Birds’ Influence On My Appreciation Of Nature

03TB-KINGFISHER2-jumbo

Credit…Miguel David De Leon/Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy

My first love of birds took shape in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica in the late 1990s. Toucans first, on the Drakes Bay side of the peninsula in 1997 when we had a family getaway at a lodge run by a bird-loving eco-couple. Then starting in 1999 when our company started managing lodges, on the other side of the Osa I had extended exposure to scarlet macaws, almost invariably in pairs. The love was real, and meaningful but not yet as serious as it would become. It was not until moving to India in 2010 that I seriously understood the power of birds to shape our appreciation of nature.

I can pinpoint the day, because it was at the intersection of when Milo took this photo of an owl, and when we started the bird of the day feature, which has been a daily contribution of this platform ever since. That is about the same time that my appreciation of nature, which I had thought to be quite strong already, became as strong as it is today. And this article below reminds me of that day, not least because of the number of medical doctors who are contributors to our daily feature. My profound thanks to Cara Giaimo (again) and especially to the doctor of whose story she shares:

03TB-KINGFISHER1-jumbo

A juvenile kingfisher, with its distinctive black bill.Credit…Miguel David De Leon/Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy

How an Eye Surgeon Got a Picture of This Rare Pastel Bird

The elusive South Philippine dwarf kingfisher is difficult to photograph, and there were no known photographs of its fledglings.

On March 11, Dr. Miguel David De Leon — a vitreoretinal surgeon in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines — worked a full morning at the medical center.When he got home, “I was exhausted,” he said.But he pulled it together, lugged his camera an hour uphill and clambered into his bird hide. Continue reading

Photos From Wild Places

3200

A fox pounces on a mouse in the snowy hills on the border of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Photograph: Johnny Krüger/Mediadrumimages

1875

Thirteen rescued slow loris have been released in the Batutegi protected forest conservation area in Lampung, Sumatra, after undergoing medical care and rehabilitation at a specialist primate centre in Bogor, West Java.
Photograph: Reza Septian/International Animal Rescue

1802

An immature bald eagle tries to hunt a plastic duck on the frozen Quidi Vidi lake in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. It was seen picking up and trying to take a bite out of the bath toy, before tossing it away.
Photograph: David Howells/SWNS

See the whole collection here.

New Activities For Community Developments

merlin_169719372_13a4438f-1626-495f-afa1-85041b75f27e-jumbo

This trend in real estate development is a breath of fresh air:

Taking the Golf Out of Golf Communities

Around the country, planned developments are adapting and reinventing in order to appeal to a wider range of buyers.

07sp-adapt-inyt3-jumbo

Hilton Head Plantation is a gated golf community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

MacDonald Highlands is a master-planned community of less than 1,000 units in Henderson, Nev., a wealthy suburb of Las Vegas within squinting distance of the Strip. For years, its main selling point was DragonRidge Country Club, a private 18-hole golf course sculpted out of the desert foothills, with emerald fairways that wind past multi-million-dollar homes.

But lately, the property’s owner, Rich MacDonald, has had more on his mind than golf.

Mr. MacDonald opened the club in 2001, sold it in 2014 and bought it back in 2016. When he did, he said: “I wanted to make sure we have the equivalent of a cruise director. Someone who does fun things, interesting events. We’ve had to adapt quite a bit because the social aspect seems to be the main focus for new residents.”

At existing golf communities around the country, a similar story of adaptation and reinvention is playing out. Continue reading

Biophilia By Any Other Name

lr-ye360-illustration_Ecopsychology_web.jpg

LUISA RIVERA FOR YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

It is surprising that neither E.O. Wilson nor his biophilia concept is mentioned here, but still it is an interesting finding. Our thanks to Jim Robbins for sharing:

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

hiking-puu-o-lokuana-with-ranger-jessica_39621953902_o_web.jpg

A park ranger leads a hike through the Kahuku unit of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. NPS PHOTO/JANICE WEI

How long does it take to get a dose of nature high enough to make people say they feel healthy and have a strong sense of well-being?

Precisely 120 minutes. Continue reading

Farms & Non-Farms For Our Future

Palm-Oil_Costa-Rica_shutterstock_web.jpg

Critics note that flawed strategies have encouraged tree farms, such as this oil palm plantation in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

Richard Conniff explains why tree farms, like the one pictured above, are not part of the solution to climate change, whereas abandoned ancient farms like the one picture below may be part of the solution:

Could Abandoned Agricultural Lands Help Save the Planet?

Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing — more land globally is now being abandoned by farming than converted to it. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.

CastroLaboreiroPortugal_flickr_web.jpg

The town of Castro Laboreiro, Portugal, where former grazing lands have reverted to nature. ANTONIO LOMBA/FLICKR

People have lived in Castro Laboreiro, where northern Portugal borders Spain, long enough to have built megaliths in the mountainous countryside and a pre-Romanesque church, from 1,100 years ago, in the village itself. But the old rural population has dwindled away, leaving behind mostly elders yearning for their vanishing culture. Continue reading

Big Money, Big Park, Big Questions

MontanaPark.jpg

American Prairie Reserve’s Patchwork Of Properties
American Prairie Reserve’s purchased and leased land is shown in green with white borders adjacent to Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Together, these parcels complete a network of land larger than Yellowstone National Park, the second-largest national park in the Lower 48 states. Source: American Prairie Reserve, Montana State Library, U.S. Geological Survey 1 Arc-Second SRTM, Natural Earth, Montana Department of Transportation, U.S. Census Bureau, National Park Service
Credit: Daniel Wood/NPR

Hats off to Sean Gerrity, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who have kept the native prairie grasses intact in recent generation, and to the native communities who stewarded these lands long before all this became a story. Our thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for sharing the story:

Big Money Is Building A New Kind Of National Park In The Great Plains

2019-montanaapr-charbage-73_custom-1adbd128a6bbea6e6ee03a2dd1a143db97998700-s1200-c85

Bison walk on American Prairie Reserve land. The organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Claire Harbage/NPR

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.

_dsc3711_custom-6d09ed4fc7375584ea76e1d2c3a28936e9917ac5-s500-c85.jpg

Sean Gerrity founded the American Prairie Reserve more than 18 years ago after he moved back home to Montana from Silicon Valley, where he ran a firm that consulted for companies such as AT&T and Apple.
Claire Harbage/NPR

But the reserve is facing fierce opposition from many locals because to build it, the organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Those private properties are then stitched together with vast tracts of neighboring public lands to create one giant, rewilded prairie. The organization has purchased close to 30 properties so far, but it needs at least 50 more.

“I see them coming in with big money, buying up ranches and walking over the top of the people who are already here,” says ranch owner Conni French. “For them to be successful in their goals, we can’t be here, and that’s not OK with us.”

She isn’t alone. Driving around, you see signs everywhere that say, “Save The Cowboy, Stop The American Prairie Reserve.”

_dsc2741_slide-7e313d6d5430d4b9c6d7606875580af1dc204866-s1200-c85

A “Save the Cowboy” sign is posted along a fence. The “Little Rockies” on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation are seen in the distance. Claire Harbage/NPR

But the project’s efforts have garnered a lot of positive attention from those living outside northeastern Montana because, once it’s complete, it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states — about 5,000 square miles, nearly the size of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Continue reading

Hawks At Home

8749843808_19bf5ddbd1_h-1260x708.jpg

A chihuahua plays on the grass. Photo © Jamie McCaffrey / Flickr

Thanks to Cool Green Science for asking, and answering, this burning question:

Do Hawks Eat Pets?

Hawks have moved into our backyards. And many people seem to find their new neighbors terrifying.

I recently downloaded the Nextdoor app, the “social network for your neighborhood community,” to keep track of road closures and new developments in my rapidly growing community. It served that purpose, but it also gives me sometimes-startling insights into my neighbors’ concerns.

Chief among those concerns is wildlife: Coyotes, bobcats (or bobcats misidentified as mountain lions), deer, and, lately, hawks. Yes, hawks. Continue reading

Disrupting Camping Does Not Immediately Sound Like A Good Idea

Weiner-Hipcamp01.jpg

The minimum land requirement for a Hipcamp site is generally just two acres. Some listings look like ordinary suburban back yards, but there are also off-grid plots, Airstreams, and tree houses. Photograph Courtesy Hipcamp

Disruption has so much baggage now due to the unintended consequences of various social media platforms, not to mention other tech juggernauts, that another disruptor does not make me think I can’t wait to try it. And disrupting camping? Hmmm. For these and other reasons this article is at the top of my reading list for this week:

How Hipcamp Became the Airbnb of the Outdoors

Can a startup save the wilderness by disrupting it?

In Northern California, booking a public campsite is a blood sport. The Bay Area overflows with young people who have R.E.I. Co-op memberships and drawers full of sweat-wicking apparel—people who spend Friday and Sunday nights packing and unpacking their Subarus, who own cat-hole trowels, who love to live here because it’s easy to leave in pursuit of the sublime. From Big Sur to Mendocino, many public campgrounds are booked months in advance; Yosemite is a lost cause. It’s common practice to wake at five in the morning to hover over a computer, poised to nab a site as soon as it becomes available. This is both a regional issue and not. Across the country, America’s national parks are overcrowded and overbooked. The reservation system is riddled with bots. A cottage industry of apps and services has emerged to monitor campsite availability and, in some cases, provide alternatives. Continue reading

Technology & Conservation

TrailBlaz.jpgYesterday’s post, on the application of technology in the interest of conservation, came just in time for this podcast episode by Walter Isaacson to enter my feed.

Listening to it took me straight back, seven years, to when I first learned about the benefits elephants were deriving from new technology, at the same time we (family, and interns and employees) were spending large amounts of time in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Technology, broadly speaking, has gotten us into the mess we are in, so why not expect it to get us out of it?

Conservation: Next Generation Technology

EPISODE SUMMARY

Technology and nature used to reside at the opposite ends of the spectrum. But like our environment, that relationship has changed over the years and the two have a cyclical relationship of preservation and innovation. The commitment to conserve and heal our diverse ecosystems has pushed technology further and with urgency. Because there’s no time to waste. From the American Great Plains and the African Sahara to the furthest depths in the ocean, we’re talking to the trailblazers who are innovating everyday to save the planet.

Raptors & Yardbirds

With a couple dozen chickens of our own at any given time, and a few acres of hilly land for them to forage on, the raptors who soar above menace the birds in the yard. But they captivate my attention. As this podcast episode does as well:

A bald eagle flies off with its kill. White Oak Pastures/White Oak Pastures

…He went organic. He started making changes. To replace the chemical fertilizer, he brought in chickens and let them roam free. Free-range chickens would fertilize the grass; the grass would nurture the cattle, and shoppers at Whole Foods would love Harris’s organic beef. It was a great plan.

But then, the eagles started to descend on Harris’s farm. Eagles eat chicken. Eagles love chicken…

Biophilia via Oliver Sacks

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.

Oliver Sacks: The Healing Power of Gardens

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.

Continue reading

Restoration, Inspiration & Conservation

RestoreEscazu.jpg

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.

FernTree.jpgAnother 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.

Carlos-Manuel-Uribe.jpg

InsectBook.jpgOur 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.

Nature Is In Our Hands

Niagara

NiagaraPostcard.jpgBefore moving to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s I was working for a few years at a desk with images like the one above taped to the walls around the desk, and postcards from the previous century, like the one to the right, scattered about for inspiration.

Inman1.jpegOn the desk were drafts of a dissertation whose summary, on page 131, states: “…the results of the first hypothesis suggest that lodging firms in a tourism destination, such as Niagara Falls, should be directly involved with the strengthening and support of the institutional environment in which they operate.”

In other words, if you benefit from nature for your livelihood one of your best investments will be in building and strengthening institutions that protect nature. It may now sound like stating the obvious, but Nobel laureate economists made claims to the contrary that were treated as gospel truth twenty five years ago.

InmanDiss.jpeg

So 132 pages, not including bibliography, were used to make the point. Ever since, members of our team have wondered whether it could be summed up more simply. Meeting recently with graphic designers to discuss how to communicate more effectively about Organikos, we think now maybe the answer is yes.

Hand+TreeWhen we saw this hand and tree side by side in that meeting, we had a reaction that was related to what the graphic designer intended, but not exactly.

Hand+ OrganikosWhatever his precise intent was, someone’s mouth opened and blurted out: Yes! Nature is in our hands. And so we have come upon a way to say a little more simply what Organikos means in addition to what Organikos does.

Summer Rayne Oakes

Summer Rayne Oakes, as a name, is likely to stick in my memory. She was a student at Cornell when I was teaching there, but until now I did not know of her. Thanks to this feature on one of the websites I scan regularly for stories relevant to this platform, I found my way to her website, so now I know a little bit about who she is. I like the causes she supports, and that is enough for today’s post. But the interior greenery throughout the 6+ minutes of video above is refreshing, and that is the real purpose for sharing it.

Nature’s Gender-bending

Top left, a male blue morpho butterfly; top middle, a female. The remainder are gynandromorphic, with both male and female characteristics. Credit Nipam H. Patel

With the frequency of gender fluidity in the news (often disparagingly), it’s helpful to read that it’s something that exists in many areas of the natural world.

“Nature’s dealing with conformity all the time in brutal ways and loving ways and all the rest of it,” Dr. Dreger said. “It doesn’t follow the human fantasy of everybody having to be normal. And humans don’t follow that ridiculous idea either.”

Well said.

Split-Sex Animals Are Unusual, Yes, but Not as Rare as You’d Think

All serious butterfly collectors remember their first gynandromorph: a butterfly with a color and pattern that are distinctly male on one wing and female on the other.

Seeing one sparks wonder and curiosity. For the biologist Nipam H. Patel, the sighting offered a possible answer to a question he had been pondering for years: During embryonic and larval development, how do cells know where to stop and where to go?

He was sure that the delicate black outlines between male and female regions appearing on one wing — but not the other — identified a key facet of animal development.

“It immediately struck me that this was telling me something interesting about how the wing was being made,” said Dr. Patel, a biologist who now heads the Marine Biological Laboratory, a research institute in Woods Hole, Mass., affiliated with the University of Chicago.

The patterning on the gynandromorph’s wing shows that the body uses signaling centers to control where cells go during development and what tissues they become in creatures as diverse as butterflies and people, Dr. Patel said.

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the cardinal’s did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Continue reading

In Case Of Emergency, Plant Trees

Fox-Maple-Woods_Wisconsin_JoshuaMayer_web.jpg

Fox Maple Woods in Wisconsin. JOSHUA MAYER / FLICKR

Emergency? The evidence is clear in the case of the environment, and it is a global emergency with a global solution. Thanks to Yale e360 for this summary of a new finding:

Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees Could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find

There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Continue reading

Mysteries Of Nature

IceDisk.jpg

The sudden appearance of a giant ice disk in Maine has raised many questions. Watch it rotate in this stunning drone video.  Tina Radel/City of Westbrook, via Associated Press

We appreciate the fact that there are still such natural surprises out there:

There’s a Huge Ice Disk in a Maine River. No, the Aliens Aren’t Coming.

A giant ice disk churning in a river that runs through the small city of Westbrook, Me., set off fevered speculation on Tuesday.

Was it an icy landing zone for aliens? A sign of impending doom? A carousel for ducks? (A handful were, in fact, enjoying the ride.)

The Boston Globe wrote that it was “like some type of arctic buzzsaw,” and residents hurried to the edges of the Presumpscot River to catch a glimpse.

Scientists say that ice disks are an unusual — but entirely natural — phenomenon that occurs when a pile of slush freezes in an eddy or a piece of ice breaks off from another and begins to rotate. As it turns, hitting rocks and water, the sides are shaved down.

Steven Daly, an expert in river ice hydraulics at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said his agency generally got just one or two reports of rotating ice disks in the United States each year.

They’re not usually this big, though. Continue reading

Citizen Science, Children & Bees

11TB-BEES2-jumbo.jpg

Scientists expected bees to gradually cease buzzing as the sky darkened during an eclipse. Instead, they stopped altogether. Credit Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

After following the work of Nicholas St. Fleur for a couple years now–his beat includes archaeology, paleontology, and space among other of the things we care about on this platform, including conservation–his most recent story below is my favorite for one reason, namely citizen science. Specifically the participation of youth in such an important scientific investigation:

The Moon Eclipsed the Sun. Then the Bees Stopped Buzzing.

Researchers worked with a small army of elementary school children to collect audio recordings of bees as they visited flowers along the path of last summer’s total eclipse.

merlin_145121940_aa0e5867-a947-44eb-9851-f90f39f77723-jumbo

National Forest Service workers at the Bridger-Teton National Forest Office in Jackson, Wyo., took a break to watch the Great American Eclipse last year. Credit Celia Talbot Tobin for The New York Times

Last year’s Great American Eclipse drew hundreds of millions of eyes to the sky. But while people across the country “oohed” and “aahed” at the phenomenon, it appears the bees went silent.

So found a new study that monitored the acoustic activity of bees before, during and after totality — the moment when the moon completely blocked the sun — during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Researchers at the University of Missouri, along with a small army of elementary school children and other volunteers, collected audio recordings of honeybees, bumblebees and other types of bees as they visited flowers along the path of totality Continue reading

Trees, Cities & Happiness

merlin_144034221_4ee0b063-798b-4669-80dc-817bcbc10dfe-superJumbo.jpg

A tree in Riverfront Park competes for grandeur with Nashville’s iconic At&T building. Credit William DeShazer for The New York Times

PlantTreeCity.jpgI just learned of an urban tree-planting initiative on a day when the news shows purposeful indifference about climate change on the part of a powerful country’s elected leader, on the same day when the news also shows that an economist considered a pioneer of environmental economics is receiving a prestigious prize and what he said when he learned of his being awarded the prize:

“Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”

PlantTreesCity2Let’s decide together to do something, seems to be his message. I learned about this urban tree-planting initiative, news of a president’s abdication of responsibility, and this economist’s optimistic message on the same day I read about a 15-year old climate activist who has decided to do something where she sees her government failing to take action. She has decided at a very young age to do what she can regardless of the daunting odds. So thanks to Margaret Renkl a Nashville-based contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, for bringing this initiative to my attention, as a reminder to do something:

More Trees, Happier People

When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.

merlin_144034215_0e5eb0e9-e3ad-4046-b39b-a6189d715df7-superJumbo

A tale of two trees in Nashville. A mature tree in England Park, left, and a newly planted tree at Wright Middle School.

NASHVILLE — The scene in a tiny pocket park outside Plaza Mariachi here on Nolensville Pike last Wednesday was like a tableau from a Norman Rockwell painting, 21st-century style. Surrounded by signs advertising the Hispanic Family Foundation, Dubai Jewelry, the Dominican Barber Shop and restaurants offering Peruvian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian food — as well as a Game Stop franchise and H&R Block — was a small sign that read, “Today: Free trees.”

merlin_144034152_9a1c43d3-ccb7-42c0-bfd7-979917608536-superJumbo

Photographs by William DeShazer for The New York Times

The arrow on the sign pointed to a pop-up canopy where the Nashville Tree Foundation was hosting its fourth tree giveaway of October. A family standing under the canopy was posing for a photo with the sapling they had just adopted. Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of the foundation, was taking the picture: “Say ‘trees’!” she said.

The tree giveaway at Plaza Mariachi happened to fall on the very day that Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy. The effort, called “Root Nashville,” will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050.

Many of these newly planted saplings will replace very large, very old trees that have been lost to Nashville’s meteoric growth — a population increase of more than 45 percent since 2000. As the city has grown, the city’s trees have fallen: deliberately felled by developers to make room for new construction or unintentionally killed as a side effect of nearby building. Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year. Continue reading

The Science Of Nature, Exhibited

27folkart2-jumbo.jpg

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, 1828–1840. Credit Amherst College Archives & Special Collections

Thanks to Jason Farago for this review of  Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock at the American Folk Art Museum:

Mushrooms, Magma and Love in a Time of Science

27folkart1-superJumbo.jpg

“Colossal Octopus,” 1828–1840, by Orra White Hitchcock, one of America’s first female scientific illustrators, on view at the American Folk Art Museum. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times

Women remain grossly underrepresented at the highest echelons of American science, and continue to face absurd claims of “innate” inferiority, whether from former Harvard presidents or senior engineers at Google. But until the mid-19th century — when the sciences became professionalized, and when Charles Darwin and others put Christian doctrine under pressure — a woman’s place was in the laboratory, or among the geology and zoology specimens.

Back then the humanities (classics and philosophy, especially) were understood as masculine academic pursuits. It was the more genteel disciplines of natural science, astronomy, chemistry, botany and anatomy, to which women of a certain class gravitated.

merlin_141627540_d42f254c-e955-4d3d-9751-733e1d3723eb-superJumbo.jpg

Orra White Hitchcock’s “Fungi Selecti Picti, Vicinity of Conway, Massachusetts” (1821), watercolor, pencil, pen and ink, and ink wash on paper in sewn album. Credit Smith College Special Collections

Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863) was one of the most remarkable women from this more egalitarian age of scientific study. She had a deep knowledge of botany, zoology and paleontology, and she was also an artist — though that “also” would have seemed unnecessary to her. She produced two albums of botanical illustrations, and later, as introductory materials for her husband’s classes, she diagramed volcanoes, sketched the skeletons of extinct fish and mammals, and drew undulant squids and octopuses on large cotton sheets.

They’re all united at the American Folk Art Museum in “Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock,” a handsome and unexpectedly passionate exhibition on art, science and education in the early American republic. More than 100 watercolors and classroom charts are here, from painstakingly accurate paintings of reeds and mushrooms to boldly colored abstractions of the earth’s crust and core, and they share space with a splendid array of diaries and correspondence, redolent with the Hitchcocks’ intertwined loves for science, God and each other. Continue reading