Herbaria, Preservation & Science


Charles Davis, director of the Harvard University Herbaria, looks at specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau. Davis was a co-editor of a special issue of Philosophical Transactions B, which advocates for the continued preservation of biological collections. Jon Chase/Harvard file photo

Collecting plant specimens and pressing them for further inspection is a pastime many of us have tried at least once in our lives. It was fun while it lasted. And some beautiful mementos may have survived to tell the tale. The opportunity to look at and learn from plant specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau? Priceless. Thanks to Peter Reuell, a writer and publicist at Harvard University, for this:

Critical collections

Importance of biological samples and their preservation goes beyond the obvious


The Harvard University Herbaria holds a specimen of trillium collected by Henry David Thoreau. Jon Chase/Havard file photo

More than a century ago, when botanists and naturalists were in the field collecting plant and animal specimens, they couldn’t have imagined that scientists would one day be able to extract DNA from samples to understand how plants and animals are related to one another.

They couldn’t have imagined that their collections could one day shed light on the effects of global climate change, or the emergence and spread of pathogens, the spread of fungal-driven amphibian extinction, or the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing pollution in the U.S. Continue reading

A Fitting Celebration Of Henry David Thoreau’s Bicentennial

Today marks the birthday noted here, and I have just read another excellent essay marking the occasion. It happens to coincide with receiving a couple of excellent photographs from Richard Kostecke, a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge who will soon be a contributor to this site. I’m confident the birthday celebrant would appreciate both the photos and the person. I am mixing things up a bit by sharing these photos with the essay, but I hope the point will be well taken:

Six years before he moved to Walden Pond in 1845 to ponder life and live deliberately, Henry David Thoreau spent two weeks canoeing rivers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The voyage was an epiphany for him. Continue reading

Walking In Wildness, For The Sake Of The World

PreservationThis book to the left, first published the year I was born, was always on the coffee table in the home I grew up in. I have mentioned a high school exposure to Walden–the writing, the place, the idea–and I have been thinking about that recently as I ponder Chan Chich Lodge’s own little aquatic wonder. Thinking, of course, while walking, frequently encountering living relics of prehistoric wildness on those walks. Douglas Brinkley’s tribute to the legacy of Thoreau–the walker, thinker, writer, conservationist–as we approach the bicentennial of his birth a few days from now, is perfectly timed: Continue reading

Walden Pond’s Enduring Lessons


Kevin Hooyman

When a professor does years of research and teaching on a topic related to this particular pond, and then takes the additional effort to share his observations in cogent form as an op-ed, we believe it is worth at least 5-10 minutes of reading time:

What the Muck of Walden Pond Tells Us About Our Planet


In 1845, Henry David Thoreau repaired to a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” During the last two years, my students and I have come to that same pond to see what we could learn from the sediments beneath it. Continue reading

Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

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Lisel Ashlock

After coming across the Emerson item, and linking it to my own experience as a lapsed researcher, now entrepreneur, I went back and looked at some of the posts Seth wrote while taking coursework last autumn. The courses were remarkable for their relevance to what we do at La Paz Group: Environmental History; Environmental Archaeology; Ecology and the Environment; and Environmental Governance.  The history course, in particular, had a syllabus that I appreciated for acquainting or re-acquainting me with some of the roots of thought underlying my chosen occupation (whatever that is).

Now a few days later I have discovered that on today’s date in 1817 Henry David Thoreau was born.  A little more digging, and I see he serialized some of his writings in a magazine that still publishes today. He apparantly wanted his ideas spread as far and wide as technology would enable.  Surprisingly modern for a man who embodies “back to nature” more than most.  Would he have blogged in today’s world?

No need to speculate on silly questions: his writing speaks for itself. On June 1, 1858 he published his first of three tracts in The Atlantic Monthly.  It is a lovely meditation on the true nature of pine trees, poetic insight, and moose meat, among other things nineteenth-century.  Four years later to the day the same magazine posthumously (he had just died weeks earlier) published his second tract, called Walking, which has about as fine a statement as I can find anywhere: Continue reading

What the Trees Read

Without question, the section of Cayuga Lake’s Inlet that receives the most traffic is a small area of shoreline at the corner of the second tendril extending east from the Inlet into Ithaca. Community members and college students are attracted to this little spot on the Inlet, known as Steamboat Landing, because the Ithaca Farmer’s Market spends its weekends there, sheltered under a long wooden pavilion topped by a green metal roof. Dozens of stalls are laden with earthly, culinary, and artistic crafts; more than a couple hundred people a day visit each of them to browse and purchase these locally produced goods.

This quaint market is surrounded by a mixture of modern development and natural shoreline that I could not have noticed from the Inlet’s waters—only by walking around Steamboat Landing was I able to understand the spot’s significance to the Ithaca community, and connect elements of Henry David Thoreau’s and Aldo Leopold’s writings with the history of the place. Continue reading

Biophilia: E.O. Wilson, from Thoreau to Theroux

In December 2010 the Oxford English Dictionary (fondly called the OED) added 2,400 entries, including “biophilia“.  But E.O. Wilson published the term (as well as it’s city kin) in 1984 in the book of the same name.

My attention was on the forest; it has been there all my life.  I can work up some appreciation for the travel stories of Paul Theroux and other urbanophile authors who treat human settlements as virtually the whole world and the intervening natural habitats as troublesome barriers.  But everywhere I have gone–South America, Australia, New Guinea, Asia–I have thought exactly the opposite.  Jungles and grasslands are the logical destinations, and towns and farmlands the labyrinths that people have imposed between them sometime in the past.  I cherish the green enclaves accidentally left behind. Continue reading

Earth’s Eye

Thomas Cole's Long Lake Sketch 1846

“Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake, perchance, lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. It needs no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it. It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh; a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun’s hazy brush—this the light dust-cloth—which retains no breath that is breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high above its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden p177

Thoreau’s description of Walden and other lakes in New England came to mind this weekend as I was canoeing and swimming with friends across Lake Cayuga, Ithaca’s own majestic mirror (albeit a crinklier one than Walden, given our weather). Continue reading