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Our planet is so exciting! I know that Rachel Carson, ecologist and author of Silent Spring, shared my way of looking at the world. In a talk she gave, she said:
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From what I have told you, you will know that a large part of my life has been concerned with some of the beauties and mysteries of the earth about us, and with the even greater mysteries of the life that inhabits it. No one can dwell long among such subjects without thinking rather deep thoughts, without asking himself searching and often unanswerable questions, and without achieving a certain philosophy.
There is one quality that characterizes all of us who deal with the sciences of the earth and its life we are never bored. We can’t be. There is always something new to be investigated. Every mystery solved brings us to the threshold of a greater one.
I think other animals, too, must be surprised by the never-ending mysteries. Sitting quietly in the open pine forest, I was able to observe the activities of many different birds. One bird plucked from the forest floor what it likely thought was a worm. It was the size, shape, and color of a worm, but was firmer and stronger. How strange. The bird flew to a branch very close to me with the “worm” dangling from its beak, and began whacking it against the branch. When the thing was subdued, the bird gulped it down, perhaps surprised by the novel taste of Florida worm lizard.
And this animal that looked like a worm, or if not that a snake, but which is really an eyeless, legless lizard? Perhaps it, too, was surprised by the mystery of a flight through the air after a life underground.
The worm lizard is a rare species, too. Fossils show that it once had eyes. The eyes evolved away on the outside, but deep inside the lizard’s head are some unusual cells a legacy from when the species could see. This reminds me of whales, whose ancestors evolved legs, but when they finally did better without them, the legs retreated. We humans are still holding on to our eyes and our legs, but we have no idea what the future will bring. We know we should expect change, for that’s the way nature works.
We know that changes to species and evolution of new species occurs primarily through natural selection, meaning that some force of nature has influenced what life forms are most likely to survive and reproduce. Here in the longleaf pine forest, the primary force that determines what survives and what doesn’t is fire.
Ecologists have been known to disagree about the role fire has played in shaping the landscape, but for the longleaf pine ecosystem there is no doubt: it was shaped by fire, and it remains fire dependent. It is no coincidence that this ecosystem occurs in the region of the country that has the most thunderstorms lightning strikes start fires. Before humans created firebreaks, such as large agricultural fields or paved roads, a fire that started in one spot could burn through millions of acres. Because the fires were so frequent, they did not get very hot, and most of the fire-tolerant longleaf pines survived. The less tolerant species, such as loblolly pines and broad- leaf trees, often perished. The result was more space and more light for longleaf pines, grasses, and wildflowers.
The 10 Longest Rivers in Georgia
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