On The Extinction Of The Giant Irish Deer

Evolution is a fascinating branch of science — not least because the fossil records show that the Earth has, at various times, been home to some amazing creatures.

One such now-extinct species is the giant Irish deer, which suddenly became extinct 10,600 years ago.  It was an enormous animal.  As the attached chart indicates, it was much taller than a modern human, with a massive set of antlers.  Since the first fossils were found in the early 1800s, the giant Irish deer has been the subject of significant interest, with some in that era concluding that it must have died off in the Biblical flood, others speculating that the animals were hunted to extinction, and still others arguing that their massive antlers must have somehow done them in.

Scientists have now conducted tests and determined that the Irish deer died off due to climate change.  Various aspects of the teeth of the animals indicate that the temperature was dropping at the time of their extinction, and the habitat in Ireland therefore changed from being heavily forested to being more tundra-like.  As a result, less vegetation was growing — and these massive creatures clearly needed lots of plants for nourishment.

Imagine, if you will, going back in time to the heavily wooded island now known as Ireland 12,000 years ago, walking through the primordial forest, hearing a sound, and turning to see one of these titanic creatures, towering above your head, with antlers sweeping 12 feet across.   It must have been a magnificent sight.

Scotch On Ice

I enjoy the unusual news stories you see from time to time, like this one:  it turns out that, during explorer Ernest Shackleton’s unsuccessful expedition to reach the South Pole between 1907 and 1909, he buried two crates of scotch whiskey in the ice beneath his headquarters hut.  When the expedition was abandoned, the scotch was left there for 100 years.  It was discovered three years ago, and now they are getting ready to extract the crates from the ice.  The distiller of the scotch is interested in getting a sample to see how it was blended and whether the blend can be recreated.

All of this is very interesting, but what is most interesting is that explorers looking to reach the South Pole, in an expedition where every ounce of material had to be transported over miles of frigid, desolate wasteland, nevertheless took two crates of booze.  That fact is somewhat telling, because the expedition ran out of supplies only 100 miles from the Pole.  If they had taken two more crates of food or other necessaries, rather than the hooch, they might have made history.  In those days, however, an expedition without an ample supply of scotch apparently was unthinkable.

Christmas Music

I am a sucker for Christmas music of all kinds. I like traditional carols sung by choirs, ’60s holiday rock ‘n roll like Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, oratorical masterpieces like the Messiah, and jazz and Big Band treatments of the Christmas standards. I’m always on the lookout for some new holiday music to add to the Ipod “holiday mix” playlist. The challenge is to find another “Christmas album” that compares to the all-time classics, like Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas or, more recently, Linda Ronstadt’s a Merry Little Christmas.

And so, I must give kudos to the Purple Raider, who long ago recommended An Oscar Peterson Christmas. I finally picked it up recently, and it has met my high expectations. It is an excellent, note-perfect jazz tribute to the holidays that has to rank up there with some of the best Christmas albums ever. Its combination of slow and fast treatments, piano and vibes, will allow for an even better mix of tunes for the days of holiday baking.

More on Christmas music later. In the meantime, as we ramp up to the holidays, An Oscar Peterson Christmas gets the Webnerhouse seal of approval.