Tag Archives: biology

Free Pattern: Sengi

The sengi, aka elephant shrew, is a small mammal native to the forests, grasslands, and rocky outcroppings of south-eastern Africa.   They have a long, flexible snout that allows them to use their amazing sense of smell in any direction without moving their eyes, and it is from this feature’s similarity to the elephant’s trunk that they received their rather fanciful English common name.

Genetic studies have revealed that the sengi is, in fact, more closely related to elephants than to true shrews, despite being only a few inches long and having a lifestyle more typical of rodents than ruminants.

The tiny rufous sengi, one of the smaller varieties of sengi, is less than 4″ long but can run at speeds over 8mph, making it the fastest terrestrial animal on earth relative to its size (it’s about twice as fast as a cheetah).  Each individual maintains a complex network of pathways through the grass and scrub of the savanna which it uses to hunt for food– mostly insects, but also seeds in the right season– and escape danger.

The rufous sengi is also basically Elvis for my children right now.  We were watching a BBC nature documentary about small animals (Hidden Kingdoms, it’s streaming on Netflix right now and I highly recommend it) when they first discovered it, and for the last month, sengis have been EVERYWHERE in their art, play, and imaginations.

Here’s a knitting pattern for a toy rufous sengi, suitable for an advanced  beginner.  She measures about 3.5″ from tip of nose to rump, with her tail about the same length as her body, and she stands a petite but powerful ~2″ tall on her specially-adapted long back feet (for zooming) and bitty front feet (for batting obstacles out of her paths in a dismissive manner).  Her white “socks” mark her as an adult– juveniles have brown legs and feet.  She is perfect for a stocking or an Easter basket, fits in a pocket, and is equally at home racing along the highway or just doing chores!

Sengi “housework”– gotta keep those paths clear!

The sengi’s body is knitted from tip of nose to tip of tail in the round, starting and ending with I-cord.  Her ears and front legs are picked up and knit from the body, and her hind legs are knitted separately in the round starting with I-cord and then sewn on.

Supplies:

  • dk yarn, about 40 yards, in light brown, tan, or rust (MC)
  • dk yarn, less than 10 yards, in white or cream (CC)
  • dk yarn, less than a yard, in chocolate or dark brown
  • two 8mm round black beads for eyes
  • small amount of stuffing (I used wool)
  • double-pointed needles, size US 5
  • yarn needle

Pattern:

using MC yarn, cast 3 sts onto a single needle

working as an I-cord, knit three rows

k1, kfb, k1 (4 sts)

knit one round

*kfb* all around (8 sts)

at this point I arranged my stitches on 3 needles, with 2 sts on the first needle and 3 on each of the others– this arrangement makes it easier to predict the shaping in the head

knit one round

k3, kfb, k1, kfb, k2 (10 sts)

knit one round

k4, kfb, k1, kfb, k3 (12 sts)

knit one round

k3, kfb, k2, kfb, k1, kfb, k2, kfb, k1 (16 sts)

knit one round

kfb, k15 (17 sts)

knit one round

s1k2tog psso, *k2tog* to end of round (8 sts)

knit two rounds

*kfb* around (16 sts)

knit in stockinette until the piece measures about 3″ from the base of the snout (about 3.5″ from the tip of the snout)

*k2tog* around (8 sts)

knit one round

stuff body and head firmly with the stuffing of your choice, remembering to add a little extra if you’re using wool or another stuffing that compacts a lot over time

*k2tog* around (4 sts)

knit 1 round

k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)

slide all sts onto a single needle and work I-cord until tail is about 2″ long

k2tog, k1 (2 sts)

continue in I-cord until tail is about 3″ long

k2tog (1 st)

break yarn and pull through remaining stitch to cinch closed

Front legs:

On the underside of the torso, just after the neck shaping, pick up 5 sts in a ring

with MC yarn, knit 1 row

k2, k2tog, k1 (4 sts)

switch to CC

knit 1 row

k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)

knit 1 row

break yarn and thread end through remaining 3 sts, cinch closed

repeat to place a second front leg next to the first

Hind legs:

using CC yarn, CO 3 sts and work I-cord

knit 4 rows

k1, R-inc, k2 (4sts)

knit 1 row

switch to MC

knit 2 rows

k1, R-inc, k2, R-inc, k1 (6sts)

knit 1 row

k1, R-inc, k4, R-inc, k1 (8 sts)

knit 2 rows

*k2, k2tog* around (6 sts)

*k1, k2tog* around (4sts)

*k2tog* around (2 sts)

leaving a generous yarn tail, break yarn, bring end through remaining sts, cinch to close.

Stitch the top of the sengi’s little drumstick securely to the side of her rump with the bind-off edge oriented directly to the top.

Repeat for other hind leg.

Ears:

All shaping is done on the OUTSIDE edge of the ear– the round begins at the inside.

Starting about one stitch away from the top midline of the head and moving outward along the same row of knitting, pick up four sts on one needle, then pick up four sts directly behind those sts on the head (8 sts)

Using MC, knit 2 rows

k3, L-inc, k2, R-inc, k3 (10 sts)

knit one row

k3, k2tog, k2tog, k3 (8sts)

*k2tog* around (4 sts)

break yarn, lace through remaining sts, pull to cinch.

Repeat for second ear on the other side of the midline of the top of the head.

Finishing:

With CC yarn, stitch a shallow “V” shape on each side of the sengi’s nose to frame her eyes.

With dark brown yarn, stitch two short lines from just in front of each her ear about 1-2 stitch lengths forward.

Sew the beads in place securely– between the endpoint of the dark brown line and the angle of the CC “V”– on either side of the head to make eyes.  I sewed on both eyes at the same time, securing them with a figure-8 stitch through the inside of the face to help nest the beads into the face more realistically.

Weave in and trim all your yarn and thread ends, and your sengi is ready for whatever fast-paced adventures life sends your way!

 

 

Looking for Bats

If you’ve been following the weather news in the US this summer, you know that we’re having a strange year in the PNW.

Let me tell you what it looks like out here in Hood River:

Cicadas and katydids everywhere, but no grasshoppers or praying mantids.

No frogs, no salamanders, and the lowest water levels I’ve ever seen.

Hot, hot, hot, and as dry as old bleached bones.

Early pears and late tomatoes.

Eight solid inches of dry, shifting dust before my trowel turns up fertile soil.

Forest fires and droughts and worry, worry, worry.

Spiders EVERYWHERE, people.  EVERYTHING IS SPIDERS.

Blond freeway shoulders and crispy tree branches.

Algal blooms in lakes and even in the sluggish parts of the mighty Columbia.

Last month’s fire-blackened hills, still dark and barren and dry nearly six weeks later.

The mountains bare-faced and black on the horizon, ominous and brooding.

In short, it’s been a year for making sure that small children know the emergency preparedness plan, and scratching out anxious lists of evacuation supplies, and conserving every drop of water, and looking out of car windows and wondering how our beautiful home will survive this.

My touchstone through this trying season has been putting our flock away for the night.  In the cool breeze of dusk, I slip my feet into a pair of Robert’s old shoes, comically large on me, fill a quart jar nearly to the top with sweet-smelling scratch, and climb the terrace steps to the chicken yard.

I listen to the crickets and the calling of the poorwills and the nighthawks, I smell the neighbors’ barbeque cooking away, and I fill the hopper for the hens, who add their gentle berka-berka-berka chattering to the vespers.  I refill their water bottle, the cool liquid on my fingertips nearly salvation after a day of pseudo-desert living, and slot it back into place.  “Goodnight, chickens.” I murmur as I secure the henhouse roof, completing my task.

I put away the jar and the shoes in the sunroom, and as I walk barefoot across the deck to go back into the house, I stop and rest for a moment on the bench.  Often one or both of the smalls will join me, and we keep a steadfast vigil on the little patch of twilight sky to the northeast, over the confluence of the Hood and Columbia rivers, with its little border of aspen and pine.

Breathless and silent in the fading light, we wait.

Every night I wonder if they won’t come, if something has happened and they’re all dead somewhere or fleeing to better hunting grounds.  But every night, they come.

Fluttering across the clearing so fast our limited human eyes can barely see them against the darkening sky, the bats make their first forays into the night air.  They are most likely long-legged myotis bats, we have learned, this swift-winged vanguard of the night, but it doesn’t really matter what kind they are.  What matters is that they’re there.

Every night, without fail, the bats come out to feast on the crepuscular insects and spiders that have overwhelmed us this summer.  Even though these temperate bats are sensitive to human disturbance, and rely heavily on imperiled forest habitat and fleeting, drought-banished dew to survive, they have never failed me.

The piping voices of the tree frogs may be silent this year, and the afternoon frighteningly devoid of the chipping whir of grasshopper flight, but the bats are still here, and doing fine.

And, as I wait for rains that may never come, or may totally overwhelm the parched soil and wash away houses, bridges, cars, and human lives into the rapids, the bats bring me some fragile reassurance.

I look up, with faith and trembling, and when I see those tenacious flying mammals racing silently and chaotically through the dusky sky, I know that I am seeing part of that wild invisible web that sustains our fragile lives on this planet.  I know that I am watching nature take one of her courses, albeit a tiny one, and I feel a corresponding, wicked-winged speck of hope flash across the clearing of my heart.

Because maybe, just maybe, if the bats can make it, there’s some hope for the rest of us, though we are truly grounded and insensate by comparison.

And that is why I take time out of my busy day and away from my life of artifice to look for the bats.

What do you look for, to give you hope in these dark days?

Seriously, Though

Can we talk for a minute about RBF?

http://www.buzzfeed.com/kelleydunlap/kacey-musgraves-resting-bitch-face#.tdk9A2eeQw

RBF, or Resting Bitch Face (also known as Bitchy Resting Face), is a term for the common neutral noncommittal facial expressions of some women.  Not ALL women, mind you, but some women.  Certain women, you might say.

Certain women with a reputation for being too serious.  Or thoughtful.  Or introverted.  Or intellectual.

Certain women who are well-known Feminist Killjoys.

Certain women who are “attractive” enough to merit street harassment.

Certain women, in short, whose default facial expression is somehow out of alignment with the harshly-enforced cultural mandate that, in order to occupy the space marked “feminine,” people must fulfill a decorative function at all times.

Let me be VERY clear: this is about objectification.  This is about women LOOKING a certain way, regardless of how they feel or what they desire.  This is about the society dictating what is acceptable in terms of the impression given to random passers-by on the street by a woman’s facial muscle positions and activities.

Obviously this is bullshit.

I’ve had this post in my drafts folder for months waiting for inspiration to finish it, because I could get as far as “bullshit” but no further.  I wish I could convey dismay, shock, or outrage, but those are hot-burning emotions and I don’t really feel them about this subject anymore.

Not because it’s unimportant, or because it’s not worthy of passionate criticism, or because I’m not upset about it, but because, as someone who has met the appearance parameters for a sexually mature woman for 15 years, I have burned through all my hot and passionate feelings on the subject of street harassment and society telling me that the impression my appearance gives to strangers is my responsibility to manage.  I am left with impotent frustration, and a kind of righteous indignation, which are much less motivating to write about.

But I think that the very fact that I’ve become inured to this kind of policing, at the relatively young age of 27, makes it worth talking about.

So, let’s break it down.

As social animals, humans create a social order, which is constantly adapted and maintained by displays of threat and submission behavior.  In apes, the most salient submissive behavior display is the baring of teeth, also called the fear grin.  Some extremely hierarchical groups of macaques use teeth baring almost reflexively upon the approach of the dominant animal, and the most common result of the interaction is that the dominant animal allows the submissive to retreat, which removes the submissive animal from the risk of physical abuse.  Apes in more egalitarian societies, such as chimpanzees, use teeth baring as an appeasement gesture that seems to invite social interaction within the group by reassuring the other animals that the bared-teeth individual does not intend to cause them harm.

The analogous smile, in humans, serves many of the same functions: it reassures others that the smiling person does not pose a threat, it is an invitation to social interaction, and it often accompanies courtesy phrases (such as “excuse me” or “my mistake”) used to signal a known violation of social norms.  There is evidence, however, that smiling is also perceived by humans to be more feminine than other facial expressions.

In one study, babies dressed in green and yellow were paraded before a group of onlookers. When the infants cooed, gurgled and smiled, the observers tagged them as girls; fretters and criers were assumed to be boys. The effect persisted when a different group of participants was presented with images of cheerful or angry adult faces. People readily identified smiling women as female and wrathful men as male, but they took longer and stumbled more often when confronted with furious female countenances or beaming male ones.

— Katy Waldman, Slate

The Slate article goes on to rather weakly associate women acting as smilers with social affiliation management– positing that girls and women are trained to smile more in order to do “emotion labor” (i.e., smooth over social situations and bridge differences between groups of friends and extended family)– before lamely concluding that everyone should smile a bit more because it would make the (female) journalist herself smile.

The truth is that humans have a range of emotions– and related expressions– almost unique in the animal kingdom, even among social animals (only orcas are believed to experience more emotional states, and it’s not entirely clear yet how they communicate them without the mobile face of the ape).  So for most people, most smiling is the companion of genuine positive feeling, whether they are remembering a funny joke or glorying in the sun on their face for the first time after a long winter.  But there is another kind of smile that isn’t related to emotion.

The Duchenne smile– named after a 19th-century French neurologist– is the genuine kind.  Its display is correlated with positive emotion, and it involves both the muscle groups around the mouth (zygomatic major) and the eyes (obicularis oculi).  It’s fairly rare, and occurs with similar frequency between men and women.  The smile that humans use purely for its ability to diffuse tense social situations, often called the botox or Pan Am smile, uses only the zygomatic major, and women report using it much more.  (The open-mouthed play smile, by contrast, is not related to the bared-teeth display, and is instead itself  present in lower primates in the “play face”, and eventually develops into laughing in humans.)

Neonatal gorilla showing the social, or “Pan Am”, smile. http://mentalfloss.com/article/32134/gorilla-expressions-could-point-origins-human-laughter

The early smiles of human infants are a mix of Duchenne and Pan Am smiles, and while their cause is not well understood, it is likely that the Duchenne smiles are a response to pleasure and contentment (joy is a more mature emotion, and develops at around 9 months of age), while the Pan Am smiles are socially-driven or even reflexive.  Even near-term premature infants learn to mimic the facial expressions of their caregivers (it only takes about 10 days to train human infants from about 34 weeks’ gestation onward to stick out their tongues in mimicry), and the relatively immature human infant relies on social affiliation to live, so it is no stretch of the imagination to believe that babies are trained to smile in reflex to adult smiles, even in the neonatal period.

But when does gender enter the equation?  For many American parents, gender policing starts long before birth, and many studies show that parents have different expectations of infants as young as four months old based on their physical sex.  By the age of five years, female children are adapted to performing more emotion labor than their male peers, and are more likely to exhibit a smile (a Pan Am smile, of course) in response to receiving a disappointing gift.

The false smile can take a real toll on your health.  Flight attendants, from whom the Pan Am smile got its colorful name, report feeling robotic, artificial, or even distant from their own emotional realities after a long shift with the zygomatic major engaged.  While it is true that deliberately smiling can trigger more positive emotional cues in the brain, smiling because you are told to– when you’d rather not– can be damaging.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/problems-all-people-with-resting-bitchface-will-understand#.fldw6rkkz8

What does all this mean about Resting Bitch Face?

  • Smiling is gendered work, and women are expected to do it.  Even little girls are tasked with a disproportionate amount of emotion labor.
  • Social smiling is based on a primal, non-verbal language, and women are under a greater societal expectation to communicate that they are non-threatening and open to interaction or afraid and subordinate.
  • Women who appear in public without their smile are perceived as hostile and aggressive partially because of mammal-level animal reasoning, but there is no way to ignore the gendered nature of smiling, especially when street harassers so often publicly shame and threaten women for their neutral or negative expressions.

At its core, the tyranny of the smile is about gender policing.  At its core, the gendered nature of emotion labor is about allowing men to have full rights and freedoms at the expense of women.  At its core, the social smile is about fear and submission.  At its core, RBF is about women being objects.

TODAY wants to reassure you that you can get plastic surgery to fix your RBF (apparently that’s a thing), or you know, you can at least work on smiling a bit more so people will be less worried that you might be doing something dangerous, like thinking:

Ann-Marie Stillion, a communication strategist and artist from Seattle, says she’s recently made an effort to wear a smile when in public after having her resting face repeatedly misinterpreted by strangers, friends, and colleagues.

“I look mad when I am thinking which has gotten me in a whole lot of trouble,” she says. “So, I smile a lot now, not because I’m so happy but because I know it makes people more comfortable.”

And people are welcome to take those routes because Underpants Rule.

But as for me, I will be proudly taking my RBF to the streets, because I am not an object.

Not a decoration.  Not a sex toy.  Not a social lubricant.  Not a service tool.

And I won’t have the only unapologetic RBF out there.

 


 

Additional Science Facts Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2555422/

http://www.andhranews.net/Technology/2010/May/13-Bared-teeth-motif-expresses-smile-17185.asp

http://www.psy.miami.edu/faculty/dmessinger/c_c/rsrcs/rdgs/emot/Messinger_Smiling_elsevier.pdf

Catchweed Bedstraw

flowers and tall grasses in my yard

Since we moved home to Oregon, I’ve been brushing up on my plant ID.

Our backyard in Hillsboro, in a late-90s HOA-administered cookie cutter neighborhood, was pretty boring:  Grass, some broadleaf plantain, more grass, dandelion, grass, moss, Russian thistle, grass.

But here?  Here it’s chaos.  There are things I still haven’t identified.  Things that were deliberately planted here by some previous tenants unknown, invasive foreign specimens, wild native plants I’ve never seen before.

Things with names that the smalls can’t render and I revel in, like catchweed bedstraw, Siberian bugloss, red dead nettle, snow-in-summer.

Things I was ecstatic to discover, like yarrow and violet, oxalis and lemon balm.

Things that are good to eat, like miner’s lettuce and dandelion and dwarf black cherry.

Things that make good pollinator habitat, like butterfly bush, white clover, black medic.

Things that the chickens are welcome to destroy, like English ivy and Himalayan blackberry.

Things that are useful to my apothecary cabinet, like pineapple weed, broad-leaf plantain, Oregon manroot, and wild madder.

Things that perfume the evenings and are a balm to my soul, like lilac and rose.

When I was a small child, we had a picture book called Grindle Lamfoon and the Procurnious Fleekers.

If you know it, you already know why I brought it up– looking at a backyard full of wild-growing, escaped and never-tamed possibilities reminds me of the moon and its tune.

If you don’t know it, it’s basically a hippie allegory from the first back-to-the-earth movement: the protagonist can’t afford a fancy storebought costume for the big party, and while he’s moping about this, the moon sings him a song about the beauty of wildflowers and the DIY ethos, and he is so inspired that he makes his own fancy costume for the party, staying up all the night to do it, thus starting a DIY revolution in his community and making a stand for individualism and creativity.

“These things from the woods
are much greater by far
than expensive made costumes
and Fleeker-made cars.”

Grindle Lamfoon and the Procurnious Fleekers

red poppy and various grasses in my chaotic yard

So go on out there and look around this week, people.  See what there is.