Saturday, August 5, 2017

DYSTOPIAN WALLPAPER: the Lives of Birds and Insects

Life changes fast.  Life changes in an instant.  You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Joan Didion

This quartet of images is to be repeated side by side / up and down to create wallpaper.  The immediate impression is quiet and pleasant, but close observation reveals deadly problems in this peaceful landscape.

The upper left grouping:
The central focus is a European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) in the act of devouring a bumble bee.  The bumble bee is also being eyed by a beewolf  (genus Philanthus) and a Conops quadrifasciatus.
Two different, highly predacious,  assassin bugs sit to the left and right of the poisonous black hellebore, stalking two herbivorous leaf beetles.
The columbine leaves that interest the leaf beetles have already been attacked by leaf miners, usually the larvae of moths, sawflies (a type of wasp) or flies.

Stationed at the corners of each square are four species of ants ready to go to war.

Upper right grouping:
Attracting 3 house flies to their deaths in a pitfall-trap is the beautiful North American pitcher plant (Genus Sarracenia).  Just above are two groups of three seeds from the poisonous, vespertine, moonflower plant  (Genus Datura). Flanking the pitcherplant are the leaves of the sweet pea (Laythyrus odoratus)whose seeds are toxic.
Flying over the pitcher plant is a cicada being followed by a Cicada killer - a solitary wasp which will paralyze the cicada then lay eggs on it that will provide food for the larva when it hatches.

Lower right grouping:
A green hummingbird flies over the leaf of the poisonous castor bean plant, right into the waiting arms of a large, carnivorous, praying mantis.  The leaves by the wings of the mantis are from the bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), which can cause skin irritations.  Sitting on the leaves are lady beetles (Family Coccinellidae) ready to attack three aphids.

Lower left grouping:
A blue warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) from the deep woods of North America somehow has run across a yellow pansy butterfly (Junonia hierta) from the paleotropics. A pair of  common green darner dragonflies (Anax junius) are also interested in a butterfly lunch.
Seated in the center of a white opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is a white crab spider (not an insect) which doesn't spin a web, but grabs its prey when it comes to the flower.  In this case, it is a doomed white cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae).
Around the poppy are the poisonous leaves of the choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

Sunday, May 7, 2017


A power of Butterfly must be -
The Aptitude to fly,
Meadows of Majesty concedes
and easy Sweeps of Sky-

Emily Dickinson

Seasonal migrations are hazardous for the  participants but necessary for species that require alternate areas for food and nesting.  The triggers for this periodic travel can be the change in hours of daylight, variation in temperature, and the availability of food.
Methods of navigation probably depend on the position of the sun, moon and stars, the earth's magnetic field, landmarks, genetics and maybe even smell.

Cornell's Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society maintain a website (ebird) where visitors can see beautiful, animated occurrence maps of bird migrations.

Monday, April 3, 2017


I don't know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a superpower.


Driving to Tucson my son Barrett and I were rerouted to a lonely desert highway south of Roswell NM.  Our old Ford Tempo kept overheating and required at least 20 minutes to cool off before it would start again.  This is when I learned the real benefit of traveling with a naturalist.  It could have been frightening or boring.  Instead every stop was fascinating.  Even the driest, flattest, most nondescript landscape is filled with wonders - if you have a trained eye.

The concept of Private Lives addresses the issue of staying alive by means of camouflage.

Friday, November 25, 2016


and as she spoke
A soaring drowsiness possessed her; growing
In earth she stood, white thighs embraced by climbing
Bark, her white arms branches, her fair head swaying
In a cloud of leaves; all that was Daphne bowed
In the stirring of the wind, the glittering green
Leaf twined within her hair and she was laurel.
Ovid's Metamorphoses - Book I

This drawing belongs with the Herbarium section of the Cabinet and refers to the Greek myth about Apollo and Daphne.

Apollo offended Eros who sought revenge by shooting an arrow with a gold tip at Apollo causing him to fall deeply in love with Daphne.  A second arrow with a lead tip he shot at Daphne which had the opposite effect, making her hate Apollo.

Daphne had already chosen a path of virginity and a life in the forest.  She was an able athlete who out ran Apollo till Eros interfered and caused him to catch up.  Daphne called for help to her father, Pensus, a river god.  Pensus turned her into a tree.
Apollo, still in love, granted the tree immortality so its leaves always remain green.

To tell this story I have used the image of my friend Julie Caroff's hand.  Julie recently retired from practicing law to follow her great loves of botany and geology.  I can think of no one more enthusiastic about "woody plants".

Monday, August 1, 2016


Research is a passion with me; it drives me; it is my relentless master.

Margaret Morse Nice

In selecting naturalists for my mail art project there is usually something that appeals to me and governs my choice.  In this case my initial inspiration came from location.  It was startling to find that the ornithologist, Margaret Morse Nice, had lived and done her most famous work in Columbus, Ohio - very near my parents home but on the opposite side of the Olentangy river.  Ms. Nice had moved away years before they arrived but it was still amazing to think that my mother and father may have heard the songs of relatives of the Song Sparrows she studied for 8 years.  Other ornithologists were dismissive about her choice of species of bird to study as too common, but her intense observation brought to light many new concepts and the study as a whole was the most intensive behavioral observation for a single species at that time.

Ornithology had always been a "man's field" where women were not allowed to participate.  Ms. Nice opened that door.

My brother, John Eufinger, scouted out the place where she lived with her husband who worked for Ohio State University, and their four daughters.  The house still exists but whatever feeling of grace it had is lost as it is now occupied by cheerful male students who decorate the walls with posters about beer.
The area where she did her research on song sparrows, however, probably remains quite the same as it is on a floodplain where no building can take place.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Architecture is inhabited sculpture.

Constantin Brancusi


Termite mounds and the underground nests of leaf cutter ants are long lasting. The structures of social insects may last a season or a few years but most of the nests and habitations of birds and insects are ephemeral.  So much labor on their part, carving out spaces in the earth or assembling what is on hand.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


In nature's economy the currency is not money, it is life.

Vandana Shira

For this project 16 bills have been designed for financing the Lives of Birds and Insects. To make it more interesting, denominations on the bills are eccentric and harbor a secret perhaps not immediately recognizable kind of recreational math. The arrangement of the numbers is a magic square. Each number is used once.  When columns are added up vertically, horizontally and diagonally they all will be the same total.  34.