Experiential Learning & Social Enterprise

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The waters and mountains of the Inian Islands, near Glacier Bay, Alaska.Lauren Migaki/NPR

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With help from books and YouTube, Abe Marcus (left, pictured with Yasamin Sharifi, center, and Tsu Isaka) has been learning how to operate a coal-powered, hand-cranked forge found on the property. Lauren Migaki/NPR

There is a great story shared yesterday on the National Public Radio (USA) website, told in unusually long form for that outlet, by Anya Kamenetz. I look forward to more stories by this journalist — she relates a story that is as far away from my own experience as I can imagine, but I feel at home in it. The picture to the right, from near the end of the story, hints at one reason. But it is not that. Nor is it the fact that I witnessed the birth and evolution of a similar initiative in Costa Rica.

I taught a field course in amazing locations (2005 in Senegal, followed by Costa Rica in 2006 followed by Croatia, India, Siberia and Chilean Patagonia), but that bore little resemblance to the initiative in this story. All those factors may help me feel at home in this story, but mostly I relate to it as a story told well for the purpose of understanding the motivations of a social entrepreneur and incidentally her commitment to experiential learning.

In Alaska’s Wilderness, A New Vision Of Higher Learning

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Marcus stands in front of the massive vegetable garden at The Arete Project in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Lauren Migaki/NPR

In Glacier Bay, Alaska, mountains rush up farther and faster from the shoreline than almost anywhere else on the planet. Humpback whales, halibut and sea otters ply the waters that lap rocky, pine-crowned islands, and you can stick a bare hook in the water and pull out dinner about as fast as it takes to say so.

This is the place 31-year-old Laura Marcus chose for her Arete Project. Or just maybe, this place chose her.

The Arete Project takes place in the remote wilderness of the Inian Islands in southeast Alaska.
Lauren Migaki/NPR

Arete in Greek means “excellence.” And Marcus’ Arete is a tiny, extremely remote program that offers college credit for a combination of outdoor and classroom-based learning. It’s also an experiment in just how, what and why young people are supposed to live and learn together in a world that seems more fragile than ever. It’s dedicated, Marcus says, to “the possibility of an education where there were stakes beyond individual achievement — where the work that students were doing … actually mattered.” Continue reading

Underland, Reviewed

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Armando Veve

Robert Macfarlane first came to my attention in Ethiopia a few years ago. And then again the following year while in India. And now I see where it was all leading, in the form of a book, to see what is beneath our feet, reviewed here:

McfarlaneYou know a book has entered your bloodstream when the ground beneath your feet, once viewed as bedrock, suddenly becomes a roof to unknown worlds below. The British writer Robert Macfarlane has written such a book. “Underland: A Deep Time Journey” is an epic exploration and examination of darkness and the caverns underground that have captured our imaginations, pulled us downward, housed our dead and allowed us to bury our most violent secrets. It is also a descent into the beauty where dark wisdom is located.

Macfarlane divides his explorations into three sections, or “chambers,” devoted to “Seeing,” “Hiding” and “Haunting.” As he moves through them, he will take us to ancient barrows in Britain’s Mendip Hills, the understory of the Epping Forest and a physics lab investigating “dark matter” from deep within a coastal Yorkshire mine. He will guide us through underground rivers in Italy and show us the pictographs known as “the red dancers” found in Norwegian sea caves.

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London’s Epping Forest in the autumn.CreditDavid Levene/evevine, via Redux

Macfarlane homes in on “something seemingly paradoxical: that darkness might be a medium of vision, and that descent may be a movement toward revelation rather than deprivation.” Night vision becomes an essential strategy for survival in the Anthropocene, the new epoch we find ourselves in, which registers the human press on the planet as a geologic force. “For more than 15 years now,” Macfarlane explains, “I have been writing about the relationships between landscape and the human heart. What began as a wish to solve a personal mystery — why I was so drawn to mountains as a young man that I was, at times, ready to die for love of them — has unfolded into a project of deep-mapping.” Continue reading

Tasmanian Tiger Tale

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Like the dodo and the great auk, the Tasmanian tiger is more renowned for the tragedy of its death than for its life, about which little is known. Enthusiasts hope it will be a Lazarus species—an animal considered lost but then found. Illustration by Bene Rohlmann

We thank Brooke Jarvis for her reporting on this compelling tale:

The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger

Could a global icon of extinction still be alive?

Andrew Orchard lives near the northeastern coast of Tasmania, in the same ramshackle farmhouse that his great-grandparents, the first generation of his English family to be born on the Australian island, built in 1906. When I visited Orchard there, in March, he led me past stacks of cardboard boxes filled with bones, skulls, and scat, and then rooted around for a photo album, the kind you’d expect to hold family snapshots. Instead, it contained pictures of the bloody carcasses of Tasmania’s native animals: a wombat with its intestines pulled out, a kangaroo missing its face. “A tiger will always eat the jowls and eyes,” Orchard explained. “All the good organs.” The photos were part of Orchard’s arsenal of evidence against a skeptical world—proof of his fervent belief, shared with many in Tasmania, that the island’s apex predator, an animal most famous for being extinct, is still alive. Continue reading

The Food Explorer, Explored

GastroTaking a cue from yesterday’s post, another recent Gastropod can be combined with a review in the New York Times of a book that fits well in our pages:

You’ve probably never heard of David Fairchild. But if you’ve savored kale, mango, peaches, dates, grapes, a Meyer lemon, or a glass of craft beer lately, you’ve tasted the fruits of his globe-trotting travels in search of the world’s best crops—and his struggles to get them back home to the United States.

This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild’s adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America’s place in the world.

9781101990582Daniel Stone, an author I had not known of 24 hours ago, fits well within our pages as part of a mix of historical sleuthing and present-day food activism that have been central themes here since we started.  Thanks to his book being the subject of that podcast, as well as its review last month, allow us to recommend that if you have an hour for the both, combine the listen with the read:

In a photograph dated Christmas 1896, featured in “The Food Explorer,” Daniel Stone’s biography of the botanist and explorer David Fairchild, his subject is sitting with his patron and friend Barbour Lathrop, in what looks like an empty saloon or a lounge on a steamship. The caption informs us that they’re off the coast of Sumatra; both are dressed in white and have mustaches that border on the extravagant.

Continue reading

Rules Of Experiencing Nature, Reconsidered

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A woman and her young children hike through a grassy field in Pleasant Valley Preserve near the Eightmile River in Lyme, Connecticut. Photo © Jerry Monkman

Just when we thought we knew what we were doing out in nature, this:

Why Staying on the Trail Is Bad for Nature

Stay on the trail. Look, don’t touch. Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

These and similar rules have become a standard component of a refined environmental ethic; any reasonable outdoor education class is going to emphasize them.

I have a confession to make: As a kid I violated every one of those rules, frequently and without guilt. It made me a conservationist. Continue reading

The Technological Wow Factor of Archaeology

Crist’s post about this fascinating National Geographic article last week touched on its excellent graphics but barely began to scratch the surface of the amazing technology that would certainly have left the readers of the early issues of the magazine speechless.

In addition to the world-class photography, the interactive 3-D graphic of the frieze above uses SketchFab technology to allow viewers to not only zoom in and out, but to turn the object around in all directions, as if handling it in person. Do take the time to play with it! Continue reading

Come Back To Belize, Meg Lowman!

We have mentioned Meg more than once since we met her a few years ago, because our interests are aligned. Thanks to this public radio station for reminding me that Meg is due for a visit to Belize (I say wishfully) for a 20-years later discovery trip, and we will be happy to see her at Chan Chich Lodge when the time comes:

megmalaysiaFor over 30 years, Dr. Meg Lowman –Canopy Meg, has designed hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration to solve mysteries in the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health. Meg is affectionately called the mother Continue reading

Snake Kings And Other Discoveries

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CALAKMUL In the seventh century A.D. the Snake rulers presided over this capital city—in what today is southern Mexico—and its largest structure, a pyramid 180 feet tall. From Calakmul they managed an intricate web of alliances. CONSEJO NACIONAL PARA LA CULTURA Y LAS ARTES (CONACULTA), INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE ANTROPOLOGÍA E HISTORIA (INAH), MEXICO

Discoveries in the lands once populated by the Maya continue apace. As Chan Chich Lodge completes three decades of archeological exploration, the wonders of three millennia are uncovered. The stories that capture my interest the most, related to the Maya, are about the man-nature relationship.

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JEROME COOKSON, NG STAFF
SOURCE: DAVID FREIDEL, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS

Erik Vance published this story last year, and when I read it then I remember thinking that it was the best article I had ever read in National Geographic. Partly, the graphics are better, if that is possible, than the typically excellent quality the magazine is known for. Also, the topic is more topical for me now. Chan Chich Lodge is situated exactly where the o in Holmul is on the map to the left. The lodge’s Maya foundations are situated at the periphery of where the snake kings once ruled.

And we now have an ethnobotanical initiative linking Maya foodways to our surrounding nature conservation. That initiative is linked to the lodge’s food program, with some high expectations related to our abundant forests. But mainly, with regard to this article, the writing illuminating the topic is excellent:

…Two warring city-states were locked in perennial conflict, grappling for supremacy. For a brief period one of those city-states prevailed and became the closest thing to an empire in Maya history. It was ruled by the Snake kings of the Kaanul dynasty, which until just a few decades ago no one even knew existed. Thanks to sites around this city-state, including Holmul, archaeologists are now piecing together the story of the Snake kings…

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Masks from the tombs at Calakmul were meant to ease the passage of the Snake elite into the next world. Royal visages made of green jade, more valuable than gold to the ancient Maya, evoked the annual agricultural cycle and regeneration. CONACULTA, INAH, MEXICO (BOTH) PHOTOGRAPHED AT (LEFT TO RIGHT): NATIONAL PALACE, MEXICO CITY; MUSEO DE SITIO DE COMALCALCO, MEXICO

Night Vision

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After my first few nights at Chan Chich, I quickly learned that the jungle activity changes a bit in the night time. Bats swoop through the air, the sounds of howler monkeys reverberate off of the trees, and cane toads hop across my path.

So of course, when the opportunity arose to go on a night ride I was eager to see what would be in store for me. While I knew it would be foolish to hope for a jaguar sighting, I set out taking comfort in the fact that at least my chances would be higher than if I had stayed in for the night. What I didn’t count on, however, was my inherently poor ability to spot wildlife in the darkness.

Continue reading

Investigator Of The Abyss

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Courtesy of Museums Victoria / CSIRO

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) and Kat Lonsdorf for a brief look into the deep work of Tim O’Hara:

Explorers Probing Deep Sea Abyss Off Australia’s Coast Find Living Wonders

Far below the surface of the ocean, off the coast of eastern Australia is an area simply known as “the abyss.” The largest and deepest habitat on the planet, the abyssal zone stretches well beyond Australia’s waters and spans half the world’s oceans — but it remains largely unexplored. Continue reading

Preserving Biodiversity to Feed the World

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Thanks again to Atlantic for its occasional short film series, and in this case specifically to Erica Moriarty for bringing our attention to a video by Independent Lens available for sampling over at PBS (click the image above):

In the last century, 94% of the world’s seed varieties have disappeared. Family farmsteads have given way to mechanized agribusinesses to sow genetically identical crops on a massive scale. In an era of climate uncertainty and immense corporate power, farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers are on a mission to defend the future of food. Botanical explorer Joseph Simcox has been to over 100 countries, collecting thousands of seeds. In this documentary from Independent Lens, he travels to the Peruvian Amazon. 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

Heavenly Particles Made Visible

9780760352649This is among the more unusual book reviews in a while, thanks to the Science section of the New York Times, and William J. Broad. We appreciate a radically new perspective every now and then:

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Varieties of space dust, barely the width of a human hair. These photomicrographs were made with a special camera setup that magnifies the dust grains nearly 3,000 times. CreditJan Braly Kihle/Jon Larsen

After decades of failures and misunderstandings, scientists have solved a cosmic riddle — what happens to the tons of dust particles that hit the Earth every day but seldom if ever get discovered in the places that humans know best, like buildings and parking lots, sidewalks and park benches.

The answer? Nothing. Look harder. The tiny flecks are everywhere.

An international team found that rooftops and other cityscapes readily collect the extraterrestrial dust in ways that can ease its identification, contrary to science authorities who long pooh-poohed the idea as little more than an urban myth Continue reading

A Sensory Experience of South India, through words and photographs

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

I often struggle to formulate the words to describe transformative experiences. But now, looking at the film I developed from my month in India, waves of nostalgia and inspiration flutter to me. This post is the India I felt, saw, and loved for 30 days.

I have been fascinated by India since I was four years old, when my preschool teacher brought Sri Lankan rice and curry to class. The sensation of spicy food and description of spice plantations soaked deeply into my curious brain. Throughout my childhood I researched India, and fell even deeper in love, imagining my own body amidst the color and chaos. It was not until I arrived in college (this year), that I would have sufficient time for my first trip to India.

Though I studied Indian culture before arriving, no amount of reading or advice could have prepare me for what I would experience. Continue reading

Spanish Speleological Speculation

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Raul Perez Lopez peers into the darkness of CJ-3, a cave that’s mysteriously losing its oxygen. (Credit: Antonio Marcos Nuez)

Discover Magazine’s blog has a post by Anna Bitong, who offers a few clues to help us understand what is happening in the deep recesses of a cave in Spain:

…A sign at the entrance warns visitors not to enter. Continue reading

Old World Trade In Spices, Lessons for 21st Century Leadership Thinking

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“The Return to Amsterdam of the Second Expedition to the East Indies,” painted by Hendrik Cornelisz Vroom, 1599. CreditPhas/UIG, via Getty Images

Amitav Ghosh, who we think of primarily as a writer of fiction, is also an important non-fiction thinker/author, and most recently published “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.” This op-ed in the New York Times puts future trade discussions into perspective in the most remarkable setting we can think of at the moment– the spice trade of centuries past. From our perch on the Malabar coast of India this is a welcome bit of history with which to welcome the new year and the challenges ahead:

GOA, India — For many years the word “globalization” was used as shorthand for a promised utopia of free trade powered by the world’s great centers of technological and financial innovation. But the celebratory note has worn thin. The word is now increasingly invoked to explain a widespread recoiling from a cosmopolitan earth. People in many countries are looking nostalgically backward, toward less connected, supposedly more secure times.

But did such an era ever exist? Was there ever an unglobalized world? Continue reading

Ancient Ships Found In Black Sea

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An image of the well-preserved medieval ship found at the bottom of the Black Sea, one of more than 40 wrecks discovered. Photogrammetry, a process using thousands of photographs and readings, produced a rendering that appears three-dimensional. Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

For divers, as well as anyone fascinated by ancient maritime trade routes, this must be the best news in a long while:

‘We Couldn’t Believe Our Eyes’: A
Lost World of Shipwrecks Is Found

Archaeologists have found more than 40 vessels in the Black Sea, some more than a millennium old, shedding light on early empires and trade routes. Continue reading

Birding from VdF: Todos Santos

Oasis Playa Las Palmas de San Pedro, near Todos Santos

Oasis Playa Las Palmas de San Pedro, near Todos Santos

Check out my last post for an introduction to this series and to read about the Sierra de la Laguna.

At three hours away from Villa del Faro, the town of Todos Santos is a bit of a stretch for a day trip, but could be accomplished by a determined driver or could be an addition to a stay here on the East Cape. Todos Santos is a very pleasant town on the Pacific coast of the southern Baja Peninsula, and two spots in particular are relatively well-visited by birders in the region: a little wetland area right by the beach at the southern edge of town called La Poza de Todos Santos (poza meaning “pool” or “puddle”) and a hotel associated with the spot called Hotel Posada la Poza (posada meaning “inn” or “lodge”).

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Queso and Identity

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Scenic side road on the way to El Triunfo.

If queso was a food group it would certainly be my favorite. But that’s not what this post is about – even though cheese is a primary ingredient in many Mexican dishes and I had lots of it this past weekend. What this post is really about is the kinds of unexpected quirks one encounters when road tripping in Baja California Sur (B.C.S) and the unusual, but interesting conversations that come up with locals. Seth and I covered three towns: La Rivera, El Triunfo, and Todos Santos, for different lengths of time, but each with a distinctive story to tell.

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An Unusual Travelogue

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Publishers’ blurbs are sometimes much better than the sound of the word blurb would imply, and anyway I always trust them more than I could possibly trust Amazon’s tricky sales methods. Reviews in trusted publications are best, but they take much longer to read; this blurb has my attention, especially after pondering two decades of life online:

For Erik Reece, life, at last, was good: he was newly married, gainfully employed, living in a creekside cabin in his beloved Kentucky woods. It sounded, as he describes it, “like a country song with a happy ending.” And yet he was still haunted by a sense that the world–or, more specifically, his country–could be better. He couldn’t ignore his conviction that, in fact, the good ol’ USA was in the midst of great social, environmental, and political crises–that for the first time in our history, we were being swept into a future that had no future. Where did we–here, in the land of Jeffersonian optimism and better tomorrows–go wrong? Continue reading