The trip started off as usual: an annual visit to Doha (Qatar) where I teach a course in medicine, see my prior blog posts. It has become routine. A five star hotel, this time “The Four Seasons”, excellent food including the local fish “hamour”, a visit to the souk to buy curry, fresh from Sri Lanka, and to buy a few gem stones: spinel and hot pink topaz, both quite expensive.
A few days later I was in Lucinges, a small French village just across the border from Geneva Switzerland. There is a great little hotel/restaurant in Lucinges “Le Bonheur dans le Pres”, which translates literally to ‘happiness in the fields’! It is run by Ludyvine & Cyril. The hotel is an old stone farmhouse in the midst of hay fields. Their food and wines are exquisite. There is just one menu offered with several courses and the matching wine is served freely. Cyril is the chef. He has many years of experience as the cook in a high quality Indian restaurant in Geneva. I gave him some of the curry from Doha! From Lucinges I visited family & old friends in Geneva and in Neuchatel.
Next was Zurich, where I stayed with my brother and sister. There was a visit to an excellent exhibit of German and French expressionist painters at the Kunsthalle. Also, a walk through the old town and a look at a highly controversial “piece of art”, an old crane on the Limmat river in center town! Finally I hiked up the mountain Rigi with my brother, amidst unexpected snowy and icy conditions. On a nice day the view from Rigi can be exceptional:
Roland reaching summit of Rigi (photo courtesy of Zhu Sunny, Shanghai)
Then came a few days with another brother in Edinburgh, Scotland. He had just bought a huge 150 year old house: 19 rooms he estimated, and 14 chimneys. It had never had central heating and each room seemed to have a fireplace! They were undertaking a huge renovation project. The house was a “manse”, a house occupied by a minister of a Presbyterian church in earlier times.
Old Scottish Manse
Finally there was a visit to a cousin’s daughter near York: Nicky Milner. She is a professor of archeology and an internationally known specialist on the Mesolithic period (stone age around 9000 BC). She and her colleagues have unearthed an entire settlement along an ancient lake. The place is called Star Carr. I was treated to a visit of this “dig”, quite an experience.
Star Carr Archeological Site
Lastly, there was a visit to a hospital in Oxford where a friend is being treated. As an MD with some knowledge of the specific problem, I was impressed. Top of the line medical treatments and all covered by the British National Health Service. How civilized.
Just after New Year (Jan 2014) we went for a walk in Shadmoor Park and ended up on Ditch Plains Beach. That is where I found two vertebrae still stuck together by ligaments. They were larger than human vertebrae, measuring 3-4 inches in the largest diameter. A quick phone call to my biologist friend, Marguerite W, confirmed that these were mammalian bones and not from a large fish, like a shark. Fish vertebral bodies (called the centrum) would be biconcave, as shown here. These were not. Then, I had a phone call with a friend, Annie Sessler. She is a well known artist out here who makes beautiful fish prints! Her husband Jim, is a Montauk fisherman. ‘Some kind of whale’ or marine mammal was their opinion. Now I was really intrigued! Then I got this rare book from the Cornell Vet School library called “Whales of the World” by Spencer Wilkie Tinker (1988). It describes in detail all 77 species of living whales on this planet and also a bunch of extinct species based on fossil records.
It was a stroke of luck that we could identify the vertebrae (which were stuck together) as C7, T1. That’s the last cervical and the first thoracic vertebrae. The thoracic vertebrae have an articular joint surface for a rib on either side. All mammals have 7 cervical (neck) vertebrae. Giraffe’s have very long ones. Some animals have very short ones. And sometimes the cervical vertebrae are fused together! However, C7 in our case was not fused to either of its neighboring vertebrae, T1 or C6. The “common dolphin” has fused C1-7, according to “Whales of the World”. Therefore we did not think that these were vertebrae from the common dolphin. In the same book, there is a photograph on page 39 of a side view of a cervical spine of the common dolphin. To my astonishment T1 looked just like the T1 vertebra that we found! So, we were thinking of a close relative of the common dolphin.
The size of the vertebrae we found suggested an animal slightly larger than a human (approx 75-200 kg). Using this as a guide, I then focused on 8 species listed in the whale book, that live in the North Western Atlantic, at our latitude 40 N . I googled which of these species had recently been spotted in the waters around Long Island. The list was now really short:
- bottlenose dolphin
- common dolphin (unlikely because of the fused C spine)
In particular, there were lots of sightings and on-line reports about bottlenose dolphins around Long Island.
Apparently there has been an epidemic due to a type of measles virus and it has killed hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in our waters (in the Long Island sound and around Montauk). This species has apparently been migrating northwards as witnessed by the larger numbers spotted since about 2007.
Here are some links which I found interesting:
Having been introduced to this species by their bones, I noted that these are in fact very interesting animals! Bottlenose dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror! They can use sponges as tools and transmit cultural knowledge across generations. Their considerable intelligence has driven interaction with humans. I am now an official dolphin fan!
Posted in Beach, East Hampton, Hamptons, Montauk
Tagged animal, Beach, beach combing, beaches, east hampton, fish, Hamptons, Montauk
I spent the summer on different beaches: the Pacific coast of Northern California, the Maggia river in Switzerland and our home beaches of East Hampton. Everywhere there is art on display. Not by famous artists but by common people that pick up stuff from the beach and put it together to make a “work of art”. It is playful. It also is testament to the beauty of nature. Often not much is needed to beautify the scene. Other times the objects are small (a pebble), or common (litter), or unnoticed (drift wood) and the artist wants to draw attention to their unique beauty. Here are some specimens I found.
Beach Dragon (Arcata CA)
Decorated Roots (East Hampton NY)
Beach Wood and Iron (Maggia Tal)
Display (Maggia Tal)
Elephant Seal, Big Sur (CA) Art? Why not?
Posted in Art, Beach, East Hampton, Travel
Tagged animal, art, art museum, Beach, beach stone, beach stones, beaches, california, Conchology - Shells, drift wood, east hampton, Hamptons, Shells, switzerland, travel
This is my 2nd contribution in regard to our summer motorcycle trip which brought us up through the mountains from San Diego to Arcata (via Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Lassen Volcanic National Park). Arcata is on the Pacific Ocean and home to Humboldt State Univ. It is a college town. We stayed with a good friend for 2 days. Time to clean and rest up and to visit Laurel Skye’s “SkyeLab“! Laurel is a mosaic artist. She teaches across the country (and even in Italy), writes books on her art form, and uses her home as a studio or “lab”. She also sells mosaic supplies. She generously invites interested folks to visit and that is what we did!
on the porch
Toilet bowl tiled with copper pennies
Mosaic plates (some are used for light switch covers)
The entire house is decorated with mosaics, the porch, the front door, the floors, the walls, chairs, tables, the garden, the kitchen, the bathtub and even the toilet bowl! Here are some pictures, but be sure to visit her own website where you will see a mosaic decorated mandolin and a trumpet! There are lots of ideas on how to use mosaics to decorate your own home. Also, you should check out some of the other artists featured on mosaicartsource.com.
I am truly amazed at the many different styles and the expressive nature of some of the art work.
On July 27th I flew to San Diego and rented a 1200 RT BMW motorcycle with 4 in line cylinders, a powerful bike with which I was going to cruise 2600 miles across California. My friend Manu lives in San Diego with his Kawasaki Versys 650. He picked me up at the airport and we went right to the beamer rental shop. The next day we set out early, the first leg of a 12 day journey, all the way up to Arcata, CA, on as many scenic routes as possible and then back down along the coast. We crashed overnight at the cheapest motels in town or at a friend’s house, but we had dinners every night at the best restaurant we could find on Yelp!
On our way south, in Carlotta, CA, we stopped at Chapman’s Gem and Mineral shop on route 101, also called the Redwood Highway. This is paradise for rock hounds. For a couple of dollars I bought snowflake obsidian, jasper, rhodonite and much more. Here are some samples.
We stopped in Fort Bragg, CA, and we took the trail to “Glass Beach”. This was a dump site for local residents, until 1967. Now, in stead of sand, the ground is composed of small shards of smooth glass, ground extensively by the sea waves. I had read about the place. But we found the pieces of glass to be too small to use for jewelry.
Rarely, one finds a piece that is larger than 2 cm.
We had passed places called ‘Topaz’, ‘Diamond Valley’ and ‘Emerald Bay’. Each time I took note and looked for some explanation for the bejeweled name. No success. Not until we discovered ‘Jade Cove’ in Big Sur! It lies protected
Cliffs of Jade Cove
within a National Forest. It is easy to get to from Highway 1. The green cliffs are composed of nephrite (a type of jade) and also serpentine. Nephrite is a soft stone (Mohs 6) which is easy to carve and when polished it is vitreous and has an oily luster. It can be very elegant with white to green to grey hues. It was considered an imperial stone in chinese dynasties. Here are some of my samples. And a finished piece with banded agate, from Chapman’s Gem shop, see above.
There is more to come about other adventures on this trip, although they have little to do with lapidary or jewelry. Stay tuned!
Before I set out on this trip, my 17 year old gave me a penguin stuffed animal – a talisman to keep me safe. Penguino, as we called him, became a pro at riding the motorcycle…
Banded Agate in Silver
Posted in Beach, Gemology, Jewelry, Lapidary, Travel
Tagged beach glass, beaches, Gemology, gems, jade, jasper, Jewelry, minerals, obsidian, rhodonite, sea glass, travel