Above The Northern Ice

Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Quince Mountain

One year ago, when I first encountered Blair Braverman, I did not follow through to find out more. It is easy to remember why because it was the last stretch of pre-pandemia, and it was the last time I travelled, and that last portion of February, 2020, remains vividly clear in my memory.

As it happens this morning, exactly one year later, we are getting on an airplane and traveling from Costa Rica to Ithaca, New York where we will spend a few days taking care of some paperwork that is a legal requirement for operating our businesses in Costa Rica. I would not get on an airplane right now if it was not a legal requirement, and while we are taking all possible precautions it would be impossible not to have the obvious concerns. In that context, hearing Blair Braverman talk about her work in an odd way has a calming effect. And given that yesterday I was reading about life under the southern ice, it is fitting today to share some perspective on life above the northern ice. Click the image above or the title below to go to the podcast for a half hour of pure escape.

Lessons on Resilience From Dogs and Dog Sledders

The adventurer Blair Braverman has led a team of sled dogs over a 900-mile race in Alaska, seen her skin dissolve in the desert and overcome Covid-19. What makes it all less terrifying? Accepting the unknown. Continue reading

Under The Southern Ice

Antarctica has not featured in these pages as much as tropical places, where we mostly work. The closest my work has come to Antarctica was between 2008-2010 when I worked with entrepreneurs in the Magallanes region of Chile, which includes Antarctica. Even then, the portions of my work in Tierra del Fuego were still 600+ miles from the northern most point of the Antarctic Peninsula. By contrast my work in Yakutia took me within the Arctic Circle. But in both places my work was always above ground, and never brought me close to the scientists working below ice shelves. So, thanks to Mother Jones for this:

Antarctic Stunner: Mysterious Creatures Discovered Under a Half Mile of Ice

Scientists taking sediment samples found animals nobody thought could survive there.

Bivouacked in the middle of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf—a five-hour flight from the nearest Antarctic station—nothing comes easy. Even though it was the southern summer, geologist James Smith of the British Antarctic Survey endured nearly three months of freezing temperatures, sleeping in a tent, and eating dehydrated food. The science itself was a hassle: To study the history of the floating shelf, he needed seafloor sediment, which was locked under a half mile of ice. Continue reading

Erewhon’s Multiple Identities

Nearly four years ago I mentioned Harrington Ham in a post, but did not mention that in 1978 and 1979 I worked as a stock clerk in the Harrington’s shop in my hometown. In addition to the most amazing hams, my employee discount allowed me to purchase all kinds of food items I otherwise would not have known from the A&P and Grand Union grocery stores where we otherwise shopped. Erewhon Organic was one of the brands carried, providing my introduction to “health food.” Which led to my discovery of this book, which I scarcely recall, but which instilled in me a curiosity about utopia, and an appreciation of anagrams.

Erewhon, an upscale organic grocery store and cafe, has six locations in the Los Angeles area. Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

Today, reading of this retail operation in California with a similar name, I took the opportunity to find out what happened to that old Erewhon brand; it is still out there, but has been reduced in scale and variety to producing only organic cereals. The retail Erewhon, almost as old as the brand I remember, looks like it is on a good trajectory for a long and prosperous life:

How Erewhon Became L.A.’s Hottest Hangout

With a little help from celebrities and influencers, the health food store became the place to see and be seen.

Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

Angelenos have long known that health is wealth, and the healthiest and wealthiest among them shop at Erewhon, the upscale organic grocery store with six locations throughout Los Angeles County.

Last year, after the coronavirus pandemic forced bars and nightclubs across the city to shutter, supermarkets were among the few places where people could still see and be seen. Erewhon, with its outdoor dining areas, became the unofficial hangout for the young, beautiful and bored. Like a moth to a nontoxic flame, the store drew Instagram flâneurs in droves — but also plenty of grimaces and eye rolls from locals. Continue reading

Birds & Birders At Marriott Hacienda Belen

Yesterday my hand reflexively reached for my phone to snap a photo. That happens most frequently when I see a bird, but in this instance it happened when I saw a man pointing binoculars at a group of squawking green parakeets who were eating fruit from a palm tree.The common conception of where birdwatchers stay while visiting Costa Rica at first seems at odds with this scene.

This hotel, Marriott Hacienda Belen, developed a guide for birding on property in 2018. About a year ago bird models adorned the tops of “no parking” signs, sending a birder-friendly signal. Since these were placed in front of the Authentica shop, I have regularly seen parents, many of them local guests during a year when there have been fewer international guest, bring their children to look at the birds, read the species name, then walk to each of dozen or so others within short walking distance. I count that as progress.

Remembering Books Not In Libraries

A few years ago, during a work visit in Athens, Amie and I made a last-minute decision to book a flight to Istanbul. We had both long wanted to visit, the flight was inexpensive, and we had a few days to spare. A primary impetus for the visit was to experience this museum. My memory of Istanbul is mainly my memory of the museum. And it is one of my strongest travel memories in a life full of travel. Reading about this “club” I realized there are more shrines for bibliophiles than I had imagined:

The Grolier Club: Celebrating the Art & History of the Book Since 1884

Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489 or 90-1565), the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends, the Club’s objective is to promote “the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” Through the concerted efforts of an international network of over eight hundred men and women—book and print collectors, antiquarian book dealers, librarians, designers, fine printers, binders, and other artisans—the Grolier Club pursues this mission through its library, its public exhibitions and lectures, and its long and distinguished series of publications.

The story of America can be told through the story of its periodicals. Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

And the only reason it came to my attention was thanks to Nathan Heller, whose subject likens magazines over earlier centuries to the social media of today in his cultural comment essay What Are Magazines Good For? Tickets to New York are inexpensive, which makes a visit tempting for this one reason, but it will have to wait:

…“The best way to think about magazines is as the analog Internet—they’d foster communities of people, just like on social networks,” Steven Lomazow, a seventy-three-year-old New Jersey neurologist who created the exhibition from his personal collection of more than eighty-three thousand magazine issues, said the other day. Continue reading

McKibben Reviews Gates

I am sure that the New York Times has made available, but I cannot find it, an explanation for when they link out to Amazon (e.g. on a podcast interview with an author promoting a recently published book) and when they do not (e.g. in a traditional book review). Our thanks to Bill McKibben for taking the time to review this book:

How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?

HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER
The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need
By Bill Gates

First things first — much respect to Bill Gates for his membership in the select club of ultrabillionaires not actively attempting to flee Earth and colonize Mars. Continue reading

Dry Season Here; Massive Tree-Planting There

We got as many trees in the ground as we could during 2020, and since it has been dry season for a couple months now we are mostly in maintenance mode. The most pleasure to be had during these months is seeing how the wildlife on our small plot of land changes. For example, the creature above, which I saw yesterday. I believe it is a Drab Tree Frog, but if you have a different opinion please let me know. Tomorrow we begin coffee germination, take two–and I will post on that. Meanwhile, thanks to the Guardian’s coverage of the environment, we have this news:

Volunteers helping on project for Woodland Trust, which sent out a million trees last year. Photograph: Philip Formby/PA

Digging in: a million trees planted as villages and schools join climate battle

Community forest projects have seen a surge in volunteers keen to reduce CO2 emissions by creating new woodlands

According to the Horticultural Trades Association, garden centre sales of hardy plants, shrubs and trees have soared. Photograph: Alamy

The UK may be in the grip of a winter lockdown but in one village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales the local climate-change group has been busy.

Plans are afoot to plant hundreds of trees on land surrounding Newton-le-Willows, in lower Wensleydale, in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. According to scientists, planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Continue reading

Alternatives To Amazon For Buying Books

Every time I listen to or read an interview with an author who has recently published a book, and want to get a closer look at the book itself, I click the link provided. Nearly 100% of the time the link goes to Amazon. Not good. When I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Kolbert on a podcast I respect, that is what happened. Frustrated by that link, I looked for alternatives to Amazon for buying this book, and found plenty.  For example, thanks to Powell’s Books for making the discussion about this book available in the online event above.

One option is Bookshop.org, which came to my attention while trying to find an interview with Kolbert about her new book that did not link to Amazon.  It took some effort, after finding the Powell’s links, but thankfully I found an interview given a couple days ago to Audubon for their review of Kolbert’s book. None of our many earlier links to Kolbert stories have featured an image of the author, so I will share here the one that accompanies the Audubon piece. In the middle of the interview there is this exchange:

Elizabeth Kolbert at the ​American Museum of Natural His​tory in New York. Photo: Suzanne DeChillo/Th​e New York Times/ReduxI have seen plenty of images of her, but this may be the only one in which she is smiling.

A: We’re, of course, doing this interview for Audubon, which focuses a lot on species conservation. Much of the work that people do to save various species—and there are so many examples of this in your book—involves altering previous ways that we’ve altered the natural world. How do you suggest that people who care about species protection think about efforts like these?

K: Well, that’s a really profound question, and to be honest that is the question at the center of the book. One of the points is, what do we think of as conservation, right? Continue reading

Reform School For Cats

The study also found that bells on collars made no difference to the number of animals killed by a cat. Photograph: GluePromsiri/Getty/iStockphoto

I am a cat person by nature. I have lost count of how many cats I had as pets since early childhood and well into adulthood, but I do remember our last two cats from three decades ago. Boris, a black cat with a tip of white on his tail, learned to jump up into my cradled arms if I stood in front of him and made a certain noise. His sister Mimi was named for the plaintive mi-mi cry she made when she climbed up onto the bathroom sink and rubbed her mouth against the faucet head, wanting us to turn the water on to drip out so she could drink. They lived long lives as indoor cats who did no harm to anyone or anything (that we knew of).  But when we learned how many birds, among other wildlife, that cats kill per year we decided not to adopt any more cats; we switched to dogs. Now, all these years later, I am happy to see there is hope for reformed cat behavior:

Meaty meals and play stop cats killing wildlife, study finds

Millions of pet cats are estimated to kill billions of animals a year but grain-free food can change cat behaviour

Feeding pet cats meaty food and playing with them to simulate hunting stops them killing wildlife, according to a study. Continue reading

Protecting Small Businesses From Amazon’s Monopoly Power

I am responsible for managing a small enterprise. As we expanded into ecommerce some months ago, I looked into the advantages offered by Amazon’s fulfillment services. But the disadvantages, which I have been reading about and posting about here for some years outweighed the advantages.

Andy Jassy. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Having just read this op-ed on the same topic, I am more convinced than ever of the dangers Amazon poses to companies like ours. Maureen Tkacik, a senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project, does an an additional service by highlighting the efforts of Congresswoman Lucy McBath (who Amie had the good fortune to be able to campaign for and who our family voted for when we resided in her district during her first campaign) to hold the company accountable:

What Jeff Bezos Hath Wrought

The Amazon founder prepares to step back just as Washington turns up the heat on the mega-retailer and cloud company.

If I had to guess who inspired Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, to kick himself upstairs and appoint Andy Jassy, a deputy, as his successor as chief executive, I might wager that at least part of the blame can be laid on Lucy McBath, the freshman Georgia congresswoman, and her understated grilling of one of the world’s richest men at a July hearing held by the House antitrust subcommittee. Continue reading

Geographic Information Systems, Tool For Conservation

Burhans realized that the Church had lost track of its vast landholdings. Photograph by Isabel Magowan for The New Yorker

When I was a doctoral student I was introduced to geographic information systems. I became interested in how this tool might be of use in the hospitality industry. By the time I co-authored a second article about this, I already had my dissertation research focused on an entirely different topic, and I also had a job offer in Costa Rica to put that research to use. So, my GIS fascination was short-lived. But it was revived in the last couple of years as Seth focused his graduate school education on how to use this tool for land stewardship and natural resource management. So, reading this article by David Owens was a delight on multiple fronts. Foremost is the knowledge that the tool I found useful for business purposes has an equally powerful use for conservation:

How a Young Activist Is Helping Pope Francis Battle Climate Change

Molly Burhans wants the Catholic Church to put its assets—which include farms, forests, oil wells, and millions of acres of land—to better use. But, first, she has to map them.

The role of the cartographer, according to Molly Burhans, is not just data analytics. “It’s also storytelling,” she said. Photograph by Isabel Magowan for The New Yorker

In the summer of 2016, Molly Burhans, a twenty-six-year-old cartographer and environmentalist from Connecticut, spoke at a Catholic conference in Nairobi, and she took advantage of her modest travel stipend to book her return trip through Rome. When she arrived, she got a room in the cheapest youth hostel she could find, and began sending e-mails to Vatican officials, asking if they’d be willing to meet with her. She wanted to discuss a project she’d been working on for months: documenting the global landholdings of the Catholic Church. To her surprise, she received an appointment in the office of the Secretariat of State.

On the day of the meeting, she couldn’t find the entrance that she’d been told to use. She hadn’t bought a sim card for her phone, so she couldn’t call for help, and, in a panic, she ran almost all the way around Vatican City. The day was hot, and she was sweating. At last, she spotted a monk, and she asked him for directions. He gave her a funny look: the entrance was a few steps away. A pair of Swiss Guards, in their blue, red, and yellow striped uniforms, led her to an elevator. She took it to the third loggia of the Apostolic Palace, and walked down a long marble hallway. On the wall to her right were windows draped with gauzy curtains; to her left were enormous fresco maps, commissioned in the early sixteenth century, depicting the world as it was known then. Continue reading

Hedgerow Versus Berm, Win-Win

Phoebe Weston is back in our pages with a story about the importance of a seemingly prosaic part of the old UK landscape–hedgerows.

Young dormice photographed by ecologist Rob Wolton during a two-year study of his hedge in Devon. Photograph: Robert Wolton

She covers their prospective role in meeting net-zero targets and the video above is an excellent primer on that. The details in her article below about Rob Wolton’s investigation of his own hedgerow is fascinating.  I am interested in the topic as much for the biodiversity implications as I consider whether my berms should all remain berms, or if some portion should become hedgerow:

‘Reservoirs of life’: how hedgerows can help the UK reach net zero in 2050

They store carbon and are havens for wildlife – it’s no wonder experts are calling for Britain’s hedge network to be extended

A dunnock’s nest containing eggs in Rob Wolton’s hedge. Thrush and bullfinch also made their homes in the hedgerow. Photograph: Robert Wolton

One New Year’s Day, ecologist Rob Wolton came up with an unusual resolution – to spend the next 12 months studying a hedge 40 metres from his house in the middle of Devon. He wanted to make a list of every plant, animal and fungus that used it. Why? Because a wildlife-enthusiast friend challenged him to do it during a long car journey.

“I thought it would take a year, but at the end of the first one Continue reading

Decades, Fruits & Labor

In mid-June the first personal reflections of our interns–the original purpose of this site being an opportunity for 20-somethings to reflect on conservation-related work in countries other than their own–will be 10 years old. Seth still contributes when his schedule allows. Michael does not, but one of his posts is the one I share most often with prospective interns as a benchmark for writing about their work experiences. To my eye, the early posts have aged well. We had one not-yet 20-something also contributing at that time; his writing at 17 (and his photography) matches the extraordinary experiences he was having.

The fruit in the image above is from trees planted 10 years prior to our starting to post on this platform, and so the fruits of our labor planting citrus 20 years ago gives me a few hundred reasons to be grateful. This is the fourth and final wheel barrow full of various types of oranges and limes, and in addition to drinking plenty of juice in the last month I am freezing many gallons for the remaining summer months.

Urban Greening Ideas Are Infectious, Union Square Park Case In Point

The image to the left is surely evocative for different people in different ways. I cannot see it without flashbacks to what that same spot looked and smelled and sounded like in 1987. It was a peculiar moment in time; I’ll leave it at that. This rendering reaches me just after seeing images of Penn Station’s recent renovation, which itself got me thinking about unique solutions to different kinds of urban challenges. In that case the interior was the thing. For cities where there is too much built space and traffic, greening of arteries is the thing. Also coincidental was last week’s news about the plan for the neighborhood where our sons attended school during the 2003-2004 academic year, which reaffirms my sense that good ideas are infectious.

Those news from New York and from Paris transported me to a very different urban space where we lived and worked for seven years. The image above and the title screen to the right both serve well to evoke an idea that was generated in one of India’s best preserved colonial harbor neighborhoods. Just prior to opening this property in that neighborhood we hosted four young creative professionals from Europe and the USA, two authors and two architects. One of the architects had recently completed work on our then-favorite model of urban re-utilization.
I stood with him on a rooftop overlooking the spice-trading on the street where our hotel was under construction. We had a breezy conversation about how this space might be made more accessible, and I commented on this neighborhood needing an urban design that, like the repurposing of two crumbling spice warehouses into our hotel would be respectful of history while not a slave to it. And the next day he disappeared, as guests do, but the idea is still out there, gestating, and in my hazy memory looks something like this image below.

“Envisioning Union Square’s Vibrant North Plaza” – Watercolor by Guido Hartray

Not the specifics, of course. But this dream-like watercolor rendering of Union Square Park’s future layout is a perfect reminder of that rooftop conversation about how Mattacherry might one day be a more effective version of its already awesome self. Carolyn McShea has posted this research note about the Union Square initiative on the website of Marvel Architects:

A Guiding Vision for Union Square and 14th Street

Union Square is famous for its rich activist history, successful Business Improvement District (BID) and 24/7 residential-commercial community that is also home to some of the city’s iconic buildings that have reached National Historic Landmark status. 14th Street is considered as a commercial corridor for New Yorkers and key cross-town thoroughfare. Continue reading

First Things First

Last week I walked with my grand-daughter among these almendro trees. Amie and I helped plant these when they were foot-high saplings in 2019, and we tagged one with our grand-daughter’s name. The trees, now 3+ feet high, are part of a coastal reforestation scheme; their beneficence includes producing fruits favored by scarlet macaws.

Demonstrators gather in front of the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, in the summer of 2011. Photograph by Melissa Golden / Redux

Everyone loves scarlet macaws. And these trees grow faster than our grand-daughter, giving constant positive feedback. When you have an opportunity to do something like plant a tree, or any other restorative act, first things first: do it. Thanks to Bill McKibben for pointing this out as one of the highlights of yesterday’s change of scenery in Washington, D.C.:

Joe Biden’s Cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline Is a Landmark in the Climate Fight

In his first hours in office, Joe Biden has settled—almost certainly, once and for all—one of the greatest environmental battles this country has seen. He has cancelled the permit allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada into the United States, and the story behind that victory illustrates a lot about where we stand in the push for a fair and working planet. Continue reading

Post-Harvest Coffee Processing

Processing coffee after harvest refers to getting the beans out of the cherry, with fruity pulp removed. How that happens, and what follows, is partly a function of tradition, which is itself a function of geography.

In Costa Rica, due to the abundance of water, the tradition historically was to wash the beans. Since I am in Costa Rica I will give a simple illustration of this process using a small quantity of beans. These are from a handful of trees as mentioned in yesterday’s post.

In the photo above, where the coffee is in a round sink basin, you can see some beans in the middle that have been removed from the cherries. You can also see a couple green beans, which get sorted out. The goal of the “washed” method of processing coffee post-harvest is to get all the beans out of all the cherries, with as much residual pulp removed as possible. Water makes this process easier. The skins and other residual material does not historically have much, if any, value. In recent years farms are taking greater care to compost this material and use the result to fertilize the soil where the coffee grows.

The wet weight of the washed coffee is irrelevant, but for comparison purposes I will note it here and then weigh the coffee again once dried. Although many coffee processing mills dry coffee on large patios with direct exposure to the sun, there is some belief that drying without direct exposure to the sun conveys some advantages to the final taste of the coffee. So, that is what we will do with this coffee. When it is fully dried, I will post again to explain the differences in the coffees process this way, and those processed the other most common way.

From Farm To Yard And Back Again

 

It is time to harvest these cherries from the several coffee trees that held their ground for more than two decades since this land was converted from farm to yard. In our conversion of yard to farm, these ripe cherries will provide the seeds for replanting the land after processing them in the simplest manner. Tomorrow I will show that process.

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

Beans, Birds & Business

Last month a magazine article was published about the origins of Organikos. We have told bits and pieces of the story in these pages, but Carol Latter was the first person to tell the story from a perspective outside of our family. The online version of the story has two photos, whereas the tangibly published version has ten; in both cases we were happy that a magazine from the state I grew up in, and where Seth has been living since 2018, was interested in sharing this founding story.

Today, reading Marella Gayla’s story about founders trending younger (and why), plenty to ponder. My takeaway is that for whatever reason ambitious young people see an important link between entrepreneurship and positive social outcomes, we can count that as a good thing:

Is Every Ambitious Teen-ager a “Founder and C.E.O.”?

Forget Model U.N. and the SATs. Kids today want to tell college admissions officers all about the companies they’ve started to save the world.

One striking innovation of modern meritocracy is the teen-age executive. High-school students used to spiff up their college applications with extracurriculars like Model U.N. and student council. Today’s overachievers want to grace their résumés with the words “founder and C.E.O.” When schools in Fremont, California, shut down in March, Jagannath Prabhakaran, a sixteen-year-old, seized the opportunity to join the ranks. Continue reading