPod. I have a Coby.

That’s right, a Coby. A cheap plastic mp3 player — basically a $19.99 flash drive with a headphone jack, a pixilated little screen, and controls that look a lot like the original iPod scroll wheel, without actually scrolling or being a wheel. It’s a piece of crap, really. And I love it. Continue reading

The Last Word


Snark Week 2 copy

August 11-15, 2014

While the Discovery Channel attempted to terrify you with fanciful tales about extinct monster sharks with six-inch-long teeth, LWON focused on smaller, cuddlier, but still deadly beasts. Yes, it’s Snark Week at LWON. “Remember,” Erik says, “just because something is fluffy and adorable doesn’t mean it’s not secretly plotting to kill you in terrible and gruesome ways.”

Erik introduces us to the devil rodents with rust orange teeth that are wreaking havoc in America’s wetlands. (And also slitting people’s throats.) “According to one Louisiana expert, nutrias have been known to attack whole Girl Scout troops at a time.”

Think chicks are cuddly and cute? Ann doesn’t. Because she knows they turn into G-D chickens. “If you don’t believe that T. Rexes evolved into birds, just look into the cold, mean, stupid, reptilian eye of a chicken. And those eyes are windows into loathsome souls.” Tell us how you really feel, Annie.

Moose are a terrifying combination: huge, fast, and exceedingly dopey. They kill more people in Alaska than bears. And though they’re not naturally aggressive, they can — and sometimes will — stomp people to death. When they’re really mad, Christie says, they’ll smack their lips. But she has some useful advice: “If you’re close enough to see a moose smacking its lips, you’re too damn close.”

Beneath his house, Craig has “a horde of blood-thirsty, mad-eyed squirrels” hell-bent on world domination. And only Craig’s kids can figure out how to derail their dastardly plot.

Last, but not least, Abstruse Goose knows just how our our feline friends will take their sweet, sweet revenge.








Snark Week: Look Who’s Hell Bent on World Domination


Scary SquirrelThe most often asked for bedtime tale from my children is a “Squirrel Story.” I’ve written a book about animal encounters in the wild, but this is a whole different matter. As the kids scoot beneath their covers, I tell them about a horde of blood-thirsty, mad-eyed squirrels who’ve built an enormous warren beneath our house called Squirrel Haven. In their secret lair they have laboratories and campaign chambers where they plot how to get my family out of our house so that they can take over, free to leave their robust turds on every dish, ripping our home apart from the inside out. Ostensibly, they are trying to rule the world by unleashing terrifying genetic experiments, building a giant metal squirrel robot, or capturing squirrel farts in balloons and sending them to the surface. But really, before taking over the world, they have to first conquer our house.

These stories are not unfounded. We have a squirrel problem. They’ve chewed holes in every window screen to gain access. One day I walked outside and counted five squirrels on my car, chewing at the weather stripping around my windows. They want in. Nothing will stop them. One summer we live-trapped almost 30 of these marauding beasts, giving each a spot of spray paint before hauling them miles away. The marked individuals never reappeared, yet the population did not appear to diminish. They produce two litters a year, nine young per litter. You do the math, there is no stopping them. Continue reading

Snark Week: Moose are dopey and dangerous!



They look so docile, but don’t be fooled. “Assume every moose is a serial killer standing in the middle of the trail with a loaded gun,” says Alaska wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane. They may be cute in a dopey sort of way, but moose are also huge and powerful. Females weigh between 700 and 1,100 pounds and bulls can hit 900 to 1,400 pounds on the scale. Considering their bulk, moose are remarkably fast runners — their top running speed can hit 30 miles per hour. 


Moose injure more people in Alaska each year than bears. While some of these injuries stem from collisions with motor vehicles, moose also stomp and kick and these hoof swats can kill. In 1995, a moose stomped to death a 71-year-old man on the University of Alaska-Anchorage campus. What makes moose so statistically dangerous is their numbers. They’re more numerous than grizzly bears and more likely to wander into urban areas. Continue reading