The Mural Is The Thing

Kehinde Wiley’s backlit, hand-painted, stained-glass triptych called “Go” depicts sneaker-clad break dancers who appear to float across a blue sky. The woman’s pointing finger nods to the Sistine Chapel’s “Creation of Adam.” Andrew Moore for The New York Times

In the mid-1980s we lived a few blocks south of Penn Station, and avoided it studiously. If I could right now, I would rush to see it, thanks to Ian Volner’s essay below. I recommend reading it in full because it is neither puff piece nor fashion statement, but a comment on important issues of our day. Like the two essays I referenced earlier by Casey Cep, this essay makes me believe in the importance of this project, as if the project itself is a public statement of intent. The description of the stained glass mural was more than sufficient, but still I had to find an image of it (the one above is from a review I missed a few weeks ago in the New York Times).

The Moynihan Train Hall’s Glorious Arrival

The new transit hub redeems the destruction of the original Penn Station. Photograph by Mark Kauzlarich / Bloomberg / Getty

The film noir “Killer’s Kiss,” from 1955, is an almost perfect dud. But because it was filmed on location in New York—and because its director was a twenty-seven-year-old photographer named Stanley Kubrick—it’s worth watching for the first scene and the last, which occur in the same place: the passenger concourse of the original Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, where the protagonist, having escaped from shadowy thugs, waits impatiently for his lover. Kubrick captures the hero from a low angle, and, overhead, the arched trusses holding up the station’s glass-and-iron roof seem impossibly high. The building looks very dirty, but the ambient soot in the air catches the sunshine as it streams down from above, making the light appear more abundant, almost solid. Continue reading

Big City, Green Arteries

The redesigned Champs-Élysées extends (top right) from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, as envisioned by architects at PCA-Stream. PCA-STREAM

Anne Hidalgo has been featured in our pages several times for greening her city, and now this:

Paris mayor pushes ahead with plan to give Champs-Élysées a $305 million green makeover

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An artist’s impression of the redesigned Arc de Triomphe, at the end of Paris’ iconic Champs-Élysées avenue, prepared by architects PCA-Stream under commission by the Paris mayor’s office. PCA-STREAM

Paris — Mayor Anne Hidalgo has confirmed that ambitious plans to transform Paris’ Champs-Élysées, the iconic avenue in the heart of the French capital, are still on the table. Her initiative will see the avenue with fewer car lanes, more room for pedestrians and much more greenery.

Often dubbed “the most beautiful avenue in the world,” the Champs-Élysées has gone three decades without a major overhaul, and many Parisians believe it looks tired and a lot less sophisticated than it used to. Continue reading

2020, Year Of Puzzles

The math teacher at the center of “Miyamoto and the Machine” believes that a well-crafted puzzle can tell a story in numbers.

A poetic closure to a year of challenges, this film looks at one man’s quest to conquer the world with elegant presentation of numbers-as-stories:

The Puzzle Inventor Who Makes Math Beautiful

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An elementary-school math teacher silently paces his classroom in a pin-striped stockbroker shirt, his mouth full of braces. Continue reading

Curiosity, Driven By 2020’s Challenges, Could Make 2021 Better

It started with “a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicoloured circular arc.” Amie sent this image of the view outside one of our shops, and I suddenly realized I had no idea what a rainbow is. Reading that definition got me wondering where superstitions come from, like the one that makes you think of good fortune when you see a rainbow. Certain that there is a well-documented answer to that, a random turn led to the last photo of that location that we posted on this platform. Which led me here:

Minutes after that rainbow snapshot I was in the kitchen with a few hundred recently picked fruits from the first trees planted when we decided to rehabilitate this long-ago coffee farm. The antique green glass juicer in the photo above was my companion for the next couple days.

The fruit on the counter is about half the original wheel barrow full, what I now have left to complete after making a few gallons of juice and freezing it. Making lemonade out of life’s lemons is easier said than done, and using a hand-powered tool rather than a modern electricity-powered one is an exercise in curiosity.

After the lemonade what about the remaining organic material? Of course it will be composted, but what else? My sister had one answer. Make art.

And while you are at it, make more art.

Curiosity and diligent work can be excellent companions.

Chance Meetings On Journeys

Whether you ride a bicycle or not, the story below is a perfect discovery in the final days of 2020. It was published in March and presumably Kim Cross wrote most of it prior to the pandemic becoming a focal point of life for most people in the world. It is a reminder of the randomness that comes with nomadic life, in my case best exemplified by a chance encounter at an airport in 1983. It is also a reminder of a bicycle journey Amie and I took in 1988, prior to my starting graduate school, which is a welcome reminder considering the stationary nature of our lives since March.

We were completely inexperienced at distance riding, but going from Missoula, Montana to Jasper, Alberta still seemed like a good idea at the time.  And it was. The first couple hundred miles, until we got to Going-To-The-Sun Road, were strenuous but not beyond our capacity. Then, that road made us wonder if we had made a huge mistake. Somehow we made it to the top, with the cheering support of the group we were riding with, all experienced distance riders.

The next 500 miles included plenty of other challenges, including headwinds so strong at the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that we pedaled harder downhill than we had going uphill at Going-To-The-Sun. The support we got from, and brief friendships we made with total strangers on the journey is the reason why Kim Cross’s article resonates. Whether you have lived a nomadic life, or wish you had or could, this story is full of reasons to read. Or just look at the pictures and let your imagination ride:

What Happens When Two Strangers Trust the Rides of Their Lives to the Magic of the Universe

LEON HAD BEEN RIDING WEST FOR 309 DAYS. NOEL HAD HEADED EAST FOR 176. THEIR MEETING IN THE DESERT WAS A SMALL MIRACLE.

Once upon a road in Kazakhstan, two men converge in the desert. Strangers born an ocean apart, riding bicycles burdened like camels, they emerge from either horizon, slowly approaching a common point. Day by day, hour after hour, they make their way through a land as flat and featureless as a page without words. Thousands of miles spool out behind them. Thousands more lie ahead.

One rides east. The other, west. Continue reading

Sheltering in Nature

The Turrubares Hills in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region. Photo courtesy of Hugo Santa Cruz.

This is an exciting example of the old adage about life’s lemons and making lemonade. The Macaw Sanctuary is an inspirational space and we’re proud to have explored it with Hugo during the Global Big Day.

Thank you to Milan Sime Martinic and the inspiration of Mongabay for nature and conservation stories.

A new conservation project is created in Costa Rica thanks to COVID-19

  • Hugo Santa Cruz is a photographer contributing to a new Netflix documentary about nature and coping with COVID-19.
  • A Bolivian currently stuck in Costa Rica due to the pandemic, he has turned his camera lens on the local landscape, which has helped him deal with his separation from family and friends.
  • Many hours spent in the rainforest have given him solace and also an idea to aid the rich natural heritage that he is currently documenting.
  • Santa Cruz is now a co-founder of the new Center for Biodiversity Restoration Foundation, which will work to restore and connect natural areas in the region.

Call him inspired.

If Biblical Ishmael were banished to the desert, naturalist Hugo Santa Cruz is quarantined to wander in paradise, a paradise in the Costa Rican jungle, that is.

He is in the Central American rainforest along the Paso de Las Lapas Biological Corridor, an area near the Pacific coast that converges with the mountainous foothills of the western dry tropical forest.

Roaming some 370 hectares of ample primary and secondary forests, regenerated forests restored from human damage, plus plantings, ponds, and biodiverse jungle, Santa Cruz is deep in the wilderness, far from home due to the COVID-19 shutdown of travel and normal activities. He is exploring the jungle, studying the animals, photographing, filming, and registering the species he encounters. 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

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

For Everyone In The USA

We studiously avoid politics, though we never hesitate to highlight policies we agree with and especially those we disagree with. But today, unlike any day since we started this platform in mid-2011, we cannot not notice that it is a politics-crazy day in the USA. So, we only go as far as noting that, and share what may be an antidote to the craze. The title says it all (click above).

Common Octopus, Uncommon Story

My Octopus Teacher is available on Netflix

I was not avoiding it, exactly, but by night time my attention span diminishes. From a reluctant start at 7:30pm yesterday, assuming I would fall asleep less than half way through, my absorption became total from the first minute and remained so until the end. It was a compelling conclusion to a very long day. Film reviews rarely appear here, but New Scientist gives me good reason to share more than my own opinion:

My Octopus Teacher review: The strange lives of cephalopods up close

In many ways, the octopus is a tough proposition: a soft-bodied mollusc that carries the bulk of its brain in its arms, that can render itself solid without a skeleton or liquid despite its beak, that evolved separately from nearly every other organism on Earth. That otherness is at the heart of our fascination with octopuses: can we even aspire to understand something so foreign? A new Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, follows one man’s attempt. Continue reading

Cambium Carbon’s Reforestation Hubs

When we started this platform for sharing news and experiences related to innovative approaches to conservation, Seth was in Nicaragua and wrote multiple posts on Simplemente Madera  It is odd not to find a more recent post about their One Tree initiative because in early 2019 while sourcing for Authentica we sought out products that supported tree-planting. Today I am reminded of all that from a link I followed to Cambium Carbon in this story:

Courtesy of Cambium Carbon. Cambium Carbon aims to turn cut or fallen urban trees into wood products that can be sold to fund tree-planting efforts. Currently, most trees removed from cities are either chipped for low-grade application or hauled to a landfill at a significant cost.

Reforestation Hubs, ‘Coming Soon’ to a City Near You

Cambium Carbon, an initiative founded by YSE students to combat climate change and revitalize urban communities by reimagining the urban tree lifecycle, has earned a $200,000 Natural Climate Solution Accelerator Grant from The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with The Arbor Day Foundation. Continue reading

Forests & Human Intervention

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana.

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana. STEVEN GNAM

Even as we may feel overdosed on news about forest fires, understanding what to do next is important. Thanks to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for sharing relevant science:

Natural Debate: Do Forests Grow Better With Our Help or Without?

Nations around the world are pledging to plant billions of trees to grow new forests. But a new study shows that the potential for natural forest regrowth to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and fight climate change is far greater than has previously been estimated.

When Susan Cook-Patton was doing a post-doc in forest restoration at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland seven years ago, she says she helped plant 20,000 trees along Chesapeake Bay. It was a salutary lesson. “The ones that grew best were mostly ones we didn’t plant,” she remembers. “They just grew naturally on the ground we had set aside for planting. Lots popped up all around. It was a good reminder that nature knows what it is doing.” Continue reading

The Little Things Librarians Do That Can Have Big Impact

See the source imageReading this op-ed reminded me of a book that I read in my mid-teens. I remember reading it cover to cover in one sitting and it sparked a kind of book-reading that had not been part of my life previously.  I was a plot-driven reader and April Morning got me more interested in character. So my belated thanks to one of the librarians, circa 1978, at the amazing library down the street from our home, who recommended this book to me. When I came back to see what other books by the same author were available, I saw that he had a very long list of titles in the card catalog.

So I asked for help from another librarian, and soon I was reading this other historical novel. Reading The Hessian may account for my becoming an English major in college a few years later. I did not like this book nearly as much. And this led to a conversation with the librarian who had recommended it to me. Literary criticism it was not, but having something to say about the difference between the two books, and hearing someone else’s opinion on the same, was interesting. Belated thanks to that librarian for that conversation, and for the next gift.

She told me that Howard Fast would be giving a lecture in the library’s auditorium the following week. That too would be a first. I had never attended an author’s lecture before. He was talking about a book, The Immigrants, that had just been published. I do not remember much about the lecture, but at the end of it I went to the front of the auditorium and handed the author an envelope. In it was a short letter thanking him for writing the two books I had read, and sharing a few thoughts I had exchanged with the librarian. Days later I received a letter in the mail. It was from the author, replying to the letter this kid had handed him in the auditorium. Thank you, Howard Fast.  And thank you, librarians.

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

A New Word, A New Way

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Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Words matter. And from the outset of this platform we have let sustainable reign when talking travel, or tourism, or hospitality.  I am happy to have Elaine Glusac’s primer on new vocabulary to consider when discussing all our favorite, familiar topics. After 25 years with a word, a concept, that has worked wonders, this new message sounds about right to me. Regenerative, the word, the concept, does not make me think any less of the arc of sustainability’s useful life, which I think has a long stretch to go. But regenerative has a spring in its step:

Move Over, Sustainable Travel. Regenerative Travel Has Arrived.

Can a post-vaccine return to travel be smarter and greener than it was before March 2020? Some in the tourism industry are betting on it.

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Kevin Steele/Playa Viva

Tourism, which grew faster than the global gross domestic product for the past nine years, has been decimated by the pandemic. Once accounting for 10 percent of employment worldwide, the sector is poised to shed 121 million jobs, with losses projected at a minimum of $3.4 trillion, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

But in the lull, some in the tourism industry are planning for a post-vaccine return to travel that’s better than it was before March 2020 — greener, smarter and less crowded. If sustainable tourism, which aims to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel, was the aspirational outer limit of ecotourism before the pandemic, the new frontier is “regenerative travel,” or leaving a place better than you found it. Continue reading

Nature Nurtures

First, a recommendation of AbeBooks, one of the many alternatives you might consider for buying this or other books. Second, I recommend Rebecca Mead‘s riff on the book, The Therapeutic Power of Gardening in the current issue of the New Yorker.  When I last read her work there it was a stretch of the culinary imagination. This time, the opposite, with the subtitle of the essay asking “Can anxious minds find solace working with plants? A therapist and her husband, a garden designer, say yes.” We are in the middle of a perfect case study for the core thesis of the book and of Mead’s essay.

In the last six days we planted nearly 100 trees, like those pictured here, which will fix nitrogen in the soil, provide shade for the coffee, and beckon birds for both food–parrots in particular mob these trees when the flowers are in bloom–and nesting. There is an obvious connection between the concept of biophilia and what is discussed in this book and essay, but this quote captures a nuanced point differentiating cultivated versus wild nature:

“When we sow a seed, we plant a narrative of future possibility,” Sue Stuart-Smith, a British psychiatrist and psychotherapist, writes in her new book, Continue reading

Samfundssind, A Word For These Times

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The JunkFood project is to continue, even though Alchemist has now reopened its doors (Credit: Soren Gammelmark)

How words matter is a longstanding theme here, and I have occasionally let a Danish word capture my attention. I am susceptible to stories about modern Danish norms, much as I was by Norse mythology as a kid. So, thanks to Mark Johanson and the BBC for bringing this to our attention:

How a long-forgotten word rallied a nation

A word buried in the history books helped Danes mobilise during the pandemic, flattening the curve and lifting community spirit.

Danish chef Rasmus Munk shocked the culinary world last year with the opening of his audacious Copenhagen restaurant Alchemist, which offers a multisensory food and entertainment experience across 50 courses and five acts. More surprising, still, was what the Michelin-starred chef did next when the pandemic brought his marathon meals to an abrupt halt on 15 March.

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By 19 March, Munk had pivoted from serving 2,900kr ($450) worth of molecular gastronomy (think wood ants preserved in candy ‘amber’ and cherry-infused lamb brains) for 48 nightly guests to whipping up 600 daily portions of down-to-earth staples (such as pasta carbonara and chicken puff pie) for Copenhagen’s homeless and socially vulnerable residents.

“I put out a call for help on Instagram, and the next day I had nearly 1,000 emails from fellow chefs and everyday people who offered to drive the food out to the 14 shelters we now work with,” he explains. Hotels and restaurants also got in touch to donate food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Soon, Alchemist’s four kitchens were buzzing with masked volunteers, and the nascent social responsibility project JunkFood, which Munk had started as an experiment before the pandemic, took root. Continue reading

Farming & Influence

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Ellen Barry, somehow, has not shown up in our pages before today. Strange, because she was based in India during our years there. Her audio adaptation of a dream-like experience, The Jungle Prince of Delhi, ranks with the best serialized podcasts out there. After her time in India she became New England Bureau Chief of the New York Times, a transition I will presume to understand: India can be so transformative and so profound an experience that landing back in familiar territory is a great next step. And today she shows up on my screen with a topic so different from that, and so related to my recent interests and activities that I finally must add her work to our recommendations:

In a Wistful Age, Farmers Find a New Angle: Chore TV

It’s hard for small farmers to earn a living selling their products. Enter the “farmer-influencer,” who can earn more by streaming farm life, in all its comforting monotony, to a growing online audience.

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

PEACHAM, Vt. — The sweet smell of hay rose off the earth on a recent evening, as Morgan Gold strode across his farmyard in heavy boots. He crossed the paddock, scanning for new eggs, water levels, infected peck wounds, rips in the fence line.

But mainly — let’s be honest — he was looking for content.

Though Mr. Gold sells poultry and eggs from his duck farm in Vermont’s northeast corner, most of what he produces as a farmer is, well, entertainment.

Mr. Gold, who is short and stocky, with the good-natured ease of a standup comedian, does his chores while carrying a digital camera in one hand and murmuring into a microphone.

Then, twice a week, like clockwork, he posts a short video on YouTube about his exploits as a neophyte farmer, often highlighting failures or pratfalls. Keeping a close eye on analytics, he has boosted his YouTube audiences high enough to provide a steady advertising revenue of around $2,500 to $4,000 a month, about eight times what he earns from selling farm products. Continue reading

Bees@Church

 

We are happy to learn their fate, but did not even know they had a fate to consider. Bees at church? Come to think of it, churches are normally considered a safe haven. Thanks to Kim Willsher (again, at long last) and the Guardian (as always) for this coverage:

They survived fire and toxic fumes. So what happened next to Notre Dame’s bees?

Hives that survived catastrophic Paris cathedral blaze are healthier than ever, says beekeeper

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Sibyle Moulin tending the hives on the roof of Notre Dame in 2018. Photograph: Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times/eyevine

It is a crisp winter morning and the area around Notre Dame is sealed off as it has been since the fire last April that devastated the cathedral.

Those in the know, however, especially those with the keenest of eyes, might spot some small movement high up to the south of the stricken and blackened structure.

The bees of Notre Dame, whose escape from the inferno seemed almost miraculous, are thriving and conserving their energy ready to produce honey this summer, just as they have every year since they took up residence on the sacristy roof in 2013. Continue reading