She is a scientist who explains in language I understand, without dumbing it down too much, something as complex as climate change and its relationship to global warming. She is also funny. I found the blog post above after listening to her on this podcast, just to double check that she is consistently clear, profound and funny. She will be responsible for my staying tuned to this series:
Heroes who made it happen, and here is a bit of the story, thanks to Sierra Club:
Tompkins Conservation donations are the largest act of wildlands philanthropy in history
THE MINISTER of public lands was about to arrive, a television crew in tow, so everything had to be just right. It was 8:15 on a summer morning in February, and the office of Tompkins Conservation outside the Chilean hamlet of El Amarillo was hive-busy. The philanthropy’s controller was hunched over a laptop filled with spreadsheets. A supervisor was giving orders to groups of men in blue coveralls. Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the organization’s president, sat at a conference table toggling between a pair of laptops and her cellphone. Continue reading
In the Pacific northwest of the United States there is a hunter-gatherer renaissance that we have been paying attention to in recent years, if only at our desks. The Willows Inn was the first story we started following, but they continue to come our way, including today. Improbably captivating, this story is about a need to know, and in the process conserve knowhow, about the source of naturally occurring colors that has a history as old as art. Even if some colors are not inherently charismatic (in the eye of the beholder), we take note:
At her cabin in the woods of Washington, Heidi Gustafson is creating a many-colored library of one of mankind’s first pigments.
Heidi Gustafson has Whidbey Island’s Double Bluff Beach to herself. But she’s not sunbathing or scanning the waves for whales. Instead, she’s traveled to the northern end of Puget Sound in Washington to crouch, back to the ocean, foraging for ocher at the base of a cliff. Armed with a small magnet and a knife, she stoops low to assess the striations in the rock face, formed by glacial activity hundreds of thousands of years before.
Gustafson considers ocher to be any natural material primarily made up of iron (hence the magnet) that contains oxygen, a definition that she acknowledges is a bit “less strict” than ones used in various scientific communities. Seeking out the material has become, by happenstance, her life’s work.
For years, she has been engaged in a wide-ranging, multidisciplinary exploration of the mineral: collecting samples all over the Pacific Northwest; grinding shards down into pigments she sells to artists through her website Early Futures; making her own art with ocher pigments; and, at her small cabin near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, creating an extensive ocher archive to catalog samples she’s gathered along with submissions of the mineral sent in from all over the world. While there has recently been renewed interest in creating paints from natural pigments, Gustafson’s focus is on ocher alone — and it extends beyond the material’s artistic uses to its scientific, symbolic and spiritual properties.
Her first encounter with the earthy compound began at a less scenic location than Double Bluff Beach: a Safeway parking lot in Oakland, Calif. Several years after earning a B.F.A. in sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Gustafson moved to the Bay Area to get a masters in philosophy, cosmology and consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies. After graduating in 2014, she wasn’t sure what to do. Continue reading
After some weeks of letting the ideas in this essay settle in, and not reading (until now) any of the criticism of those ideas, it is more clear to me that I mistook Franzen’s position for something familiar, even close to home. Going back through my own postings on this platform, the mistake is understandable. We have been highlighting soft and gradual and mostly (but not all, by any means) comforting approaches to thinking about climate change.
I just revisited this post, thinking that Franzen’s position is like that word I heard 5+ years ago, but Franzen is not a collapsitarian. From my poking around, it is not clear that Paul Kingsnorth is one either. In that earlier post I linked to the About section on his website and it is still as funny ever, but now this:
I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.
I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.
Tell me about your writing
My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.
My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts…
It is worth reading in full, to see how his views may have changed in recent years, but mainly what caught my attention is the program of courses he has created, which look worthy of promotion, especially as captured in the photos (©Natasha Lythgoe) below and at the top:
The Wyrd School is a writing school unlike any other. Founded in 2018 by Paul Kingsnorth, an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist, with two decades of writing experience, we are home to unique writing courses, talks, and other events designed to bring the human and the non-human worlds back into contact, and to help you produce writing and art from the resulting sparks.
Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word, often translated as fate or destiny. Continue reading
Thanks to Alex Kalman for the story and to Mmuseumm for the photos:
When is skipping school more important than attending? When is a child’s design more effective than a professional’s? When are children more responsible than adults? On September 20th, millions of children, led by the activist Greta Thunberg, took to the streets to protest the world’s inaction on climate change. Here are some of the signs made by children who participated in the New York City march. Inspiring and confrontational, these signs provide a visual counterpoint to the individual voices of our children as they plead with the powers that be to act, and act responsibly.
See the entire collection here.
If you are fortunate enough to have a yard of your own, consider this suggestion by Charles Fergus:
By itself, a plain grass lawn is stark and visually unappealing—which is why most homeowners add shrubs, flower beds, and specimen trees. Today, there’s a new movement afoot known as natural landscaping: using native trees, shrubs, and low plants to add textural diversity to a yard while attracting and benefiting wildlife.
Research has shown that seeing wildlife around your home—hearing birds sing, glimpsing brightly colored butterflies and dragonflies, seeing a garter snake slither into a stone wall— makes life more enjoyable.
Many of us have a visceral need to be in touch with wild creatures and to acknowledge that we ourselves are part of nature, even if we live in suburbs and other settings where housing is dense. Continue reading
The Hunters Point Community Library is one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century. But it cost more than $40 million, took a decade and almost died.
Against a phalanx of mostly dreary new apartment towers, the soon-to-open Hunters Point Community Library by Steven Holl Architects is a diva parading along the East River in Queens, south of the famous Pepsi sign. With its sculptured geometry — a playful advertisement for itself — it’s even a little like the Pepsi sign.
Compact, at 22,000 square feet and 82 feet high, the library is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.
It also cost something north of $40 million and took forever to complete. So it raises the question: Why can’t New York build more things like this, faster and cheaper?
Opening Sept. 24, Hunters Point is surely what Queens Library officials and the borough’s former president, Helen M. Marshall, had in mind when the project was proposed more than 15 years ago: a crown jewel among Queens branches, at a singular, symbolic spot facing the United Nations and Louis Kahn’s exalted Four Freedoms Park across the water. Continue reading
Alyson Krueger, who we have not seen in our pages for nearly two years, has a story that indulges one of our favorite pastimes, library-celebrating, in a round-the-world review of the latest, greatest:
Libraries are having a moment. In the past few years dozens have opened across the world, resembling nothing like the book-depot versions from the past.
About a decade ago libraries across the world faced a dilemma. Their vital functions — to supply books and access to information for the public — were being replaced by Amazon, e-books and public Wi-Fi.
To fight for their survival, said Loida Garcia-Febo, president of the American Library Association, libraries tried to determine what other role they could play. “They invented these amazing new initiatives that are finally launching now,” she said. It took them this long to raise money and build them.
Libraries are certainly having a moment. In the past few years dozens of new high-profile libraries have opened close to home and across the world. And they certainly don’t resemble the book-depot vision of libraries from the past.
To attract visitors from home and abroad, many libraries have advanced, even quirky amenities. They have rooftop gardens, public parks, verandas, play spaces, teen centers, movie theaters, gaming rooms, art galleries, restaurants and more. The new library in Aarhus, Denmark, has a massive gong that rings whenever a mother in a nearby hospital gives birth.
In March, Oodi welcomed its one millionth visitor. “We have tourists from all over the world visiting, but mainly from Europe mostly, China, Japan and America,” said Anna-Maria Soininvaara, the library’s director. “Usually they want to experience the Maker Space and ask where all the books are because the shelves are always half empty because they’re all on loan.”…
Read the whole story here.
Despite being a few days late within the news cycle, this story deserves to be highlighted. In fact, in face of the bombardment of negatives along the border, we’d say it’s imperative to keep the power of joy as a constant point of reference.
A stretch of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico was adorned with a set of pink see-saws this week — allowing children (and grownups) to play together across the barrier. The event was “filled with joy, excitement, and togetherness,” says architect Ronald Rael, a leader of the project.
The seesaws were installed on Sunday, when their steel beams were eased through the slats of the tall fence that divides Sunland Park, N.M., from Colonia Anapra — a community on the western side of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.
“Everyone was very happy and excited to engage the seesaws,” Rael says via email, describing the mood at Sunday’s event. And while he admits to being a little nervous about the completion of a project that had been brewing for 10 years, he says it went off without a hitch.
“It was peaceful and fun — a day at a park for the children and mothers of Anapra,” Rael says.
The seesaws were created by Rael and fellow architect Virginia San Fratello; the two are partners in a design firm. By installing playground toys, they sought to tweak the meaning of a border fence. Continue reading
Limits often lead to creative solutions. That’s exactly what is happening in Brazil. Alison Martin is pushing the limits of what can be built from weaving bamboo and is helping to create more natural cityscapes. She is surprising even the computer engineers with the strength and shapes of her material, all without the use of nuts and bolts. This is a new way of combining nature and architecture. Her work is also helping to solve some of the problems created by elevated highways. These highways block out the sun and create “a fracture in the urban environment”.
With designer and artist Alison Grace Martin, architects and engineers are embracing “the logic of the weave.”
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — On a Tuesday afternoon in early July, Alison Grace Martin, the British artist and weaver, joined a steady stream of Paulistanos along the elevated freeway that curves through downtown São Paulo. The two-mile “Minhocão” (named after a mythic “gigantic earthworm”) was closed to cars that day. The only traffic was on foot and bikes, skateboards and scooters. Picnickers lounged on the median sipping wine. Children ran after soccer balls. A retriever chased a coconut; a pit bull peed on a pile of bamboo.
The bamboo — freshly cut and split into strips about 20 feet long — had arrived with Ms. Martin and engineer James Solly, who were leading an urban design workshop, “High Line Paulista,” inspired loosely by Manhattan’s elevated greenway. Their students for the week had carried the strips, which would be put to use in an experimental dome construction, like a barn-raising, but with bamboo.
Plans have long been in the works to turn the Minhocão into a park. Since its opening in 1971, the freeway has been the subject of controversy: a concrete scar that bifurcated neighborhoods, smothering residents with noise and pollution.
“It ripped apart the urban fabric,” said Franklin Lee, from São Paulo, and director of the workshop with his partner Anne Save de Beaurecueil. (The workshop is part of the Architectural Association international visiting school program.) In January, after years of discourse and debate, the mayor, Bruno Covas, announced that the freeway would eventually be deactivated, finally making way for “Parque Minhocão.”
Being a daily reader of the NYTimes it’s surprising that I missed the publication of this posthumous essay by neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks, who died in 2015. This is especially notable related to biophilia, a subject that means a great deal to all of us on this site, in fact, as Dr. Sacks states, it is an essential part of the human condition.
Even for people who are deeply disabled neurologically, nature can be more powerful than any medication.
This is an excerpt from “Everything in Its Place,” a posthumous collection of writings by Dr. Sacks.
As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.
The wonder of gardens was introduced to me very early, before the war, when my mother or Auntie Len would take me to the great botanical garden at Kew. We had common ferns in our garden, but not the gold and silver ferns, the water ferns, the filmy ferns, the tree ferns I first saw at Kew. It was at Kew that I saw the gigantic leaf of the great Amazon water lily, Victoria regia, and like many children of my era, I was sat upon one of these giant lily pads as a baby.
As a student at Oxford, I discovered with delight a very different garden — the Oxford Botanic Garden, one of the first walled gardens established in Europe. It pleased me to think that Boyle, Hooke, Willis and other Oxford figures might have walked and meditated there in the 17th century.
I try to visit botanical gardens wherever I travel, seeing them as reflections of their times and cultures, no less than living museums or libraries of plants.
Janet Marinelli, according to her author’s bio, is an award-winning independent journalist who was director of scientific and popular publications at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for 16 years; according to our read of her work over the last two years she is also a perfect fit with our mission to find at least one story every day that explains the natural world, illuminates the possibilities of entrepreneurial conservation or challenges us to be more careful with natural resources. She brightens our day:
Native prairie and savanna once covered vast areas of the U.S. Southeast from Maryland to Texas, but agriculture and sprawl have left only small patches remaining. Now, a new initiative, driven by scientists and local communities, is pushing to restore these imperiled grassland habitats.
Dwayne Estes pulls over to the side of a rural road in Franklin County, Tennessee, about 20 miles from the Alabama border. He hops out of his truck and points out a small plant with dainty, trumpet-shaped white flowers with purple-streaked throats. “This is Penstemon kralii,” says Estes, a 40-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch-tall professor sporting a baseball cap and beard, the twin badges of honor for many field botanists. The plant is found almost exclusively at the base of the Cumberland Plateau escarpment, where it survives precariously in narrow, grassy roadside fringes with other rare and threatened species, including a sunflower and a blue-eyed grass yet to be named and described by scientists.
We continue to the top of the steep, densely forested escarpment. Below, a checkerboard of croplands and pastures stretches as far as the eye can see. “Before 1840, those agricultural fields were prairies covering half a million, maybe 750,000 acres,” Estes says. “They were maintained by frequent fires and bison.” The wildfires probably swept up the base of the adjacent escarpment, he adds, keeping it open and sunny oak savanna where the penstemon and its companions could thrive. Like so many southern grassland denizens, they are vestiges of a lost botanical world that once covered as many as 120 million acres from Maryland to East Texas, caught in a vise between habitat loss to agriculture and urban sprawl on the one hand, and encroaching fire-suppressed forest on the other. Continue reading
Thursday night in Costa Rica Amie and I attended an event at the oldest, yet freshest Marriott in this country. Fresh with actions around sustainability. Fresh with a renovation and landscape plan that enhances the property’s coffee hacienda origins. And fresh with ideas from other parts of the world in their ongoing series of TED events. The picture above was on the screen as the speaker explained one of her projects; she gave an extended version of the TED talk she first presented earlier this year. I found some additional information about it to share here:
Bangkok is sinking. Spilling out across the delta of the Chao Phraya River, the Thai capital was once known as the Venice of the East for its network of canals.Today, thanks to explosive development, many of those waterways have been filled with cement. With nowhere for water to go, Bangkok has become notorious for frequent, destructive floods, sometimes after as little as 30 minutes of rain. The reality is that this city of 20 million people, built on shifting river mud, is sinking at the rate of more than one centimeter a year and could be below sea level as soon as 2030.
Thai landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a TED Fellow, watched firsthand as her city became a dense concrete jungle. “When I was young, there were rice fields and canals in the city,” she remembers. “I could hear boats from my house in central Bangkok. Now, all those fields and canals have been stopped with concrete and covered by highrises. All of the buildings and concrete become obstacles for water to drain, so the city floods.”
At her Bangkok firm Landprocess, Voraakhom designs parks, gardens, green roofs and bridges that address the city’s flooding problem while also reconnecting residents to their natural environment. “We’re so much in the buildings,” she says. “I think it’s very necessary for us, as urbanists, to have places where we can reconnect to our nature, to Mother Earth. Just to see the sky.”
Never one to tire of reading about libraries, the essay below gives me a surge of hope in a world where culture is often upstaged by bullish showmanship. The sense that libraries encapsulate and span centuries of human endeavors, yet still evolve and remain essential to communities around the world is completely on point. “All hail the librarian!”, indeed.
Last year two Danish librarians – Christian Lauersen and Marie Eiriksson – founded Library Planet: a worldwide, crowdsourced, online library travel guide. According to them, Library Planet is meant to inspire travellers “to open the awesome book that is our world of libraries, cities and countries”.
The name of the online project is a deliberate nod to the Australian-made Lonely Planet. The concept is simple and powerful. Library lovers contribute library profiles and images from their travels; the founders then curate and publish the posts, with the ambition of capturing library experiences and library attractions from around the world.
Why make libraries a focus of travel? There are a thousand practical and aesthetic reasons, as well as cultural ones. Libraries for the most part are safe and welcoming places. And they tell unique stories about the people who build and appreciate them. If books are the basic data of civilisation, then nations’ libraries provide windows on national souls. They are precious places in which to seek traces of the past, and reassurance about the future.
Library Planet now has dozens of intriguing profiles – including from Burma, Iceland, Tanzania and French Polynesia. A recent entry celebrated the Melbourne Cricket Club library at the MCG. The site has rapidly become a favourite among the bibliographical communities and subcultures of Instagram and Twitter, such as #rarebooks, #amreading and #librarylove. Continue reading
I knew this was coming. And from the look of it, I will visit it. They could have torn it down and started afresh, but they decided instead to build on memories. I appreciate that. In September, 1983 I was inside that building sitting on the floor for several hours.
Those red benches were nowhere to be seen back then. We were all waiting for a storm-delayed TWA flight to Athens.
Sitting next to me in the long line of travelers was a young woman, and our conversation would surely seem inconsequential if we could review a transcript of it. As it happens, however, that conversation led to an odyssey that continues to this day. So when I saw this photo feature I had to look.
Amie and I worked together in India on a project to repurpose a historic place, and we came to appreciate the challenge of being respectful of history, yet not a slave to it. We wanted to tap into strong sentiments related to that specific place and its place in history without being sentimental. And please, no nostalgia. So in addition to looking back, we looked forward, and how well we accomplished the task is for others to judge.
We are now working on a project that has some of the same challenges. It involves a historic property and the challenge in this case, while involving spatial design, is mostly focused on deciding what type of merchandise is appropriate. This t-shirt is on offer at the TWA Hotel website. I will likely get one, for the same reason that postcards have always been important to me. But our work currently is digging deeper on the memento question: what tangible reminder of this place is essential for a visitor to have when they go home. The answer is elusive, but close.
Organikos has been described in these pages in relation to its commitment to treat nature respectfully and its aspiration to inspire. Above is land that will be restored to its previous condition as an arabica coffee plantation. It looks green enough, to be sure. And the trees are poro (Erythrina Poeppigiana), planted sometime in the previous century when the last coffee trees were planted. So that is encouraging. The agapanthas and lilies and the bushes and the bamboo are all lovely, but not as lovely as coffee. Coffee inspires.
Another type of inspiration altogether is the tree fern, a primordial plant. The one to the right was photographed a few days ago about 250 miles south of the photo above. It is in the restoration section of a large land holding belonging to Osa Conservation. Its location is important to me because it is where our company developed its first understood the deeper implications of our work.
This abundant stand of tree ferns with new shoots inspires because Osa Conservation has succeeded where others have not succeeded in getting these ancient plants to propogate. It inspires more broadly due to the success of the organization to protect the land in the region.
Our team was in the Osa with some friends from Colombia who are in the process of planning the next stage of a large scale conservation initiative. They came to Costa Rica for inspiration on new methodologies for conservation, and they found what they were looking for in the Osa, most impactfully during their visit at Osa Conservation. That impact was on display at a book fair in the form of this gem of a book. You can be sure it will be on the shelf at Authentica, along with that coffee we keep mentioning.
We’ve written a great deal about the sobering truth of human created climate change lately; highlighting the difficult science of the increasingly limited options on how to avert worst case scenarios.
There’s something calming about this piece of animation by Sebastian Ramn that addressed climate change as nature’s SOS, reaching out to creative communities and NGOs who may be in search of ways to get involved in any way possible.
More information at natureneeds.help
A few years ago, as we were completing work on the final hotel of our work plan in India, we had visitors from Costa Rica. They brought this little thing as a gift. Bicycle as ambassador. Knowing that we had been developing relationships with artisan groups in India, this was a small token of what had been happening in Costa Rica in the many years we had been away. Using recycled materials, one group of artisans were designing and crafting mementos like this for people to take home with them after their vacation in Costa Rica.
During my doctorate years I had mementos from one place in my office. In my office now I have mementos from many different places to inspire the work we will do next. This little thing is in a prized place.
Plastics have transformed every aspect of our lives. Yet the very properties that make them attractive—they are cheap to make, light, and durable—spell disaster when trash makes its way into the environment. Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution is a beautifully-illustrated survey of the plastics clogging our seas, their impacts on wildlife and people around the world, and inspirational initiatives designed to tackle the problem.
In Plastic Soup, Michiel Roscam Abbing of the Plastic Soup Foundation reveals the scope of the issue: plastic trash now lurks on every corner of the planet. With striking photography and graphics, Plastic Soup brings this challenge to brilliant life for readers. Yet it also sends a message of hope; although the scale of the problem is massive, so is the dedication of activists working to check it. Plastic Soup highlights a diverse array of projects to curb plastic waste and raise awareness, from plastic-free grocery stores to innovative laws and art installations.
According to some estimates, if we continue on our current path, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Created to inform and inspire readers, Plastic Soup is a critical tool in the fight to reverse this trend.