JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods ±4kms west of Ek Balam Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

March 18, 2018

A BURRO IS BORN
Frieda the burro has been showing her condition for months, and now finally a healthy new burro has been born, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318br.jpg

That picture was taken in early morning after the night in which she was born, so she's less than one day old. It's astonishing to think that such a large baby can issue from such a small burro. In the picture the newborn foal is trying to nurse below Frieda's head, though other times she manages to find a tit.

Even more amazing is what's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318bs.jpg

That picture was taken the next day and it shows the baby running from one side of the corral to the other, it's feet blurring. With each pass across the corral she would kick out her hind legs at least once. The impression was that she just couldn't hold in all her energy, and the kicks released some of it.

The running and kicking make sense, though. As a general rule, animals who are prey in the predator/pray equation, like burros, produce offspring capable of escape and defense very early in their lives. If a hyena were after her, kicking would be her main defense.

During the burro's first days everything fascinated her. At midday a rooster crowed, and her long ears instantly turned to hear it better. Walking by a big Zebu bull resting on the ground, tshe walked up and sniffed all around, the Zebu seeming to understand the moment's innocence. The new burro at three days of age is shown at rest at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318bt.jpg

The fellows here tell me that all newborn burros are black, though the parents are brownish.

*****

GULF COAST TOADS AFTER A SURPRISE RAIN
Here March often passes without a single rain, but last Monday we received 48mm, nearly two inches, and Tuesday morning the toads were calling.

At http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/gulftoad.htm we've documented Gulf Coast Toads doing all sorts of things, but Tuesday morning I got some new shots enlarging on our feeling for this species.

For example, we've seen how these mating toads produce long, slender, beadlike, gelatinous strings of eggs. Tuesday I saw the strings issuing from the female's body, with the male atop her, presumably blessing the emerging eggs with clouds of sperm during the toad-sex process known as amplexus. That's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318bg.jpg

Also, I got to see a male calling, his vocal pouch ballooning below his broad mouth, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318bf.jpg

Moments before that picture was taken, the toad shown on the bottom was atop the male now atop him. They're both males and both were so psyched up for amplexus that they were mounting anything that moved. One even briefly mounted a surfacing mud turtle's head.

*****

THE WHITE-LIPPED MUD TURTLE'S WHITE LIPS
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/mudturt2.htm we introduce a White-lipped Mud Turtle encountered near Río Lagartos on the Yucatan's north-central coast. The turtle featured was so hesitant to withdraw from his shell that we never had a good look at his white lips. This Tuesday, after our surprise rain the day before, as I was photographing frolicking Gulf-Coast Toads in one of the rancho's little ponds, a White-lipped Mud Turtle surfaced right beside a pair of mating toads, and at last -- once he'd shaken off the toads -- I got a good view of the turtle's white lips. They're shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318mt.jpg

*****

HELIOCARPUS TREES' FRUIT-LADEN BRANCHES
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/heliocar.htm we look at the Heliocarpus tree's leaves, flowers, and interestingly fuzzy, sunlight-gathering fruits. Now as the dry season begins bearing down with its heat and dryness, those trees have dropped their leaves, to save water. However, their naked branches still call attention to themselves with conspicuous, messy-seeming masses of brown fruits. With a half Moon shining in the background, you can see a small part of a large forest tree at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318hc.jpg

Closer up, the individual fruits' distinctive shapes and soft-prickly coverings are seen, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318hd.jpg

*****

ANOTHER FACE OF DESMANTHUS
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/desmanth.htm we look at the Desmanthus, Desmanthus virgatus, a member of the Bean Family with acacia-like leaves. There our pictures portray a shoulder-tall herb with colorful legumes and interesting, ant-attracting glands on the petioles. This week as I waited for the Oriente bus to Valladolid I certainly didn't associate that vigorous plant with the wiry, ankle-high weed bearing clusters of dried-out, dark-brown legumes, and tangling itself with other scrappy-looking plants and garbage beside the road. The plant was so embedded in visual clutter that I picked a stem from it, held it against the sky, and took the picture shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318dm.jpg

The manner in which the matured legumes spread like flat fingers atop a very slender wrist, and the acacia-like flowering cluster and twice-pinnate leaves, should have cued me to the fact that this was just another face of the very variable Desmanthus. However, I was so sure I'd never seen such a roadside weed that I thought I had something new. A closer look at those interesting legumes is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318do.jpg

Leaves, with new flowers about to burst from their puds atop their peduncles, are seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318dn.jpg

Individual flowers, each with ten stamens, form flowering heads with seven or so flowers, are seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318dp.jpg

It's worth reviewing these details because they remind us that certain species can present radically different overall vegetative appearances, while retaining there's remarkable consistency in the size and shape of their sexual parts. The species' Wikipedia page claims that our wiry, ankle-high roadside weed can grow up to ten feet tall (3m), and produce up to 50 herbaceous stems from its single woody taproot. In some parts, the species is grown as forage for livestock.

The Desmanthus's taproot is important to its survival. When drought, frost, fire, animal grazing or roadcrew men with machetes destroy the herbaceous aboveground part, when conditions once again are favorable, the taproot simply produces new sprouts.

*****

PIÑUELA FLOWERING HEADS SPREADING OUT
Just last week we saw that flowers on our Piñuelas arise from a slender, fingerlike inflorescence, as shown on the species' page at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/bromelia.htm

This week most of the flowering is past and the slender inflorescence has opened up to an oval shape, revealing that flowers rest atop short stems, or pedicels, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180318pn.jpg

Most pictures on the Internet show the inflorescences in this more mature stage, but now we see that, at least here and now, our flowering heads expand only after the flowering peak is past.

*****

60% CHANCE CANCEROUS
About three or four months ago a mole formed on my back, atop my lower spine. It wasn't a bother, and moles and warts always have come and gone on my body, so I didn't pay much attention. About a month ago the mole became tender and sometimes hurt. With my camera held behind my back I photographed it. It displayed a black center, which wasn't a good sign. I'd have it looked at after returning from my upcoming visa trip. Last week it began bleeding, another danger sign.

So, last week in Valladolid, within an hour after walking into the clinic without an appointment, I was lying belly-down on the operating table. The surgery took 40 minutes to cut out what the surgeon called a tumor, not a mole. When the thing was brought before my face there on the operating table, I saw that 1cm (7/10ths inch) of tissue around and below the tumor had been removed. When I asked my surgeon what her guess might be, just by looking at it, of the possibility that it was cancerous, she replied "60 percent."

That doesn't mean that now I might have a 60% chance of having an active cancer, for the removal of 1cm of flesh from around the tumor was an attempt to remove potential cancerous "roots."

On the Internet I'd already compared my black-headed, bleeding tumor with images depicting various forms of cancer, and 60% sounded like a proper guess to me. Also, already I'd told the surgeon that if further steps needed to be taken -- radical surgery, chemotherapy or whatever -- I wouldn't take them. From what I've seen, when you're 70 or older and take such measures, your quality of life deteriorates drastically in both the physical and mental realms. Some people want to prolong their lives to the very last possible second, no matter what condition they end up in, but I'm the opposite of that, and I insist on keeping in control of this new situation from the very beginning.

I saw no point of a biopsy being made; My black-topped tumor resides in a plastic bottle next to me as I write this at the hut. If a biopsy were to indicate that more cancerous cells remain in my body, it wouldn't change at all the fact that each day -- as has been the case for decades -- I make every effort to live as if each day is my last. If a biopsy showed no sign of cancerous cells remaining, it might weaken my will to continue my daily discipline of trying to stay conscious of the uncounted malfunctions and deterioration our bodies are vulnerable to. And that might diminish the intensity of my awareness that what I have right now is exquisite.

In fact, after digesting the "60% chance" news, I found myself unusually lighthearted and encouraged.

That's because, often during these last decades, sometimes I've been haunted by the thought that maybe all my talk about Nature study leading me into a higher level of spirituality was just talk. For a long time I've felt like a soldier approaching the front, who all through training felt confident that he'd always hold the line in real battle, but also wondering if with the first close bullet the knees might buckle, or that even he'd find himself running away. Now with the front that all us living things face looming closer than ever before, I've taken a modest yet potentially lethal flesh wound, and I find myself not faltering at all. In fact, now I find myself even more than before focused on and dedicated to the path I've chosen.

And, what is that "path"? It's one meant to honor the artistry and benevolence with which the Universal Creative Impulse has genetically programmed me, and inspirited me with a tiny sacred part of its own Self. I honor this Creative Impulse by -- as consciously as I can -- being myself, and following my path with gusto to its very end, wherever, whenever and however that inevitably comes.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.