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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Into Every Life A Little Fertile Bird Poop Must Fall. . .

      A bird let loose a fine, fertile mixture of urine and feces from its cloaca onto my head on Christmas Day. Yes, a bird pooped on me.

       I expect my face looked similar to this house finch:

      The Italian (and other cultures') superstitions of a bird pooping on you being good luck is even mentioned in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Web page:
"Flying Poop"

"Q: I have been asked to find out if Canada Geese, um, poop while they fly. I'm sure you have more important issues, but this is very important to the seven-year-old who goes to the driving range with me.

A: Birds are certainly capable of pooping while flying. They often poop just before taking off, perhaps to lighten their load. Although this might not reassure your seven-year-old, you might also mention that in some cultures people believe that is very good luck to be hit by bird poop."

       Having been through the experience of being "one in a million," I can tell you it sure doesn't feel so lucky, being a ways from home on a sunny Colorado day. . .as I passed fellow merry, well-wishing, chatty walkers with black-gray goo running from my hair down the side of my face. But, with a shower and some retrospective, I do realize how lucky I am. A friend reassured me with this photo of an egret (look at those ruffled neck feathers ;-)) and a nice landing:


     I am especially lucky because this is the second time I have been pooped on.The first was outside an Italian (maybe the birds knew?)  restaurant in downtown Denver. We stood outside the restaurant looking at the menu posted on the exterior wall when, sure enough, a pigeon let loose on my head and clothing. When I went into the restaurant to get cleaned up, the waiter laughed and said "Oh, yeah, they do it all the time with people standing there looking at the menu." Ha! Funniest Home Videos for Birds. I did think I heard the other pigeons cavorting afterward. It's good to know they have a sense of humor.

     I am also lucky and grateful for family, friends, fellow bloggers, and National Public Radio (and for the serial comma). The recent Science Friday rebroadcast on Temple Grandin, the autism spectrum, and her description of seeing life in pictures rather in words (as she proposes animals also do) struck me (post the recent avian experience):

      With the recent advent of increasing photographs and images on social media (Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and the like), we are all seeing life in more and more pictures. Though, being such a word lover, I truly hope we never go completely to a world of all images. What would I do with these thousand words I have stored up ready to go? All the puns waiting to be launched?

       Wishing you all a happy, safe, fertile year for 2014. The Christmas bird has deposited lots of seeds for blog topics for 2014 (the milky blue blood of horseshoe crabs, squid, and cuttlefish, "expanding" chickadee brains, as well as trilobite eyes and modern photography). Here's a preview of a majestic trilobite eye:

     Are there other topics that Partial Ellipsis of the Sun (PEOTS) might explore next year? I look forward to your ideas, suggestions, and seeds of thought. And, thanks for swooping on by.

Fertile Crescently,

 Word Woman (Scientific Steph)



  1. Landing Egret photograph by C. Bostwick.

  2. No wonder I’m dealt so many crappy hands; we’re playing with a poop deck. What are Andres Serrano and Chris Ofili infamous for? Poop art. Why do they call it a rest room? People who go there are pooped. What do you call a young un-house-trained dog?… (Where’s SDB when you need him?!)

    Yes, SS, a photo is worth 1,000 words, but beware the feces that launched 1,000 puns, especially if they’re shippy ones.

    Regarding your “Christmas present from the heavens,” weren’t the gifts of the magi gold, frankincense and merde? (Keep the gold, re-gift the other two, the stinky stuff… BTW, love the finch-face!) Your encounter with a double-dose of avian dung made me think of lightning striking twice. (Well, at least the birds experience a “lightening,” kinda like dumping ballast from a balloon.)

    It also reminded me of the urban myth/pun about passenger jets (not pigeons) that flush their toilets while airborne, thereby causing the raw sewage to freeze as it hurtles earthward through the earth’s atmosphere, prompting people to duck and cover and seek shelter amidst the onslaught of “ICBMs.”

    As you can see, I…
    “Don’t know jack about geology, (but)
    Lack no knowledge ’bout scatology…”

    Here in Wisconsin, where I have access to television, I caught the News Hour on PBS a night or two ago. They had a year-end round-up on energy, and discussed fracking, especially its environmental ramifications. Made me wonder if they’ve been reading PEOTS.

    Sounds like you’re set with topics for PEOTS for 2014. You have an eclectic curiosity, Steph, resulting in fertility rather than futility. If I’m “dungstruck” from above with any possibly PEOTS-worthy ideas you will be the first to know.


    1. Punishment enough, Lego ;-)! I was at a dinner party last night with a great discussion of words, books, and teachers who don't know basic grammar. But, no poop talk! Not one fertile crescent. . .Thanks for checking in. Steph

    2. Oh, the finch-face photo, by Melissa Penta, is just how I imagine I look in true puzzlement, complete with head turn. I enjoy the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site; they do good things for birds.

  3. When I saw the title of this week's post, I was sure you were going to be talking about the importance of guano as a fertilizer and source of energy for explosives, and maybe segue into a discussion of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist who figured out fixation of atmospheric nitrogen.

    Fascinating multi-faceted guy, the father of the green revolution and chemical warfare, Jewish convert to Lutheranism, German WWI war hero who received funding from the Nazis, his lab developed the cyanide gas that would be used in WWII death camps. His direction of the use of chlorine gas in combat at Ypres drove his first wife to shoot herself in the heart with his pistol. Leaving Germany when Jewish fellow scientists couldn't find work, he died en route to Palestine.

    Nice segment about him on Radiolab last year:

    1. Fritz Haber, science and morality, the classic dilemma. Interesting to read more about him. My bedside stack of books in growing!

      I wasn't sure where this week's post was headed as I started out with the hemocyanin in horseshoe crab blood (another scientific moral dilemma), read about their blood sloshing around in their bodies and their multiple eyes like trilobites, but the bird poop won out when I sat down to write on New Year's Eve. The fertilizer tie-in to Haber is a welcome extension. Thanks!

    2. What did Fritz Haber say to the earth's atmosphere?

      "I'll fix you!"

      Think that would work at the local comedy club? ;-)

    3. Don't give up your day job, Steph...

      I remember measuring the oxygen dissociation curve of lobster hemocyanin in a college physiology lab, while the prof and TAs dined on the rest of the subjects next door. (I can't hear the term "blue-blood" without thinking of that lab.)

      Here's David Foster Wallace's essay to add to your reading list:

    4. Very good advice, jan. Not to worry.

      Yeah, blue-blood in lobsters and horseshoe crabs. It was an esoteric, fascinating, blue-blood idea until I watched the blood-letting (wonder if the horseshoe crabs get "I gave 10 quarts" pins?). And learned that up to 15 percent don't survive what looks to be a very disorienting experience.

      Enjoyed David Foster Wallace's take on the locust-spiders of the sea. Lobster Cannibals (oh, did you said Carnivals ;-)):

  4. Speaking of BRD SHT, anyone remember "Brewster McCloud"?

    1. I have not seen it, jan, but liked "Harold and Maude" with Bud Cort.

      And now I understand the cloacal kiss reference.

  5. Not sure what Temple Grandin is doing in this week's blog; she probably deserves a post of her own. That's not her on the book cover; it's Claire Danes, who played her in the movie. That book did so much to highlight the contributions we can see from people whose brains are wired so differently from others'. I loved her description of the hugging machine she needed to invent to get herself through college.

    1. Agreed, jan. Dr. Temple Grandin will definitely be the topic of her own post (part of the foreshadowing ;-)). Since she is a professor nearby at CSU in Fort Collins, CO, I think I'll see if she will meet with me.

  6. No bird poop for me, thank you! Glad I called bird removal NJ.