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.
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.
It may be the Francophile in me that appreciates this story. Or maybe living surrounded by the sounds described in the story below helps me to take a position on roosters like the petition-signers all over France. Modern sensibilities include expectations to be shielded from such sounds, but equally modern sensibilities are emerging that remind us where food comes from, and ways in which we should respect the traditional life of rural areas.
Corinne Fesseau with her rooster, Maurice, in the garden of her house in Saint-Pierre d’Oléron, France. Kasia Strek for The New York Times
SAINT-PIERRE-D’OLÉRON, France — The rooster was annoyed and off his game. He shuffled, clucked and puffed out his russet plumage. But he didn’t crow. Not in front of all these strangers.
“You see, he’s very stressed out,” said his owner, Corinne Fesseau. “I’m stressed, so he’s stressed out. He’s not even singing any more.” She picked up Maurice the rooster and hugged him. “He’s just a baby,” she said.
Ms. Fesseau, a retired waitress, has defended Maurice vehemently. “A rooster needs to express himself,” she said. Kasia Strek for The New York Times
Maurice has become the most famous chicken in France, but as always in a country where hidden significance is never far from the surface, he is much more than just a chicken.
He has become a symbol of a perennial French conflict — between those for whom France’s countryside is merely a backdrop for pleasant vacations, and the people who actually inhabit it.
Maurice and his owner are being sued by a couple of neighbors. They are summer vacationers who, like thousands of others, come for a few weeks a year to Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, the main town on an island off France’s western coast full of marshes and “simple villages all whitewashed like Arab villages, dazzling and tidy,” as the novelist Pierre Loti wrote in the 1880s.
These neighbors, a retired couple from near the central French city of Limoges, say the rooster makes too much noise and wakes them up. They want a judge to remove him. Continue reading
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:
You 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.
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
This oasis of green in the hyper-developed city has an important job: it can contain one million gallons of water. Here’s how.
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:
Rainwater flows from the green roof through wetlands that frame two sides of the park into the retention pond; water can also collect in the detention lawn.
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.
Stationary bikes serve two purposes: to give people a workout and to keep the pond water from getting stagnant.
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.”
An installation at The State Library of Victoria during White Night in 2014. The library hosted almost 2 million visitors last financial year. Kerry O’Brien publicity
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
A recent message from Rwanda, in spite of what I said about Seth being plenty verbal, was as quiet as what you see above. Amie, whose eye inclines this way and makes sure our platform shares stories like this, thought it was the fruit we were supposed to guess the identity of. Because of my coffee focus of the last year, and Seth’s experience planting coffee, I immediately thought it was about whatever pest might be ravaging the leaves. Neither. Continue reading
I just checked the index of my dissertation to see if this book to the right is listed. It is not. Strange.
Rarely has a single idea had so much impact on me. Creative destruction, a concept that Joseph Schumpeter is most famous for, comes from that book. I will not try to explain it here because either you already know what it means or else you should really read it from the source.
In my dissertation I was interested in the impact of the efforts of entrepreneurs–specifically every single one of the thousands of entrepreneurs that started up a hotel business from the 1880s to the 1980s on both the Canadian and US side of Niagara Falls–to join together to develop a mutually beneficial solution when facing a collective threat. In this century-long story I had metrics to determine how those efforts impacted the likelihood of a hotelier’s staying in business after starting up. Niagara Falls was at risk of being ruined as a natural attraction. Hoteliers on each side of the border joined one another, cooperating with their direct competitors, to find a solution to that risk. Hoteliers, independently of the actions of those on the other side, jointly invested in conservation initiatives. The rich quantitative data show that on the side of the border that invested more heavily in conservation, over the course of 100 years hotels had fewer failures (permanent closure) overall. Bravo, Canada. Continue reading
About one year in to our time in India Amie got us involved in an initiative that helped reduce our carbon footprint by ensuring that the bags we used in our hotel gift shops contained no plastic. Instead we used bags made from recycled newspaper. We were fortunate enough to have an intern from Amherst College that summer who wanted to work on this. His enthusiasm for the project was so infectious that other interns joined him. Sung Ho Paik, being from Korea, has what I believe is K-pop accompanying his video below.
We were still expanding this initiative with intern assistance years later. Items sold in our gift shops in Kerala followed the lead of the takeaway bag initiative, and elephant paper may be an extreme example but is a useful segue to what is on my mind today. We had the opportunity to join forces with an excellent local design firm in their idea to launch a retail concept with the kind of products that we have always believed in. We believe in ideas that support entrepreneurial conservation with great design.
Authentica springs from these roots, and the culture of conservation is clearly a guiding force in what will be on offer.
Nobuaki Mizumoto first saw this fossil at the dinosaur museum in his hometown. MIZUMOTO / PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B
Collective action, mentioned in the title of a 2011 post on this platform and many times since, is a concept puzzling enough in the here and now. Or in the case of my doctoral dissertation, the recent past.
How did they all die at once?
In 2016, Nobuaki Mizumoto was visiting the dinosaur museum in his hometown of Katsuyama, Japan, when he came across an unexpected display—not of a dinosaur, but of a school of fish. It was embedded in limestone shale and exhibited in a corner with no particular fanfare. Yet the 50-million-year-old fossil was clearly extraordinary: 259 tiny fish bodies with eyes and spines and even fins. All but a few faced the same direction, as if frozen mid-swim.
Mizumoto does not specialize in fish or fossils, but he does study the collective behavior of termites at Arizona State University. He became intrigued by the idea that this fish fossil showed collective behavior, too. When fish form schools, they have to coordinate their swimming, staying together without crashing into one another. Continue reading
Inslee announcing his run for the Democratic presidential nomination on March 1 at a solar panel installation company in Seattle. AP PHOTO/TED S. WARREN
We have been diligent, if not perfect, about keeping politics off this platform. For anyone who takes climate change seriously, and who understands how important the USA is to the future of the planet due to its outsized carbon footprint as well as its historic geopolitical influence, that is a tough constraint. But this interview is a must read, thanks to one of our favorite climate conversationalists:
Jay Inslee has made climate change the centerpiece of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. In an e360 interview, the Washington governor talks about why a full-scale national mobilization is needed to address what he calls an “existential crisis.”
Jay Inslee is often called the “climate change candidate.” The two-term governor of Washington state launched his presidential campaign in March at a solar panel installation company in Seattle. He said he was joining the crowded field of Democratic candidates because “we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”
Inslee has since unveiled two major climate change proposals. One would require“zero-emission” electricity generation across the U.S. by 2035. The other calls for the federal government to invest $3 trillion over a decade to upgrade buildings, create “climate-smart infrastructure,” encourage “clean manufacturing,” and research “next-generation” energy technologies. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, one of the authors of the Green New Deal, recently tweeted that Inslee’s plans were “the most serious + comprehensive” of any of the candidate’s. Continue reading
The image above was taken after the last giraffe photo, but I do not know where. Today Seth sent more photos after he and his colleagues hiked up, through a national park, to the upper reaches of a volcano.
Hiked to the summit of Visoke volcano in the national park, the toughest hike I’ve done just for elevation (got up to 3711 meters asl) through the wettest slush mud
Seth is plenty verbal. But under these circumstance I appreciated the parsimony of words in his message accompanying the photos. I have been at that altitude and it does not encourage chit chat.
We have lived and worked in beautiful places; again, all I can say is I look forward to Ghana.
And again, my favorite image is not the one I would have expected.
In the well-kept hives tended by beekeeper Fred Merriam in Georgia, every bee has a job to do. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times
Kim Severson last caught my attention about a year ago. She covers food culture for the New York Times, and this is the fifth time we have found a story of hers a perfect fit for our platform’s themes. Food intersecting with conservation is always welcome, and honey specifically is on my mind these days. Honey bees? Always of interest. During our transition from India back to Costa Rica over the last two years we spent much of our time in Atlanta. The honey in this story was available in the farmer’s market we shopped at, and we occasionally indulged. I am gratified to learn more about it here:
Hurricanes, blights and encroaching development have cut into the harvest in Florida and Georgia, but a small cadre of beekeepers still fiercely pursues this lucrative prize.
Tupelo trees, which produce small, nectar-filled light green and white flowers for two weeks each spring, rise out of swamps in the Altamaha River Basin in southeastern Georgia. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times
ODUM, Ga. — The most expensive honey in America starts in these mucky Southern swamps, where white Ogeechee tupelo trees twist up out of water so dark you can’t tell if that was an alligator or a snake that just broke the surface.
Tupelo honey fresh from the comb has a distinctive light green tint. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times
For two precious weeks each spring in this slice of southeastern Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle, tupelo trees bloom with pale, fragile flowers that look like pompoms for tiny cheerleaders. Beekeepers tuck their hives along the banks, or occasionally float them out into the water on rafts. Then the bees get to work, making honey that looks and tastes like no other.
Good tupelo will glow with a light green tint, especially when it’s fresh from the comb and bathed in sunlight. The first taste is of cinnamon with a tingle of anise. That gives way to a whisper of jasmine and something citrusy — tangerine rind, maybe? The honey is so soft, light and buttery that the only logical move is to chase it with another spoonful. Continue reading
Seth sent a few more messages, in the form of images, from Rwanda. One day soon I will describe what he is doing there, but for now the images say more than enough.
While elephants are a childhood favorite animal for Seth, he had seen Asian elephants in the wild, so that probably made seeing giraffe the charismatic topper so far.
Once zebra is added to the list of species seen, it might start feeling like all is well in the wild (even if we know it is not).
Waterbuck with African Fish-Eagle
One of the few photos that had any words to explain was this one, which is to be expected of a birder in the realm of charismatic megafauna.
But of all the photos, the one that caught my eye was the one above, which I do not yet have an explanation for but it is in surrounded by the following photos which put it in some context.
That gives a hint.
This answers the question.
And this makes it crystal clear. Seth had already sent an image from an earlier field visit that he knew would catch my attention.
The origins of Organikos can be traced to a project I led in 2005 in Paraguay, where I had the idea that wild-hunted honey from the Pantanal region could share the taste of place with the world while at the same time providing much-needed cash infusion to the honey hunters and the protection of their wilderness areas. Seth knows that story and knows to send me photos of honey from wild places as a polite indication that the idea was a good one, if not original.
This video expresses the concept of artisan ethos in almost too many ways to count: from the centuries old traditions of weaving in India , to creative communities coming together to rebuild cultural patrimony in the face of natural disasters, not to mention the well-crafted visual storytelling of the piece itself. (Kudos yet again to Anoodha and her Curiouser team for their own style of weaving.) Continue reading
The average greenhouse gas impact (in kilograms of CO2) of getting 50 grams of protein from various food types. Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science
We have been on the lookout since we started this platform for stories like this. There have been too many to link back to.Thanks to this team of collaborators I have just read a primer that is more clear, convincing and relatively painless in its instruction on how to change my diet than any of the earlier ones:
How to shop, cook and eat in a warming world.
By Julia Moskin, Brad Plumer, Rebecca Lieberman and Eden Weingart. Graphics by Nadja Popovich. Illustrations by Cari Vander Yacht
Does what I eat have an effect on climate change?
Yes. The world’s food system is responsible for about one-quarter of the planet-warming greenhouse gases that humans generate each year. That includes raising and harvesting all the plants, animals and animal products we eat — beef, chicken, fish, milk, lentils, kale, corn and more — as well as processing, packaging and shipping food to markets all over the world. If you eat food, you’re part of this system.
How exactly does food contribute to global warming?
Lots of ways. Here are four of the biggest: When forests are cleared to make room for farms and livestock — this happens on a daily basis in some parts of the world — large stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere, which heats up the planet. When cows, sheep and goats digest their food, they burp up methane, another potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Animal manure and rice paddies are also big methane sources. Finally, fossil fuels are used to operate farm machinery, make fertilizer and ship food around the globe, all of which generate emissions.
Seth is in Rwanda, and until now only one of his photos was posted here. His last written post on this platform was about a year ago, when he was preparing for graduate school, but since then dozens of his photographs have been shared here as bird of the day. I do not expect him to have time to share written description here of his work in Rwanda, so I will share some of the photos he is sending us.
I do not know where these places are, yet. But I hope to hear soon.
La Paz Group was part of a consortium a decade ago competing for a project, funded by USAID, to assist Rwanda’s government with planning for the future of nature-based tourism. Our proposal was not the winning proposal, so I did not have the chance to see the country in person. Yet. But based on these photos, I will.
My last long term assignment in Africa was in Ghana. My last prospecting for a long term assignment was in Ethiopia. Both of those countries are worthy of revisiting, and I intend to do so. But Rwanda has jumped to the top of the must visit list in Africa.
What is not visible in any of these photos is Seth’s encounters with wildlife. I have heard about gorillas, chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and plenty of bird species. He has sent pictures of wildflowers, mushrooms, ants. Not just any ants. Driver Ants! But for now, the bucolic natural and manicured landscapes are enough to convince me.
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.
In my daily scan for information related to the environment, I invariably learn something that surprises me. Like the fact that the earthworm, which provide valuable ecosystem services, can also represent danger on a global scale:
Worms are wriggling into Earth’s northernmost forests, creating major unknowns for climate-change models.
Earthworms recently have spread to Alaska’s boreal forest. In some areas, the biomass of earthworms is 500 times greater than that of moose, a keystone species. Lance King/Getty Images
Cindy Shaw, a carbon-research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, studies the boreal forest — the world’s most northerly forest, which circles the top of the globe like a ring of hair around a balding head.
A few years ago, while conducting a study in northern Alberta to see how the forest floor was recovering after oil and gas activity, she saw something she had never seen there before: earthworms.
“I was amazed,” she said. “At the very first plot, there was a lot of evidence of earthworm activity.”
Native earthworms disappeared from most of northern North America 10,000 years ago, during the ice age. Now invasive earthworm species from southern Europe — survivors of that frozen epoch, and introduced to this continent by European settlers centuries ago — are making their way through northern forests, their spread hastened by roads, timber and petroleum activity, tire treads, boats, anglers and even gardeners. Continue reading
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.