Trees Are Social Creatures

When I first read about trees as social creatures five years ago it was thanks to a man in Germany. I am happy now to learn that a woman in Canada is at least as responsible for this concept as anyone else. She is promoting her book currently and there are at least three good ways to get a glimpse into it, and her, including this book review, this audio interview and IndieBound’s description:

Description

From the world’s leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest–a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she’s been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide. Continue reading

Fungi In Another Light

Starting with Milo’s 2011 and 2012 posts, our attention to the wide-ranging topics related to fungi have been in the spirit of public service announcement. Scientific sometimes overlaps with culinary interest, and that intersection has motivated more than one post. Today, having noticed that this coffee-brewer on my desk looks inspired by the Pleurotus that just appeared on my screen, the motivation is aesthetic. Thanks to Helen Rosner, whose sense of wonder has pointed me to a publication that is likely already known by our fungi-focused friends, and well suited to broaden the appeal:

The Mushroom as Muse

A zine by the photographer Phyllis Ma presents fungi in all their alien glory.

Hortiboletus rubellus.

John Cage, the avant-garde composer, was also a passionate mushroom forager. In his 1954 essay “Music Lovers’ Field Companion,” he wrote about his habit of going into the woods and “conducting performances of my silent piece”—his most famous work, “4’33”,” in which ambient sounds are the only music—while attempting to identify nearby fungi. “The more you know them, the less sure you feel about identifying them,” Cage said, almost three decades later, in a conversation with the French musician Daniel Charles.

Cordyceps militaris.

“Each one is itself. Each mushroom is what it is—its own center. It’s useless to pretend to know mushrooms. They escape your erudition.” I thought of Cage’s comments while paging through the third and most recent volume of “Mushrooms & Friends,” a photography zine by the artist Phyllis Ma. It is a mostly wordless publication, filled with Ma’s saturated, otherworldly images of mushrooms, many of which she gathers on foraging expeditions through the same upstate New York woods that enraptured Cage more than a half century ago.

Continue reading

Moonshot To Meatless

Peter Prato for The New York Times

Last month I learned enough from Ezra Klein’s food-related conversation with Mark Bittman to share the podcast episode. I listen to his podcast for the quality of his discussions with knowledgeable guests. But he is also a great essayist and yesterday he published an op-ed essay that is worth a read on a topic we have linked to many times:

Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat

It wouldn’t actually take that much of an investment for Biden to get us headed in the right direction.

I’m a vegan, but I’m also a realist. There’s no chance humanity is going to give up meat, en masse, anytime soon. That said, we can’t just wish away the risks of industrial animal agriculture. If we don’t end this system, soon, terrible things will happen to us and to the planet. Terrible things are already happening. Continue reading

Belize Maya Forest, Mission Accomplished

The Belize Maya Forest is home to five species of wild cat, including endangered ocelots. Photograph: Sergi Reboredo/Sipa USA/PA

The photo above, from the news story below, is similar not only to guest photos I saw but of sightings too quick to catch well on my on phone camera in 2016 and 2017. During that period, when we were under contract to oversee the management transition at Chan Chich Lodge, wilderness conservation was our primary motivation. In addition to the animal wildlife, the forest was habitat for other forms of life that have had a lasting impact on me. When we started offering ojoche in our shops in Costa Rica, I was able to check off one more item on a long to-do list that came from the time in Belize.

The last felled trees in Belize Maya Forest. Photograph: Handout

The idea for organizing a group of investors to accomplish this protection was more than well-formed. Names were attached to the idea already, and it was easy to imagine then that they were the right names; it just took more time than I expected for it to get accomplished. Now that it is, if anything this news understates the wow factor:

Conservation organisations purchase 950 sq km biodiversity hotspot, helping to secure a vital wildlife corridor

“These logs are historic,” says Elma Kay, standing in Belize Maya Forest, where she has been doing an inventory of felled trees. “These are the last logs that were cut here, for mahogany and other hardwoods, left behind by the previous logging company.” Continue reading

Cryptocurrency, Carbon & Culpability

According to one source, a single bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of power that the average American household consumes in a month. Photograph by Akos Stiller / Bloomberg / Getty

In my attempt to reduce my own carbon footprint, diet has been the low-hanging fruit I reached for first. But other parts of daily routine have also allowed painless reductions. I remain culpable on too many fronts, and had hoped for an explanation of the environmental issues around cryptocurrency that I could understand; Elizabeth Kolbert is the perfect person to provide it:

Why Bitcoin Is Bad for the Environment

Cryptocurrency mining uses huge amounts of power—and can be as destructive as the real thing.

Money, it’s often said, is a shared fiction. I give you a slip of paper or, more likely these days, a piece of plastic. You hand me eggs or butter or a White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino, and we both walk away satisfied. With cryptocurrency, the arrangement is more like a shared metafiction, and the instability of the genre is, presumably, part of the thrill. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that was created as a spoof, has risen in value by eight thousand per cent since January, owing to a combination of GameStop-style pumping and boosterish tweets from Elon Musk. On Tuesday, which backers proclaimed DogeDay, the cryptocurrency was valued at more than fifty billion dollars, which is more than the market cap of Ford. Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public last Wednesday; almost immediately, it became worth more than G.M. Continue reading

The Say-It-Out-Loud School Of Conservation

Frank Siebert wanted his Penobscot dictionary to capture how he believed the language was supposed to be spoken. Illustration by Laura Lannes

When we link to stories about efforts to conserve intangible heritage, especially those related to indigenous culture, we feel fortunate to have found them. Those that detail the complexities are rare. Today is my lucky day. Alice Gregory, who has appeared in our pages twice previously, is to thank. The time I first read anything by her I was in a bamboo and thatch structure in northwest Belize awaiting a major hurricane whose path I was in. I had nowhere to go. The distraction I found in her subject, combined with her wordcraft, kept the fear of total destruction at bay. If you are looking for something like that right now, try this:

How Did a Self-Taught Linguist Come to Own an Indigenous Language?

The Penobscot language was spoken by almost no one when Frank Siebert set about trying to preserve it. The people of Indian Island are still reckoning with his legacy.

When I first met Carol Dana, in the spring of 2018, she told me that she was thinking of getting a parrot. Dana, a member of the Penobscot Nation, one of five hundred and seventy-four Native American tribes recognized by the United States federal government, was attending a small ceremony at the University of Maine’s anthropology museum. She wore her silver hair pulled back from her face, and introduced herself to me as the tribe’s language master, a title, she added, that she wasn’t fully comfortable with. The idea of mastery seemed an imprecise way to describe the fraught relationship she had with the Penobscot words inside her head. Though not fluent, Dana has a better grasp of the language than anyone else on Indian Island, where six hundred of the world’s estimated twenty-four hundred members of the Penobscot tribe live. She admitted to being linguistically lonely. “I’ve been talking to myself in Penobscot for years,” she said. “You need to say it out loud, so your own ears can hear it.” Though she knew that a bird wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation, she thought that simply hearing Penobscot words spoken at home by another living creature would be better than nothing. Continue reading

Blue Bugs Signal Approval

We are having an early change of seasons in Costa Rica, where in the Central Valley the rains do not normally begin until May. In the last week we have had rain several times, which is unusual for April, but would be quite normal in the first half of May.

During the dry season I let patches of green grow without cutting, as a way to see where there may be subterranean water that will be useful in the future for irrigation.

In one such location some grasses grew that resembled bamboo, and once I started moving them recently dozens–maybe hundreds–of these blue bugs started fluttering about.

At the intersection of my sweatshirt and glove one settled long enough for me to get a good look, but I have no recollection of ever having seen this type before. Part of our purpose of the replanting we are doing has been increasing biodiversity on this little bit of mountain terrain, and today I got a buggy blue signal of approval.

Author’s Discussion Of A World On The Wing

When a respected naturalist mentions eBird, or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our family’s attention is rapt. I now realize that Scott Weidensaul first appeared in our pages in 2012, and then twice  since then before today. This time is different because he is interviewed by Dave Davies, one of the great conversationalists of our time, and they are discussing Mr. Weidensaul’s new book (click the book image above to order it from a non-Amazon source). The discussion does not shy away from the challenges related to bird populations, but has plenty to smile at too:

Naturalist Traces The ‘Astounding’ Flyways Of Migratory Birds

Scott Weidensaul has spent decades studying bird migration. “There is a tremendous solace in watching these natural rhythms play out again and again,” he says. His new book is A World On the Wing. Continue reading

Tasting Costa Rica In Chocolate

Four samples of Nahua chocolate: 100%; 90%; 70%; and one with an additional ingredient to be identified during the tasting session

Our first taste of place experience was a small gathering, but a lively one, and fulfilled our objective. Today we continue with our second event, focused on the ingredient-sourcing, production, and sustainability aspects of bean-to-bar chocolate. We will also taste four different chocolates, each with a different level of chocolate and one with an added mystery ingredient. Our supplier, Nahua, is a pioneer in Costa Rica’s sustainable cacao farming, as well as in gourmet chocolate production. Guests at this event will learn about the history of cacao in Costa Rica, much less well known that the history of coffee here but rapidly gaining a global following.

Tasting Costa Rica In Mead

Today we start a “taste of place” series with Costa Rica Meadery as our first artisanal showcase. And the first beverage we will be tasting is this best-selling mead that celebrates Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. A fusion of a mead, a “chicha”, and a local drink called “agua de sapo.” Made with multifloral honey, ginger, native corn malt, and spices from the north. Very refreshing, light-bodied with a strong aroma and taste of ginger and citrus.”

The idea is to taste all that with a small portion and a brief discussion, and then onward to four other mead products. Come taste the place!

Taste Of Place Experiences In Costa Rica

While bee populations have waned throughout rural America, urban hives are thriving in cities such as Detroit, producing honey that’s reminiscent of mint, clover or goldenrod. Photo by Patricia Heal. Prop styling by Martin Bourne

Terroir is a word that has appeared often in these pages. Taste of place, a phrase with related meaning, likewise has appeared plenty of times. This phrase is a tag line used frequently in our work, based on an experience I had in Paraguay in 2005. We will begin weekly “taste of place experiences” for guests in both Authentica shops tomorrow; starting with mead, followed by chocolate, then honey, coffee and so on. Every week an artisan will present how they source ingredients, how they make their product, and how the taste of it reflects the particular location in Costa Rica where sourcing is done. So, great to see this about urban taste of place movement in our neighbor to the north:

The Growers, Bakers and Beekeepers Embracing the Terroir of American Cities

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

Long celebrated in France, the concept of place-specific tastes is spurring the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities.

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

For centuries, the French have used the word “terroir” to describe the environment in which a wine is produced. Going back to the Latin “terra,” “earth,” it’s rooted in a traditional vision of the countryside and has become more fervently embraced as our agrarian past recedes. Continue reading

A Surprise At The Intersection Of Coffee-Growing And Bird-Watching

Mourning Warbler. Guillermo Santos/Provided

Villa Triunfo, final day of 2021 harvest

We recently visited Villa Triunfo, on the last day of the harvest. I have not yet had time to post the photos and video from that visit, but to the left is an image from that day. As interesting as the coffee varietals growing on this estate are the trees that shade the coffee, fix nitrogen in the soil, and provide compostable material to further enrich the soil. We chose to offer this coffee primarily for the taste, but the shade trees were part of our decision, given our commitment to support bird-habitat regeneration.

To my surprise, this recent finding by a team of researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech tells me that we need to do much more to promote the benefits of shade-grown coffee, not only for its impact on taste:

Shade-grown coffee could save birds, if people drank it

Shade-grown coffee beans. Guillermo Santos/Provided

Shade-grown coffee has big benefits for bird conservation, but the message may not be getting through to the people most likely to respond – birdwatchers.

A team of researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech surveyed birdwatchers to learn if they drank shade-grown coffee and, if not, why not. Continue reading

Indigenous Communities Telling Their Own Stories, Their Own Way

It has been some time since we featured a story about creative new methods by which indigenous communities protect their heritage, and The Field Museum (Chicago, USA) offers this exhibit to demonstrate new ways of presenting that heritage:

Listening to many stories

For many years, Native American communities weren’t given the opportunity to tell their own stories in museums. Apsáalooke Women and Warriors is a step in a new direction. Continue reading

Beloved Beasts, Author Interview

Art from Beloved Beasts by Michelle Nijhuis. Illustration: Courtesy of Norton

My interest in the history of conservation started with the discovery of an archive full of hotel guide books from earlier centuries, which led to another archive full of data about one of the earliest publicly-funded conservation projects, which in turn led to my doctoral dissertation. My particular interest is in the history of both conservation and tourism and their co-evolution over the past century. And this interest seems to run in the family, which might explain where our family’s various entrepreneurial activities have emerged from. All along the way, science writers have been a favorite source of nourishment.  I can better understand Michelle Nijhuis‘s two-year hiatus from our pages  thanks to Rachel Fritts, Editorial Intern at Audubon magazine, in this author interview:

Capturing the Whole History of Conservationism—for Better and Worse

In her new book ‘Beloved Beasts,’ author Michelle Nijhuis chronicles a movement dedicated to the ‘preservation of possibility.’

The author, Michelle Nijhuis. Photo: Seed Photography

Veteran science journalist Michelle Nijhuis has been writing about conservation for more than two decades. Her work on topics ranging from climate change to humans’ relationships with other species regularly appears in publications such as the New Yorker and The Atlantic. In her hotly anticipated new book, released March 9, Nijhuis sets out to tell the definitive history of the effort she dedicated her career to chronicling.

Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction turns an exacting eye on the history of conservationism, emphasizing the movement’s interconnectedness and complexity. Nijhuis takes the reader on a journey through time, from the plains bisons’ brush with extinction in the 1800s, to the community conservancies preserving wildlife in modern-day Namibia. Continue reading

A Conversation About Animal, Vegetable, Junk

First things first. The last time I linked out to a book based on a podcast interview with the author, it turned into a complaint about  the podcast’s link to Amazon for finding the book. This time the same podcast, interviewing another author about his recently published book, is linking to the book’s publisher instead of to Amazon. Click the image to go there. Progress. The book sounds like a perfect fit with our interests on this platform, and the quality of conversation with the author makes the episode itself worth listening to in advance of reading the book:

Mark Bittman Cooked Everything. Now He Wants to Change Everything.

The acclaimed food writer offers a sweeping indictment of our modern food system.

Mark Bittman taught me to cook. I read his New York Times cooking column, “The Minimalist,” religiously. Continue reading

Osa Peninsula Has A History Of Surviving Challenges, But It Takes Work

MAP BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY STAFF

After two visits in 2019 I wrote a quick note about the Osa Peninsula, and afterwards I found the map above on National Geographic’s website. A couple years have passed since those visits and National Geographic published this article that I somehow missed until now. Jamie Shreeve shares a history I was well aware of due to our four years managing Lapa Rios, and back then I heard versions of it many times in the first person; but here it is told better than by anyone else in my experience, plus accompanied by the kind of photography you expect from National Geographic (not included here out of respect for the copyrights of those images). The title notes the challenge facing the peninsula, and my bet is on the peninsula’s having the support it needs to survive:

A loss of tourism threatens Costa Rica’s lush paradise

The Osa Peninsula is a biodiverse wonder and a model for conservation. But its preservation programs have been devastated by COVID-19.

Celedonia Tellez doesn’t recall the year she moved to the Osa Peninsula, or exactly how old she was, but she remembers well why she came: free land. At the time, the peninsula, a 700-square-mile crook on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, was a forest frontier, separated from the mainland by a neck of near-impenetrable mangroves and accessible mainly by boat. Celedonia was pregnant when she arrived with her five children, six chickens, a dog, and 700 colones, about one dollar. She also brought her boyfriend, but he “hated nature, and would run away from insects,” she remembers. So she took an ax and cleared the land herself.

“When I was cutting down the trees, I would think how they must have taken so long to grow, and I cut them down in an instant,” she says. “That’s what we did. We cut down the forest to live.” Continue reading

Pygmy Hogs In Assam

The pygmy hog is still endangered but a reintroduction programme in Assam, India, has given it a greater chance of survival

A highlight of seven years living and working in India was a brief visit to Assam to review the land holdings of an investor who was considering having us assist with the development of a conservation-focused lodge. I did not know about this endangered species at the time, but its current status brings a good vibe to my day for more than one reason:

Pig in clover: how the world’s smallest wild hog was saved from extinction

A pygmy hog enters the wild from the release enclosure in Manas reserve. Photograph: Goutam Narayan

The greyish brown pygmy hog (Porcula salvania), with its sparse hair and a streamlined body that is about the size of a cat’s, is the smallest wild pig in the world, and also one of its rarest, appearing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as endangered. Continue reading

Promoting PIMBYism

A good method for converting so-called NIMBY opponents of turbines and other renewable-energy infrastructure would be to give locals a stake in the enterprise’s economic success. Photograph by Simon Dawson / Bloomberg / Getty

“No vote for wind power advocates” – wind power opponents’ election poster for the 2017 parliamentary elections. Source: windwahn.com

We have giant turbines along the ridge at the top of the mountain where we live. I enjoy looking at them, not because they are pretty, or perfect, but because they represent progress. I never had the NIMBY inclination. If the turbines were in my face all day, every day, or if I had some sense that they were affecting my property value, perhaps I would feel differently. I had thought of the acronym PIMBY, thanks to those turbines uphill from us, before reading this, but am glad to see it is a thing. Thanks, as always, to Bill McKibben for his newsletter’s role in getting us to see further down the road:

The Shift to Renewable Energy Can Give More Power to the People

The pandemic has driven a lot of people outdoors: reports show that park visits are up around the world and parking lots at hiking trails are packed. That’s understandable—by now you’d need to chop down a sizable forest to print out the studies showing that time in nature reduces stress, cuts healing times, and enhances the functioning of the immune system. As Sadie Dingfelder wrote in the Washington Post in December, “I’ve always found it relaxing and rejuvenating to be outdoors, but the anxiety and isolation of the pandemic, the uncertainty of civil unrest and, oh, I don’t know, the potential crumbling of American democracy have made me crave nature like a drug.” Continue reading

Food Giants Exploiting Addictions

Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, by Michael Moss. Random House

I have made progress, but not enough, changing my diet. Reducing meat consumption by more than half was challenging, but with more vegetarian restaurants and more vegetarian recipes being shared, tasty meatless is easier. I have succeeded more at eliminating processed foods than I have in becoming vegetarian, with maybe 80% processed foods eliminated. But on occasion I have slipped, put something crunchy in my mouth, and end up feeling like an addict on a binge. Barbara J. King, last seen in our pages nearly seven years ago, graces National Public Radio (USA) with another review, There Are So Many Flavors Of Potato Chips; ‘Hooked’ Looks At Why, that helps me understand the challenge I am up against:

Around the corner from where I live in small-town Virginia is a Kroger’s grocery store. According to its website, the store sells 20 flavors of Lay’s potato chips: classic, wavy, wavy ranch, baked, barbecue, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, lightly salted, cheddar and sour cream, limon-flavored, honey barbecue, sweet southern heat, dill pickle, flamin’ hot, flamin’ hot and dill pickle, cheddar jalapeno, jalapeno ranch, lime and jalapeno, kettle-cooked, and kettle-cooked mesquite barbecue. Continue reading

Todo Bajo Del Sol, Reckoning With Mass Tourism

One of the early images in Todo Bajo el Sol shows a group of fishermen hauling their boat on to a beach that will eventually be given over to the towels and umbrellas of foreign holidaymakers. Photograph: Penguin/Random House

Thanks to the Guardian for this review. I had not even heard of this novel yet, let alone had a chance to read it. But since my last 25 years have been dedicated to helping places avoid the pitfalls of mass tourism, I look forward to reading it:

Todo Bajo el Sol: Spanish graphic novel explores history of mass tourism

Ana Penyas’s book tells story of three generations of a family whose lives reflect Spain’s socioeconomic transformation

Alfonso, one of the novel’s protagonists, is rewarded for his hard work as a waiter. The box contains a souvenir plate that reappears at the end of the book. Photograph: Penguin/Random House

The opening pages of a new graphic novel charting Spain’s long, profitable and often counter-productive relationship with tourism show four fishermen hauling their boat on to a Mediterranean beach already in the early stages of occupation by the new breed of foreign holidaymakers.

While the fishermen, rendered in monochrome to reflect their looming obsolescence, heave their boat ashore, a tourist, drawn in colour, sits beneath the shade of his beach umbrella and prepares to study a guidebook produced by the Franco regime. Continue reading