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  • Amanda

Surprising Things with Explanations

New Series: "How'd that get here? Just about strange things you find in Nature that have an interesting backstory. This first post features a couple of big, old, lava boulders in the middle of the adobe badlands we have here. The badlands are the opposite of rocky, being made up of soft shale that melts when exposed to rain. So how'd those get here? Give up? They are all that's left from the lava rubble-strewn pediment that used to skirt the volcanic country to the east of town. The rest of their buddies are long gone from the surface, probably buried under the adobe as it eroded out from under them, then built up in yonder valley. But these guys got stranded high and dry. Weird but not weird when you thing about it.

Part 2 in "How'd That Get Here?" miniseries. So what are those diamonds doing on that beach? Well, Dorothy, you aren't in Western Colorado anymore. If you thought this looked out of place, you're right. It is the famous Diamond Beach in Iceland. And those are even better than diamonds, they are chunks of ancient glacial ice. They've made their way to this black sand beach from the nearby river, which is flowing from the Vatnajökull glacier, carrying bits of ice with it. The surf pushes some of these buoyant chunks back onto the sand. Sad! (but beautiful)--side effect of a warming climate

Part 3 in "hey, how did that..." Early December, first real snow of the year, good and cold out. Came across some inexplicable spots of bare dirt among the scrubby junipers. Hmm. A little thermal hot spot? Was someone out here sweeping away the snow? Were there overhanging trees that intercepted it? No, no, and no! These were little deer nests, where they'd bedded down the night before. Just imagine them lying there, all curled up when the gentle snow began to fall. Warm bodies catching the snow and melting it, then away they go. Secretive creatures living secret lives all around us.

Part 4 in "Hey, How'd That Get There?" miniseries. Such an evocative shape...toilet bowls and neck pillows come to mind. But the original source of inspiration must have been a pothole--a perfectly sculpted basin in an expanse of sandstone. So how did that get there? Envision a sudden rainstorm in the desert. Raindrops on sandstone don't sink in, but build up and gain speed if there's any slope. They funnel into low spots which become little drainage ways that concentrate flows until they have enough power to move rocks. Now imagine a pebble caught up against a lip of sandstone, the water whirls it around against the lip, starts to drill a little hole. And the hole grows bigger with the next storm, and even bigger with the next, and Viola! a perfect void.

Part 5 in the "Hey, how'd that get there?" series. What's that tree doing growing out of that rock? Well, what's that rock doing there in the first place, lying there vertically in a land of horizontal strata? The story--as best I can make out--is that this huge boulder fell off the cliff face that's off to the right a few hundred feet above. It ended up lying with its strata tilting straight up, exposing porous layers to the merciless elements. They've been chiseling away at it for centuries, possibly. And along comes a pinyon jay with a pinyon nut, maybe 30 years ago. A quick stash, a good year for germination, and this sapling has a perch head and shoulders above the rest of the riffraff.

Part 6 in How'd That Get There? series. I love having a phone with a camera on it--I can take a picture of whatever strange or beautiful thing I come across. And now that I've started to pay attention more, there are a lot of weird things out there in Nature. Things that don't make sense at first look. But usually, I find with a little sleuthing around that there's an explanation that seems good enough to rule out the supernatural. Rocks that seem out of place, trees growing in odd spots, strange bare patches in the snow, smooth holes in big rock expanses, even diamonds on a beach--all of them have perfectly rational explanations. Mostly they relate to something that's temporal, something that happened when we weren't paying attention, then disappeared. Things like erosion, rainstorms, rockfalls, wildlife, little cumulative changes that add up before we know it. But hat can't explain this latest oddity my husband and I encountered in the deep, dark woods.

If you look closely, you can see the couch. If you look even more closely, you can see the cut tree that's propped up behind it, ready to fall. All that's missing is the six-pack and TV, and it would be the perfect man trap. So... was it a really smart bear, or an angry wife? Maybe the supernatural is the best explanation for some things after all!

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