Forest Attrition Distance

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A forest in Oregon along Highway 30, part of which has been clear-cut. Researchers say the average distance to the nearest forest from any point in the continental United States widened in the 1990s. Credit Leah Nash for The New York Times

Thanks to the Science section of the New York Times:

How Far to the Next Forest? A New Way to Measure Deforestation

The Future Of News

2503_cover_beigeThe purpose of this, where I am typing this just now, is to share information. Sometimes that information comes in the form of a personal story, which is highly subjective but informative about the challenges, the innovations, and accomplishments related to conservation and the wellbeing of communities around the world. We depend on the New York Times for this kind of information every day, and more days than not we link out to stories they publish related to the environment, community, or other topics of interest on this platform; so this story matters to us:

ARTHUR GREGG SULZBERGER doesn’t remember the first time he visited the family business. He was young, he says, no older than 6, when he shuffled through the brass-plated revolving doors of the old concrete hulk on 43rd Street and boarded the elevator up to his father’s and grandfather’s offices. He often visited for a few minutes before taking a trip to the newsroom on the third floor, all typewriters and moldering stacks of paper, and then he’d sometimes go down to the subbasement to take in the oily scents and clanking sounds of the printing press. Continue reading

Truffle Entrepreneur, Immigrant Son’s Success

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Ian Purkayastha, the twenty-four-year-old wunderkind behind the luxury-food company Regalis, aims to “demystify this bourgeois product for a new generation.” PHOTOGRAPH BY KRISTIN GLADNEY / WIEDEN+KENNEDY

It could just be that I have had a nearly two-decade love for truffles; or the storyline combining entrepreneurship, economics and food, a mix that I favor; or maybe my being the son of an immigrant explains my response to this post at the New Yorker’s website; probably it is because I can almost picture my own son in such a story, in a parallel universe; whatever, enjoy:

HOW A TEXAS TEEN-AGER BECAME NEW YORK CITY’S PREMIER TRUFFLE DEALER

On a bare side street in Long Island City, Queens, beside Oh Bok Steel Shelving & Electric Supply, the Regalis luxury-food company keeps its goods. Upon entering the warehouse through a small red door, a visitor is immediately greeted by an intoxicating and pungent scent: the unmistakable, and nearly indescribable, odor of truffles. Continue reading

Same Jaguar, Different Camera

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Yesterday I posted a couple images from a guest’s phone camera, including one of the cat above seen through the lens of a scope. What I did not know when I posted that was that another guide, Marvin who was with two other guests, had come upon the cat first and had signaled to Luis to bring his two guests to see the cat, which seemed quite relaxed in this location. Al Erickson, who is at Chan Chich primarily for photographing birds, took the photo above. Incidentally, he and his wife were the ones who pointed us to Bird Tales.

Jaguar & Other Surprises At Chan Chich Lodge

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I was just starting to think how surprisingly awesome broccoli is, when a guest at Chan Chich Lodge showed me the photo he took about an hour ago. It was taken using his phone, through the scope that our guide Luis had while they were on the morning Gallon Jug tour. That complements well, to say the least, the photo the guest took with just his phone last night. Continue reading

Fossils, In Technicolor, Can Get You Thinking

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Evidence of marine life that was thriving about 1.3 million years after the largest mass extinction on Earth has been found in what is now Paris Canyon in Idaho. Credit Jorge Gonzalez

The moment I saw this illustration above I was taken back to the books of my childhood–the ones my parents knew I liked the best, and a favored gift on birthdays, with fantastic illustrations of prehistoric creatures. These books also taught me the value of a public library, where I could triple my inventory for weeks at a time, and they kept my flashlight in use after lights out.  Thanks to illustrator Jorge Gonzaelez for this memory, and for providing another reason to appreciate the importance of the work of Nicholas St. Fleur and his contemporaries, the new generation of science writers who bring natural history to life:

After Earth’s Worst Mass Extinction, Life Rebounded Rapidly, Fossils Suggest

By Nicholas St. Fleur

One day when L. J. Krumenacker was a teenager, he left his home to hunt for fossils. He drove about an hour and a half to Paris Canyon in Bear Lake County in southeastern Idaho and stopped at a foothill covered in sagebrush. Mr. Krumenacker got out of his car, picked up the first large rock he saw and smashed it with a hammer, uncovering seven or eight fossilized shark teeth. Continue reading

Recommended By Guests At Chan Chich Lodge

bird-tales-kitWhen guests of Chan Chich Lodge told me last evening about their local Audubon Center in Connecticut (USA), my first thought was a memory of the Audubon Center in my hometown, also in Connecticut, and how essential it was to the decisions I made to do what I do today.

Then they mentioned Bird Tales, and I had never heard of anything like this before, but it made so much sense to me I thought I should excerpt the description here and point it out to the many bird-centric visitors to our platform here (click the image to the left to go to the website of the Center that created the program):

…Initially working with four facilities operated by Transcon Corporation, our Audubon Center Bent of the River Education Program Manager, Ken Elkins, incorporated Audubon at Home environmental principles into the goals of these facilities to improve the quality of life for their residents. Continue reading

Chef Ram At Chan Chich Lodge

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Chef Ram and I have multiple chef colleagues and foodie friends in common, but this is the first chance that he and I have had to work together. I have been looking forward to this opportunity for quite some time.

He will be expanding and strengthening the farm to table program that Chan Chich Lodge started nearly three decades ago. He will work primarily with Amie, whose success with food programming (and places where that food is enjoyed, which has also been widely appreciated) in India since 2010 made sure that the projects got attention. You will see those ideas here, so stay tuned. Continue reading

Art as Public Domain

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)

In these current times when Art, Culture and Civility appear to be under constant attack, news that museums and galleries – both private and public – are opening their virtual archives of Public Domain artworks to be just that, public, is newsworthy.

For example, a click on the image to the left takes viewers to the Metropolitan Museum’s website that includes not only the full details of the painting (description, catalogue entry, provenance and exhibition history, etc.), but also a hyperlink to a map of the gallery where viewers can find the actual painting, and related objects within the museum’s vast collection.

We’re happy to know that museums, whether virtual or physical, still provide inclusive space to breathe deep.

Met Museum Makes 375,000 Images Free

Continue reading

A Sensory Experience of South India, through words and photographs

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

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

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

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

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

I Hope To See You At Chan Chich Lodge

CCLWalk.jpgYesterday in these pages we welcomed you to visit the new website for and the actual place, Chan Chich Lodge. It bears repeating. This time by me personally. Please come here.

The snapshot to the right, taken on my phone just minutes ago on my morning walk, says the same. If you combine it with the last time I was walking these paths, you will see one more reason why I walk every morning.

I walk the roads and paths at Chan Chich every morning with the hope of seeing wildlife, and knowing that breathing the air here is better than doing so almost anywhere else on the planet. It is pure.

Between the puma-sighting snapshot and now I was in India. I have just arrived to Belize again and expect to be here for some time. I did not see any big cats this morning, but the birdlife is as abundant as ever, and their song just now provides very good cheer. If you need more information on why to come to Chan Chich, or how, or when, just let me know.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in La Paz

Last week, Jocelyn and I took the three-hour drive from Villa del Faro to La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur. After about seventy minutes on the dirt coastal road that runs along the East Cape, one reaches the asphalt road near La Ribera, which connects to Mexico’s Route 1, a well-paved highway that runs from San José del Cabo all the way north to Tijuana (1,654km away). Before heading anywhere near that far, however, we turned off at the La Paz exit, to explore the port city home to over 200,000 people.

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If you look at a map of the geography surrounding La Paz, you can see that it is quite sheltered from the ocean, with a chunk of land protecting it on the east side, a thin strip closing in from the west, and a long bay running to the north, all this in the relatively calmer Gulf of California. In 1535 the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés tried to start a colony in the area, but it wasn’t fully settled till over sixty years later.

Today, the main tourist attractions to La Paz are marine in nature, Continue reading

Raduan Nassar, Back To The Land

9780811226561On January 31st, 2017 New Directions Publishing is bringing this masterpiece, published originally in Brazil in 1984, to an English-reading audience for the first time:

For André, a young man growing up on a farm in Brazil, life consists of “the earth, the wheat, the bread, our table, and our family.” He loves the land, fears his austere, pious father, who preaches from the head of the table as if from a pulpit, and loathes himself as he begins to harbor shameful feelings for his sister Ana. Lyrical and sensual, written with biblical intensity, this classic Brazilian coming-of-age novel follows André’s tormented path. He falls into the comforting embrace of liquor as—in his psychological and sexual awakening—he must choose between body and soul, obligation and freedom.

I was completing a degree in literature the year this was first published, but Portuguese was not an option for my reading, nor was Brazil really on my map at that time. As a result, or for whatever other reasons, I never heard of this book before.

Work assignments took me to Brazil several times in the intervening decades, and Latin America has been home base for most of the last two decades. I know I must read this, and soon, so it has just moved to the top of my next-book list. But for a very different reason the author has my attention, thanks to this:

WHY BRAZIL’S GREATEST WRITER STOPPED WRITING

In 1984, at the height of his literary fame, Raduan Nassar announced his retirement, to become a farmer. Continue reading

Montenegro, 2017

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Wild and wet … Lake Skadar national park, Montenegro. Photograph: Alamy

It is now ancient history, but it may as well be yesterday, since I can look at the photo above and it has no less of an impact on me. When Montenegro was still part of what remained of ex-Yugoslavia, La Paz Group worked in partnership with UNDP on a project for the Prime Minister of this soon-to-be independent nation. He was visionary, and wanted to replicate what Costa Rica had accomplished as a small ecologically diverse country–harnessing sustainable development to ensure his country would not become the victim of the forces of mass tourism.

Skadar Lake was the crown jewel in the country’s potential attraction of ecologically-oriented travelers, and the perfect complement to the wild beauty of the coast line and the spectacular mountains. Montenegro has done a very good job in the decades since my first visit to Skadar Lake (standing exactly where the photographer above stood, looking at my own photos from that visit), communicating its commitment to those principles. Nonetheless, the challenges never go away, so we wish them continued success in fighting the dark forces:

Montenegro’s pristine Lake Skadar threatened by new resort

Tourism in Montenegro is booming, but the approval of plans for a new ‘eco-resort’ has led to protests from conservationists who fear it will threaten a stunning national park Continue reading

Ruby Sea Dragon, First Live Portrait

 

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A ruby sea dragon that washed up on the Point Culver cliffs in Western Australia. Credit Zoe Della Vedova

Click the image above, a Ruby Sea Dragon washed ashore, to go to a moving image of another member of this creature’s species, alive and well in the wild waters off Australia:

For the First Time, a Ruby Sea Dragon Flaunts in Front of the Camera

By

Famous for their flamboyant, leaflike appendages and mesmerizing movements, sea dragons are aquatic works of art. Since the 19th century, marine biologists had thought that only two types of these enchanting fish existed — the leafy and weedy — until they discovered a third among museum specimens in 2015: the ruby sea dragon. Continue reading

Coffee, Birds & How They Matter

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Our lives in the New World Tropics has allowed a frequent convergence between birds and coffee, even in the most simple terms of enjoying birdsong in our garden over the first morning cup. That very garden of our home in Costa Rica sits in what was historically cafetal (a coffee finca), with large trees shading the coffee that still grows along the little stream that runs along the property line. Blue-crowned motmots (the Central American cousin to the Andean Motmot mentioned below, have been frequent residents.

The coffee plantings at our home are insignificant compared to the 100+ acres of Gallon Jug Estate shade-grown coffee at Chan Chich. Of the nearly 350 bird species recorded in the Chan Chich Reserve’s 30,000 acres, a large percentage are migratory, making their home in the coffee as well as the healthy forest habitats that make up the reserve.

Sustainable agriculture is rarely a “get rich quick scheme”, but taken within the context of the “seventh generation stewardship”, the benefits will continue to outweigh the costs.

In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds and People Alike

By Gustave Axelson

Early one morning last January, I drank Colombian coffee the Colombian way—tinto, or straight dark.

I sipped my tinto while sitting on a Spanish colonial veranda at Finca Los Arrayanes, a fourth-generation coffee farm and hotel deep in northwestern Colombia’s Antioquia region. The sun had not yet risen above the high ridges of the northern Andes. In the ambient gray predawn light, the whirring nocturnal forest insects were just beginning to quiet down.

My senses of taste and smell were consumed by the coffee, which was strong and bold in a pure way, the flavor flowing directly from the beans, not a burnt layer of roast. But my eyes were trained on a small wooden platform that held a couple of banana halves. The first bird to visit was an Andean Motmot, one of Colombia’s many Alice in Wonderland–type fantastical birds. It sported a green-and-turquoise coat and black eye mask, and it was huge—longer than my forearm, with a long tail with two circles at the end that swung rhythmically from side to side like the pendulum of a clock.

The motmot flew away and I took another sip of coffee to be sure I didn’t dream it. Another bird soon landed on the platform to pick at the bananas. This one was yellow, though Colombians call it tangara roja, because males of this species are completely red. In its breeding range, birders from the Carolinas to Texas know it as the Summer Tanager.

For more than 5 million years, a rainbow of Neotropical migrant birds (tanagers, warblers, and orioles) has been embarking on epic annual migrations from breeding grounds in North America to the New World tropics. In Colombia, these wintering areas are a lot different now than they were just 50 years ago. From the 1970s to the 1990s, more than 60 percent of Colombian coffee lands were cleared of forest as new varieties of sun-grown coffee were planted. During that same period, populations for many Neotropical migrant species plummeted—a drop many scientists say is related to deforestation of the birds’ wintering areas across Central and South America.

And yet, coffee doesn’t require deforestation. Continue reading

2017, Year Of Wilderness Conservation, Farming & Food

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A few days ago Arnay, the General Manager of Chan Chich Lodge, posted a snapshot of the sightings board just outside the reception area, where guests share what they have seen on any given day while trekking with guides, or trekking solo. 2016 was not exceptional for Chan Chich, but it was another year of exceptional opportunity to witness the abundance that comes with committed conservation.

The big cats made their presence known day after day after day. The entire food chain on which they depend was right there with them, well balanced in the 30,000 acres of forest that Chan Chich protects, surrounded by an additional nearly half million acres that other private conservation-minded land-owners protect in northwest Belize. Continue reading

‘Tis the Season for Creative Arborescent Decision-Making

photo credit: Carol Fernandez

photo credit: Carol Fernandez

Real Vs. Fake Trees – Which is Better for the Environment?

Tis the season for an age-old question: Which kind of Christmas tree – real or fake – is better for the environment?

We love this question, because it’s an example of a simple choice that anyone and everyone can make that can reduce our impacts on the environment.

We also love this question because, like many environmental issues, the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Our #1 recommendation? Buy a real tree. Read on for more details on the impacts of both real and fake Christmas trees, and then make the choice that’s right for you. And check out our 12 Tree Tips for other earth-friendly holiday decoration tips.

REAL CHRISTMAS TREES

In 2015, 26.9 million trees were purchased from live Christmas tree farms – more than twice the number of fake trees purchased (12 million).   Continue reading

Big Weather & Big Cats At Chan Chich Lodge

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is of interest because it is a pioneer in conservation in Belize–as Chan Chich Lodge is in its own way. But in writing about it Vicky Croke, for The Wild Life at WBUR (National Public Radio, Boston, USA), reminds a few of us of our time in Belize during Earl, and the aftermath during which jaguar sitings have been, and continue to be, inexplicably spectacular:

Jaguars Interrupted: Counting Big Cats After A Hurricane

Two months after Earl hit Belize, researchers at the world’s first jaguar reserve are still taking stock.

By Vicki Croke

This past summer, within days of gathering spectacular camera-trap footage of a female jaguar and her two tiny cubs sauntering through the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, field scientists with Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, got the news that a tropical storm was forming and might just come their way. Continue reading