Cultural Conservation In A North American Indigenous Community

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Yurok dance feather regalia in cedar boxes, at Dave Severns’s camp on the Yurok Indian reservation. Credit Talia Herman for The New York Times

As important as cultural conservation is to us it gets half as much attention in these pages as nature conservation (a matter of life and death), so we are more than happy to share stories like this one (thanks to Patricia Leigh Brown) when they land on our desk:

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Dance feather regalia dry in the sand, made by Dave Severns, whose culture camp teaches young men a nearly forgotten art form. Credit Talia Herman for The New York Times

KLAMATH, Calif. — The gathering known simply as “Uncle Dave’s camp” begins at daybreak on the pebbled banks of the Klamath River, the age-old spruce and redwoods on the bluffs shrouded in mist.

Here on the Yurok Indian Reservation near the Oregon border, so remote that certain areas have yet to receive electricity, young male campers sit on cedar logs while keeping tabs on a river rock heated in a fire. The rock, hand-hollowed and chiseled with basketry patterns, contains a molten glue made from the dried air bladders of sturgeons. The syrupy concoction is a crucial ingredient for making feathered headdresses, hide quivers, obsidian-blade sticks and other forms of ceremonial dance ornaments, or regalia, that are at once works of art and living conduits to the spirit world. Continue reading

The Origin Of Feasting

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A life of hunting and gathering had advantages over one of farming and settlement. Illustration by Golden Cosmos

John Lanchester’s article, pondering technology versus science, gives fire its due in the course of reviewing a new book about how hunting and gathering gave way to progress. At the same time, Lanchester raises reasonable doubts about the gains:

book-scott-grain…We don’t give the technology of fire enough credit, Scott suggests, because we don’t give our ancestors much credit for their ingenuity over the long period—ninety-five per cent of human history—during which most of our species were hunter-gatherers. “Why human fire as landscape architecture doesn’t register as it ought to in our historical accounts is perhaps that its effects were spread over hundreds of millennia and were accomplished by ‘precivilized’ peoples also known as ‘savages,’ ” Scott writes. Continue reading

A Puddle Of Bizbaz

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Photograph by Simone Lueck for The New Yorker

Although our most consistent feature suggests obsession (yesterday completing the 72nd month and 2,217 dailies in a row of bird photos, we know how it looks), we are anything but obsessed. That word implies trouble. We are looking for anti-trouble. We mostly post stories and images that imply reduction of trouble–through more information, and better quality of information, and useful case studies in trouble management.

This has led us to post 8,500 times (including this one) covering dozens of themes over the years. Usually several per day. Recently, in addition to our daily bird photo we are trying to post just once per day on something that highlights a remarkable example or explanation of any of those themes. Taste of place is on our minds now, more than anything else. So it is time for another restaurant review. Thanks to the reliably concise Nicolas Niarchos for this opening line:

In the nineteen-nineties, the late, great writer Denis Johnson once followed a group of Somalis across the border from Ethiopia and into the heart of their turbulent country. One of the images that endures from the piece he wrote afterward is of Somali food—“chunks of goat and spaghetti”—and of his narrator being taught “how to eat pasta the Somali way, without utensils, taking a shock of it in his right hand, turning it this way and that and gathering the long strands up into his palm, and then shoving it into his face.” Continue reading

Taste & Experience

organikos 100% (png)17 years ago, the word organikos crept into our vocabulary. Our company had recently been transformed from an advisory service to a management company. We were one year into the process of establishing protocols for “hospitality with sense and sensibility” and some generalizable principles for entrepreneurial conservation.

We were, in the year 2000, focused on rainforest conservation in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, leveraging the economics of lodging and guided nature immersions. We used organikos as our codeword for an initiative that we would get to when we had time. This initiative would provide the tastes–from beverages, spices, foods–associated with the places we had been working in recent years; it would provide those tastes as pre-experience of those places. Our first thought was coffee from Costa Rica.

HLMQualCertLOGO_ColoredCherriesWe did small experiments over the years since then, starting with a single estate coffee from Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region; then wine from the Croatian island of Hvar; then monsooned coffee from the Malabar coast of India.

Now we are back from India, at home again in Costa Rica. And we would welcome you to visit, but first how about some Tarrazu single estate coffee? Let me know. Hacienda La Minita was a pioneer in single estate coffee, an early inspiration for us in terms of tasting the place, and it continues to be one of our favorites. We can get it to you. And if you want to visit the estate, or get to know any other place in Costa Rica, we can help with that as well.

Taste The Place: Navajo Greenthread

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Greenthread (Thelesperma) is a wild plant that thrives in the mid-summer heat of the American Southwest. This bunch is freshly cut, and waiting for rinsing and drying to make Navajo tea. Courtesy of Deborah Tsosie

Give yourself a few minutes for this story about the link between seasonal produce and cultural patrimony:

In the dusty red earth of eastern Arizona’s portion of the Navajo Nation, the main road stretches out beneath the massive white-cloud sky and rubs against barren, chalky mesas; sometimes it skirts the deep, dry crack of a canyon stubbled with sagebrush. Small fields of corn occasionally sprout up beside the road, the short stalks still far from ripe.

But away from the road, tucked beside lakebeds or the foot of a hillside, a mid-summer visitor will find bright yellow flowers beginning to open. They are the crowning blooms of a thin plant that can grow up to two feet tall and which thrives in the heat of this arid region. Called greenthread (Thelesperma), it is used to make Navajo “tea.”

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A garland of greenthread. The dried bundles are brewed with sugar or honey. Courtesy of Ada Cowan

Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City

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“Dance,” a sculpture made in 2000 by Honda Shoryu, in “Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Credit Jake Naughton for The New York Times

Bamboo is an important part of the ecosystem in just about every place where we have worked over the last two decades; thanks to Roberta Smith for this:

Prairie Land Livestock

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Farmer Wendy Johnson markets hogs, chickens, eggs and seasonal turkeys. She also grows organic row crops at Joia Food Farm near Charles City, Iowa. Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Thanks to Harvest Public Media, Amy Mayer and the folks at the salt over at National Public Radio (USA):

How, And Why, Some Farmers Are Bringing Livestock Back To The Prairie

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight mesh-covered plastic frame that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets. Continue reading

Third Wave Coffee In Central America

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San Francisco? Soho? Try Guatemala City, inside El Injerto, a coffee shop. Guatemala is home to an expanding coffee scene. Credit Daniele Volpe for The New York Times

Thanks to Elisabeth Malkin for her visit to Guatemala on behalf of the coffee lovers who read the New York Times:

The Hot New Thing in Guatemala, Land of Coffee? It’s Coffee

GUATEMALA CITY — In the narrative spun around specialty coffee, there are two kinds of places: those where people cultivate the beans and those where people consume the end result. Continue reading

Early Classic Period Puzzles

Early Classic Period Polychrome Vessels

Almost from its inception there have been archaeological studies of the Maya sites at Chan Chich by nature of the lodge’s stated purpose to protect the area from further lootering. Professor Thomas Guderjan lead some of the early field seasons (1988 and 1990) studying the Maya Settlements in Northern Belize. At that time, the two Dos-Arroyos Polychrome Vessels illustrated above were some of the only artifacts found on site, but the subsequent seasons, spanning close to 20 years at this point, have yielded extensive data and additional artifacts.

These two vessels remain on display in the restaurant area at Chan Chich Lodge. Although both had been repaired by Guderjan’s team, the one on the left had broken over the years. Just before this season’s team fully dispersed, I took the opportunity to request some puzzle practice.  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

A Fitting Celebration Of Henry David Thoreau’s Bicentennial

Today marks the birthday noted here, and I have just read another excellent essay marking the occasion. It happens to coincide with receiving a couple of excellent photographs from Richard Kostecke, a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge who will soon be a contributor to this site. I’m confident the birthday celebrant would appreciate both the photos and the person. I am mixing things up a bit by sharing these photos with the essay, but I hope the point will be well taken:

Six years before he moved to Walden Pond in 1845 to ponder life and live deliberately, Henry David Thoreau spent two weeks canoeing rivers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The voyage was an epiphany for him. Continue reading

Tradition and Memory, Handed Down Stitch by Stitch

If you happen to be anywhere near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you have a few more days to visit this extraordinary exhibit of Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab.

Thanks to Architectural Digest contributor Medhavi Gandhi for this informative and culturally sensitive article.

Philadelphia Museum of Art showcases the history of Punjab’s rich embroidery craft through ‘Phulkari’

Phulkaris, which literally translates into ‘flower work’, is a unique style or technique of embroidery peculiar to Punjab, and today constitute the lavishly embroidered head scarves and shawls crafted in the region. ‘Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab’ presents phulkaris from the collection of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz alongside the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s permanent collection, focusing mostly on embroideries from a pre-partitioned Punjab.

The threads of phulkari have since endured much: partition, industrial reforms, changing economic and fashion trends, and the exhibition aptly helps you develop a perspective around all these.

GEOGRAPHICAL INDEXING
Curators Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi and Dr. Darielle Mason position the craft as art, presenting phulkaris through the historical and cultural lens, thus offering a renewed contact with the old way of life; ceasing to be a commodity of high commercial value but more as a window into the lives of people.

In a brief issued by the Museum, Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “This exhibition, which examines the artistic, cultural, and political significance of phulkari, is long overdue and will certainly delight visitors who may be unfamiliar with this remarkable art form”. I couldn’t agree more, and here’s why: Continue reading

Recipe For Reconciliation

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Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, a Mistawasis Nehiyawak elder, works closely with the university to advise on indigenous matters. Credit Cole Burston for The New York Times

The New World, as the Americas are often called, was new to the Europeans–aka explorers, pilgrims, pioneers, settlers, colonialists, conquistadors–but of course was the long time homeland to a diverse mix of indigenous people from the very north of the hemisphere all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

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The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading

Some Science On Ramon

RamSci1Ramón and Maya Ruins: An Ecological, not an Economic, Relation

 J. D. H. Lambert and J. T. Arnason
Science

New Series, Vol. 216, No. 4543 (Apr. 16, 1982), pp. 298-299

RamSci2Observations on Maya Subsistence and the Ecology of a Tropical Tree

Charles M. Peters
American Antiquity
Vol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 610-615
We have a sizable team, including our staff members of Maya heritage as well as those who know the forest ecology as part of their work, plus two summer interns, a chef, and a design director among others–all looking into this tree and its fruit. These journal articles, less dry than some academia and fresher than their age would suggest were brought to my attention by Nicoletta Maestri who I thank for the article below. For my team mates and me this is food for thought on our path to determining how this tree, introduced millennia ago by Mayans, plays into the future of Chan Chich Lodge:

Brosimum Alicastrum, The Ancient Maya Breadnut Tree

Did the Maya Build Forests of Breadnut Trees?

The breadnut tree (Brosimum alicastrum) is an important species of tree that grows in the wet and dry tropical forests of Mexico and Central America, as well as in the Caribbean Islands. Also known as the ramón tree, asli or Cha Kook in the Mayan language, the breadnut tree usually grows in regions that are between 300 and 2,000 meters (1,000-6,500 feet) above sea level. The fruits have a small, elongated shape, similar to apricots, although they are not particularly sweet. Continue reading

Stephen Greenblatt & Old School Text, Messaging About Our Future

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Poring over the story of Adam and Eve, Augustine came up with original sin. Illustration by Malika Favre

I recall the odd thrill of almost missing The Swerve and then realizing that in my remote location in the East, the classical canon of the West was more important than ever. And this scholar has a way with words, which now more than ever is much-needed balm. So, I am looking forward to this new installment of his work:

…Hardly a world-historical event, but the boy was named Augustine, and he went on to shape Christian theology for both Roman Catholics and Protestants, to explore the hidden recesses of the inner life, and to bequeath to all of us the conviction that there is something fundamentally damaged about the entire human species. There has probably been no more important Western thinker in the past fifteen hundred years. Continue reading

Southern Roots Run Deep

Ms. Gomez grew up pulling mangoes from the trees and buying sugar cane from the vendors gathered outside her parochial school. Evan Sung for The New York Times

While Crist may have had the good fortune to enjoy a taste of Kerala with Asha Gomez during travel away from our home there, I was busy exploring the market byways for local ingredients and food ways. What a fascinating story to hear that Asha is actually experiencing that same sense of discovery and exploration within her own home state.

It looks like Crist might have gotten his wish for Asha to come to Kerala, after all!

A Chef’s Quest in India: Win Respect for Its Cooking

“I think I had disconnected myself from this place in some way by saying for so long that the U.S. was home,” said Ms. Gomez, 47, who had moved from the Indian state of Kerala to the state of Michigan as a teenager. “There is still so much a part of me here. I think I had forgotten that.”

Ms. Gomez had come to this land of ports, tea estates and spice gardens not only to reconnect with a part of herself, but also to find new ways to use her camera-ready personality and kitchen chops to lasso Kerala’s beautiful food culture and drag it back to the United States.

“I have to remove people from the mentality that all Indian food should be clumped up into nine dishes that are not really Indian dishes,” she said. “Not all Indian food belongs on a buffet line at $4.99. Indian food is 5,000 years of tradition and history, and it belongs right up there with French cuisine.”

Her frustration over American interpretations of the beloved coconut-scented fish curries, dosas and carefully layered beef biryanis of her homeland echoes the lament of countless cooks who have immigrated from countries like China, Mexico or Vietnam only to find their food mangled to meet the limitations of a new country’s palate and relegated to its cheap-eats guides.

“I wish I could say to every immigrant cook in America, ‘Why do you think your food should be any less than any other cuisine that comes from anywhere else in the world?’” Ms. Gomez said. Continue reading

Rancher’s Life In The High Plains

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The scale of the cattle farming at Gallon Jug is modest compared with the tradition of grazing on public lands typical of ranching in the western USA. But they share some common ground such as the horse-based cowboy (note below that women are also in the saddle in some places such as Montana). Something not discussed in the ideological battles over public lands that got to a boiling point in the last couple years–the intangible patrimony of a way of life–is worth a couple minutes of your consideration and this article lays it out, part of a series the Guardian is running:

In Montana, land transfer threatens the American rancher’s way of life

Ranchers in the west have been struggling for decades. Now a new threat looms: public land might be taken away from them Continue reading

Food Sleuthing

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The remnant of an old apple orchard among wheat fields in Steptoe Butte State Park in Washington. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Yesterday magic happened. After sharing in the morning a quick mention of why my thoughts are on agriculture, I was walking with a member of Chan Chich Lodge’s groundskeeping team to review some work he had completed. On the way, we encountered a tree showering small fruits onto the ground. Fragrant. I asked him what it was and he said a word I did not recognize that sounded like “yo”.

About the size of a blueberry but not a berry, nor resembling anything I could identify. Until I opened it and its inside looked exactly like that of my favorite fruit. And then I realized my colleague had said higo, the Spanish word for fig. He then told me that in his village the old Mayans use this to make a flour, something they have done since olden times. He paused a moment, a bit of reverie I could tell, and then he continued about how the tortilla made from this is the best. It’s got me thinking. Thanks to Kirk Johnson for this second unexpected pleasure of a story:

Hunting Down the Lost Apples of the Pacific Northwest

STEPTOE, Wash. — David Benscoter honed his craft as an investigator for the F.B.I. and the United States Treasury, cornering corrupt politicians and tax evaders. The lost apple trees that he hunts down now are really not so different. People and things, he said, tend to hide in plain sight if you know how and where to look. Continue reading

Longform Escape & Corrections

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There are two dynamic illustrations in this piece by David Samuels that cannot be replicated here, but are worth visiting the website of The Atavist for, so the images above and below are placeholders. Anyway, the words are the thing so I take a paragraph from near the end as an example of why to read this:

…In the 1970s in Brooklyn, where I grew up, pigeons were everywhere, which is probably why I am here. Some of my earliest gray-scale memories include pigeons, which fluttered and occasionally nested on the windowsill of the first place I was aware enough of to call home, a housing project near the Brooklyn Bridge built for working families like mine. There was a bona fide pigeon coop on the roof of a building nearby, like in the famous scene from On the Waterfront. Sometimes I could see a man on the roof waving a flag, which in my imagination was red but in fact could have been any color. The pigeons he guided back to their loft every night were a promise of safety that New York City in the 1970s was obviously unable to keep, which is why my parents moved to the suburbs, where the birds in the trees outside my window twittered and cooed in foreign tongues that signified nothing…

I am not surprised that this is the article on their website that I gravitated to. The author wrote an item in the New Yorker at a time when I was just completing many years of work in Montenegro and Croatia, and I knew the landscape he was describing well, and still he brought the place alive for me in a way that living there had not. He does not need photos, gifs, or other illustrations to make his words dance better. And in this piece he does something even more magical, providing a correction for me.

Seven years in south India had at least one unexpected effect on me, and it is embarrassing. I developed a passionate dislike for pigeons. Pigeons caused continuous problems in one of the properties we developed and managed, an urban location pigeons loved as much as people. And pigeons express their love in messy ways, so they became my bane. At our home, pigeons would coo on the window sill and I remember that at the time I posted this, which was peak pigeon problem, my enthusiasm for conservation was red hot but I had an unwanted, guilty ability to imagine why passenger pigeons disappeared. Reading David Samuels just now, I have snapped out of that.

pigionssa-1436823680-87 Continue reading