Cry Sadness Into The Coming Rain

Gottlieb ǂKhatanab ǁGaseb aka Die vioolman (The Violinist) plays traditional Damara music at the funeral of Ouma Juliana ≠Û-khui ǁAreses on the family farm beneath the Dâures. Uis District, Erongo Region. December 2014

As an international company, our team tends to be spread out across the world, so more often than not many of our posts is a surprise to the rest. It was with that sense of synchronicity that I read Crist’s piece on Gerhard Steidl’s conservation work yesterday while I was in the midst of writing about this upcoming publication.

Born in Namibia, photographer Margaret Courtney-Clarke spent decades capturing life in remote places in Italy, the USA and numerous parts of Africa. Returning to Namibia after years away, she found the once familiar landscape drastically changed.

Cry Sadness Into the Coming Rain is a forthcoming publication by Steidl, Germany, 2017.

With strong memories of my formative years growing up on the edge of the Namib Desert in what was then known as South West Africa, I have returned to explore my obsession with this place and my lifelong curiosity for the notion of shelter. I have covered thousands of dusty kilometres across remote plains, through dry river beds, over sand dunes and salt pans, through conservancies and communal lands to photograph families in desperate, forgotten outposts. I try to capture the ‘transhumance’ – the search for work, forage and water – and the remnants of former habitats alongside once productive land.

In coastal towns I move with women and children across stretches of desert from one garbage dump to another – often with the loot they carry in their quest to create shelter and eke out a living. I focus on human enterprise and failure, on the bare circumstances of ordinary women and men forced to negotiate life, and of an environment in crisis. Continue reading

America’s Best Idea Just Got Better

In our current political climate we continue to applaud those who stand up to for science, nature and culture. It’s been particularly heartening to watch the steward’s of our national parks create a virtual protective shield around the vision they’re charged to protect.

My personal standing ovation goes to the partially anonymous park ranger who spends his spare time creating downloadable maps of all our country’s national parks, by state, from A to Z. (F, Q, U and X seem to be the only letters missing…) In addition to maps, site visitors find all sorts of experiential tips to prepare for safe exploration.

Glacier Maps

If you’re looking for a Glacier map, you’ve come to the right place; currently I’ve collected 28 free Glacier National Park maps to view and download. (PDF files and external links will open in a new window.) Here you’ll find a bunch of trail maps, along with other maps such as campgrounds and the shuttle bus. You can also browse the best-selling Glacier maps and guidebooks on Amazon. Continue reading

Music That Inspires On Multiple Notes

Musicologist and conductor Laurie Stras

While I personally don’t focus on organized religion, I can’t deny the power of sacred music to uplift my spirit. This story of inspired Renaissance composition and modern-day curiosity resonates with historical sleuthing and musical puzzle solving.

Click on the Sound Cloud musical links, close your eyes and breathe deep.

Sisters doing it for themselves: radical motets from a 16th-century nunnery

Eight years ago, leafing through a bibliography of 16th-century music prints (like you do), my eye was caught by the title of a motet: “Salve sponsa Dei.” “Bride of Christ,” I thought. “Must be for nuns!”

It was one of 23 anonymous motets published together in 1543, so I did what any self-respecting nunologist would do, and ordered a reproduction of the book. As I put the motets into a usable edition for modern singers, I found they were unlike any other 16th-century music I’d ever seen. They were dense, intense and sometimes startlingly dissonant.

The music – for five equal voices (of unspecified sex) – is astonishingly beautiful and yet strange, radical even. These works had lain unsung and unloved for almost four centuries, mostly because they were anonymous. These days, anonymity suggests that whoever created the book, music, painting or whatever was not important enough, or the product is not good enough, for anyone to care who made it. But in the 16th century, anonymity was also an important way for members of the nobility to disguise their participation in commercial ventures that were considered beneath them (which is why Gesualdo, a prince, published his madrigals anonymously).

But Virginia Woolf was right when she said: “Anonymous was a woman.” Continue reading

Art as Public Domain

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)

In these current times when Art, Culture and Civility appear to be under constant attack, news that museums and galleries – both private and public – are opening their virtual archives of Public Domain artworks to be just that, public, is newsworthy.

For example, a click on the image to the left takes viewers to the Metropolitan Museum’s website that includes not only the full details of the painting (description, catalogue entry, provenance and exhibition history, etc.), but also a hyperlink to a map of the gallery where viewers can find the actual painting, and related objects within the museum’s vast collection.

We’re happy to know that museums, whether virtual or physical, still provide inclusive space to breathe deep.

Met Museum Makes 375,000 Images Free

Continue reading

Coffee, Birds & How They Matter

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Our lives in the New World Tropics has allowed a frequent convergence between birds and coffee, even in the most simple terms of enjoying birdsong in our garden over the first morning cup. That very garden of our home in Costa Rica sits in what was historically cafetal (a coffee finca), with large trees shading the coffee that still grows along the little stream that runs along the property line. Blue-crowned motmots (the Central American cousin to the Andean Motmot mentioned below, have been frequent residents.

The coffee plantings at our home are insignificant compared to the 100+ acres of Gallon Jug Estate shade-grown coffee at Chan Chich. Of the nearly 350 bird species recorded in the Chan Chich Reserve’s 30,000 acres, a large percentage are migratory, making their home in the coffee as well as the healthy forest habitats that make up the reserve.

Sustainable agriculture is rarely a “get rich quick scheme”, but taken within the context of the “seventh generation stewardship”, the benefits will continue to outweigh the costs.

In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds and People Alike

By Gustave Axelson

Early one morning last January, I drank Colombian coffee the Colombian way—tinto, or straight dark.

I sipped my tinto while sitting on a Spanish colonial veranda at Finca Los Arrayanes, a fourth-generation coffee farm and hotel deep in northwestern Colombia’s Antioquia region. The sun had not yet risen above the high ridges of the northern Andes. In the ambient gray predawn light, the whirring nocturnal forest insects were just beginning to quiet down.

My senses of taste and smell were consumed by the coffee, which was strong and bold in a pure way, the flavor flowing directly from the beans, not a burnt layer of roast. But my eyes were trained on a small wooden platform that held a couple of banana halves. The first bird to visit was an Andean Motmot, one of Colombia’s many Alice in Wonderland–type fantastical birds. It sported a green-and-turquoise coat and black eye mask, and it was huge—longer than my forearm, with a long tail with two circles at the end that swung rhythmically from side to side like the pendulum of a clock.

The motmot flew away and I took another sip of coffee to be sure I didn’t dream it. Another bird soon landed on the platform to pick at the bananas. This one was yellow, though Colombians call it tangara roja, because males of this species are completely red. In its breeding range, birders from the Carolinas to Texas know it as the Summer Tanager.

For more than 5 million years, a rainbow of Neotropical migrant birds (tanagers, warblers, and orioles) has been embarking on epic annual migrations from breeding grounds in North America to the New World tropics. In Colombia, these wintering areas are a lot different now than they were just 50 years ago. From the 1970s to the 1990s, more than 60 percent of Colombian coffee lands were cleared of forest as new varieties of sun-grown coffee were planted. During that same period, populations for many Neotropical migrant species plummeted—a drop many scientists say is related to deforestation of the birds’ wintering areas across Central and South America.

And yet, coffee doesn’t require deforestation. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In London

John Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard Kipling, 1882. © National Trust/Charles Thomas

John Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard Kipling, 1882. © National Trust/Charles Thomas

Kipling is almost a household name for many in our group, but primarily in the context of Rudyard Kipling, the writer of the well-known stories and fables about India. When researching the author a few years back I was surprised to learn about his talented father, whose beautiful illustrations graced the early editions of several of his son’s books.

Rudyard Kipling’s bookplate ‘Ex Libris', Lockwood Kipling, 1909. © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Rudyard Kipling’s bookplate ‘Ex Libris’, Lockwood Kipling, 1909. © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Those lucky enough to be in London this month can visit the Victoria & Albert Museum for the exhibition Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London.

More of note, not only was the senior Kipling an artist, writer, museum director, teacher, and influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement – he was also a conservationist, distinguished for promoting the traditional textile crafts of India and what is now Pakistan.

The exhibit coincides with Conferences and Symposia related to the 3-year international research project on Kipling’s legacy.

The 19th century Arts and Crafts revival in British India is a fascinating chapter in the international history of art and design. However, John Lockwood Kipling’s career as designer and architectural sculptor, curator and educator, illustrator and journalist, has received little attention. Continue reading

Kerala’s Stars Redux

We published this post in the early period of this site, but the beauty of the subject and the timeliness of the season begs its redux…

The colorful stars that begin to grace Kerala buildings in December from homes, to businesses, to places of worship have humble beginnings despite their current flashy status.  The were originally a simple white 7 point star that correlated with the beacon leading to the Christmas manger.

Many of these folded and cut paper stars are the handiwork of a group of women in a fishing villages around the southern Kerala city of Kollam. Continue reading

‘Tis the Season for Creative Arborescent Decision-Making

photo credit: Carol Fernandez

photo credit: Carol Fernandez

Real Vs. Fake Trees – Which is Better for the Environment?

Tis the season for an age-old question: Which kind of Christmas tree – real or fake – is better for the environment?

We love this question, because it’s an example of a simple choice that anyone and everyone can make that can reduce our impacts on the environment.

We also love this question because, like many environmental issues, the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Our #1 recommendation? Buy a real tree. Read on for more details on the impacts of both real and fake Christmas trees, and then make the choice that’s right for you. And check out our 12 Tree Tips for other earth-friendly holiday decoration tips.

REAL CHRISTMAS TREES

In 2015, 26.9 million trees were purchased from live Christmas tree farms – more than twice the number of fake trees purchased (12 million).   Continue reading

Centennial Portraiture

Painted Desert by Cody Brothers

Since August this year a multitude of events have occurred to honor the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park Service. Aside from the obviously wonderful wilderness experiences available in the country’s 58 parks, as well as our own National Park of the Week series on this site, there are cultural events that highlight the beauty and history of the amazing achievement that is the preservation of our national patrimony for future generations.

Photographers have documented the landscapes of our national parks from the moment the technology made it possible, and the haunting beauty of the panoramas draw artists, explorers and dreamers still.

National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient Cody Brothers is all three. Continue reading

Fiber Fashion

PiñatexTM production will bring new income opportunities for pineapple harvest farmers in developing countries, with the initial development stage taking place in the Philippines

We’re not insensitive to the frequent commentary on both news and social media by animal rights activists against viewing animals as commodities. With those feelings in mind, this discovery of Ananas Anam, a not for profit organization that is developing leather-like textiles using natural fibers that are the by-product of the pineapple harvest, is an exciting one.

I’ll definitely be on the look out for Pinatex products and hope our readers will as well!

ananas- anam – new materials for a new world

OUR SOCIAL IMPACT

Ananas Anam supports pineapple-farming communities in the Philippines. We are developing a new industry that will enhance the social network in rural areas as farmers will be able to sell fibres as a commercial and viable proposition.

Furthermore, the farming communities will benefit from the potential output of natural fertilizer/biogas which is the by-product of fibre extraction.

Other pineapple-growing developing countries will join the Philippines in the production of Piñatex, which will support local economies and strengthen their exports. Continue reading

Library Luxury of a Different Sort

The exterior of the Fort Washington library the year it opened, 1914. The top floor windows are for the apartment. (Photo: New York Public Library/Public Domain)

The beautiful Beaux-Arts design of many of the buildings in the New York Public Library system represent only one definition of luxury. The idea of children growing up playing and reading in the stacks at night produces the colorful imaginings of literature where children spend nights in museums, or ramble about in the “tippy-top floor of the Plaza Hotel”.

I’m sure most of us haven’t heard of the custodian apartments that used to grace New York City’s branch libraries, and I for one, am grateful to Atlas Obscura for sharing this curious history.

Inside the New York Public Library’s Last, Secret Apartments

There are just 13 left.

There used to be parties in the apartments on the top floors of New York City’s branch libraries. On other nights, when the libraries were closed, the kids who lived there might sit reading alone among the books or roll around on the wooden library carts—if they weren’t dusting the shelves or shoveling coal. Their hopscotch courts were on the roof. A cat might sneak down the stairs to investigate the library patrons.

When these libraries were built, about a century ago, they needed people to take care of them. Andrew Carnegie had given New York $5.2 million, worth well over $100 million today, to create a city-wide system of library branches, and these buildings, the Carnegie libraries, were heated by coal. Each had a custodian, who was tasked with keeping those fires burning and who lived in the library, often with his family. “The family mantra was: Don’t let that furnace go out,” one woman who grew up in a library told the New York Times. Continue reading

A Stay in History

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959. Credit Dave Chance Photography

Earlier this year when I wrote about the Art Institute of Chicago’s Airbnb listing of their reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Arles bedroom I thought that was the pinnacle of Airbnb cool.

Staying at a home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright seems equally as fun but far more expansive then the 19th century artist’s exuberantly painted bedroom – taking in the view for starters.

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959, is one of Wright’s last commissioned works. It’s a hemicycle-shaped dwelling made of brick with a vast windowed living area overlooking a lake. Continue reading

Amboli’s Abundant Birdlife

We wouldn’t be true to one of our core interests if we didn’t take birding into account while doing our reconnaissance of the natural and cultural activities surrounding Aarvli.

Crist’s trip to the Amboli Reserve earlier in the week was one such visit. A quick search of eBird hotspots turned up Amboli Village (with a count of 116 species) and  Amboli Forest (with a count of 65 species). The map above gives a brief sense of the multiple look out points that could prove to be excellent birding opportunities.  Continue reading

Mango Dreaming

Crist’s visit to small farms as part of our work on a new project serves as a reminder of the amazing diversity and abundance of fruits and vegetables growing in many fertile parts of this country. In Kerala it seems that any seed or stick placed into the rich soil will sprout, and even in the sandy or red clay soil of Maharashtra he found vegetables with explosive flavor.  He described the mango trees that surrounded the farm – not only was he in “mango headquarters”, as he put it – he was likely surrounded by the one of the most prized of this “king of fruit” – the Alphonso.

Note to self: visit during mango season. Continue reading

2016 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial: Abject/Object Empathies

With fewer than 90 days to go until the 3rd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale we admittedly have biennales on our mind. We thank one of our 2012 design interns, Chi-Chi Lin, for bringing this one to our attention.

The Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) is a campus wide organization that promotes collaboration and artistic experimentation to inspire innovative and challenging projects by students, faculty, departments and programs from all disciplines. The focus of the 2016 CCA Biennial 

is on the cultural production of empathyThe upcoming biennial will address the ways in which feeling is form and explore how the objects, buildings, clothing, machines, languages, and images we construct are shaped by our intentional or implicit emotional, interdependent relationship to others. Whether by framing a connection that already exists or by providing the condition for new connections, what we create can either merely extend our own personal desires, goals, and directives, or can alternatively function as a bridge between who I am and who you are so that aesthetic experiences are interdependent, collaboratively generated and inherently reciprocal. Continue reading

Keeping Shakespeare in Mind

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Quite a few of our team can attest to the power of a liberal arts education, especially when put in such a joyful context.

Scott L. Newstok’s convocation speech to the Rhodes College class of 2020 embraces this joy, adding the cheeky tweak of asking the incoming class to approach their college experience in the “spirit of the 16th century”.

Building a bridge to the 16th century must seem like a perverse prescription for today’s ills. I’m the first to admit that English Renaissance pedagogy was rigid and rightly mocked for its domineering pedants. Few of you would be eager to wake up before 6 a.m. to say mandatory prayers, or to be lashed for tardiness, much less translate Latin for hours on end every day of the week. Could there be a system more antithetical to our own contemporary ideals of student-centered, present-focused, and career-oriented education?

Yet this system somehow managed to nurture world-shifting thinkers, including those who launched the Scientific Revolution. This education fostered some of the very habits of mind endorsed by both the National Education Association and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: critical thinking; clear communication; collaboration; and creativity. (To these “4Cs,” I would add “curiosity.”) Given that your own education has fallen far short of those laudable goals, I urge you to reconsider Shakespeare’s intellectual formation: that is, not what he purportedly thought — about law or love or leadership — but how he thought. An apparently rigid educational system could, paradoxically, induce liberated thinking.

“Take advantage of the autonomy and opportunities that college permits by approaching it in the spirit of the 16th century. You’ll become capable of a level of precision, inventiveness, and empathy worthy to be called Shakespearean.”
So how can you think like Shakespeare?

Continue reading

Of Salt and Stories

“Salt Crystal Bridal Gown III” (left) and “Salt Crystal Bridal Gown VI,” both 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary

“Salt Crystal Bridal Gown III” (left) and “Salt Crystal Bridal Gown VI,” both 2014.
Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary

It starts with a story. Written by Russian playwright S. Ansky in the early 20th century, The Dybbuk is an expressionistic drama about a young bride possessed by the malicious spirit of a dead suitor, and subsequently exorcised.

Jerusalem-born artist Sigalit Landau took inspiration from the story and her powerful connection to the Dead Sea, an otherworldly place she grew up visiting frequently with her family, and that she has incorporated into her art for years. Her “Salt Bride” installation at London’s Malborough Contemporary, enlists the work of the sea itself, in which a traditional black Hasidic gown (a replica of the costume worn by the bride in The Dybbuk, as portrayed by legendary actress Hanna Rovina) is submerged into the sea’s hypersaline waters. The salt crystals accumulated naturally over the net-like weave of the dress, left submerged over a period of 3 months, during which the process was photographed as an organic time-lapse. “Over time, the sea’s alchemy transforms the plain garment from a symbol associated with death and madness into the wedding dress it was always intended to be.” Continue reading

The Chan Chich Lodge Night Sky

Night Sky by Chan Chich Lodge guest Phillip Witt

Night Sky by Chan Chich Lodge guest Philip Witt

A ping from my electronic calendar recently reminded me of the upcoming appex of the Perseid Meteor Shower between August 11th and 12th. I’d specifically marked it because this will be one of the first times I’ll be in a location so beautifully free of light pollution.

Although we do much of our work in remote locations, it’s surely a matter of luck to be in one of them at just this moment and this year,  when scientists say the meteor fall will be of the greatest density in 20 years. Chan Chich Lodge is located in the midst of 33,000 acres of private land, with the only infrastructure other than the lodge itself being a small village and the farming operations of Gallon Jug. 9-plus miles of trails branch off from the lodge, as well as simple gravel access roads. Continue reading

Corpse Flower Diaries

Photograph by Kathy Willens/AP

I first became aware of the amazing Amorphophallus titanum 4 years ago during a “bloom watch” of a Kenneth Post Lab Greenhouses specimen at Cornell University.  At the time the concept of a “Greenhouse Cam” was completely new to me, and I followed it, and the science behind the study of the plant, with fascination. Despite the rarity of the flower, a handful have bloomed within the past several years, the most recent being at the New York Botanical Garden.

All that said, the Corpse Flower by nature is the botanical version of a “comedic straight man” in the set up of story-based jokes. (For example, the scientific name means “giant misshapen phallus”.) Continue reading

A Tiger’s Tale Redux

Photo credit: Sudhir Shivaram

Photo credit: Sudhir Shivaram

International Tiger Day is my excuse to remember this post from three years ago, as a continued reminder of the importance of doing whatever we can to save these amazing creatures in the wild.  Meeting wildlife photographer Sudhir Shivaram, and some talented participants of his master bird photography workshop, (many of whom now contribute to this site), has consistently given all of us a window into wildlife viewing that few of us have the privilege to enjoy.

I actually write this from Chan Chich Lodge in Belize, a location that offers the amazing opportunity to be in the habitat of “new world” cats such as jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi. We’ll write about what we’ve seen so far and what the fantastic staff has shared with us in separate posts – as here we want to honor the tiger. Continue reading