Archives for the month of: May, 2020

“I” am a fan of Lynn Margulis’ ideas on symbiosis and the concept of holobiont. Simply defined, a holobiont is a collection of species that are closely associated and have complex interactions, an assemblage of a host and the many other species, such as viruses and bacteria, living in or around it.  Exactly, like you and me. Or, wait a minute, you and us. When we feed our community, things can change: an existential question arises. Who am I,  and who are these creatures with whom I cohabit? In what way do they determine who I think I am, I thought “I” was special!

If you ever moved to another part of the world you may recognize the feeling that things you considered normal, suddenly are peculiar and vice versa. If this is a benevolent community, you slowly accept your new normal, things come out that you never knew were within you. We adapt. Or maybe the “us” is changing, some move out or die, others take up residence. Slowly our innards are gentrified. We thrive by keeping up healthy relationships within and among our communities. We are discrete, yet permeable beings, biologically speaking.

But what about me as a person? My being determined by time and place I came into existence as a breathing being, taking the outside world in, becoming and active part of this incredible pumping and pulsing planet. But being is not enough to be a person. Personhood is bestowed on most of the sapiens among us at present, and then some, becoming a legal entity and identity, with rights and responsibilities. The world divided up into persons and things.  It is a bit more complicated than that, but the relationship between person and thing can take only certain forms, person can own thing, person can exploit thing, person takes care of thing,  person does not care about thing.

In general we tend to assume that all members of our species are persons, and only our species. Philosophically it is not that easy to define what this means, are we defined by consciousness, something else?  And legally, many of us were not even considered persons for a long time. Slaveholder owns slaves, Man owns woman. Even now, when it seems the legal playing field has leveled out, the extreme desire to own resources (in other words, greed) has created such a strange world, that if there were a continuum with person and thing on either end, a large part of the human population would probably cluster at the ‘thing’ end. Few persons owning many things, many persons owning few things. 

It is only natural, to a certain extent we are all driven by self preservation, but there is a trade-off since we are also social creatures, and not only that, we host and are part of entire communities with whom we need to live symbiotically to survive.

So what about greed, the excessive desire for resources, is it in our genes?  The pendulum seems to swing the other way, supporting the idea that cooperative behavior evolved and that maybe evolutionary processes take place at the group level. Apparently, groups of highly cooperative individuals have higher chances of survival. If this is so, is the greedy individual a dying breed? 

Are we not only holobionts but are becoming a superorganism, as a group of synergetically interacting organisms of the same species? It is maybe time to question and revise divisions of ‘person’ and ‘thing’ and embrace our newly understood biological being as a basis for re-conceptualizing our connective worlds.

And then there is the curious case of corporate personhood, epitome of ultimate greed, how will we collectively deal with and dissect these malevolent creatures in our midst.  

This is like opening a can of worms… but briefly for now, I am reminded of the Asian giant hornet. Yes, the one who became infamous for killing bees by the thousands, recently migrated from Japan. The Japanese bees however have, over time, come up with an effective countermeasure: by forming a ‘bee ball’ around the hornet and vibrate in place, the bees collectively turn up the heat that will ‘cook’ the intruder. Cooperative behavior at its best. 

To be continued…




Every evening it seems there are more than the day before. As soon as dusk falls and I turn on the lights inside, the moths start to flutter. They enter through a few gaps in my screens, and it is hard to coerce them outside without inviting more into my light flooded room. I let them be and hope they figure out a reverse route.

Dark moths, most of us don’t pay much attention, but these nocturnal creatures are members of a large, incredible order to which all the butterflies belong as well, the Lepidopterans. These are the ‘scaly-winged’ creatures, referring to the patterns and colors of their wings that are formed by thousands of overlapping scales. The Noctuidae, the family to which my nightly visitors belong, are not particularly loved; now is the time they come out of hibernation and start feasting on alfalfa, corn, cotton and soybean fields. Unlike their cousins, the colorful daytime butterflies, these creatures are doing well, and the question is: where are their natural enemies, are they dying, just like the beautiful scaly-winged that are disappearing from our landscapes?

The changing colors of the wings are a result of light passing through the different layers of overlapping scales, known as iridescence. Whether as camouflage or to attract attention, the colors can be manipulated by differently received light, and a favorite spot to perch is then a sunspot on the forest floor. When I first read about the sunspot home range * of butterflies, while in Sicily, it made me smile. At that time I was trying to make sense of the relationships between the human inhabitants of the surroundings of my hillside residence that I shared with a big black dog. Tension was always palpable between the farmers and the cow & sheep herders who could let their animals roam free across the hills.

The butterfly, who can dance through this land, from sunspot to sunspot, unaware of human linear boundaries we are now so familiar with. It wasn’t always so, as shared resources, also known as the commons, were once more characterized by intertwined distribution. Not unlike the sunspots, that change throughout the day, the season, the year, creating this beautiful fluid home range, that is shared with many other creatures in the ecological fabric.

The straight line, the division of land often imposed from afar and above, with little consideration of the impact on people’s and other creatures’ lives and livelihood, meant to defer rather than invite interaction. The sunspots are still there, but the colorful butterflies no longer come in that frequently. Like many other insects they are dying out. It is a bit of a mystery to me why we, as humans, don’t realize this is a pattern for us to come if we don’t pay attention, as our lives are built upon and dependent on the evolutionary chain of creatures, all interconnected. Many disappear, while others see an opportunity to take up the void left behind.

That was it for the intermezzo, it is time to return to Homo rapacitas next time.

* A home range is the area in which an animal lives and moves on a periodic basis. It is related to the concept of an animal’s territory which is the area that is defended.

To be continued…

I recently arrived at El Zaguán in Santa Fe due to extraordinary circumstances. 

After a long journey I was excited to finally return to New Mexico, with the intention to assist with a project of indigenous language revitalization in one of the villages. 

On the evening I landed, it was announced that the country was to be closed to all foreign travelers as a consequence of and prevent the spread of the corona virus. Plans were in place for total lockdown, and the Pueblo swiftly took action to protect its people. Even though the work I came here to do could still continue, I was left without a place to stay. 

Fortunately, a fantastic solution was offered through the Historic Santa Fe foundation, via an old archaeology friend. A vacant apartment at El Zaguán that I could call my residence for the duration of my stay. A wonderful place and little did I know how closely the history of this place and its former owners are connected to the current events.

The house on Canyon road was purchased and named El Zaguán by Margrette Dietrich and her sister Dorothy Stewart in 1928. Dietrich relocated to Santa Fe from Nebraska and bought El Zaguán and two other houses to restore and save them from redevelopment. The house is a combination of Spanish Pueblo style with later, territorial style features. Part of the restoration involved setting up apartments for artists. The same apartments in one of which I  am now residing.

Dietrich arrived in Santa Fe from Nebraska, where she served as the President of the Nebraska Women’s Suffrage Association from 1918-1920 and regional director of the National League of Women Voters 1920-1929. This was an extraordinary time when women finally gained the right vote. It happened amidst of, and possibly moved forward by another extraordinary phenomenon, namely the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

Despite the fact that the women were not allowed to organize public protest, likely undermining their efforts, the course of the pandemic was such that many of the women performed much of the work, essential work, to contain the disease and care for those who fell ill. Sounds familiar? The important role of women in this time was recognized and became manifested in the 19th amendment to the US Constitution (1920), granting women the right to vote.

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Entrance at El Zaguán 

Upon arrival in New Mexico, Dietrich continued her advocacy work. She lobbied on behalf of Indigenous groups against the development of dams and exploration in the villages. She became President of the New Mexico Association of Indian Affairs from 1932-1955.

Even though the early twenties also resulted in some changes in the position of Native Americans, such as US citizenship (1924, but not voting rights), the practice of removing children from their homes to be placed in remote boarding schools was in place until the 1970’s, affecting language proficiency and cultural sovereignty. The impending loss of many languages has fortunately led to many language revitalization efforts in recent time.

Some things improve, some things we need to keep fighting for.

When the Black Death swept over Europe during the 14th century and wiped out a third of its population, it also destroyed feudalism in its wake. A good thing. Peasants were free to leave the lands of the lords to try to find higher wages because of the huge labor shortages.

But like women’s rights, indigenous rights, rights of land laborers are still not widely upheld.

Hopefully, our current predicament will result in a similar positive effect in recognizing the value of people who have too long been undervalued and ignored. We need however be aware of another type of threat amongst us, Homo rapacitas*, the seed of which also lurks within and around us…

To be continued…

  • rapacitas [Latin] : aggressive greed, as in “ the rapacity of landowners seeking greater profit from their property”

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Pebble messages anonymous 

When James Gleick opens his book on Information with reference to African drums, it is testimony to the way humans can solve a design problem collectively and over generations. In this case of African tribes, the problem of  conveying  information over long distances without using a physical message carrier. It was witnessed by the early European Colonials, who did not understand it at first.

For European Colonials who eventually understood that the drums could relay messages over long distances in short time, it was baffling because no such system had been invented by them and it took a few centuries longer before the electrical telegraph could do something similar.

The obvious analogy was then to compare the talking drum with morse code (1838). However, no European was able to decode the messages, simply because there was no such code to represent written words. African languages, Gleick explains, do not have an alphabet, the drums metamorphosed speech.

In short, used from the 1840’s on, the electrical telegraph is a point to point text messaging system which uses coded pulses of electric current through dedicated wires to transmit information over long distances. It consisted of two or more geographically separated  stations connected by wires, usually supported overhead on utility poles

And now we come full circle, drumming and utility poles.

Every morning, and later in the afternoon, I hear the woodpecker drumming his message across the street. At first I thought the sound was coming from the trees, then I thought there was not one, but multiple woodpeckers, as the drumming sounded different, deeper, and seem to come from a different angle or location. But then I spotted the ladder-backed guy, drumming away on the utility pole, right across from my window and I started to observe him. 

Drumming woodpeckers. The reason for drumming is generally thought of as territorial marking or to attract mates. Both males and females drum. Whether or not each bird has its own unique drumming pattern remains a question but some research indicates that differences possibly exists between the  sexes.

Yet when I watch my woodpecker, he seems to take great consideration in where to drum. He travels up and down and around the pole to play his next roll and I wonder how far the sound waves carry his information. Not  intended for me of course but for his conspecifics, the other woodpeckers I hear around. and some of whom I have seen and heard drumming on other utility poles. The poles perhaps have some good resonance, better than the trees. Perhaps the birds adapted, and the poles enable them to get their message across despite the human dominating sounds that can be so LOUD. It is only fitting that they choose the utility pole, designed as part of a system to convey information over long distances.


Gleick, J. (2011). The information: A history, a theory, a flood. New York: Pantheon Books.