Lapham’s Quarterly, Now On Soundcloud As A Podcast

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IMAGE: Discovery En Route to Antarctica (detail), by Vincent Alexander Booth, 2014. © Private Collection / Bridgeman Images.

Lewis Lapham has shown up in our pages here exactly once in the past. Mainly because, in the six years we have been posting on this platform, his own publication was not as accessible as others we have been linking to. Surely there was a purpose to the walls constructed around it, but we are happy that, for whatever reason, they have come down. Just the illustration above and the quotations below should make you want  to read more:

Evolution has arranged that we take pleasure in understanding—those who understand are more likely to survive.
—Carl Sagan

I’m sorry I know so little; I’m sorry we all know so little. But that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it?
—Vera Rubin

Lapham

We sample the opening two paragraphs after the jump below, and recommend savoring his writing, but we also have been on the podcast bandwagon since we started on this platform. If you have already been enjoying Lewis Lapham’s publication, and wishing it were available in an audible format, today is your lucky day (click the soundcloud banner here to listen). Continue reading

Remembering Hurricane Earl

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Jill Magid: “Una carta siempre llega a su destino”. Los Archivos Barragán. MUAC, 2017.

Last year when I was first spending extended time at Chan Chich Lodge, I got to experience the reality of what had up to then been a cliche phrase–a force of nature. I had some minor experience with earthquakes, certainly other-worldy, and I have witnessed flooding and historic snowstorms. Nothing had ever exhilarated me for hours on end the way this hurricane did.

And what I chose to do during that experience has stuck with me as much as the hurricane itself. So I had to visit the website of the museum where this exhibit is hosted. And I had to read what happened after the end of that story:

…One premise of Magid’s work is that the ring is not and will never be for sale. It can be accepted only by Zanco and only in exchange for the archive… When addressing claims that she had disrespected Barragán’s legacy, she shook her head. “Not only do I love his work, but the questions around his archive—what is accessible and what is not—affect the way his legacy goes forward,” she said. Continue reading

James Prosek, Come to Chan Chich Lodge!

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A Sami reindeer herders’ hut on Lake Virihaure in Padjelanta National Park. Credit Paintings by James Prosek, courtesy of the artist and Schwartz-Wajahat, New York

We had a tradition from the moment we arrived in Kerala, inviting some of our favorite people to come see what we were doing there. This one’s work at Cornell was a lovely coincidence because of Seth’s work at the Lab of Ornithology. But mainly, a conservation-oriented naturalist illustrator seemed a perfect fit for what we do. So, seeing what he has contributed to the Travel section of the New York Times today I realize we are due to extend another invitation, this time for him to join us at Chan Chich Lodge in Belize:

A Botanist in Swedish Lapland

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The plan was to retrace part of a journey that Carl Linnaeus made in 1732 when he was 25, from Uppsala, just north of Stockholm, to the northernmost region of Sweden, known as Swedish Lapland. Linnaeus kept a detailed journal of his travels, often called his “Lapland Journal,” with maps of the mountains, rivers and lakes, drawings and his squiggly handwriting. Continue reading

Chan Chich Archeology Season, When Skygazing Is Also At A Premium

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Today and tomorrow we are finalizing preparation for receiving a nearly full house of archeologists, who will be at Chan Chich Lodge for the next couple months. I came across the photo above at the same time I was looking at the to-do list related to their arrival, and am remembering that in May 2016 I was struck by the quality of night sky at Chan Chich for stargazing.

So this is a shout out to all those people who are intrigued by Mayan archeology, are stargazers, and have not yet made vacation plans for the next couple months. We have a few rooms available, so come on over!  The photo above is paid content from Intel, and while usually we avoid passing along commercials, this is on a topic we care about. It is worthy of a read. Also, after the text the Skyglow short on Vimeo is worth a look:

Timelapse photographers zigzagged 150,000 miles across the U.S. to capture the wonders of the dark skies and raise awareness about the growing threat of light pollution.

Their family and friends think they’re crazy for devoting so many nights to create Skyglow, a book and video born from Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic’s passion for nature and photography. Just how Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking brought deeper understanding of the cosmos, Heffernan and Mehmedinovic are raising awareness about the damage caused by ever increasing light pollution. Their magical timelapse photography just might do the trick. Continue reading

Strengthening Our Birding With Citizen Science

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Team Belize finished with 242 species. From left: Roni Martinez, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, Brian Sullivan.

Seth, since his time working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and even after his time in Ithaca, has helped me to see how important the Lab’s work is to what our company has been doing since he was an infant. Citizen science is an essential component, and at Chan Chich Lodge guests have responded to the passion the guides have for eBird, which is why we put so much attention into this year’s Global Big Day. And it is why we are already planning the next collaboration with the Lab, a collaboration Seth will lead on our side. For now, a final roundup of stories from last weekend, starting with our favorite team:

…After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique)…

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Flame Robin by John Cantwell/Macaulay Library, taken on Global Big Day

Also, the final numbers are in and news published late yesterday confirmed what I suspected as day was breaking in Belize, titled Global Big Day 2017: birding’s biggest day ever:

…On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, Continue reading

Food, Labels & Useful Information

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Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

We link to the occasional food trend article when it matches something we are working on, whether it is the Chan Chich Lodge culinary program or the food production at Gallon Jug Farm. This article, Whole Foods Would Look a Lot Different If It Were Science-Based, almost lost me with the first sentence, an annoying cliche within a sappy first couple paragraphs, but there is a useful case made starting soon after. We are dealing with these very questions so I can suggest the majority of the article starting after the jump:

Whole Foods used to be my idea of grocery heaven. Once upon a time, I shopped at the California Street location in San Francisco — it was light and airy with produce for miles. I knew the cheesemonger. I had philosophical conversations with the butcher. I stared longingly at the Le Creuset bakeware. The soap aisle smelled like lavender. Heaven.

But eventually, I fell out of love. Or, to be more specific, I changed my mind about organic food after reading the research: It turns out organic isn’t more nutritious or even necessarily better for the planet. So I pretty much stopped shopping at Whole Foods altogether. Continue reading

The Bells & Whistles Of The Forest At Daybreak

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We post a few times a day, sharing information about initiatives in our own realm of work and frequently observations on news links that we find interesting. For the record, here is a bit of news worth celebrating. As I type this at 5:30a.m. Belize time, the Global Big Day page on eBird shows the latest tally of the species count as seen above. At the same time, on the eBird Facebook page I am looking now at the last post, dated May 15 midday, that says:

The #GlobalBigDay total is now 6,255, less than 100 away from a new record for a single day of birding!

Looks to me like a new record has been set. Where are all the bells and whistles? They are outside my door right now, where the wildlife is whirring, cling-clanging, whooping and shrieking as the forest lights up…

Technology, Wilderness & Balance

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An illegally flown drone gives scale to next to a lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes national park. Photograph: Andrew Studer

Some in the hospitality business will likely embrace technologies that I cannot picture using in our hospitality operations, ever, but that is fine. Good for them, I say. Recent events at Chan Chich Lodge have reinforced my wonder at, and love for, technology as a tool to support conservation. There is no doubt that guest photos of big (or small) cats and monkeys, shared via social media, help our conservation mission. There is no doubt that tech tools such as eBird and Merlin (Belize edition recently released, just in time for Global Big Day for those of us who need it) also move our conservation mission forward.

That said, I still have a preference for digital detox among our guests, as much as possible. Artificial noises, visuals, aromas and structures are best minimized in order to maximize the many benefits of nature. Distractions, which may be normal things and habits quite common at home, are the spoilers of visits to great places. The problem first came to my attention nearly two decades ago while visiting Mont Saint Michel, where helicopter tours were just becoming a thing, which clearly annoyed every individual who was making the wondrous visit on foot.

I hope, but doubt, that such tours have been limited in the time since then. The evidence seems to point to more distractions in monumental places, whether natural or cultural, that had previously been visually and sonically protected (thanks to Sam Levin at the Guardian for this):

‘Turn it off’: how technology is killing the joy of national parks

As drones, smartphones other gadgets invade America’s most tranquil trails, many lament the loss of peace and quiet Continue reading

Entrepreneurial Conservation, Book

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Steidl (pictured here with the Italian photographer Massimo Vitali) is engaged in an effort to print and catalogue work that might otherwise not be available, and to use advanced industrial means to distribute it widely. It is a Gutenberg-like goal, with the history of photography substituting for the word of God. Photograph by Mark Peckmezian for The New Yorker

We have frequently sampled the publications of Phaidon when we see relevance to themes we care about. There are plenty of books they produce that are about frill or fashion, and we are less than not interested in those. But we assume those books we like least are likely the ones that sell well enough to pay for the ones we like most. It is a principle we can live with. In our own work we commercialize experiences in nature in order to fund the conservation of that nature, and we live with all the paradoxes inherent in that.

In this week’s New Yorker there is a profile of one man whose life’s work is more or less displaying the same principle, again in the realm of books with photographs, paid for by work in fashion. It caught my attention at first in the same way the Phaidon books generally do, with regard to craft, beautiful display, etc., but there is more here. This man does not just produce lovely coffee table books.  He is clearly on a mission we can relate to, recognizable for an entrepreneurial approach to conservation. Read the one paragraph sampled below for a taste:

GERHARD STEIDL IS MAKING BOOKS AN ART FORM

He is the printer the world’s best photographers trust most. Continue reading

Sticking To Mission & Unintended Consequences

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In recent months, as we prepared to host Team Sapsucker Belize at Chan Chich Lodge, our goals were focused on the citizen science mission. Using a couple simple metrics, the event was a clear success, comparing the number of species counted in Belize this year versus last year, and especially looking at the number of checklists submitted.

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If you look at this as the third iteration of an event that we hope to grow in future years, the progress from beginning to present is promising. As I type this there are still more than 40 hours of data entry remaining for this year’s event, so the increase in this year’s participation and species identification will likely grow larger by this time Wednesday.

GBDResult15.jpg Continue reading

Global Big Day 2017, Results

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When I left Team Sapsucker late last night it was pouring rain, a perfect punctuation to the day, telling them to stay under cover on Chan Chich’s deck since no bird would be out in the deluge. They were reviewing their lists, waiting to see if the rain would pass, allowing one final outing of the 24-hour period. I did not ask the final number, but I could tell they were happy with the day.GBD2017Result

As I type this at 5am the rain has long since stopped, the early birds are out in full sonic force, competing with the howler monkeys it seems, and results on eBird’s website look impressive. My eye is drawn to the Central America numbers. Partly because I moved to the region two decades ago and have worked in each country. Partly also because the region has embraced its ornithological importance, and yesterday provided one more metric for that embrace. But mainly, because I am here in Belize and the Lab team we had here was exactly as expected, not only as birders but as people.

The Chan Chich guide team had an amazing day with the Team Sapsucker on Friday, and over lunch that day they all celebrated several firsts, the details of which escape me now, but they involved two new species being added to Chan Chich’s list on eBird (a big deal) and our guide Ruben adding a life list bird that day to his nearly two decades of birding accomplishments at the Lodge.

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The Lab team explained the rules of the game for the following day. No assistance of any kind would be possible after midnight. Continue reading

GrowFood Carolina

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I am always on the lookout for simple but effective graphics illustrating ideas that we attempt to put into action in our various projects–why reinvent the wheel? By rabbit hole good fortune, after I was referred to the Coastal Conservation League as a regional leader in entrepreneurial conservation for the southeastern USA, one of their programs, as illustrated above and described in words below, came to my attention:

The Conservation League started its Food and Agriculture program in 2007 with the goal of protecting South Carolina’s small, family farms. Between 1992 and 1997, more than 200 acres of rural land were converted every day to urban uses, placing South Carolina in the top ten states in the nation for rural land loss. We quickly realized that small farmers lacked access to the infrastructure available to industrial farms, and were therefore unable to say “no” when a developer offered to buy their land. The League saw a food hub as critical to our work protecting rural landscapes and improving quality of life across the coastal plain. Continue reading

Winged Muses

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The composer John Luther Adams in Central Park, listening for his winged muses. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

Occasionally we have reason to think of muses; every day we think of birds. Today birds are the muse. We have linked to this composer’s work once previously, and I am happy with the coincidence of reading again about this composer on Global Big Day in this review by Michael Cooper, Listen to ‘Ten Thousand Birds’ and Its Warbling, Chirping Inspirations:

New York is not usually considered a naturalist’s paradise. But John Luther Adams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and former environmental activist, did not have to walk far from his Harlem apartment this week to be serenaded in Morningside Park and Central Park by choirs of robins, sparrows, flickers, catbirds and, finally, a wood thrush, with its poignant “ee-o-lay” song.

”That’s the one that started it all for me, 40-however-many years ago,” Mr. Adams, 64, said as he paused in a sun-dappled spot in Central Park’s North Woods to savor the wood thrush’s melody. Continue reading

Introducing The Team Prepping For Global Big Day At Chan Chich Lodge

GBD1On day two in Belize with Team Sapsucker introductions are due. The photo to the left, taken at about 5am today in front of Chan Chich Lodge’s reception area, shows two of them. The best information I could find to share with you about Andrew Farnsworth is on Songbird SOS Productions, where he says:

“I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to go birding when there’s a traffic jam on first avenue. It’s cool to be able to study birds in a city… Some people have seen technology as the end of all things natural, but there’s a whole other side to it that gives us access to a world that we would otherwise not have seen.” Continue reading

More Remarkable Thought Superbly Communicated

I was impressed enough the first time I heard him that I have been on the lookout for more. This was another hour well spent hearing his deep historical perspective:

How do we make sense of today’s political divisions? In a wide-ranging conversation full of insight, historian Yuval Harari places our current turmoil in a broader context, against the ongoing disruption of our technology, climate, media — even our notion of what humanity is for. This is the first of a series of TED Dialogues, seeking a thoughtful response to escalating political divisiveness. Make time (just over an hour) for this fascinating discussion between Harari and TED curator Chris Anderson.

Another Hirst Heist?

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Brass statue, from Nigeria (A.D. 1400-1500)
“It is one of a group of 13 heads, superbly cast in brass, all discovered in 1938 in the grounds of a royal palace in Ife, Nigeria, which astonished the world with their beauty. They were immediately recognized as supreme documents of a culture that had left no written record, and they embody the history of an African kingdom that was one of the most advanced and urbanized of its day.’’
Credit: Trustees of the British Museum

The first podcast I ever listened to was this one, back earlier in this decade.World100 Although neither the BBC nor the British Museum is maintaining the website, it is still there. I recommend getting ahold of the podcast that you can find here among other places.

Object #63 did not particularly stand out more than any of the others chosen for this innovative historical exhibit that I listened to without visual cues. But I do remember it because the description was as vivid as any (pasted after the jump). So, I am sorry to be reminded of this piece again due to the modern world’s confused and confusing approach to art as represented by this so-called bad boy (aka fraud), who is still at his naughty ways according to this news item today:

There’s controversy in Venice for Damien Hirst, the British artist who has occasionally drawn accusations that his pieces are not always wholly original but inspired by others’ work.

At the Venice Biennale this week, the Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor accused Mr. Hirst of copying a well-known ancient Nigerian brass artwork, “Head of Ife,” found in 1938 in Ife, Nigeria, without giving it the proper historical recognition it deserves. Continue reading

Free Will, An Idea We Normally Do Not Question

Sapolsky.jpgThanks to WNYC, a radio station that has innovated the proliferation of the podcast with shows like Radiolab, for all that it brings to our attention on a regular basis. Seems strange to say it, but one reason we listen, related to the reasons why share on this platform and more broadly explaining (we think) why we do what we do: we choose to do all this because we care and our free will allows us the choice to do this rather than other things.

I cannot remember the last time I thought about free will, it is so obvious and taken for granted. So thanks also to WNYC for old school interviewers like Leonard Lopate, who also shine in the podcast ecosystem. His show is how I came to know of this new book, which led to my (surprised) thinking now about free will. Click the image above to go to the half-hour conversation. It motivated me to find out more. In addition to this 2009 TED Talk this brief interview in the newsfeed of his university is a compelling soundbite on a very  after listening to the broad-ranging topics of the WNYC conversation:

Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky ponders the best and worst of us, plus free will

With the publication of his latest book, Robert Sapolsky tackles the best and worst of human behavior and the nature of justice in the absence of free will. Continue reading

Communicating An Idea Clearly

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When I followed a link to a recording of his lecture, which happened after reading a review of his book, I could not yet have answered clearly as I can now an important question related to Yuval Noah Harari. Is it the core idea, or is it how he communicates that is more compelling? Yesterday I read this op-ed of his in the Guardian and it was as sticky for the last 24 hours as what I heard in that lecture in March, but perhaps not because of the idea.

I say this because the future he describes, in which artificial intelligence is pervasive and essential to the sense of value guiding our lives, is not one I am immediately attracted to, to put it mildly (I say this surrounded by a half million acres of very real forest and very real wildlife and a community of wonderfully real people with whom I enjoy hosting other wonderfully real visitors). And yet the argument he makes, and specifically the structure and description he uses for that argument, are compelling. And worth a few minutes of reading:

Most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. As artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. Many new professions are likely to appear: virtual-world designers, for example. But such professions will probably require more creativity and flexibility, and it is unclear whether 40-year-old unemployed taxi drivers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual-world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). Continue reading

Citizen Science, Mushroom Edition

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Photo: Johan Hansson/Creative Commons Attribution

We have a mycological leaning on this platform, which started due to Milo’s interest, which was infectious.  So, our news filters pick up stories like this; normally I avoid sharing the stories involving hallucinogens, though I read the serious ones myself. I do not expect stories like this one below from New York Magazine, so this was a pleasant surprise:

Meet the Citizen Scientists Who Think Mushrooms Have Superpowers

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Last month, around 2,500 people with some connection to hallucinogenic drugs gathered at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, California for what might best be described as the psychedelics state of the union. Psychedelic Science 2017, as it was more formally known, drew professionals of all stripes: chemists who make the hallucinogens, neuroscientists who study their effects on the brain, therapists who discuss their after-effects on patients, shamans and healers who administer the drugs, and anthropologists like Joanna Steinhardt, who are trying to make sense of the meaning of psychedelic culture. Continue reading

Foxes, Habitat & De-Wilding

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I recently received some photographs showing a family of foxes that had taken up residence near a home in the countryside an hour away from Kansas City. The foxes were wild, but even in this semi-rural landscape the foxes did not appear wild to me.

Vixen near the lakeIt was something about the context, seeing them in a yard I recognized well, that made me think about the essence of wildness. In the last year I have seen a number of grey foxes in the forests of Chan Chich and like most of the wild animals they do not seem to be afraid of humans; neither attracted to nor repelled by fear.

Vixen Apr 27 2017.jpgThe animal-human dynamic in both cases, the semi-rural home (of my in-laws, as it happens) setting of the foxes as well as those at Chan Chich seem to be one of peaceful coexistence, even apparent disinterest.  The human-animal dynamic is anything but disinterested, which the photos illustrate and that we see evidence of every day among Lodge guests. People want to see animals in their natural habitat. The animals’ apparent lack of fear of humans is related to the fact that there has been no hunting in the surrounding half million acres of forest for a couple generations.

It may also be that the foxes around the yard of the home in these photos also have not been hunted but something tells me that the foxes that seem habituated in and around human populations are different from those in these wild forests. I cannot quite articulate why I think that but today this book review got me thinking differently about the essence of wildness:

zuk-master180Imagine a time when scientists worked in secret, wondering if government officials would declare their research counter to state interests, endangering not only the personal liberty of the scientists themselves but their ability to let the experiments take them where the facts led. A time when how good a scientist you were was not all that mattered — what was important was how well you fit into political and ideological dictates. No, this is not a setup for a book ripped from yesterday’s CNN feed. Instead, it is the backdrop to a story that is part science, part Russian fairy tale and part spy thriller.

“How to Tame a Fox” sets out to answer a simple-seeming question: What makes a dog a dog? Put another way, how did an animal that started out as a bloodthirsty predator become one that now wants nothing more than a nice belly rub and the chance to gaze adoringly at a member of another species? Continue reading