Archive for August, 2013

What We’re Reading August 30, 2013

Last Sunday was cartoonist Walt Kelly’s birthday. He created Pogo, a mid-twentieth century political comic strip that featured a possum and his pals in the Okefenokee Swamp. Porky Pine was the resident philosopher who once said: “Thar’s only two possibilities: Thar is life out there in the universe which is smarter than we are, or we’re the most intelligent life in the universe. Either way, it’s a mighty sobering thought.” Unlike Porky Pine, the folks at the Starship Congress held in Dallas last week can hardly wait to get out of our solar system and meet the neighbors. This week’s edition of What We’re Reading includes a report from the Starship Congress on extraterrestrial protocol, a map that charts over 60 years of large fires near Yosemite, including the Rim Fire, and finally, 155 years after they were recorded, Henry David Thoreau’s botanical notes are being used in current day climate studies.


Selenites from Georges Méliès – A Trip to the Moon - 1902

Selenites from Georges Méliès – A Trip to the Moon - 1902

Last week, Dallas played host to the Starship Congress – a gathering of people who hope to move humanity toward the stars and membership in interstellar civilization. We’ve envisioned our first meeting with intelligent life in the universe in many ways – Vulcans who just happened to be passing by during the first warp engine flight, mysterious Monoliths, a stranded ET and some not so friendly encounters like The War of the Worlds or Independence Day, to name only a few. Is it too early for humanity to start thinking about a Prime Directive? Ian O’Neill of Discovery News reports on The Ethics of Interstellar Alien Encounters at the Starship Congress.


Detail of Rim Fire and Large Fire History / Jim Lawrence

Detail of Rim Fire and Large Fire History / Jim Lawrence

The Rim Fire is growing larger every day and is now in Yosemite National Park. Frank Jacobs, creator of the blog Strange Maps, has a new post on The Fire Last Time: Mapping Blazes Past, Present – and Future. He’s found a map – The Rim Fire and Large Fire History – compiled by Jim Lawrence of the Modesto Bee, which brings home the recurring nature of wildfires in the American West. “The Rim Fire has them all beat when it comes to devastation. By the time this fire-breathing dragon has been slain, it will have overlapped the perimeter of virtually every major fire in the region since 1949.”


Walden Pond / Wikipedia

Walden Pond / Wikipedia

Henry David Thoreau started collecting and pressing plant specimens in 1850. His aim was to create an Herbarium that he could use to identify plants found in the fields and woodlands surrounding Concord. He also kept records of the first flowering dates for 500 wildflowers in the area. Fast forward to the 21st century and Thoreau’s records are no longer just relics of a great American author. Richard Primack and Abraham Miller Rushing “realized how useful they would be for pinning down the impact of the changing climate over the last century and a half.” Alison Flood tells the tale in Scientists use Thoreau’s journal notes to track climate change in The Guardian.


This is one in a series of posts about what we’re reading at Whole Earth: stories about the environment, ecology, travel, outdoor living, ideas, art, writing, history, science, and creativity, and the people who make it happen. Have a suggestion? Please leave us a comment so we can add it to our reading list.

What We’re Reading August 23,2013

This week we’re listening to and reading about sounds – birdsongs, roaring lions, a Ted Talk (under 6 minutes!), sounds on the internet, and recordings made by Bernie Krause, the father of soundscape ecology. The stories appeared swiftly one after the other and serve as an invitation to open up our ears and listen to the sounds of life flowing around us.

Illustration by Martin Venezky

Illustration by Martin Venezky

Last week Clive Thompson opined that the web was too quiet and it was time to pump up the volume. He’s hoping for a search engine for sound or a Wikipedia of audio – “a worldwide effort to collect and record what the everyday world sounds like. Capture enough of it and we might discover fascinating new ways to understand the world.”

Serendipitously, Julian Treasure’s Ted Talk on sound – The 4 Ways Sound Affects Us – arrived via email. Treasure wants to us to be more aware of sounds and know their effects upon us. He caught our attention with his thoughts on birdsong. He points out that most people find birdsong reassuring. And there’s a good reason for that: over hundreds of thousands of years we’ve learned that if the birds are singing, things are safe. It’s when they stop that you need to be worried. Treasure recommends at least five minutes of birdsong a day, but there is no maximum dose.

Shortly thereafter, scrolling through facebook, what should appear but a link to The Sound of Birds – 60 Minutes – Natural Sounds. It seemed like the perfect time to put Julian Treasure’s five minute prescription to the test. An hour later, calm had set in. If you can’t be outdoors first thing in the morning to hear the dawn chorus, a recording like this might help you meet your daily requirement of birdsong.

Lion image from National Geographic - Michael Nichols

Michael Nichols for National Geographic

Other Earthlings have been listening to something completely different – National Geographic’s The Serengeti Lion: Life on the Plains with the Vumbi Pride. This online feature combines audio and video clips that bring viewers astonishingly close to the lions, bone-crunchingly close. Though it’s not as reassuring as birdsong, it may add the spice of adrenalin to your body chemistry. And, as with all National Geographic creations, it is visually rich.

Bernie Krause

Bernie Krause

To end this week’s edition of What We’re Reading, we’d like to reprise an article from several weeks ago, in case you missed it. Bernie Krause, known as the father of soundscape ecology, describes how he came to record the sounds of the natural world in Orchestra of the Wild. The article includes links to Krause’s recordings of Midsummer Nights West, Rainstorm in Borneo, African Safari Zimbabwe, and Amazon Days, Amazon Nights.


This is yet another in a series of posts about what we’re reading at Whole Earth: stories about the environment, ecology, travel, outdoor living, ideas, art, writing, history, science, and creativity, and the people who make it happen. Have a suggestion? Please leave us a comment so we can add it to our reading list.

What We’re Reading August 16, 2013

In this week’s edition we take a look at scary clowns and how they got that way; how eleven sets of eyes can see very different things when they take a walk around the same block; and what our children really learn from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Enjoy!

The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Most clowns aren’t trying to be odd. They’re trying to be silly and sweet, fun personified. So the question is, when did the clown, supposedly a jolly figure of innocuous, kid-friendly entertainment, become so weighed down by fear and sadness? When did clowns become so dark? Maybe they always have been.” The Smithsonian traces the history of scary clowns.

The Art of Looking: What 11 Experts Teach Us about Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes

The Art of Looking (Maira Kalman)

“Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you. By marshalling your attention to these words, helpfully framed in a distinct border of white, you are ignoring an unthinkably large amount of information that continues to bombard all of your senses.” Maria Popova at Brainpickings introduces us to Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking wherein she takes eleven walks around her block with expert eyes that see very different things.

Beasts at bedtime. (Photo By Craig F Walker/The Denver Post/Getty)

Beasts at bedtime. (Photo By Craig F Walker/The Denver Post/Getty)

“When people ask me what experiences made me want to be an environmental scientist, I usually think first of adventures with pets, shell-collecting along Dublin’s strands, maintaining the aquarium with my father, and much later, the college summers I spent collecting insects in Ireland’s national parks. But it seems clear to me now that time spent indoors, reading and being read to, had an equally powerful affect on me. Reading introduced me to nature – the sort of ordinary but wholly involving nature I encountered right outside my door.” Liam Heneghan at aeon answers the question, what do our children learn from The Very Hungry Caterpillar?


This is yet another in a series of posts about what we’re reading at Whole Earth: stories about the environment, ecology, travel, outdoor living, ideas, art, writing, history, science, and creativity, and the people who make it happen. Have a suggestion? Please leave us a comment so we can add it to our reading list.

What We’re Reading August 9, 2013

It’s been a scorcher this week – the perfect time to stay inside and read. In this edition of What We’re Reading, we find the answers to three questions: What if William Shakespeare wrote Star Wars? What does it mean that the Sun’s magnetic field is about to flip? And finally, what does a sculptor do when he goes to the beach?

Geometric Sandcastles by Calvin Seibert

Geometric Sandcastles by Calvin Seibert

Headed to the beach this weekend? Here’s some inspiration for your sandcastle creations. Sculptor Calvin Seibert says that building sprawling sandcastles is a challenge, “nature will always be against you and time is always running out.”
But he remains undaunted, and his sandcastles are fleeting works of art.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

If you’re a person of a certain age and interest, you can recite verbatim from the Star Wars Trilogy. Enter Ian Doescher. He re-imagines the movie as a Shakespearean play: “In time so long ago begins our play / In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.” Maria Popova shares some choice scenes.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s about to. Data from NASA shows that the sun’s global magnetic field is going to flip before the end of the year. The reversal, which signifies the arrival of Solar Maximum, will have ripple effects throughout our solar system.


This is yet another in a series of posts about what we’re reading at Whole Earth: stories about the environment, ecology, travel, outdoor living, ideas, art, writing, history, science, and creativity, and the people who make it happen. Have a suggestion? Please leave us a comment so we can add it to our reading list.

What We’re Reading August 2 2013

Last week we were seeing with new eyes. This week, we’re hearing the voices of the natural world, wondering about the relationship of song and language and being dazzled by a new video. Hope you enjoy them all!

“Biophonies and geophonies are the signature voices of the natural world. And as we hear them we are endowed with a sense of place – the true story of the world we live in. …While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures.”

Bernie Krause, known as the father of soundscape ecology, describes how he came to record the voice of the natural world in Orchestra of the Wild.

Pacific Light from Ruslan Khasanov on Vimeo.

Have you ever gazed at the marbled end papers of an old fashioned book? Those beautiful papers preserved a single moment in the flow and swirl of colored inks. Now fast forward to the present day and the work of Ruslan Khasanov. His video Pacific Light uses ink, oil, soap and extreme close-ups to bring marbling to life.

Did Music Come Before Language? “In Western societies we have lost the sense of the central position that music once occupied in communal life. It is still central in most parts of the world today – and there is no culture anywhere in the world that does not have music, and in which people do not join together to sing or dance. …And though it is controversial, it should not be surprising that some scientists believe that in the evolutionary development of humans, music came before language and was a path to the development of language.”


This is yet another in a series of posts about what we’re reading at Whole Earth: stories about the environment, ecology, travel, outdoor living, ideas, art, writing, history, science, and creativity, and the people who make it happen. Have a suggestion? Please leave us a comment so we can add it to our reading list.