'Beyond Extinction'

"Beyond Extinction: The Eternal Ocean, Climate change & the continuity of life" by Wolfgang Grulke looks beyond the focus on climate change and extinction to celebrate the continuity of ocean life.

Rarely do I come across a volume with the aspects of both a coffee table book with both lavish illustrations, well-placed full-page photographs, and history of our planet's ocean that existed in one shape or another for four billion years.

"Beyond Extinction: The Eternal Ocean―Climate Change & the Continuity of Life" is one of those books. The text is explained as much for the average reader as for science, itself, as is possible. Every glossy page, 224 in the count and 12 inches by 10 inches, gives the reader a view of the beginning of life, and offers, “Despite five masses, and many minor ones, ocean life thrives in surprising continuity.”

Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster said, "[It is] as amazing as its predecessors (in this trilogy). Refreshing to read an up-beat text instead of doom-laden messages.”

Accompanying the volume is a colorful four-fold, 19-inch by 16 1/4-inch poster as an aid for the reader, something I have not seen before in a layman’s text.

Readers learn that the ocean is the womb of all life on earth — and its many faces can be beautiful and bizarre, violent and mysterious.

The reader is taken back 4.4 billion years and from there forward to present views of our role in it and climate changes, sometimes dramatic, but still part of not only history but prehistory. Early on, we learn that the prehistoric fish, the coelacanth, evolved some 400 million years ago and was long thought to have been extinct 66 million years ago before it was rediscovered in its present form in 1938 off the coast of South Africa.

The chapters begin before Earth even had oxygen, the air we breathe, when single-celled organisms, called stromatolites, made life as we know it possible by “filling the atmosphere” with the life-sustaining gas. And it continues with early (500 million years ago) bacteria that some estimate around half of the total biomass today.

Other chapters progress with titles, including Time — Clocks, quanta and chrononyms; Enlightenment — Making sense of life over time; Evolution and Extinction — A 500 million experiment; Continuities — Celebrating life in the eternal ocean; Origins and Destinies — Perspective on life, our role in it and the luxury of choice.

The chapter on Evolution and Extinction, which discusses fossils and the ancient life we would never have known, impressed me the most. One of my very early interests predated dinosaurs — the fossils that left their images. The section on the  five mass extinctions — when more than 75 percent of living species disappeared each time — for me was the most thrilling and frightening section. Fortunately, the following chapter celebrates life in the eternal ocean.

About the author (in part)

Grulke is an award-winning author and collector who is intoxicated by a sense of wonder for the future and the distant past and lives in the dynamic space between the two. His business career was largely focused on the future as an IBM executive. He is chairman emeritus of FutureWorld International.

His lifelong passion for the natural world has included marine biology, paleontology, scuba diving, travel writing and underwater photography. He recently completed a major trilogy of books: "Heteromorph," that charted the bizarre history and extinction of ammonites; "Nautilus," celebrating the 500 million year history of the ocean's most beautiful survivor and this volume, "Beyond Extinction," among others.


Naturewatch has received several queries of long hairy caterpillars on trees and even sides of sheds and garages. And without outright telling the name of this invasion's culprit, I suggest you look at Ron Kujawski's Garden Journal, "Gypsy moth caterpillars invading Berkshire County." You will find it sharing Naturewatch sharing the same page in Section E Berkshire Landscapes on June 26-27.

And to reinforce that not all insects are culprits, go to xerces.org and look for the article "Pollinator Protection Starts at Hone-and can Spread Faster than Weed" by Aimee Code on June 23. It is so important that we do all we can to save pollinators!


Q: Where can I find a good assortment of wild bird books? The last time I purchased a bird guide was in the 1970s and was "Peterson's A Field Guide to Birds" that I still use once in awhile. I don't need something as complex, but more simple for our grandkids when I visit them.

— Edward J. Albany, N.Y.

A: I suggest Mass Audubon Shop, a not-for-profit that offers a nice assortment, including "Backyard Birds of Eastern North America." And for $4.95 each, you can perhaps get one for each grandchild. Go to shop.massaudubon.org

Q: How often should we change the sugar water for hummingbirds during this hot weather? It clouds up and looks more like well-diluted milk.

— Reader in Adams

A: As frequently as you can, but at least once a week. Better still, twice a week, if in hot sunshine like our feeders. It is crucial to clean the inside of the bottle thoroughly with hot water and, if black growth occurs, rinse the bottle with bleach — one part to 10 parts of water. After letting it do its magic, rinse thoroughly and air out before replenishing with the sugar water mix.

Q: We have two hummingbird feeders, one front and one back off our sunroom. Last week, a red-bellied woodpecker was on the deck railing preening for several minutes and then proceeded to the back feeder (an older, lighter one) hanging from the bottom. I can only assume his weight tipped it enough to leak on his belly, which he then proceeded to clean again.

This happened several times, so that the now loose yellow "blossoms" kept falling out. I decided to replace the damaged feeder, and the new one is a bit larger and heavier with different types of flowers. He came back several times, and when tipping didn't work, he stood on the base pecking at it ... no luck. He tried the front one, which is metal on the bottom, and again no luck. I haven't seen him for a couple days, so I guess he got the hint ... they're for the hummingbirds. Not sure why he was attracted there, to begin with. Any thoughts?

— Christine H, Richmond

A: My answer is less than your question. Red-bellied woodpeckers are known to favor sweets. They are known to go for sugar water when possible, and removing the yellow flowers from the feeder portals allows the woodpecker easy access to the content of the feeder. Or that is the way I see it.