February 8, 2012

Sticking up for natural history

The Natural History Network is “a group of educators, researchers, and writers who are passionate about the importance of natural history and natural history education in the development of healthy people, vibrant human communities, and integrated learning institutions.”  Its mission:  “to promote the value of natural history by discussing and disseminating ideas and techniques on its successful practice to educators, scientists, artists, writers, the media, and the public at large.”

They recorded a bunch of members speaking to why studying natural history is so important.  University of Washington professor Julia Parrish talks about how environmental science is considered a “soft science”, for example, but how she believes natural history is just as if not more important than calculus, and why.  And Government advisor Gary Machlis talking about  how science is civics. And Gary Paul Nabhan (pictured above) talks about how understanding and engaging with natural history is an act of creativity.

And there are lots more.  It’s called “Conversations” and it’s a great listen.  Especially invigorating for teachers and artists who want to engage with science. Like me.

Fascinating, passionate, and a real shot in the arm.




November 27, 2011

Don’t Buy This Jacket

Happy (American) Thanksgiving, everybody.  Hope yours was as full of football and fine food as mine was.  I had a Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak TV dinner and spotted 3 ships, so mine was fantastic. (And I rinsed and recycled the tray.  So there!)

I nearly spit out my Sanka when I saw this ad in the New York Times the next day, a.k.a. Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S.A., from Patagonia, the fancy eco-conscious clothing company that makes outdoor gear:

Pretty funny, huh?  Or pretty sassy.

They explain why on their company website:

The test of our sincerity (or our hypocrisy) will be if everything we sell is useful, multifunctional where possible, long lasting, beautiful but not in thrall to fashion. We’re not yet entirely there. Not every product meets all these criteria. Our Common Threads Initiative will serve as a framework to advance us toward these goals.

Fair enough!

Back to my ship-spotting nook.

October 16, 2011

The oldest living things in the world

This chestnut tree in Sicily is approximately 3,000 years old, a mere baby.

Hello my friends,

You might think the oldest living things are Andy Rooney and Larry King, hehe, but no.

There’s a photographer named Rachel Sussman who has been photographing the world’s oldest living things. Many of them are trees, the branches and roots twisted and gnarled, like the tree above.  Some are bacteria, lichens, fungi.  One I very much like is a mysterious mossy-looking shrub in Chile.  There’s also an underground forest (!) near Pretoria, South Africa, estimated to be 13,000 years old, before humans had even developed agriculture.  There’s some underwater sea grass that will — como se dice –  blow your mind.  And what looks like a forest of white tree trunks, which is actually one single tree.  It’s worth looking at her TED Talk, because she talks about her photographs in greater detail how she reached some of her subjects.

They are like the great grandmothers at family gatherings who sit in the corner quietly, observing all the new life around them.

September 21, 2011

Our Place in the Universe

The more I see as a human being, the bigger I want my films to be.  I yearn to make people understand themselves and the world in new ways.  I feel a kinship with the makers of JOURNEY OF THE UNIVERSE.  It blew my mind when I saw it.  (It’s showing on PBS this fall.)  I have no idea if I could ever make a film like this on my own, but it’s the kind of film I wish I’d made myself.

Brian Thomas Swimme is the subject, co-writer, and “host” of the film.  He’s an author and evolutionary philosopher.  He’s profoundly curious, thoughtful and engaging about life’s biggest questions, how we got to where we are and where we’re going.  The film is profound — sort of like WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW?  but a little bit more philosophical and professorial.

This film is big.  Huge, really, is the word.  Swimme (who co-wrote the film with other scientists and several Yale divinity professors ) connects big-picture issues in surprising ways.  There’s an accompanying book, which is equally worth reading.

The film takes place on the Greek island of Samos, the birthplace of ancient mathematician Pythagoras.  Swimme talks about cosmic evolution as a process based on immense creativity, connection, and interdependence. He connects the birth of the cosmos to discoveries about the human genome, to our impact on Earth in this period of ever-greater environmental and social crisis.

This film invites us to examine how we are woven into the web of life. It is designed to inspire a new and closer relationship with Earth

And it’s beautifully shot.

The bar is very high.

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