Raptors & Yardbirds

With a couple dozen chickens of our own at any given time, and a few acres of hilly land for them to forage on, the raptors who soar above menace the birds in the yard. But they captivate my attention. As this podcast episode does as well:

A bald eagle flies off with its kill. White Oak Pastures/White Oak Pastures

…He went organic. He started making changes. To replace the chemical fertilizer, he brought in chickens and let them roam free. Free-range chickens would fertilize the grass; the grass would nurture the cattle, and shoppers at Whole Foods would love Harris’s organic beef. It was a great plan.

But then, the eagles started to descend on Harris’s farm. Eagles eat chicken. Eagles love chicken…

Biophilia via Oliver Sacks

Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam. CreditKaren Massier/E+, via Getty Images

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.

Oliver Sacks: The Healing Power of Gardens

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.

Continue reading

Restoration, Inspiration & Conservation

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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.

FernTree.jpgAnother 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.

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InsectBook.jpgOur 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.

Nature Is In Our Hands

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NiagaraPostcard.jpgBefore moving to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s I was working for a few years at a desk with images like the one above taped to the walls around the desk, and postcards from the previous century, like the one to the right, scattered about for inspiration.

Inman1.jpegOn the desk were drafts of a dissertation whose summary, on page 131, states: “…the results of the first hypothesis suggest that lodging firms in a tourism destination, such as Niagara Falls, should be directly involved with the strengthening and support of the institutional environment in which they operate.”

In other words, if you benefit from nature for your livelihood one of your best investments will be in building and strengthening institutions that protect nature. It may now sound like stating the obvious, but Nobel laureate economists made claims to the contrary that were treated as gospel truth twenty five years ago.

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So 132 pages, not including bibliography, were used to make the point. Ever since, members of our team have wondered whether it could be summed up more simply. Meeting recently with graphic designers to discuss how to communicate more effectively about Organikos, we think now maybe the answer is yes.

Hand+TreeWhen we saw this hand and tree side by side in that meeting, we had a reaction that was related to what the graphic designer intended, but not exactly.

Hand+ OrganikosWhatever his precise intent was, someone’s mouth opened and blurted out: Yes! Nature is in our hands. And so we have come upon a way to say a little more simply what Organikos means in addition to what Organikos does.

Summer Rayne Oakes

Summer Rayne Oakes, as a name, is likely to stick in my memory. She was a student at Cornell when I was teaching there, but until now I did not know of her. Thanks to this feature on one of the websites I scan regularly for stories relevant to this platform, I found my way to her website, so now I know a little bit about who she is. I like the causes she supports, and that is enough for today’s post. But the interior greenery throughout the 6+ minutes of video above is refreshing, and that is the real purpose for sharing it.

Nature’s Gender-bending

Top left, a male blue morpho butterfly; top middle, a female. The remainder are gynandromorphic, with both male and female characteristics. Credit Nipam H. Patel

With the frequency of gender fluidity in the news (often disparagingly), it’s helpful to read that it’s something that exists in many areas of the natural world.

“Nature’s dealing with conformity all the time in brutal ways and loving ways and all the rest of it,” Dr. Dreger said. “It doesn’t follow the human fantasy of everybody having to be normal. And humans don’t follow that ridiculous idea either.”

Well said.

Split-Sex Animals Are Unusual, Yes, but Not as Rare as You’d Think

All serious butterfly collectors remember their first gynandromorph: a butterfly with a color and pattern that are distinctly male on one wing and female on the other.

Seeing one sparks wonder and curiosity. For the biologist Nipam H. Patel, the sighting offered a possible answer to a question he had been pondering for years: During embryonic and larval development, how do cells know where to stop and where to go?

He was sure that the delicate black outlines between male and female regions appearing on one wing — but not the other — identified a key facet of animal development.

“It immediately struck me that this was telling me something interesting about how the wing was being made,” said Dr. Patel, a biologist who now heads the Marine Biological Laboratory, a research institute in Woods Hole, Mass., affiliated with the University of Chicago.

The patterning on the gynandromorph’s wing shows that the body uses signaling centers to control where cells go during development and what tissues they become in creatures as diverse as butterflies and people, Dr. Patel said.

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the cardinal’s did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Continue reading

In Case Of Emergency, Plant Trees

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Fox Maple Woods in Wisconsin. JOSHUA MAYER / FLICKR

Emergency? The evidence is clear in the case of the environment, and it is a global emergency with a global solution. Thanks to Yale e360 for this summary of a new finding:

Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees Could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find

There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Continue reading

Mysteries Of Nature

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The sudden appearance of a giant ice disk in Maine has raised many questions. Watch it rotate in this stunning drone video.  Tina Radel/City of Westbrook, via Associated Press

We appreciate the fact that there are still such natural surprises out there:

There’s a Huge Ice Disk in a Maine River. No, the Aliens Aren’t Coming.

A giant ice disk churning in a river that runs through the small city of Westbrook, Me., set off fevered speculation on Tuesday.

Was it an icy landing zone for aliens? A sign of impending doom? A carousel for ducks? (A handful were, in fact, enjoying the ride.)

The Boston Globe wrote that it was “like some type of arctic buzzsaw,” and residents hurried to the edges of the Presumpscot River to catch a glimpse.

Scientists say that ice disks are an unusual — but entirely natural — phenomenon that occurs when a pile of slush freezes in an eddy or a piece of ice breaks off from another and begins to rotate. As it turns, hitting rocks and water, the sides are shaved down.

Steven Daly, an expert in river ice hydraulics at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said his agency generally got just one or two reports of rotating ice disks in the United States each year.

They’re not usually this big, though. Continue reading

Citizen Science, Children & Bees

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Scientists expected bees to gradually cease buzzing as the sky darkened during an eclipse. Instead, they stopped altogether. Credit Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

After following the work of Nicholas St. Fleur for a couple years now–his beat includes archaeology, paleontology, and space among other of the things we care about on this platform, including conservation–his most recent story below is my favorite for one reason, namely citizen science. Specifically the participation of youth in such an important scientific investigation:

The Moon Eclipsed the Sun. Then the Bees Stopped Buzzing.

Researchers worked with a small army of elementary school children to collect audio recordings of bees as they visited flowers along the path of last summer’s total eclipse.

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National Forest Service workers at the Bridger-Teton National Forest Office in Jackson, Wyo., took a break to watch the Great American Eclipse last year. Credit Celia Talbot Tobin for The New York Times

Last year’s Great American Eclipse drew hundreds of millions of eyes to the sky. But while people across the country “oohed” and “aahed” at the phenomenon, it appears the bees went silent.

So found a new study that monitored the acoustic activity of bees before, during and after totality — the moment when the moon completely blocked the sun — during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Researchers at the University of Missouri, along with a small army of elementary school children and other volunteers, collected audio recordings of honeybees, bumblebees and other types of bees as they visited flowers along the path of totality Continue reading

Trees, Cities & Happiness

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A tree in Riverfront Park competes for grandeur with Nashville’s iconic At&T building. Credit William DeShazer for The New York Times

PlantTreeCity.jpgI just learned of an urban tree-planting initiative on a day when the news shows purposeful indifference about climate change on the part of a powerful country’s elected leader, on the same day when the news also shows that an economist considered a pioneer of environmental economics is receiving a prestigious prize and what he said when he learned of his being awarded the prize:

“Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”

PlantTreesCity2Let’s decide together to do something, seems to be his message. I learned about this urban tree-planting initiative, news of a president’s abdication of responsibility, and this economist’s optimistic message on the same day I read about a 15-year old climate activist who has decided to do something where she sees her government failing to take action. She has decided at a very young age to do what she can regardless of the daunting odds. So thanks to Margaret Renkl a Nashville-based contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, for bringing this initiative to my attention, as a reminder to do something:

More Trees, Happier People

When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.

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A tale of two trees in Nashville. A mature tree in England Park, left, and a newly planted tree at Wright Middle School.

NASHVILLE — The scene in a tiny pocket park outside Plaza Mariachi here on Nolensville Pike last Wednesday was like a tableau from a Norman Rockwell painting, 21st-century style. Surrounded by signs advertising the Hispanic Family Foundation, Dubai Jewelry, the Dominican Barber Shop and restaurants offering Peruvian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian food — as well as a Game Stop franchise and H&R Block — was a small sign that read, “Today: Free trees.”

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Photographs by William DeShazer for The New York Times

The arrow on the sign pointed to a pop-up canopy where the Nashville Tree Foundation was hosting its fourth tree giveaway of October. A family standing under the canopy was posing for a photo with the sapling they had just adopted. Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of the foundation, was taking the picture: “Say ‘trees’!” she said.

The tree giveaway at Plaza Mariachi happened to fall on the very day that Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy. The effort, called “Root Nashville,” will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050.

Many of these newly planted saplings will replace very large, very old trees that have been lost to Nashville’s meteoric growth — a population increase of more than 45 percent since 2000. As the city has grown, the city’s trees have fallen: deliberately felled by developers to make room for new construction or unintentionally killed as a side effect of nearby building. Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year. Continue reading

The Science Of Nature, Exhibited

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Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, 1828–1840. Credit Amherst College Archives & Special Collections

Thanks to Jason Farago for this review of  Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock at the American Folk Art Museum:

Mushrooms, Magma and Love in a Time of Science

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“Colossal Octopus,” 1828–1840, by Orra White Hitchcock, one of America’s first female scientific illustrators, on view at the American Folk Art Museum. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times

Women remain grossly underrepresented at the highest echelons of American science, and continue to face absurd claims of “innate” inferiority, whether from former Harvard presidents or senior engineers at Google. But until the mid-19th century — when the sciences became professionalized, and when Charles Darwin and others put Christian doctrine under pressure — a woman’s place was in the laboratory, or among the geology and zoology specimens.

Back then the humanities (classics and philosophy, especially) were understood as masculine academic pursuits. It was the more genteel disciplines of natural science, astronomy, chemistry, botany and anatomy, to which women of a certain class gravitated.

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Orra White Hitchcock’s “Fungi Selecti Picti, Vicinity of Conway, Massachusetts” (1821), watercolor, pencil, pen and ink, and ink wash on paper in sewn album. Credit Smith College Special Collections

Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863) was one of the most remarkable women from this more egalitarian age of scientific study. She had a deep knowledge of botany, zoology and paleontology, and she was also an artist — though that “also” would have seemed unnecessary to her. She produced two albums of botanical illustrations, and later, as introductory materials for her husband’s classes, she diagramed volcanoes, sketched the skeletons of extinct fish and mammals, and drew undulant squids and octopuses on large cotton sheets.

They’re all united at the American Folk Art Museum in “Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock,” a handsome and unexpectedly passionate exhibition on art, science and education in the early American republic. More than 100 watercolors and classroom charts are here, from painstakingly accurate paintings of reeds and mushrooms to boldly colored abstractions of the earth’s crust and core, and they share space with a splendid array of diaries and correspondence, redolent with the Hitchcocks’ intertwined loves for science, God and each other. Continue reading

Rewild The Uplands?

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Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. 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

Walking In Wildness, For The Sake Of The World

PreservationThis book to the left, first published the year I was born, was always on the coffee table in the home I grew up in. I have mentioned a high school exposure to Walden–the writing, the place, the idea–and I have been thinking about that recently as I ponder Chan Chich Lodge’s own little aquatic wonder. Thinking, of course, while walking, frequently encountering living relics of prehistoric wildness on those walks. Douglas Brinkley’s tribute to the legacy of Thoreau–the walker, thinker, writer, conservationist–as we approach the bicentennial of his birth a few days from now, is perfectly timed: Continue reading

Swamp Is Not A Bad Word

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The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina and Virginia has been dramatically altered over the past few centuries by human development. Rebecca Wynn/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to Sarah McCammon at National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

“Drain the swamp” may be a popular political slogan, but it doesn’t always work so well in nature. Continue reading

Maps, Walking & Health

Emily has been reworking the maps for nine miles of walking trails surrounding Chan Chich Lodge. On a typical day I walk 45 minutes at dawn, and 45 minutes at dusk and I have tended to stay on the same trail for the last year. Now I am looking forward to the various loops I had not yet wandered onto, and checking the maps. I tend to believe in the link between nature and health, and especially when walking is involved the benefits are a broader form of wellbeing. Gretchen Reynolds, writing the Phys Ed column for the New York Times has this to say:

For Exercise, Nothing Like the Great Outdoors

Long walks can improve moods and reduce anxiety, but the benefits may be greatest if the walks take place outdoors rather than in a gym, according to a new study by researchers in Austria. And while the Alps may be a particularly fine place to hike, a vigorous walk in the woods or paths near home may provide the mental boost we need to keep us moving.

We all know, by now, that for optimal health, we need to move. Continue reading

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

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

Happy Plants?

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A dense carpet of woodland perennials. Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, calls plants “social creatures” that thrive in particular networks. Credit Mark Baldwin

Thanks to the landscape architect Thomas Rainer, and the author, for these observations:

Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades; we know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like “layering” or “ground cover,” is surprisingly not synonymous. Continue reading

Biophilia Bathing

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
― John Muir

Muir has long been a muse for many on this site, as we ponder the concept of Biophilia and the power of nature in our lives. We are motivated to work on conservation initiatives for plenty of reasons, including our belief in the link between wellbeing and a fix of nature. From bonsai, bamboo fountains and the meditative sand raking in Zen gardens, the Japanese have a long cultivated the restorative forces of natural elements, so their embrace of forest bathing is no surprise…

The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ is scientifically proven to be good for you

The tonic of the wilderness was Henry David Thoreau’s classic prescription for civilization and its discontents, offered in the 1854 essay Walden: Or, Life in the Woods. Now there’s scientific evidence supporting eco-therapy. The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. Continue reading