Lessons from the Movement of the Earth


Hurtling through space 30 times faster than a rifle bullet and spinning faster than the worst carnival ride, our planet is perfectly suited for providing habitat for life.

With the winter solstice happening this week, I once again pulled out my world globe and tried to understand just how this works. I held the globe in my hands at arms’ length and spun it slowly in a circle around me, the sun. This particular globe is fixed at the 23.5 degree angle of the Earth’s tilt, so I was sure I was getting that part right. I still had trouble getting it to work. If I started with the northern hemisphere facing away or oblique to the sun, it stayed there as it “orbited” around me. So, I did what any modern Galileo would do, I turned to the internet to check out some videos that would depict this and perhaps, finally, clarify it for me in my mind.

I still can’t replicate what I saw, but I learned some other things that were wildly interesting and thought provoking. For example, we refer to the Earth’s rotation as counter-clockwise, the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Well, that is only true if viewed from the North Pole. When viewed from the South Pole, it has a clockwise rotation. I had never thought of that and had to check it out with my globe in hand to believe it. That was a powerful lesson to me in the importance of our point of view and how it can skew perspectives.

The rotational speed of the Earth is roughly 1,000 miles per hour. However, that changes depending on whether you are on the Equator or on one of the poles. People living on the Equator are traveling at a much higher rate of speed because they must travel much further to complete a single rotation than those living, in say, Barrow, Alaska.

That fact becomes interesting when centrifugal force is factored in. Since those on the Equator are moving faster, there is significantly more force trying to throw them off the planet. With the gravitational force holding us all to the planet being equal, gravity is subtracted from this centrifugal force. Therefore, according to Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, those living at the Equator weigh less than they would at Barrow, significantly less. In fact, he claims that if the Earth rotated once every 1.5 hours instead of 24 hours, people at the Equator would be weightless. Lesson? I don’t need a new diet, I just need a plane ticket.

Most of us have seen a spinning top, and watched it start to wobble as it slowed down. The tip begins moving in a fairly predictable pattern. Well, it turns out that the Earth does the same thing and it is called the wobble effect. The 23.5 degree angle axis doesn’t change, but where that axis points to does. Currently, the tip of the imaginary axis protruding from the Earth points toward the North Star, Polaris. However, in 13,000 years (it takes 26,000 years to complete one full wobble), it will point to the star Vega. What will this mean for the Earth? It will mean that our seasons will be opposite of what they are now. December will be the month of the summer solstice and June will have the shortest day of the year. And, Polaris won’t be the North Star. Lesson: just when you think you have everything figured out, think again. The only consistent thing is change, even with planets.

Finally, with the Earth spinning at around 1,000 miles per hour AND traveling around the sun at 18 miles per second, over 30 times faster than a rifle bullet, why don’t we feel any of that? In fact, pre-Galileo, this was one of the arguments used by people who insisted that the Earth was the center of the universe and all things moved around us. As it turns out, we don’t feel it for several reasons: first, because the ride is so smooth that there is nothing to reference to. Second, the atmosphere that we live in is moving with us, much as the atmosphere in a closed vehicle moves with us. Again, there is no reference point. Lesson: Just because we can’t see it or feel it, it doesn’t mean that forces aren’t operating in our behalf. I should be grateful for unseen forces.

There is a lot to wonder about with this planet of ours. One thing is sure though: All these amazing things work together to make life possible on this third rock from the sun.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho