Great Beetle

Asian Longhorned Beetle (or Asian Longhorn Beetle) A new and potentially serious threat to some of North America’s most beautiful and popular trees is the Asian Longhorned Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis).  Native to parts of Asia, the beetle is believed to have arrived in North America in the wooden packing material used in cargo shipments from China.  Isolated Asian Longhorned Beetle infestations have been discovered in Brooklyn and Amityville, New York, and in Chicago, Illinois.  In all instances where Asian Longhorned Beetles have been found, authorities have reacted quickly to stop the infestation from spreading. 

Trees favored by the Asian Longhorned Beetle are predominantly maples, but infestations have also been discovered in horsechestnuts, poplars, willows, elms, mulberries and black locusts.  Currently, there is no known chemical or biological defense against the Asian Longhorned Beetle and, in North America, they have few natural predators. In all cases of infestation, the affected trees are cut down and the wood destroyed.

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Eclipse Over China

Dale A. Johnson credit: 3:38am June 16, 2011. Photo with Kodak easy share c143 attached to small telescope
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Christian Evidence Embedded in Imagery of Chinese Bronze Mirrors

The metalwork and jewelry of the T’ang period are witness to the wealth and cosmopolitan strength of T’ang culture. Many of the finest Sui and T’ang bronze mirrors were made at Yang-chou on the Grand Canal. Bronze was a core component of the ancient Chinese world because it was cast to serve the affairs of the state: ritual and war. Control of bronze objects not only meant control of the instruments of war, but also access to heaven since bronze was the principle material for ritual objects (Chase 1991). Bronze mirrors were used primarily for exorcism. Evil spirits were thought to be repelled by their reflections on the convex surfaces of the bronze mirrors. Taoist monks were said to wear the mirrors on their backs attached by a cord while studying. These bronze mirrors were given as presents at weddings in the hope that the new home occupied by the couple would be protected by these mirrors. Mirrors are found on the chests of the deceased to protect them in the afterlife. Making the Mirrors was made either by casting them in preformed clay molds or molds created by the lost wax method. The metal used is generally an alloy of cooper, tin, and lead. Adding tin and lead to the cooper from my understanding lowers the melting point and makes the metal easier to pour. The lead also makes grinding and polishing easier. The Clay Mold Technology involved creating a void in the clay in the shape of the mirror and poring the molten metal. The clay was made in two sections. One side, the decorative design for the back and the other side was flat. The Lost Wax technology was first fully modeled in wax to create an exact replica of the bronze mirror. Next, a wax funnel (sprue) and small tubes (vents) were attached to the model. The wax model with its system of sprues and vents was then encased in clay or clay-like material and fired. Firing hardened the clay mold and melted or burned out the wax, leaving an empty space in the shape of the mirror. After the molten metal solidified, the mold had to be destroyed to retrieve the bronze mirror. Chinese bronze mirrors can be relatively dated by the types of designs preferred in each period. A popular Tang dynasty motif was the lion-and-grapevine design. It was during the preceding Sui dynasty (A.D. 581-618) that the Chinese had borrowed the grapevine motif from Sassanian Persian silver and textiles. Lions replaced the indigenous Chinese decor of dragons, zodiac animals, and other cosmological symbols from the preceding dynasties. Decorative motifs include, the pearl band, cloud volute, curl border, dragons, and phoenixes which are Chinese; hunting scenes, vine scrolls, rosettes, and opposed birds or animals in roundels are Sassanian Persian. The “lion and grape” mirror was very popular in the 7th and 8th centuries, for it embodied both Chinese directional and “five phases” symbolism, and lions and grapes were also potent symbols in the Christian Nestorian faith introduced by the Uighurs from Central Asia. This type of mirror disappeared abruptly with the persecution of the Christians in 845. Manichean.influence is possible but not likely. Harvard Art museum has a bronze mirror with a lion at the center. It is one of the 27 icons described in Ming Shou Ch’ien Ku which describes an Imperial collection commissioned by Emperor Ch’ien Lung. The lion was a new image to appear in Chinese iconography. Combined with grapes which were also introduced to Tang culture at this time we have a motif that suggests influences from the Persian frontier. Nestorian Christians traded heavily with China exchanging horses for silk. They also seem to have exchanged ideas and religious symbolism. Saint Ephrem favored the spiritual imagery of mirrors. The influence of Ephrem is witnessed in the inscription of the Xian-Fu Stone erected in 781 in the capital of the Tang Empire to commemorate the arrival of Christians from Persia. He wrote: May your resurrection, Jesus, bring true greatness to our spiritual self and may your sacraments be the mirror wherein we may know that self. Savior, your divine plan for the world is a mirror for the spiritual world; teach us to walk in that: world as spiritual men. From a sermon by Saint Ephrem, deacon (Sermo 3, De fine et admonitione 2. 4-5: Opera, edición Lamy 3, 216-222) Let the scriptures be for us like a mirror, let us see in them our fast. Saint Ephrem’s Hymns on Fasting- Hymns- 2- 1: 07 In the book of Cave Treasures Ephrem suggests that Satan uses a mirror to trick Eve in the same way mirrors were used to teach birds how to talk by showing the bird its reflection and speaking from behind the mirror. The use of Chinese bronze mirrors to reflect religious beliefs and imagery in the Tang Dynasty would be quite natural. We get some help from inscriptions found on bronze mirrors that support Christian influence. According to WenHui Daily in June of 2009 ,there is a bronze mirror of the Eastern Han Dynasty discovered in Xuzhou province. People among the 18 words Christianity is referenced. Xuzhou Han Stone librarian, Ma Huan Li, who studied under the famous inscriptions expert Professor Yan Xiaoci, identified the bronze mirror. Ma said the bronze mirror is a Christian Gospel Han inscriptions Mirror. The inscription, partially reads “mirror of God, out of respect for the emperor …. the Son of Man….” Much more work will have to be done on this bronze to determine both authenticity and provenance.   Another bronze that is suggestive of Chrstian influence is found in the Carter Museum in New York. It has eight characters: “Jian Ri Zhi Guang, Chang Wu Xiang Wang” Size:76.7mm Weight:83.9g. It translates as “By the light of the sun, The world is made bright.” Could this be a reference to Christ as the Sun/Son? Otherwise this is a rather mundane saying. A third an most extraordinary mirror is one with a series of crosses. It has a central cross with Persian Iris’ at its tips. An intermedial cross has small crosses at ewach of its tips. I have yet to make out and translate the inscription on the inner circle except for a few words like “tomorrow” “little” and a trisagion-like saying. This mirror has been listed in a French auction catalogue and the piece is probably in private hands. Finally I have acquired in 2011 a bronze mirror of the Tang period of the lion and grape motif. It has a lion at the center with a hole under its belly to pass a cord. The lion is ringed with four other lions and two birds that resemble peacocks. An outer circle has twelve birds and three more lions and two butterflies. Birds and peacocks were a popular motif among the iconography of Syriac Christians of the Persian Empire. From the Rabbula Gospels of the early 7th century. Peacock among grape clusters and vines on the author’s bronze mirror


The Lion and Grape Patterns on Chinese Bronze Mirrors, Schuyler Cammann Artibus Asiae Vol. 16, No. 4 (1953), pp. 265-291, (article consists of 27 pages) Published by: Artibus Asiae Publishers Stable URL: Significant Patterns on Chinese Bronze Mirrors, Schuyler Cammann Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America, Vol. 9, (1955), pp. 43-62 (article consists of 20 pages) Published by: University of Hawai’i Press for the Asia Society Stable URL: See also “Circles of Reflection / The Carter Collection of Chinese Bronze Mirrors” by Ju-hsi Chou (copyright 2000 The Cleveland Museum of Art) Catalogue no. 14 (p.35) A Chinese Bronze Mirror, Sheila Rubin, Annual Report (Fogg Art Museum), No. 1955/1956 (1955 – 1956), pp. 58-59+64 (article consists of 3 pages), Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College on behalf of the Harvard Art Museum, Stable URL: The Evolution of the T’ang Lion and Grapevine Mirror, Nancy Thompson, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1967), pp. 25-54, (article consists of 30 pages) Published by: Artibus Asiae Publishers , Stable URL: See Johnson, Dale A., Syncretism: Consciousness and Creativity in the Tang Dynasty, New Sinai Press, 2011 The Cave of Treasures , TRANSLATION (Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 25875.) [THE TITLE OF THE WORK: THE SCRIBES PRAYER.]
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Han Dynasty Bronze Mirror Possible Evidence of Christianity in 3rd century China

Cross design with Crosses at medial points. Western Han

I recently came across a western Han Bronze mirror. It has a strong Persian influence and has ancient Chinese calligraphy on the rim. It also has what might be Sogdian inscriptions as well. I have translated a few words that of the Chinese. It refers to a wish for the user to be rich.It has a Christian-like tripartate  saying.  Do not want to say much more until I consult some experts.

This mirror was listed in an auction catalogue in April of 2011. It is poorly described. These are not four animals but Persian Iris’.

A large, superb bronze mirror with four animal masks in high relief, China, probably still Sui Dynasty (581-618) or early Tang dynasty. photo Nagel Auktionen

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Asian Longhorn Beetle

Asian Longhorn Beetle sometimes called Starry Sky

Asian Longhorn found in Yongchuan, May 28, 2001 at base of Japanese Cherry tree.

The eye of an Asian Longhorn

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Chance Meeting with Nobakov: A lifetime influence

Nobakov as photographed in Life Magazine

Sometimes the people one meets in life turn out to be ever more interesting as time passes. Their words and ideas follow you like a thin and ghostly mist that clings to your brain. At the time you have no idea how important they will be to you.


Forty years ago I traveled to HuemozSwitzerlandto study for a few months under Dr. Francis Schaeffer. He was a Christian guru of my generation who gathered youth from all over the world at his retreat center. It was more like a Christian commune where 80% of the participants were Marxist and eastern European youth. The discussions were lively.


After a few weeks I followed a couple of French speaking girls down the mountain to help collect mushrooms. In an open meadow I saw an old man chasing butterflies. He was walking along a hedge with net in hand. Somehow we ended up in conversation. He said his name was Vladimir Nabokov. He lived in nearby Montreau down byLake Geneva. He explained that he specialized in a certain type of butterfly and wrote scientific articles. His speech was heavily accented but he spoke clear and beautiful English. I asked him if he fromRussia. “Yes. I was born inRussiabut I have lived for many years inAmerica. When he learned that I was from a town that is just north ofOregonhe said he spent one summer isAshland.,Oregon.


I am sure we talked about more because I ended up walking along the road side with him for about a half an hour. The French girls were far out in the field and soon they came to retrieve me and walk back to the chalet where about 20 of us lived. I had completely failed to help the girls pick mushrooms but they did not seem to mind. Later that day they presented a mushroom soup in a thick flour soup that is one of the most delicious meals I have ever experienced.

Like that soup, the conversation withVladimirlingered in my memory. When I returned to theUnited StatesI looked up information about Mr. Nabokov. It turned out that he had published several important books, not about butterflies, but about pedophilia, the love of an older man for a very young girl. The novel’s name was Lolita, published in 1958 and it caused a sensation in American literary circles. It had been reprinted many times. I found a copy of it a Powells Book Store inPortland.

I had a difficult time comprehending the book but I could see that it was an important piece of literature. It captured the spirit of exploration of forbidden sex in American culture. It was only years later that I discovered that Mr. Nabonov was in fact a butterfly expert.

Recently I read an online article in the New York Times by Carl Zimmer. He wrote

Vladimir Nabokov may be known to most people as the author of classic novels like “Lolita” and “Pale Fire.” But even as he was writing those books, Nabokov had a parallel existence as a self-taught expert on butterflies.

He was the curator of lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and he collected the insects across the United States.”

Mr. Nabokov developed a theory about the evolution of a family of butterflies called  Lycaeninae. Nabokov came from a family of butterfly experts. His mother and father inRussiabuilt a worldclass collection. When the Russian revolution forced his father to briefly go to prision, his son Vladimir brought him a butterfly as a gift. The family later escaped toGermanyand then toEnglandwhereVladimirgot an education atCambridge. He eventually moved toAmericawhere he taught Russian Literature atWelsleyCollege.

His passion for butterflies landed him a job as curator for butterflies at Harvard. He  collected, identified, and even named new species. He wrote in a poem in 1943 called “Discovering a Butterfly.”:

I found it and I named it, being versed

in taxonomic Latin; thus became

godfather to an insect and its first

describer — and I want no other fame.

It is through a passion for butterflies that I met Nabokov again. Although he died in 1977 in Switzerland, his ideas and work lived on. I wrote a book a few years ago called An Incomplete Guide to Lepidoptera while living in theDominican Republic. While there I had teams of students and educators fromHarvardUniversity work with orphans and street children. I learned about beetles and butterflies. The work of Dr. Naomi Piece who is the present curator of butterflies at Harvard influenced me as well as other insect experts with whom I came into contact such as E.O. Wilson, and Brian Ferrell. This love for insects and the butterfly drew me to Nabokov. Apparently in 1945 he came up with a theory about the migration of his family of butterflies. He also suggested that this family of butterflies should be classified by their genitalia. Nabokov was ahead of his time.

Nabokov’s reputation as a scientist languished until the 1990s. Kurt Johnson, an entomologist then at the American Museum of Natural History, examined the genitals of the blues and was surprised at their diversity. Searching the literature for help, he came across Nabokov’s work. As he later described in the 2000 book “Nabokov’s Blues,” written with Steve Coates, Dr. Johnson set about reviving Nabokov’s classification. Working with Zsolt Balint of the Hungarian Museum of Natural History and Dubi Benyamini, an Israeli collector, he collected new blues and carefully examined them. In the end, they decided Nabokov was right in his classification. Along the way, they even named some new species in his honor, like Nabokovia cuzquenha.

For the last year I have been inChinacollecting and photographing butterflies for perhaps another book on butterflies. I have become particularly interested in the “blues” a tiny butterfly that is indigenous toAsia. It is also the butterfly that led me back to Nabokov.

I was reading about the work of Naomi Pierce at Harvard and it turns out that she began looking closely at Nabokov’s work while preparing an exhibit to celebrate his 100th birthday in 1999. Reading “Nabokov’s Blues,” she was captivated by his idea of butterflies coming fromAsia. “It was an amazing, bold hypothesis,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, my God, we could test this.’ ”

According to the New York Times article:

“Dr. Pierce and her colleagues concluded that five waves of butterflies came from Asia to the New World — just as Nabokov had speculated.

“By God, he got every one right,” Dr. Pierce said. “I couldn’t get over it — I was blown away.””

This was the man I met in a meadow inSwitzerland40 years ago. At the time I did not fully comprehend his importance and how our lives would intersect through the convergences of ideas and interests over the years.


He too marveled at the strange turns of life:

Frankly, I never thought of letters as a career. Writing has always been for me a blend of dejection and high spirits, a torture and a pastime — but I never expected it to be a source of income. On the other hand, I have often dreamt of a long and exciting career as an obscure curator of lepidoptera in a great museum.

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Harlequin Lady Beetle

Today I captured a Harlequin Lady Beetle. This Asian Beetle was introduced in 1988 to North America. It was believed to be a natural form of pest control for aphids. Rose growers were delighted. No more pesticides. But the plan turned into a disaster. The Harlequin Lady beetle is now considered an invasive species. In London where it was recently introduced it is wiping out the 46 native species of ladybugs.

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