Groovy Science Band


(Photo from Peter Marting)

Field day with Peter and his Band. They came into town from St. Louis Saturday evening prepped for the Neon Party on the ridge. Today they are working with us as field assistants who happen to break out into the occasional jam. As I ride in the back of the truck, testing out living inside the new bio-survey method “Ladder on a Truck” with Evan strumming the guitar, I have the realization that this moxy adventure could be the premise for a children’s animated television show from the 70’s. Crazy truck of scientist-musicians rolls through forest, experimenting with ant-plants and taking time out for musical interludes.


It was a luxury having so many extra hands available for carrying out the experiments. It also gives those great recurring instances where you have to explain to a whole new group of people on the spot exactly what it is you do.  The restatement of one’s goals and ideas seems to sharped and sculpt your arguments. It runs an evolutionary algorithm on your ideas, and it chips away at the bits of the iterations that fail. But like evolution, it only gives us a locally optimal solution. Evolution will only give the laziest solutions to continued existence, and reinforces the situation a thing finds itself in from previous investment. The process will reflect its embedded environment, and dig the solution deeper and deeper, until entrenched. This is why it might be useful to carry these ideas as they evolve to different mental environments. Keep it flexible, robust.


Had the guys do an acoustic set of a couple of their songs with Peter’s subject animals. The concert featured just a guitar, some rocks, and a cecropia tree full of azteca ants for percussion. Their performance ended up being limited by the aggressiveness of the colony.


We also wonderfully weirded out some groups of other scientists who happened to be passing through in the jungle. Evan and I also testing out a sprinting, moving, musical performance with guitar and harmonica while jogging down pipeline. We all do some jungle vine swinging and then catch Marc Seid’s Gamboa talk at 4pm about various different projects involving insect brains and addiction. The newly arrived Barrett Klein is also in attendance. I give him copies of my field books and he loves them. He says he is always looking for things to show his class about alternate ways of doing and presenting science.


Peter’s jungle ladder has been capturing my imagination more and more.  So much so, that I even wrote a poem about it (adopted from WC Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”). It is a simple household tool, but completely necessary for Peter to gain closer experiences to life with the Azteca. The trees and ants are trying their best to keep others from experiencing their world, and the ladder defeats them. The way we carry it in his truck makes it collect all sorts of interesting debris as we drive through the forest, but because it is in the back, this process remains mostly hidden to us. There’s not much logically missing from this process when we think about it abstractly, a ladder sticks up and waps all the branches and leaves that hang down. But it is such a dynamic system, I have been wanting to feel it more deeply and experience it from within. It also didn’t hurt that the truck was full on the inside anyway. So I set to surf the truck down pipeline and put myself directly in the ladder. Something stung me on the eye, I got slapped around something fierce, and I got bit by dozens of different creatures. It gave me something I am not sure quite yet how to express.

Jungle Ladder
so much depends
a jungle
mounted in the
truck bed
writhing with


Surfing the Forest Truck



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