01 February 2007

A walk in the park

One of the advantages of working for a company with enlightened policies is that it is "dog friendly." At least three of the staff have taken advantage of this, occasionally bringing their dogs to the office, and I tend to do this most often. In fact, the dogs are more often in the office than not, as they enjoy meeting people, and going for walks. My two dogs are of the Border Terrier breed, which is a hardy yet affectionate variety of pedigree, with the character of a mutt. They've been with us for eight years now, and act as unofficial "morale officers", greeting everyone who comes to the door, and snorking any spare items of tasty food which might accidentally fall to the ground.

Today in Vienna is a chilly 8° Celcius, with strongs winds but occasional sunshine -- ideal for a walk in the nearby Prater, one of Vienna's largest parks. It's a beautiful scene, stark and sere, with a few forlorn leaves waltzing past in the winter sunshine. Yes, that really is my clumsy thumb visible in the lower left corner of the image -- it's not easy to make a clean picture with two dogs straining at the leash.

The Prater is famous for the giant Ferris Wheel, or "Riesenrad", which featured in the Orson Welles classic movie, "The Third Man." It can just be glimpsed through the trees above, in an aspect which reduces its apparent "wheelness."

The main road leading in to the Prater is the "Hauptallee", which is lined with Horse Chestnut trees, now denuded of leaves. Each tree is sleeping for the winter, its photosynthesis enzymes largely inhibited by the cold.

Evolution and photosynthesis

A simple question occurs -- why do leaves fall (from deciduous trees?) What evolutionary advantage is conferred by this loss? One answer might be that the leaves could cause snow to accumulate more heavily in the branches, leading to breakages and subsequent diminution of the trees ability to photosynthesize in spring. Or perhaps the leaves represent a potential energy loss, due to the temporary breakdown of photosynthesis, and therefore this burden is reduced, because otherwise the task of maintaining circulation to all of the leaves (I'm assuming sap is circulating along with water to keep the leaves moist) could eat into the tree's stored glucose energy reserves. As an illustrative example, evergreen trees have a different leaf structure, which doesn't support snow accumulation in the way that a broad, flat leaf from a deciduous tree might. Evolutionary biology is fun, especially when you have no idea about what it all means....

Walking in the park is a great time for thinking, and reflecting on strategies and choices I face, in business and personal life. I find that maintaining a connection with the natural world of trees and parks (however nebulous) is helpful as a grounding process, to ensure that my decisions are optimal (as far as I can tell.) A brisk walk certainly helps with the oxygenation of the brain, although dogs are less interested in the speed of a walk, focusing more on the stops along the way, and the accompanying smells and opportunities to mark territory.

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