The Wonderful World Of Harbingers

Moments after posting about this owl, an email promoting a course about owls appeared in my inbox. Owls have been considered harbingers in different folk and mythic traditions, none of which I subscribe to. A harbinger event on the computer is now most likely an algorithmic event, where one thing triggered another on purpose. Normally I find those intrusive, at best. But, I get emails from the Lab of Ornithology frequently and this one came a few days after the news of the owl in Central Park. Did they put together this course and promo after seeing the publicity that the Central Park owl was getting? If so, bravo. Quick reaction. Well communicated. Watch the brief video that came in the email and tell me you have no interest:

As creatures of the night, owls can seem mysterious and kind of spooky. Some people think of them as bad omens, harbingers of death. But they can also be symbols of knowledge and wisdom.

Owls have fascinated people for millennia. Everyone knows what an owl is, even if you haven’t actually seen one in real life. They’re instantly recognizable, with their large, round heads, flat faces, and forward staring eyes. We seem to be drawn to them because they resemble people. They’re definitely birds, but they also kind of look like us…

Some people are interested in learning more about birds, others are not, but this lesson plan sounds like a good one for starters: Continue reading

Winged Victory Of Central Park

Barry’s fans, in the North Woods of Central Park. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Two years ago when a mandarin duck caught the attention of New Yorkers, and others with avian interests, I was struck by the diversionary value. Now, even more than then, winged diversion is welcome. This one provided me a diversion within a diversion. A sculpture dedicated on a Greek island more than two thousand years ago honored a victory, and the sculptor chose the goddess of victory to represent that honor. At that time, the goddess was always depicted with wings. If victory has been on your mind lately, you might see this owl as a harbinger.

Barry the Barred Owl is New York City’s bird of the moment. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

That’s up to you. Even without thinking of victory, a good owl photo is always a welcome diversion. The photograph by Joshua Kristal (click the image below to go to his Instagram feed) is particularly well composed. My thanks to Lisa M. Collins for this story:

‘I Had to See That Owl’: Central Park’s New Celebrity Bird

New Yorkers are so obsessed with Barry the barred owl that some are concerned he could be scared away. So far, he seems to like the attention.

Joshua Kristal finally got to see (and photograph) Barry during a Birding Bob night tour through Central Park earlier this month. Joshua Kristal

It was late afternoon in the North Woods of Central Park, and the sun was setting fast. Joshua Kristal, a photographer with a penchant for birds, was starting to feel despondent as he searched along the creek, looking for any movement. This was the third time he’d traveled more than an hour from Brooklyn to see Manhattan’s newest celebrity bird: an ethereal and majestic barred owl.

Currently known as Barry, the owl has intense black eyes and elegant poufs of white feathers streaked with brown and gray. He looks like a perfect stuffed animal from a high-end toy store. But Barry is also unusual. Though owls are typically nocturnal, he makes regular daytime appearances, and has become something of a performer. Practically vogueing, he stares, preens and swoops into the shallow stream to wash and flick his feathers. Barry will turn his head 270 degrees right and left and up above to check for his archenemy, the hawk. He plucks chipmunks with his talons and devours them, seemingly unfazed by adoring fans and the paparazzi, many of whom have already made him Instagram-famous. Continue reading

Major Marine Sanctuary, An Unexpected Gift Of 2020

The marine sanctuary off Tristan da Cunha will be the fourth largest in the world. Photograph: Andy Schofield/RSPB/PA

The Guardian shares some welcome conservation news from a lesser-known bit of land surrounded by plenty water-based wildlife:

Tiny Atlantic island takes giant leap towards protecting world’s oceans

UK overseas territory Tristan da Cunha’s new marine protected area will be fourth largest sanctuary of its kind

Rockhopper penguins on Tristan da Cunha will be among a wealth of marine life to benefit. Photograph: Trevor Glass/RSPB/PA

A community of 250 people on one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth has made a significant contribution to marine wildlife conservation by banning bottom-trawling fishing, deep-sea mining and other harmful activities from its waters.

The government of Tristan da Cunha, a volcanic archipelago in the south Atlantic and part of the UK’s overseas territories, has announced that almost 700,000 sq km of its waters will become a marine protected area (MPA), the fourth largest such sanctuary in the world. Continue reading

Authentica & Sense Of Place

After completing our work in India and transitioning home to Costa Rica in late 2018, two properties came back to the forefront of my attention. The property above is set on a coffee estate in the Central Valley and the one below is set on a Pacific beachfront property that is 90 minutes from the Central Valley property. I knew both properties during their original construction and opening phases and ever since then believed that these were among the most special Marriott properties in the world.

They were going through renovations that started in 2018 and were to be completed in late 2019. My attention was drawn by a creative new focus on sustainability, the tiniest of examples being this one. Another example was that they invited proposals for how the gift shops in both hotels might be managed differently going forward. We submitted a proposal–with a focus on locally produced and design-forward products–and it was chosen for implementation. The rest is history that I have written about plenty in the last year.

Authentica has started its second year of operation, and Costa Rica has just re-opened its borders to receive international visitors again. These two Marriott properties have transformed operations to ensure maximum safety in response to the global health concerns. Our shops have transformed accordingly, and yet our original intent is as strong as ever: come in and sense the place.

Organikos coffee, our best-selling “taste of place” product, was joined in both shops last week by another way to sense the terrain of Costa Rica’s various regions. Pollen Keepers is a small family business whose bee colonies are placed to capture unique characteristics of a location. One of those is a coffee farm, and the honey produced there is unlike any I have had before. I am still learning the vocabulary for tasting notes for honey, which we have been sampling in recent weeks at home, so will keep it simple: Cafetal is my favorite, so far.

Simile, Smile, Citizen Science & Civil Society

Michael Bohmeyer, center, riding his bicycle in the office of “My Basic Income,” the website he founded to provide a monthly basic income for 600 randomly selected people. Moving helps him think, he said. Lena Mucha for The New York Times

In the fifth paragraph of this article, which I started to get a better understanding of the European approach to universal basic income, my attention was caught by a simile:

“We have a lot of ‘citizen scientists’ counting birds, and giving the data to scientists. This is like that, but for civil society.”

Since we have featured so many stories and articles about bird-focused citizen science, the simile caused a smile. Continue reading

Foodways As Tangible & Intangible Heritage

In the 1960s, the Green Revolution placed a premium on high crop yields over factors such as crop diversity and soil preservation. Photograph: Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters

2010-2017, from our base in Kerala, India one of our primary activities was food heritage preservation. And it is a constant theme in these pages. Along the way it became clear that both foodstuffs, the tangible things that are used to make food, and foodways, the intangible knowhow for using foodstuffs to make food, are equally worthy of our attention. Thanks to the Guardian for sharing this:

‘Mind-boggling variety’: the food crusaders preserving India’s heritage

A rich range of native crops and seeds is being nurtured in an effort to halt the country’s rapidly vanishing food diversity

Babita Bhatt left a career in software to launch her own business in natural products grown in the Himalayas. Photograph: Handout

A small army of botanical heritage enthusiasts is spearheading a movement in India for the revival and preservation of the country’s rapidly vanishing food biodiversity by bringing back the rich crop varieties that thrived in the past, but are now on the verge of extinction.

Babita Bhatt, a 43-year-old former software professional, is just one of these crusaders, who are eschewing established careers and fat pay packets to become farmers, activists and entrepreneurs.

Fear of feeding her young daughter foods covered in pesticides was the trigger for Bhatt to move to the hills of Uttarakhand. Trading a steady income for the financial insecurity of an entrepreneur, she launched Himalaya2Home, a self-funded venture, in 2018. Continue reading

The Language We Use To Know About Plants

Like Magnolia, Begonia, Iris and a few others, the genus name Camellia has been assimilated into English, rather than having a common name assigned to it. “A handful of iconic garden plants have names that are easy to pronounce and spell, and are so widely used that they’re devoid of dread,” said Ross Bayton, the author of “The Gardener’s Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names.” Drawing from “The Gardener’s Botanical.”

Thanks to Margaret Roach for this review, whose subtitle–Latin might seem like an obscure, inscrutable language for naming plants. But it can open up the botanical world in ways you can’t imagine–is its central recommendation. Things I can’t imagine, maybe especially when I need to make a Plan B for planting, are a welcome resource these days. As always, if you decide to acquire this book and can do so from an independent bookseller you will be doing the world a favor:

Simply knowing a plant’s genus, such as Hydrangea, doesn’t tell you the whole story. The second word in the botanical Latin binomial — the species name or specific epithet modifying the genus — offers further clues, perhaps describing the plant’s place of origin or its appearance. In the case of Hydrangea macrophylla, it means big leaf. Drawing from “The Gardener’s Botanical.”

The plants are trying to tell us something — if only we’d learn their official language, botanical Latin.

“I am the Allium with just one leaf,” says Allium unifolium. (Get it?)

“I am the juniper that carpets the ground,” says Juniperus horizontalis (whose alternate name, Juniperus prostrata, nails its appearance, too).

And Aster alpinus chimes in: “My ancestors hailed from above the timber line — you know, like, the Alps. I won’t appreciate some sodden, clayey spot in your garden.”

Not all plant names offer such easy clues about traits like appearance, preferred conditions or place of origin. Continue reading

If You Can, Consider Buying Your Books From An Independent Bookstore

Shoppers waited to enter the Strand on Sunday after the bookstore said its business “had become unsustainable.” Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Books and the love of books have been a constant theme since early posts on this platform. Likewise, libraries are in these pages frequently due to their important and sometimes essential role to communities; and of course librarians can change lives. Bookstores, cultural institutions in their own right, show up plenty in our pages. The Strand has not, even though it has multigenerational resonance in our family. Today it is newsworthy for complex reasons. The title almost says it all. Book lovers respond, for reasons that all our other posts about books and book places hint at. For me the subheading has the word that caught my attention. While book lovers and bookstore lovers respond to this shop’s call for help, some of the shop’s resources were invested awkwardly (I have hinted at such awkwardness plenty of times). When an independent bookseller is an option, consider the value they represent. Meanwhile, thanks to Sean Piccoli and Elizabeth A. Harris for this:

The Strand Calls for Help, and Book Lovers Answer

“It’s awkward because the track record for the ownership here is not great,” one customer said. “But it’s also an institution. My parents shopped here.”

For months, the Strand bookstore in downtown Manhattan, from its fiction stacks to its cookbook section to its rare books, has been nearly deserted. But on Sunday, half an hour before the store was scheduled to open, about a dozen people lined up in the cool fall breeze, waiting to get inside. Continue reading

Intimate Ecological Ethos

A view of the Cherry Esplanade from the top of the Robert W. Wilson Overlook at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Beyond books and other published material, New Yorkers have plenty of places to see natural spectacles, places where nature can be better understood in an otherwise concrete jungle. Ecological ethos describes the new feel of the intimate 52 acres in one of those places:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Turns Over a New Leaf

A wild meadow and woodland ‘ruin’ are now on exuberant display. The new, ecologically minded garden boasts shaggy clouds of vegetation.

Lavender asters burst through ground-hugging meadow species at the overlook. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Only a skeleton staff at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden witnessed the blizzard of cherry blossoms scattered by spring breezes during the pandemic shutdown. Delicate blooms of wisteria tumbled over pergolas and plump roses unfurled with no appreciative fans to say “Oooh.”

The garden reopened in August for a limited daily number of socially distanced visitors. Now, as fall’s vibrant, showy display begins, meadow and woodland gardens completed at last winter’s onset are finally coming into their own. They are the culmination of a yearslong evolution, as the garden turns over a new leaf with the selection in September of Adrian Benepe, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as the new president and chief executive. Continue reading

Locals Get The Job Done With Greater Care

A local logger marks wood for transit to a milling facility in Ghana. MARIEKE WIT/TROPENBOS INTERNATIONAL

There was a time, just a few decades ago, when small, nimble groups of loggers in remote tropical forest areas–including here in Costa Rica–were considered a serious threat. They knew the lay of the land because they were local, and could get in and out of primary forests with valuable tree trunks, often without being detected. Thanks to reporting by Fred Pearce we can see where and how perspective has changed on this part of the forestry value chain:

How Small-Scale Loggers Can Help Save Africa’s Tropical Forests

Small-time loggers providing timber to local villages have long been seen as a threat to forests in Africa. But that view is changing, as evidence mounts that these communities can be better forest protectors than the governments that are sanctioning large-scale commercial operations.

The man with the chainsaw paid the farmer $50, as his gang climbed a hillside in western Ghana. The gang passed coffee fields until they came to a giant hardwood tree. The farmer, who was pleased to have the money in his back pocket, watched as as the gang cut down the tree and used the chainsaw to dismember it deftly into quarters and then into crude planks. Continue reading

Monday Morning, Shifting Gears

In these pages the impacts of the pandemic have not been a regular feature, but since early on it was clear we would be feeling the impact for a long time. Each passing week has given us reason to think about how we can adjust what we do. Click the image to the right for a conversation with an illustrator who captures that spirit of adjustment in his own context. At the end of the conversation you can see past cover illustrations that have themes related to bicycles. Not a bad way to start a new week:

As covid-19 infection rates have risen in New York, and the city braces for winter, it can be hard to see a reason for optimism. For his latest New Yorker cover, R. Kikuo Johnson finds one: the welcome surge of cycling across the boroughs. We recently talked to Johnson about biking, working from home, and one of his favorite views in the city.

This is such a lovely image amid dark times. Was there a moment when inspiration struck?

When I think of New York City, the first image that comes to mind is the view from the Williamsburg Bridge. From the top, you see the whole city at once: skyscrapers, graffiti, at least four bridges, the Statue of Liberty, sweating crowds in a rush. Continue reading

Take A Look At Hello Ranger

You had us at hello. By the time we saw welcome, we were already in:

Welcome to the Community!

If you’re a fan of national parks, you’ve come to the right place. Heck, if you’ve got even a fleeting curiosity about national parks, you’ve come to the right place. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ardent backpacker, a casual day-tripper, a glamper, or a full-time RVer, national parks are for everyone, and Hello Ranger is here to celebrate you all. Continue reading

When The Going Gets Tough, Pick Farm-Fresh Edibles

The strawberry patch at Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville, Md. Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Thanks to Tove Danovich, whose work we are happy to see again after too long a stretch:

U-Pick Is a Popular Pandemic Pick-Me-Up

Strawberry fields, apple orchards and pumpkin patches have seen high volumes of visitors, most of whom have been on their best behavior.

U-pick farms — the choose-your-own-fruit-and-vegetable patches that draw droves each summer and fall — have been especially busy this year. Some farms have been so picked over that they’ve had to close their fields for a day or longer to let new fruit ripen.

With apple-and-pumpkin season in full swing, that popularity is continuing, and u-picks have adapted accordingly. Weekend festivals are out. Mask wearing is in. Most locations have introduced ticketed and timed entry, and created prepaid packages for produce and other amenities, like hay rides, to limit face-to-face interaction. Continue reading

Transport To Manipur

A buyer makes her way through the open market’s labyrinthine lanes.

Thanks to Trishna Mohanty for another transporting article in this well-conceived series:

THE WORLD THROUGH A LENS

A Portrait of a Market in India Run Solely by Women

Nupi Keithel, or Women’s Market, a 16th-century bazaar in which all of the vendors are women, is a fountainhead of social and political activism in the Indian state of Manipur.

The perimeter of each shop is marked by the seller’s wares and belongings.

Barely five feet tall and hunched over, Anjana Devi, who is in her 80s, bellows instructions at two men as they unload crates of fruits from a mini truck. All around her, hundreds of women — most of whom are over 60 — mirror her actions. Farm-fresh produce surrounds them. The air is full of heady aromas: incense and fermented fish, jasmine buds and pungent spices. Continue reading

What Is The New Better?

A woman sits at the counter at a Pret a Manger.

When the pandemic stopped people from going to their offices, in March, Pret a Manger was an immediate economic casualty.Photograph by Isabel Infantes / AFP / Getty

A gifted observer, Sam Knight captures in the plight of a sandwich chain the puzzle for most of us in retail, hospitality, and other high contact professions. The question is obvious and the answer is not: what now? The founders of the chain, whose advice is sought in this context, tell the CEO to go back to the origins of the business model which was about, in their words, “killing sacred cows.” By the end of his observation, the journalist attempts to get some resolution and this is what we get:

…I asked Christou if he woke up in the morning wishing that life could return to how it was—which is what Pret a Manger, with its affective labor, its illusion of luxury and freedom, signifies for most of us. He said no. “I want things to be better,” he said. “What the new better is, I guess at the moment we don’t know.”

Postcards From Costa Rica

In early May I posted a “this I believe” kind of note, linking to an essay about the importance of the US Postal Service. Several months later Organikos launched its roasting and delivery service in the USA, putting that belief to the test, with dozens of coffee parcels going to all corners of the country’s continental borders as well as remote interior places. Flying colors. Thank you, postal carriers. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin and all those after you who have kept the institution moving forward. Other great institutions, having thrived for more than a century, demonstrate that even great ideas sometimes need help. So, in our own little ways, we support the mission. Costa Rica is one of the many places in the world inspired by both the National Park Service of the USA as well as its Postal Service. In recent months Correos de Costa Rica took the precaution of halting mail service to and from the USA. When it is back providing that service, our first little supportive action will be sending postcards to all those in the USA who ordered coffee.

Traditions Keeping Foodways Alive On Canada’s West Coast

A British Columbia clam garden. Photograph: Ian Reid

Indigenous peoples’ innovations are always a welcome topic here especially when it comes to conservation of foodways. Thank you, Adrienne Matei, for one more case study:

‘Bringing beaches back to life’: the First Nations restoring ancient clam gardens

In the Pacific north-west, local people work the shoreline, creating conditions for useful species to thrive

‘My elders articulated to me that if we want to bring our beaches back to life again, we need to bring people back on to them to care for them.’ Photograph: Iain Robert Reid

On winter nights for the past six years, a group of 20 people have rustled through dark, coniferous woods to emerge on a Canadian beach at the lowest possible tide, illuminated by a correspondingly full moon.

An elder offers a greeting to the place and a prayer, then the team of researchers, volunteers, and First Nations “knowledge holders” lights a warming fire and begins its work. At sites outlined by stones placed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, some begin raking, or “fluffing”, the top three inches of the beach, loosening rocks and mud – and a remarkable number of old clam shells. Continue reading

Reviving A Garden Can Revive More Than A Garden

Among the reasons we have stayed  committed once we embarked on restoration of a parcel of a coffee farm buried two decades ago, it is a welcome distraction. Also, it is good exercise. Those side benefits add motivation to continue uncovering and then reviving a buried agricultural treasure. If you are not in a place where you can do such a thing, but are in need of a breath-slowing, jaw-unclenching respite, other options exist. Do gardens and/or stories of agricultural revival get you there? The video above, or the classic to the right might be options to consider. Thanks to Helen Rosner for bringing them to our attention in this essay:

The Soothing Pleasures of “The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a Vintage BBC Docuseries

“The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a thirteen-part series on the particularities of Victorian horticulture, is a serene display of domestic competence.Photograph by Anne Gilbert / Alamy

Some time this past spring, I had my annual realization that if I wanted to plant a garden this year I should have got started weeks, maybe months, earlier. Then I set about my annual task of Googling how to make a garden happen. A few days later, clearing out my hundreds of open browser tabs of horticultural-advice forums, I paused over an open Web page that I hadn’t noticed: a grainy upload on the mysterious and vaguely European video-hosting Web site Dailymotion. “The Victorian Kitchen Garden – S01 – E01 – The Beginning,” it said. Curious, I pressed play, and a gentle wave of clarinet arpeggios sounded from my laptop speakers, and a mist-veiled greenhouse appeared on the screen. My breathing slowed, my jaw unclenched. Continue reading

Centuries-Old Government Agency, Mission Still Intact, Widely Appreciated

opening-image-levimandel_usps

“The postal service is one of the oldest federal agencies,” says Daniel Piazza, a curator of philately at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. “Maybe for that reason, we tend to take it for granted. But we have always relied on it, whether for news from home, prescription medications or e-commerce.” (Levi Mandel)

We have committed to using the US Postal Service for delivery of our coffees in the USA We already believed it to be a historically essential institution in that country and we want to support it as much as we want to benefit from its services. We have no second thoughts about this commitment, even while it is in the news for all the wrong reasons. We have known the agency needs attention, but we have not known exactly what that attention should look like. So, it is helpful to read this background history:

A Brief History of the United States Postal Service

To forge a nation, the founders needed an efficient communications network

From 1753 to 1774, as he oversaw Britain’s colonial mail service, Benjamin Franklin improved a primitive courier system connecting the 13 fragmented colonies into a more efficient organization that sped deliveries between Philadelphia and New York City to a mere 33 hours. Franklin’s travels along the post roads would inspire his revolutionary vision for how a new nation could thrive independent of Britain. But not even he imagined the pivotal role that the post would play in creating the Republic. Continue reading