Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beyond the Virginia Opossum

Not too long ago, I heard a zookeeper speak of our Virginia opossum as either "the only species of opossum" or "the only North American species of opossum."

Either way, I silently disagreed. I immediately thought of the yapok, or water opossum of Mexico.

This zookeeper had some justification for her statement, if it was the North American question. Many people do not consider mesoamerica or the Caribbean to be part of North America. Further, the information online (plus my own observations) is misleading at best. Many websites make it a firm statement that the opossum is "North America's only marsupial." That is correct, but there at least 3 species of North American opossums (when you include Mesoamerica). Even wikipedia seems to have trouble with this, saying the Virginia opossum is the only marsupial found in North America north of Mexico".

Yet, from doing a little research, there seem to be 103 species of true opossums (of the American genetic background, as opposed to the "possums" of the Austrailian region which look unrelated, because they very much are.)

That's more than I had supposed, and while most are South American, some are native to the Caribbean islands, which I would consider North American.

But it occurs to me that this is really part of a larger debate on understanding:
Is Central America a part of North America?
Wikipedia says:
The continent is delimited on the southeast by most geographers at the Darién watershed along the Colombia-Panama border, placing all of Panama within North America. Alternatively, less common views would end North America at the man-made Panama Canal, and some geologists physiographically locate its southern limit at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico, with Central America extending southeastward to South America from this point.

Back to opossums: I recently read that Virginia opoosums have their furthest southernly range is in Costa Rica. Did you know Costa Rica has white-tailed deer? racoons? cougars? North American porcupines?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum"

This is my 2nd post about Edgar Allen Poe's works. I haven't read all his work by any means, but I have had a good sampling now. Yesterday, I finished three Poe short stories, "The Masque of the Red Death" "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Purloined Letter"

I was very much in anticipation concerning "The Masque of the Red Death." From other readings, specifically the forward to the collection, I got the impression it was something remarkable and unforgettable. I was very, very disappointed. It was not even worthy a shudder to my modern desensitized sensibilities. I have been similarly disappointed in most of Poe's stories. We, as modern people, see so much violence and carnage on regularly braodcast television, not to mention the truly graphic horror flicks, that much of Poe doesn't reach me as I was expecting.

Then I was had my awe re-newed with "The Pit and the Pendulum." More than frightening (in the startled screaming sense) Poe's horror tends to illict a shudder and even groan in the back of my mind when his effects over-reach my punch-drunk senses. With his protagonists, I often wonder, "How much horror can one man take?"

From this story, I have now learned the word "viand." Looking it up was my etymology lesson for the day. And, like many others of Poe's words, his usage is somehwat different from what the dictionary says. By the way, I tried to use the word "poe" in scrabble once, based on my Zelda memories, and was very displeased to find out it isn't considered a word.

And then on to "The Purloined Letter." This is a very different type of Poe story, without even the horrific details of the tale's precursor, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (which I found isn't about a mortuary, by the way). It is a straight detective story, with much the feel of a Sherlock Holmes story. Arm-chair deductions, and unusual hiding places.

The shuddering reptitions of horrific experiences seen in "Pit/Pendulum" are seen again in Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his book, as well as other stories.

Another favorite story I read was Loss of Breath, although generally all were good reads.

I have another collection of Poe stories I sought out to read. Apparently, Poe has some "Mark Twain" like humorist short stories, too, and these I am curious about.