Miyazaki, Trees & Authentic Experience

A photograph of children walking along a path in the woods. Two of them are holding hands.

The magazine sent the Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi to Ghibli Park on a day when it was closed to the public, and she took along her daughter and some friends. Rinko Kawauchi for The New York Times

Links to the writings of Sam Anderson have not appeared in our pages before, and I almost missed this opportunity because at first appearance this article does not fit the norm for our themes. But if you read to the end, it does so in one clear way. It has to do with the power of nature, trees in particular, and once you read the article you will understand (if you are familiar with our platform). You can also listen to an audio version of this article here, but be sure to see the photos in the original publication:

Spirited Away to Miyazaki Land

What happens when the surreal imagination of the world’s greatest living animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is turned into a theme park?

A Totoro-like climbing structure. Rinko Kawauchi

As an American, I know what it feels like to arrive at a theme park. The totalizing consumerist embrace. The blunt-force, world-warping, escapist delight. I have known theme parks with entrance gates like international borders and ticket prices like mortgage payments and parking lots the size of Cleveland. I have been to Disney World, an alternate reality that basically occupies its own tax zone, with its own Fire Department and its own agriculture — a place where, before you’ve even entered, you see a 100-foot-tall electrical pole along the freeway with Mickey Mouse ears. This is a theme park’s job: to swallow the universe. To replace our boring, aimless, frustrating world with a new one made just for us. Continue reading

Lehua Kamalu Captains Hōkūleʻa,

This half hour podcast episode may be your best gateway to a weekend of healthy distraction:

She Sails the Seas Without Maps or Compasses

For nearly 50 years, a group of Hawaiians have been sailing on traditional voyaging canoes using the methods that early Polynesian explorers relied on to navigate the Pacific Ocean—without maps and modern instruments, and relying on the stars, ocean waves, birds, and other natural elements to guide them. We meet National Geographic Explorer Lehua Kamalu, the first woman to captain a long-distance voyage on Hōkūleʻa, a double-hulled Polynesian canoe that was built in Hawaii in the 1970s. She describes what it’s like to navigate in incredibly rough waters, what it means to keep Polynesian navigation alive in the 21st century, and about her next big adventure: a four-year circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean.

When Disney became the owner of Fox Entertainment’s assets, National Geographic Partners was part of the deal. We never appreciated National Geographic’s association with Fox Entertainment, nor do we think Disney is much better a fit, but we can still appreciate when they do something right.

Snow Lab & Melting

Water released from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir’s O’Shaughnessy Dam flows into the Tuolumne River. The reservoir currently supplies drinking water to 2.7 million San Francisco Bay Area residents. Photograph by Aubrey Trinnaman

We are gratified to know of such a place as a snow lab, and that their scientists share their knowledge in language we can all understand:

California’s Snow Is Melting, and It’s a Beautiful Thing

By Andrew Schwartz.

Dr. Schwartz is the lead scientist and station manager at the University of California, Berkeley, Central Sierra Snow Lab.

Photograph by Aubrey Trinnaman

SODA SPRINGS, Calif. — My fellow Californians often remark that the weather in this state seems it has been reduced to two seasons, both defined by natural disasters: In summer and fall, huge, intense wildfires rip their way across dry land, and winter and early spring bring intense atmospheric rivers with heavy rainfall, floods and landslides, along with winds that take down trees. Continue reading

Birds, Citizen Science & You

Seth has been working in various African countries recently, and is somewhere in Kenya at this moment, for work. There is a school in the vicinity, with these signs. We have not yet had the chance to hear any details about the school, but these signs anyway say most of what we might want to know.

His work, related to forest management, clearly intersects with his longstanding interest in birds, strengthened by his three years working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That period coincides with our learning about citizen science and in the years since we have shared many stories from the field.

The pictures arrived from Kenya just as this initiative between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the New York Times comes to my attention, which you might find interesting:

Mike McQuade

Go Birding With The Times

Our understanding of birds has been profoundly shaped by the work of everyday people. After all, anyone can step outside and pay attention to an untamed world swooping above. Continue reading

Greenland’s Rock Flour

Guardian graphic. Source: Guardian research

Damian Carrington, Environment editor at the Guardian, shares these findings:

Eight-thousand-year-old marine deposits, exposed by the slow rise of Greenland after the last ice age. The cliffs are about 15 metres high. Photograph: Minik Rosing

Rock ‘flour’ from Greenland can capture significant CO2, study shows

Powder produced by ice sheets could be used to help tackle climate crisis when spread on farm fields

Rock “flour” produced by the grinding under Greenland’s glaciers can trap climate-heating carbon dioxide when spread on farm fields, research has shown for the first time.

Natural chemical reactions break down the rock powder and lead to CO2 from the air being fixed in new carbonate minerals. Continue reading

Give It Up For Oysters

Among the ocean’s best filter feeders, one oyster cleans 50 gallons of water per day. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

We have linked to stories about the environmental services that oysters provide, as well as the environmental activists who leverage those services; today a riff on those topics:

Stefanie Bassett and Elizabeth Peeples left their city lives behind to raise mollusks.

The Little Ram Oyster Co., a farm of 2 million oysters on the North Fork of Long Island, started with a Groupon.

To celebrate a friend’s birthday in the summer of 2017, Stefanie Bassett and Elizabeth Peeples joined eight other enthusiasts in Long Island City to learn how to shuck oysters at a discount. The Brooklyn couple, who knew each other from middle school in Columbia, Md., always had a love for the delicacy. But as they laughed with their friends and fumbled with their oyster knives, they also listened intently as an instructor explained the history and magic of the mollusks.

Ms. Bassett and Ms. Peeples prepare oyster cages to be put into the water. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

“The thing that drew our attention was the positive environmental impact oysters have,” said Ms. Bassett, 42.

Among the ocean’s best filter feeders, one oyster cleans 50 gallons of water per day. New York was once known as “the Big Oyster,” but over-harvesting and poor water quality wiped out the population by the 21st century. The couple learned about efforts to bring them back to the harbor. Continue reading

Weed Is A Weed Is A Weed

Weeds are classified subject to norms, we have read; thanks to Rivka Galchen for reminding us, and reference to this book:

What Is a Weed?

The names we call plants say more about us than they do about the greenery that surrounds us.

Steve Brill’s first stop was the greenery behind the bike racks. Brill, who is known as Wildman Steve, picked up a weed with heart-shaped seed pods and a small, four-petalled white flower. About thirty of us were gathered for a three-hour foraging tour through Prospect Park, in Brooklyn.

Illustration by Karlotta Freier

The plant was shepherd’s purse, a name that references the seed pods’ resemblance to the containers shepherds used to make from the bladders of sheep. “It’s in the mustard family,” Brill said. “Most all of the flowers in the mustard family are four petals in the shape of a cross.” He encouraged everyone to take a bite, and to tell him what vegetable it tasted like. Continue reading

Better Living Through Birding, Christian Cooper’s Forthcoming Book

Wesley Allsbrook

Christian Cooper, an American science writer, is author of the forthcoming book (below left) from which the following essay in the New York Times is adapted:

Three Years After a Fateful Day in Central Park, Birding Continues to Change My Life

Early in the morning of May 25, 2020, I biked from my apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Central Park to go birding in the Ramble. Despite the uncertainties of the time — New Yorkers were living in a hot spot of the raging Covid pandemic, with no vaccine in sight — I strove to start this warm, sunlit Memorial Day on a happy note by wandering my favorite urban woodlands in search of migrating songbirds.

I was focused on the end-of-season hunt for a mourning warbler, a small yellow and gray skulking bird that’s difficult to spot and relatively rare. I hadn’t yet seen one that year.

Visiting the park in the morning to look for birds has long been a springtime routine for me. I wake before sunrise and grab my Swarovski binoculars — a 50th-birthday present from my father — and head out the door. Continue reading

11 Years, 11 Months & 11 Days Later

Mermaid (now in Escazu, Costa Rica), handcrafted by Rock Bottom from driftwood in Port Antonio, Jamaica

June 15, 2011 was the day we first posted on this platform, and while we have evolved since then we have remained constant and consistent in a few ways. In the daily search for something worth sharing, photos of birds from around the world have been the most constant–as in, every day since the first photo was shared by this old friend who got us started on that daily routine. Thank you, Vijaykumar, for a healthy habit-formation.

Consistent have been the shared convictions that environmental conservation, no matter how bleak the news, is worth our effort.

Maroon shaman mask with third eye for healing power (now in Ithaca, NY USA), handcrafted by Rock Bottom from driftwood in Port Antonio, Jamaica

Plenty more constantly interesting sub-topics like books and libraries, seemingly unrelated to the environment, have been the focus of daily posts; but they are related. As is artisan production, riffed upon many times in these pages, especially now that it is the focus of our day jobs.

So today, heading toward the twelve year mark posting here, a nod to an artisan named Rock Bottom. He carves driftwood in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

There is an effort in that part of Jamaica to revive and strengthen traditional crafts, and the work of Rock Bottom is a model for what we can hope to see more of. My hope is that the amazing engine of economic activity that Jamaica’s tourism sector represents will valorize his work and the work of others akin to his.

Sea Cucumbers Working Overtime

Diagram of a test project in Italy in which sea cucumbers cleaned up excrement from farmed mussels. GROSSO ET AL.

A topic that rarely, if ever, has made our pages, the sea cucumber’s moment in the spotlight has arrived:

A sea cucumber near Mindoro Island in the Philippines. IMAGEBROKER / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Are Sea Cucumbers a Cleanup Solution to Fish Farm Pollution?

Seafood farm operators are breeding and deploying sea cucumbers to vacuum up the massive amounts of fish waste that pose a major problem for their industry. It is part of an effort to redesign fish farms with multiple species so that they work more like natural ecosystems.

Sea bass at a fish farm in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Slovenia. WATERFRAME / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Off the coast of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, an underwater metropolis bustles. Sea turtles glide lazily through the surf while schools of fluorescent yellow butterflyfish weave between basketball-size sea urchins and sharp corals.

But Dave Anderson isn’t distracted by the otherworldly charm of the coral reef — he’s here on a mission. Around 70 feet below the surface, he finds his prize: a red sea cucumber. Continue reading