Bones and Other October Goodies

Kage Baker loved October. It meant Halloween. It was the beginning of the three months of holidays she so much enjoyed, and so determinedly observed. It (usually) meant the summer heat finally broke, and what deciduous trees we have here began to change colours. It was the reward for starting school the previous month.

The temperature has, miraculously, finally dropped here, and begun somewhat shamefacedly attending to its normal business once again – we’re getting fog morning and evening, which I’m taking for a form of meteorological blushing.  The light has altered, showing visual tones of ice and stone and glass, and there is a phantom scent of smoke at evening.

It’s cool, in every meaning of the word.

It’s the time of year when the walls of the worlds grow thin, like a leaf being rendered down to skeletal lace. This is the season of revelations. Kage liked that about it, too; conclusions and harvests and hauntings happening all over the place. Curiously, I’ve found a lot of these accumulating the last few days. They’re the sort of stories Kage collected this time of year, when we both sought out weirdness of the slightly gruesome variety, for the season’s sake. And I thought I’d share a few, Dear Readers, with you.

On the subject of revivified phantoms, let us consider the matter of the Kakapo. Kakapos are large, flightless, nocturnal parrots native to New Zealand, famous for being critically endangered and for shagging Steven Fry’s head in a fit of misplaced romance. Sadly, New Zealand is chock-a-block with endangered species. One of them is the New Zealand Wood Rose: which is itself endangered because its primary pollinator is unknown and among the MIA of New Zealand biota. But! A recent examination of coproliths (fossil poo, for you tender types) has revealed an amazing and fortuitous conjunction, in which I think I can see the invisible hand of Dr. Zeus.

The lost pollinator of the Wood Rose turns out to be the Kakapo! And this has just been discovered. Now, most of the Kakapo of breeding age that could be collected presently live on a small, protected island off the coast of New Zealand. The island has been scrubbed of alien predators like rats and cats, and the Kakapos are already increasing happily. Biologists are now beginning to plant Wood Roses there as well, amid the protected Kakapos, in the hopes of thus bringing both species back to live claw in petal. As it were. Ta da!

Kakapo in a wreath of Wood Roses.

I also found some neat bone stories, which Kage would have loved. The first is about sea otters. Kage had a low tolerance for cute, and one would think she despised sea otters. But where we lived, in a fishing town, otters were largely disliked – they’re a protected species, and the both the fisherfolk and the morons who like to drive ATVs through the surf resent sharing coastline with them. So Kage cast her support to these most laid-back of weasels.

Anyway, what I found today was a story about purple sea urchins. Otters eat them, preferentially if they’re given a choice. In fact, if you decrease the number of otters, the damned  purple urchins increase and destroy tidal habitats. Luckily, otters love the things. They eat so many urchins that their teeth and, indeed, their very bones become permanently dyed purple. Take a look at this delightfully cheery little skull – it’s coloured with the loveliest shades of purple, like a tulip or a vein of amethyst. Isn’t it pretty? Take that, you nasty ATVers and sullen fishermen: here is proof of how useful the sea otter is!

Imperial Otter Skull!

Then there is the Hero Shrew. Shrews are tiny little vermin, vaguely mouse-like, but madly ferocious wee predators. They eat nearly anything, often alive, and are considered very fierce. They bite zoologists and silly hikers who think they’re cute and try to feed them crumbs from sandwiches … Hero Shrews are  native to Africa, with the usual shrewish badass reputation. They also have the weirdest spines of any mammal on the face of the Earth: with the probable exception of the Company Operatives. Because I bet this was part of the model for the extraordinary strength of Operatives’ bones. They say a 150 pound person can stand on one of these Shrews, and the Shrew can support it … before it wriggles free and eats the person’s foot, I think.

Hero Shrew

So there you are, Dear Readers. Bones and lost animals and mystery plants and strange connections to Dr. Zeus here and there. October is well and truly begun, and the Season of the Weird is upon us.


About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to Bones and Other October Goodies

  1. johnbrownson says:

    Kate, there is- or was, the last time I looked- a sea otter skeleton in the Pacific Grove Museum, and it is, indeed, entirely dyed a lovely shade of violet from it’s diet of sea urchins. Check it out, next time you pass through. Love. -Buff


  2. Jan Foley says:

    Well. Another FANTASTIC post. I always learn something fun/useful/mindbending from whatever you write.


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