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I was so looking forward to an extra hour of sleep when the time changed back to normal. I turned all the clocks back early, eschewed commenting on hate memes on Facebook and/or switching back and forth between my favorite weather lady and nature programs on TV, and went to bed. I was dreaming about making dovetail joints when all the bedroom lights came on, Dr. Wifey strode through and the retriever began to shriek.

It is called the “Toller Scream” ... search the term sometime. I asked what the heck was going on. She replied it was eight o’clock and we had to go meet our friends at the restaurant. I pointed out they were in New Hampshire at her parents’ 50th anniversary party (Happy Anniversary guys; the second 50 are easier). I also pointed out it was six, not eight. She said that I must have turned the clocks the wrong way, which I did not, and a who’s-on-first conversation took place. I finally just got up, missing not only my extra hour but one of the regular ones too.

At an early breakfast, I had occasion to wonder how our friends were doing. They not only went for a nice holiday trip but they took one of their pets with them. Well, not really a pet. More like a Jersey heifer. I gave up taking animals on family trips when we got thrown out of Mammoth Cave State Park when my pregnant Boston terrier, in a fit of maternal protective instinct I suppose, leapt out of the van window, chased a herd of deer across the lawn of the head Ranger’s cabin and treed said Ranger on a picnic table when he interfered.

So in that context, taking a heifer on vacation with you is probably OK. Her Aunt wanted to see the heifer in question, there was room in the back of the truck, and it was only for a couple of days — what could go wrong? I am waiting for the male report on this adventure and am truly hoping for some visuals of a cow head sticking out the window as they drove along.

I guess getting a cow to New Hampshire is not all that big a deal but my imagination has always been captured by the fantastic animal travelling it took to populate some of the far-flung islands in the Pacific chains. An island is pushed up out of the sea as a desolate, barren lump of smoking lava rock and then, over the course of time, it becomes populated with a vast array of birds, animals, insects and exotic plants to become an island paradise. Seems like a magical process.

First to arrive, and probably most understandable, are deep oceanic birds. Some spend eight or nine months at a time out to sea, never coming to land and some virtually never landing. These species seek out desolate rock islands as nesting sites. The more desolate, the less the chance of meeting up with terrestrial predators. These nesting colonies, once established, turn the rock into a hideous stinking mess of excretory goo — you can watch this happening on some of the islands in Lake Champlain that have become nesting areas for cormorants.

In the case of our volcanic island, however, wind, water, and daily temperature changes are also crumbling the outside of the rock, forming sandy dirt. As the bird poo decomposes, it makes the newly formed soil layer quite fertile. It is not much of a stretch to imagine a seed from a water dispersal plant making its way along the winds and tides to reach a remote and vacant shore. Some, like coconuts, are designed especially for long distance floating dispersal. In fact, without a long period of immersion and some rotting, the giant seed will not germinate.

Others, like mangroves, use a different system. They are viviparous ... that is, the seeds remain part of the parent plant until they geminate. These new babies can then perform photosynthesis, allowing them to feed themselves when they finally separate from the parent plant, drop into the water, and float off to find some new place to take root. The amazing root structure of the mangroves, in addition to allowing them to tolerate salty conditions, has the side effect of actually creating new habitat for more mangroves by capturing sediment from the tides. As plants take over, our island becomes less attractive to seabirds, who simply move on to another desolate lump of rock and start over.

This part I get. What has always boggled me is how the tiny finches, strange little mammals, reptiles, land tortoises and various reptiles that define these ocean islands managed to get there in the first place. Some research going on right now seems to be pointing to the answer being less serendipity and more catastrophe.

The huge 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan captured the attention of people all over the world because of the huge human toll taken. In the aftermath, other results captured the attention of oceanographers who began to study and follow the massive debris field that washed out to sea. Riding along on the debris was a huge array of wildlife. This included everything from snails and worms to small mammals and even two species of shallow water fish that stayed in the cover of the debris field as it crossed the deep ocean trenches.

More than 300 living animal species and uncounted insects and plants have arrived on the northwest coast of the United States. Since the trans-pacific trip took years, most of these represent multiple generations living and surviving on the giant debris raft. Despite some extensive work, researchers feel they have found but a small percentage of the actual inhabitants of the tsunami mat. Estimates of actual migrants range into the range of 10,000 species.

So I no longer have to contemplate single tiny birds, lizards or tortoises somehow surviving a horrible solo trip across the storm-tossed waves to arrive on a desert island and wait to see if another of its species could experience the same odyssey in time to reproduce. They all got themselves flung onto a giant debris ark and rode it like a nice oceanic cruise ship until they (or their descendants) washed up on their paradise island. At one point, I spent a great deal of time studying the dispersal of humans across the Pacific Islands (look up a book called Argonauts of the Western Pacific by Bronislaw Malinowski. That is how I became interested).

The part that seemed to elude archaeologists was identifying the first folks to hit the island chains. From there, developing the technology and desire to populate the rest was easy. Now I wonder if they also rode along on a tsunami mat, harvesting the various other inhabitants, until such time as they all fetched up upon an island. Interesting how discoveries in one narrow field can help understand things in a much different one. Life is not only pervasive, but immensely interesting.

Of course, I should have known that it was not groups of humans that took off into the great unknown on family trips. Otherwise, all the Pacific islands would have been full of Jersey cows.

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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