Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/December 1885/Popular Miscellany

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

The American Forestry Congress.—The American Forestry Congress held an interesting session in Boston in September. About a hundred members were present, who, by their own enthusiasm and by the reports they were able to make of the growth of interest in the subject, testified to the healthy progress which the cause of the protection and renewal of the woods is making in this country. Arbor-day is now observed as a festival in fifteen States, in a manner which well shows that the public are gradually coming into an appreciation of the sentiment which it typifies. Forest commissioners or commissions have been appointed by a number of States. Professor B. O. Northrup described the experiment of Mr. n. G. Russell, of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, in cultivating coniferous and deciduous trees upon a tract of two hundred acres along the shores of Narragansett Bay, sixty acres of which was a barren "sand blow," where every one said no trees could be made to grow. His method was to protect the trees and fix the sand by brush until the trees (which were set out) could take care of themselves. A resident stated that land on Cape Cod, which was a drug at twenty-five or fifty cents an acre twenty-five years ago, was now, in consequence of the growth of trees upon it, worth twenty dollars an acre, and desirable for residences. Mr. Fernow, corresponding secretary, read a paper on "Lumber-Waste as a Fertilizer." It proposed a plan for the utilization of the brush, etc., left by the loggers, which is now nothing but material for starting forest-fires, by rending it up into fine shreds or shavings, and then using it as bedding for horses and cattle, after which it will become manure. Mr. Fornow presented facts which tend to show that such applications may be made with profit all around. The subject of forest-fires came under discussion, and statements were made respecting their preventability and showing that they do not cause so great a proportion of the damage suffered by the forests as the lumbermen pretend that they do. Mr. Coleman, Commissioner of Agriculture, proposed the appointment of a committee to draft suitable forestry bills to be made laws by the General and State governments, and to labor with legislative committees to secure attention to them.

Among the other special topics considered in the papers were "Facts in regard to the Present State of American Forestry: State of Forest Legislation in the United States," N. H. Egleston; "What have the Different States done in regard to their Forests?" J. S. Hicks; "What are the Requisites of an Effective Forest-Fire Legislation?" S. W. Powell; "Lumbering Interests—their Dependence on Systematic Forestry," J. E. Hobbs; "Trees as Educators," Professor Edward North; "Profits of Forest-Culture," B. P. Poore; "Need of a National Forest Policy," Hon. Warner Miller; "Profits of Forest-Culture: State of Forest Legislation in the State of New York," Hon. H. R. Low.

 

The History of a Game.—Mr. J. W. Crombie read a paper before the British Association on what he styled "A Game with a History"—hop-scotch. As children in their play generally imitated something they had observed to be done by their elders, and a game once introduced was handed down from generation to generation, many innocent-looking children's games concealed strange records of ancient ages and pagan times. The game of hopscotch was one of considerable antiquity, having been known in England for more than two centuries, and it was played all over Europe under different names. Signor Pitre's solar explanation of its origin appeared improbable, for not only was the evidence in its favor extremely weak, but it would require the original number of divisions in the figure to have been twelve instead of seven, the number indicated by a considerable body of evidence. It would seem more probable that the game at one time represented the progress of the soul from earth to heaven through various intermediate states, the name given to the last court being most frequently paradise or an equivalent, such as crown or glory, while the names of the other courts corresponded with the eschatological ideas prevalent in the early days of Christianity. Some such game existed before Christianity, and the author considered it had been derived from several ancient games. Possibly the strange myths of the Labyrinths might have had something to do with hop-scotch, and a variety of the game played in England, under the name of "round hop-scotch," was almost identical with a game described by Pliny as being played by the boys of his day. The author believed that the early Christians adopted the general idea of the ancient game, but they not only converted it into an allegory of heaven, with Christian beliefs and Christian names, they Christianized the figure also. They abandoned the heathen labyrinth and replaced it by the form of the basilica, the early Christian church, dividing it into seven parts, as they believed heaven to be divided, and placing paradise, the inner sanctum of heaven, in the position of the altar, the inner sanctum of the early church.

 

The Indians of Mount Roraima.—Mr. E. F. Im Thurm read some notes, in the Anthropological Section of the British Association, on the red-men about Mount Roraima, in British Guiana. He had found them still in the stone age, but not in the extremely primitive condition he had anticipated. There was no other place in British Guiana where the stone age still subsisted. These Indians live in small conical huts clustered into villages, and including a church, where they imitated, without understanding, the religious services they had seen at some far-off mission. They were generally ugly, some even repulsive, but hospitable and kind, and the reception the speaker's party had met with could not be surpassed in courtesy in the most civilized community. They made stone implements of a remarkable kind, such as adzes and axes, but stones were more usually fashioned, by a process of rubbing, into imitations of fish and articles of ornament. Their games were very interesting, some of them being imitations of animals, and others a kind of rhythmic swinging to a slow chant. The isolation of tribes, and even that of families, was remarkable. It had been caused by the fact that most of the tribes seemed to have arrived from the West Indian Islands and the Orinoco, and to have followed one another to the interior, where each tribe took charge of a river, while almost impenetrable forests intervened between their settlements. In answer to a question, Mr. Im Thurm stated that, though stone implements were made, they were not used for any practical purpose, and that there was no trace of their having been used in any religious service. They were made as curiosities. He found no trace among the red-men of any acknowledgment of a higher power.

 

Origin of the Whale.—Professor Flower remarked, pertinently to a description by Dr. Struthers in the Biological Section of the British Association, of the Tay whale, that the whale carried its pedigree on its own body and in every part of its structure. It had been thought that mammals might have passed through an aquatic and marine stage before they came to the land. But observations of the anatomy of the whale showed that this could not have been the case. There could be no question whatever that the whale had been derived from a four-footed animal. It was a characteristic of a mammal to have a hairy covering. Whales were at one time thought to be an exception, but it was shown, in almost every one that had been examined, that at some period of its life it must have had a rudimentary covering, which was generally found in the neighborhood of the upper lip; that covering was functionless and often lost before birth. Another remarkable feature was the teeth. All these whales were furnished with a set of teeth, rudimentary but complete, and not characteristic of the fish, but of a more completely developed land mammal. These teeth entirely vanished at an early period, sometimes before birth; and they were entirely functionless.

 

Insect Habits.—Sir John Lubbock contributed to the recent meeting of the British Association a paper on some recent observations on the habits of ants, bees, and wasps. One of the most interesting points connected with the economy of ants was the manner in which they recognized their friends. Not only would the ants in any nest, however large, distinguish between their own companions and other ants belonging to the same species, but this had been shown to happen even after a separation of more than a year. Mr. McCook had thought the faculty was due to scent, but Sir John deduced reasons for believing it to be otherwise. As regarded the longevity of ants, he had two which he had kept ever since 1874. They were then full grown, and must therefore be twelve years old. They were both queens and continued to lay eggs, showing no signs of age, excepting, perhaps, that they were a little stiff in the joints. His experiments did not confirm the idea that these insects had any sense of direction, except perhaps in the same sense in which we might be said to have one. In continuation of previous experiments. Sir John had taken forty ants, fed them with honey, and put them down on a gravel path fifty yards from their nest. They wandered about in all directions, and it was obvious that they had no idea which was the right way home.

 

Prolongation of Local Anæsthesia.—The discovery has been made by Dr. J. Leonard Corning, of New York, that local anæsthesia produced by the subcutaneous injection of the hydrochlorate of cocaine may be prolonged by annulling the local circulation. The results of three experiments, described by Dr. Coming in the "New York Medical Journal," were to show, first, that simple arrest of the circulation in the part, shortly after injection of the anaesthetic, is sufficient to intensify and prolong the anæsthesia; second, that if the injection is made after exsanguination and compression, there is little diffusion of the anæsthetic, and consequently a commensurate diminution in the number of nerve-filaments exposed to the influence of the solution; and, third, that, if the injection is made a few moments before exsanguination and the application of the tourniquet, a sufficient amount of saturation of tissue is obtained to expose a large number of nerve-filaments to the influence of the anæsthetic; and yet, if the delay is not too long, there is no danger of diluting or dissipating the solution by the access of too much blood to such a degree as to weaken or nullify the anæsthetic influence. Since by this method the anæsthesia can be practically prolonged to an indefinite degree, repeated injections are no longer necessary for that purpose, and the object is attained by the use of comparatively small quantities of cocaine. Hence the danger of constitutional disturbances from overdosing is avoided. Dr. M. J. Roberts has applied the method suggested by Dr. Corning in operations occurring in his practice, with complete success, in cases of excavation of the condyles of the humerus; of an operation on the bones of the leg; and of excision of the hip-joint. In the last case the success was less perfect, on account of the operator having been obliged to use a solution of inferior strength, but was fairly satisfactory. Professor J. Williston and other surgeons of eminence have also used the method with complete success.

 

Living Encrinites.—The encrinites are among the most interesting of the animals that inhabit the great sea-depths. They formerly played very important parts among the marine fauna, and their remains are found in great masses in the rocks of all the earlier formations. Their shapes, always graceful, now resembling lilies, now palm trees, were wonderfully varied during the primary and secondary periods. They were nearly always fixed to the ground, while, in modern seas, the echinoderms most like them, the Comatulæ, are free, and have forms resembling star-fish, but lighter and more elegant. Encrinites were regarded as extinct till in the middle of the eighteenth century a naval officer brought to Europe a specimen which had been fished up alive. A few years afterward, Guettard described to the French Academy of Sciences another specimen which, dried, is still preserved in the collection of the Museum of Natural History; and, at a later date, some encrinites from the Antilles were distributed among different museums and collections in Europe. But these animals were rare till the time of the American dredging expeditions under Louis Agassiz. It is now known that encrinites, while they are not so abundant as they were in the epoch when limestone-beds were formed out of them, are by no means rare in the deep seas; and zoologists arc in a position to tell geologists what manner of life they lived, and what was the structure of those organisms whose remains are found everywhere, and whose real character once appeared so hard to determine. The discoveries of Sars, in the northern seas, of Pourtales and Alexander Agassiz in the Antilles, and of the various English expeditions, have raised the number of known species of crinoids to thirty-two, which arc divided among four families and six genera.

 

Geology at the American Association.—Professor Orton delivered an opening address in the Geological Section of the American Association, on "Problems in the Study of Coal; with a Sketch of Recent Progress in Geology." The recent discoveries of the pteraspidian type of fishes in the Onondaga group of Central Pennsylvania, and of scales and spines of fishes (Onchus Clintoni) in the iron sandstone of the Middle Clinton group of the same region, give to American formations the earliest examples of vertebrate life yet known. A living shark has been identified that proves to be so nearly allied to the Cladodus of carboniferous time that it would be doing but little violence to refer it to that genus. Three separate discoveries of Upper Silurian scorpions and a Middle Silurian cockroach carry the life of the earliest land animals a few steps further back than the records of the strata had before disclosed. Two species of pulmoniferous mollusks from the lower part of the carboniferous rocks of Nevada constitute the sole known representatives of that group in palæozoic time. Stratigraphical geology appears to be attaining a somewhat juster recognition than has hitherto prevailed; and the growing use of the microscope in geology is to be noted as one of the directions in which progress is apparent and marked. In the later stages and higher forms of vertebrate life, "American geology holds an easy and undisputed pre-eminence. Along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains there are being disentombed the remnants of great faunas of cretaceous and tertiary time that are quite without parallel in the history of geology. While these faunas arc remarkable for the great number and variety of the species and individuals, and also for the enormous size of some of their forms, it is in other directions that their highest interest lies. By their anomalous and altogether unexpected characters, by their strange combination and dissociation of peculiarities of structure, they throw a flood of light on the question of evolution, and give us a key to the development of the existing creation that, before their discovery, it was too much to expect we should ever possess." The most important service, Professor Orton further remarked, that has been rendered in the American field, is the recent mapping of the great moraine from the Atlantic border to Dakota. On "the unfinished problems relating to the geology and chemistry of coal," Professor Orton enumerated the four principal theories of the formation of coal-beds, inclining to favor the peat-bog theory of Lesquereux and Brongniart. In accounting for coal-fields—a succession of coal-beds separated by marine formations and inorganic sediments of sandstone and iron-ore—we have to seek an explanation of the regularity of the intervals, and arc referred to Croll's theory of an astronomical cause. Various unsettled questions also appear on the chemical side; and, while much has been done, much remains to be done in the field of the microscopical structure of coal. These problems will probably all be solved, but when that is done, "out of these old carboniferous swamps, new questions, larger, deeper than any we now see, will perpetually arise to stimulate by their discovery and to reward by their solution that love of knowledge for its own sake which makes us men." Captain E. L. Corthell presented a paper, which was read at a general meeting, on the contractions of the earth's crust and surplusage in mountain-structure. New discoveries of fossils in the older strata of various regions were announced. Professor Henry S. Williams presented a paper on the comparative stratigraphy of the southern counties of New | York and the adjoining counties of Pennsylvania, and Northern Ohio as far as Cleveland. Professor E. W. Claypole discussed the problem of the origin of the palæozoic sediments of Pennsylvania. Professor Lewis E. nicks described the structure and relation of the Dakota group in Nebraska. Mr. G. K. Gilbert described an old shore-line of Lake Ontario, which he had traced half-way about its basin. Professor A. R. Crandall described some small volcanic dikes which have recently been discovered in Elliot County, Kentucky. Professor Orton described the gas and oil wells of Northwestern Ohio, in the region of which Findlay is the center, and whose sources of supply are in formations lower than any from which gas has been known before to issue. The flow of gas ranges in the various wells from 100,000 to 1,200,000 cubic feet per day. The petroleum is not very abundant, and is black, sulphurous, and of a gravity of about 35°. The formation whence the gas and oil issue is a porous magnesian limestone identified as Trenton. Professor A. C. Worthen described the quaternary deposits of Central and Southern Illinois as observed in cutting coal-mine shafts through them. The bedrock surface is diversified by valleys much as the drift surface above, but with a different drainage system. At the bottom is a stratified clay, in part gravelly, which appears to be derived from the waste of the bed-rock. Above this is a forest-bed, which, though not a universal feature, is so widely spread as to make much of the well-water unfit for use. Over this lies a blue and yellow gravelly clay, with glaciated bowlders sometimes as large as two feet in diameter; and, finally, a few feet of loess, covered with a thin bed of fine clay.

 

Educational Museums.—Dr. Burt G. Wilder, addressing the Biological Section of the American Association on "Educational Museums of Vertebrates," maintained that every institution, of whatever grade, should have one. In selection quality is more important than quantity, and arrangement is usually more needed than acquisition. As a rule, each specimen should teach but one thing, and that thoroughly. The same form may, therefore, properly recur in several parts of the museum, to illustrate different parts or ideas. True economy consists in paying liberally for what is wanted, rather than in taking what is not wanted as a gift. "In addition to, or in place of, the three great series— physiological, taxonomic, and geographical—which are commonly attempted in museums, but which it is rarely possible to complete, specimens representing an equal amount of time or money would have a higher educational value if divided among a considerable number of special series, each illustrating some morphological or teleological principle. . . . Instead of vainly attempting to obtain and exhibit all the species of all the groups, most educational museums would attain more satisfactory results by selecting the more interesting or instructive forms from all classes, and limiting their efforts to complete groups for a few, upon which, as well as upon a larger number, may be illustrated the principles of classification and of individual and geographical variation. Among special series other than systematic, are analogous forms and structures which are sometimes mistaken for one another, but arc more readily discriminated when brought together. . . . Physiological series would contain the hibernating animals, those which are blind or nearly so, and such as are provided with scent-glands or tusks, and all poisonous vertebrates. A local collection should embrace all the animals of the vicinity, and will benefit the student, both as an example for him to follow or improve upon, and as exemplifying the laws of geographical distribution and the influence of environment. The local collection need not contain anatomical preparations, but should exhibit both sexes and all stages of growth—its mode of life, friends, and foes—so as to interest also the children, farmers, fishermen, hunters, and other residents of the neighborhood."

In a paper on the hybridization and cross-fertilization of plants, Professor E. L. Sturtevant, of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, showed that in our common vegetables cross-fertilization tends toward atavism, or reversion to an ancestral form, rather than to a blending of the individual properties of the present plants.

In describing some of the habits of the musk-rat, Mr. A. W. Butler mentioned well authenticated cases of the change of habits as a means of adapting itself to the changed conditions of life brought about by the presence of civilized man.

Mr. J. C. Arthur reported, as the result of his investigations of pear-blight, that sap from an infected tree when inoculated into a healthy tree, invariably produced the disease; that when cultures to the sixth generation of organisms were made with all precaution to prevent error, and healthy trees were inoculated with the pure culture of this sixth generation, the tree was stricken with blight, which started from the point of inoculation and gradually extended over the whole plant; and that, wherever there was a blight not produced by freezing, bacteria of this species were invariably present. Professor Bessey read a paper on the inflorescence of the dodder.

The Section of Histology and Microscopy was discontinued, at the request of its members.

 

The Native Tribes of Alaska.—Mr. W. H. Dall's address to the Anthropological Section of the American Association was on "The Native Tribes of Alaska." Passing by the details in it which are chiefly of interest to specialists, we are informed that the tribal limits of the western Innuit, geographically considered, are very mutable, and constantly changing in small details. This arises from the fact that the geographical group which we have called a tribe among the Innuit is not a political organization headed by a chief or chiefs, but simply a geographical aggregation of people who have by possession obtained certain de facto rights of hunting, fishing, etc., over a certain area. The jealousy of adjacent groups keeps the imaginary boundary-line pretty well defined, through fear of reprisals should it be violated, but under the influence of the whites, with their trading-posts, the boundaries are becoming violable with impunity, and are falling into oblivion. Hence the geographical names distinguishing the groups are ceasing to have any serious significance. The degree of civilization which the Aleuts have attained is very promising. The people are not scattered over the archipelago except in their hunting-parties. Notwithstanding the nominal division into groups, they are practically as much one people as those of two adjacent English counties. The Rev. Mr. Dorsey gave an account of the peculiarities of the language spoken at the Siletz Indian agency, in Oregon, the population of which is made up of a consolidation of more than twenty tribes. The Indians are all more or less civilized, some of them taking newspapers, are very polite to strangers, and in many respects resemble the Ainos. In their language, the verb varies with the position of the object. They can not say "that man," but must say "that man walking," or sitting, or standing, etc. There are three sets of cardinal number, human, inhuman, and inanimate. All their villages have local names, as "the people of the ash-trees," "the people by the hill," "the people of the canon," etc. A man must marry a woman from another village, and his children belong to the village of their father. They will not mention the names of the wild-cat, field-mouse, and some other animals, before their children, lest they bring sickness and death upon them. Five is the mystic number among them.

Miss A. C. Fletcher described the sacred war-tent of the Omahas, in which the sacred and ritual objects are stored. These objects are held in great reverence, and are under a special keeper. Among them is the sacred shell, a large Unio, which is contained in several leathern pouches, one within the other, and in which are placed strips of the inner bark of the cedar, and a scalp. In the tent are also the sacred wolf-skin, and two bundles covered with tanned skins. One of the bundles contains bird-skins; the other contains various deadly poisons. There are besides a staff of cedar and one of iron-wood, a small pipe-stem, two war-pipes, tobacco, and a scalp. The sacred shell must never touch the ground, for, if it should, a devouring fire would come from it. If any one but the keeper touches any of the objects, he will be afflicted with grievous sores but the evil may be averted by going through certain ritual ablutions. All of these objects have been given, with the consent of the chiefs, to the Peabody Museum of Archæology.

 

The "Flight" of Flying-Fish.—The debate goes on as to whether flying-fish actually fly or only appear to fly, under an impulse which they have received while still in the water. One of the most authoritative opinions that has been expressed on the subject is probably that of Professor Möbius, of Kiel, who declares that "flying-fish arc incapable of flying, for the simple reason that the muscles of their pectoral fins are not large enough to bear the weight of their body aloft in the air." The average weight of the muscles doing this work in birds is one sixth that of the whole body, and that of bats one thirteenth, while that of flying-fishes is only one thirty-second. The impulse to the propulsion of the flying-fish is delivered while they are still in the water, by the powerful masses of muscles on both sides of their body, which are of much greater breadth than in the case of the herring or any other fish of their own size. The visible flickering of the fins is only a vibration akin to the flapping of a sail.