Category Archives: Cultural Connections
Nature’s influence on our human existence.
I am an avid collector of small things both natural and cultural: rocks, seedpods, carvings, fetishes, art, more rocks, curiosities, skins, and – wait – did I already mention rocks?
Many of my naturalist comrades share this tendency to hoard similar items, perhaps as a way to remember the places we’ve been or to bring the outdoors inside. Our fascination with these items is not a new trend; in fact, collecting “curios” (defined as a rare or unusual object, considered attractive or interesting) dates back to the ending of the Middle Ages and the opening of the Renaissance.
Do any of you ever have that experience where you’re looking at your amazon.com wishlist and you’re so overwhelmed because there’s so much to READ and LEARN and DO and TRY that you have to just walk away and take a deep breath because how can you possibly accomplish it all in one measly lifetime?
No? Okay, well, it doesn’t happen to me either, I was just being hypothetical. Tooootally hypothetical.
Books are, for me, one of the greatest things mankind ever came up with, next to cars, the post office, and waffles. To be able to disseminate such vast amounts of information so easily and widely is priceless, even in the age of Google. I haven’t taken the dive into the Kindle or tablet reader yet – have you? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.) There is something so intimate and tactile for me about sitting down with a new tome and folding the corners of pages I want to remember. And really, it even starts before that: there are few more kid-in-a-candy-shop experiences for me than buying myself something at a bookstore and excitedly rushing it home to put it on the dresser. Or, as is more common, pouring through webpage upon webpage of books to select the exact one I want to order, and then checking the mail every day (even though I know it will take many days) until it arrives.
Books are like people I know. They have things to tell me. They stay with me. Sometimes I share them with others. Sometimes I read them so much that their pages wear and their spines wither, but they always forgive me.
Okay, I’m starting to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, so let’s get to the point of all this rambling before I float off into space. Really, I just felt like sharing a few from my library with you.
To be fair, I’ve only read two of them. Weed ‘Em and Reap: the weed eater reader by Roger Welsch is one I bought forever ago and never got around to reading, so it’s been pulled out and placed in the “Time to Read This Now” pile.
The other two are strong favorites.
Making an Impression by Geninne Zlatkis is an instructional book about carving your own stamps and producing a wide variety of items or art pieces with them. This of course appeals to me greatly as a printmaker, but even more so because of Geninne’s deeply individual style. Her nature sketches are simple but evocative, and she encourages the reader to go on their own journey in finding a style. She gives you lots of projects and patterns to try on your own, and just looking through her photos is like perusing an art catalog. I love her work. In fact, this book has been a huge influence in my stamp-making and printing recently and whenever I’m feeling stuck in the mud creatively, I can pull this one out and refresh instantly. I don’t want to give away too many goodies, but if you’re artistically or craftily inclined, I highly recommend this book. (You can also check out what Geninne is up to at her blog) You can click on the photo to go to Amazon, where you can actually flip through some of the pages and see what I mean.
The other book I wanted to share with you is called Li: Dynamic Form in Nature by David Wade. Holy cow, you guys. I could not put this little gem down. It’s produced by Wooden Books, which is a UK company, and most of their books follow a similar formatting: small, simple designs, and enough info and illustrations to get you excited about the topic. Some of those topics are little known in the Western world, like the study of Li, or the Golden Mean (which will be my next Wooden Book purchase).
So what’s “Li,” you ask? Well, let’s see if I can explain it without completely butchering it. So there was this Confucian scholar named Zhi Xi who lived in the 1100s. He brought the idea of Li from the I Ching, and taught it as being the underlying organizational principles of the universe. These principles show up in nature as patterns, mostly that we take for granted but that actually are related and have particular causes. (I hope I got that right – if any of you out there know more about this topic, please comment, I would love more information!)
I had heard about this idea briefly while watching a video on our magical universe, and then got to work looking for books about it. I either broke the internet or it’s just not a thing here, but David Wade’s book was the only book I could find solely on the idea of Li without diving too deeply into Chinese history.
I’ve snatched two sentences from the Introduction in hopes of summarizing what this book is about:
What we are dealing with here then are graphic expressions of a great range of archetypal modes of action, whose traces may be found throughout the natural world. They present, in a traditional Chinese view at least, an order that arises directly out of the nature of the Universe.
Still confused? That’s okay, here’s a picture to make it all better.
I don’t want to give away all the goodies in this book (as Wade has both written the book and illustrated it) but hopefully this little peek will intrigue you. This chapter is on the “Rivas,” or river-like drainage systems, which, Wade writes, “are representations not of mere conduits but portray the most active part of the earth’s hydrological cycle, and as such are important energy distribution patterns.” (p. 38) So it’s not just about lines – it’s about energy, movement, and the constant not-sameness of the planet. It’s pretty amazing stuff, and if you aren’t into the ethereal part of it, that’s okay: if you’re a naturalist in any sense, you will love seeing nature’s patterns pulled out of context and how they associate with one another, or what causes them. Each image is unlabeled on its page (Wade tells you what each image is in the text), so I had a great time trying to guess what was represented in each illustration before reading the text.
This book also makes a great gift for your loved ones that enjoy art, design, mathematics, physics, printmaking, geology, etc. The list could go on. I love this book, have I mentioned that already?
I’ll get back to you on the Weed ‘Em and Reap book, but in the meantime I hope you’ve enjoyed these two. Do any of you out there have either? I’d be interested to know if you’ve ever heard of the Chinese concept of Li, too. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day! :)
Brrrr… are you guys ready for spring yet? We sure are! But since we still have a little longer in the cold, let’s celebrate more winter goodness.
As you may have read in our last post about animal winter survival methods, there are two basic types of tools for getting through extreme weather: physiological adaptations, and behavioral adaptations. For the human animal, our physiological adaptations may not seem readily apparent, and our behavioral adaptations look more like “culture.” Read on to learn ten awesome (and relatively random) facts about how we walking apes adapted to survive colder temps!
With the American holiday of Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, I wanted to share this beautiful piece of history with you. The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois nations, have what’s commonly called the “Thanksgiving Address,” and it’s the perfect thing to contemplate this time of year, no matter where you live.
I believe that it’s incredibly important to remember that without the indigenous people of North America, America as a country would not exist; indeed, many of our ancestors in the US would not have survived their first winters. There’s no getting around the ugly history of American settlement: the history books are quite unkind and unfair to the First Nations. Please remember and understand that these several hundred nations still exist, that these people are still here, that their cultures are still under threat, and that they deserve our respect and acknowledgement. I am grateful to the original speakers for the beautiful words below.
Even if you don’t find a space in your holiday celebrations to say it out loud, I encourage you to pursue a few quiet moments to read and absorb this beautiful, ancient, and timeless Thanksgiving Address.
Read the rest of this entry
When I lived next to the Chesapeake Bay, there came a point in April where there was no going back; there may be chilly days and plenty of rain, but you could rest assured knowing that snow was another seven months away and your gardens wouldn’t succumb to a freezing night.
Where I live now, there’s no such thing as a line between winter and spring. Yesterday we had nearly two inches of snow on the ground in the morning. It melted off by the afternoon, but the day was still cold unless you had the chance to stand in direct sun during a brief moment when the wind wasn’t blowing.
If any of you follow me on Twitter, you’ve read my griping all winter about how I ache for heat and sunshine. Even though we can get snow at any time of year, what quickens my little naturalist heart is the fact that despite the cold temperatures, the world here is still rousing itself for the shifting of the seasons.
Today, I just felt like listing a few of those signs, because if I – and you – stop for just a moment to watch, listen, and feel, your whole day can change. We’re so used to ignoring our natural rhythms that we forget to be a part of the wild, so even just ten seconds a day can reconnect you and ground you.
Inside the Nature Center…
…the Pacific Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) spend a portion of the day croaking. There are three males in the tank and one female (poor girl looks tired), but only one usually does the croaking. They’re so incredibly loud you wouldn’t believe such a noise could come out of such a tiny body! They’re also moving around the tank whereas they didn’t do a lot of moving during the winter, just staying hunkered down instead.
…the Western Skink (Eumeces skiltonianus) has come out of hiding; he stays buried beneath the substrate for most of the winter and doesn’t eat any of the crickets offered to him. He’s now basking his little black and blue body, flicking his tongue out to taste the air, and chases down crickets like a mad thing before devouring them.
…the Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer) suddenly has an appetite again. This animal can go nine months without eating, despite the heat and light we keep in the tank year-long. It’s a beautiful testament that all of the reptiles and amphibians here have a natural, ingrained cycle that all the false environment in the world can’t take away. Which tells me that we do, too, no matter how hard we try to ignore it.
…the Long-Toed Salamanders (Ambystoma macrodactylum) have risen to the surface of the tank. This may not sound like much, but I never get to see them throughout the winter, as they’re always buried in the soil. This time of year, however, when I lift their water dishes to change out the water, they’re right there beneath them, and they eat voraciously too.
Outside the Nature Center…
…the Chickarees (also known as Douglas or Pine Squirrels, Tamiasciurus douglasii) are in a state of complete hyperactivity. One in particular has claimed our Nature Center as his very own. Not only does he chase Gray Squirrels three times his size away from the bird feeders, he manages to get inside some of our outdoor buildings and pilfers items. He’s known for stealing insulation, paper towels, and once I even watched from a window as he attempted to stuff his face full of mop-head fibers – still connected to the mop – and make off with the whole thing. It proved too large for him to handle, so he quit, but sliced fibers were found in his nest (the place where all of the stolen items end up). If our head of maintenance makes the mistake of leaving his lunchbox open in the shop, the squirrel also makes off with baggies of peanuts and Doritos. This squirrel is so tenacious that he squeezes inside of our squirrel-proof bird feeders (ha) to eat the delicious sunflower seed, already hulled for his convenience. He and I had a battle last year where I’d run outside when he was in there to yell like a maniac or squirt him with water. He was utterly undaunted and if he bothered running off, he came back mere moments later. I eventually gave up, and he’s now earned my undying respect and admiration. Visitors often ask if he’s “supposed to be in there?” when they see him in the bird feeder. My answer is, without a doubt, yes.
…the Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) – which are not called Canadian Geese – make an unholy ruckus every day. The chase each other, battle it out on water and land, and even spar on our rooftops, scaring the bejesus out of our administrative ladies as they think someone’s trying to break into the building. They stand up there and honk at each other or at us. Ah, mating season.
…this morning as I walked down the path to the Nature Center building, a little Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) landed on the entrance of a nesting box that I’ve never seen anything use, with a huge hunk of moss in its beak. It eyed me for a moment before disappearing inside, and I hope hope hope HOPE she makes a little family this year!
…the swallows are back! I’m not going to list any scientific names because, truth be told, I have no idea what kind of swallows they are, but they’re out there darting over the water after insects. They’re absolutely amazing in that there could be a dozen of them in one small area, and they swoop and maneuver around each other without colliding.
…the coyotes (Canis latrans) are back in action. They’ve been spotted a number of times close by the Nature Center in the early mornings, and we hear them yipping to each other as they hunt. Visitors are reporting them as well, and there’s something just really magical about wild dog cousins out roaming around, looking for voles and emerging squirrels.
…the Belding’s Ground Squirrels (Urocitellus beldingi) have come out of hibernation and have returned to a system of tunnels behind our administrative building, hopefully to raise another family. Last year we were privileged enough to watch through a window as baby squirrels emerged from the sandy tunnels to practice climbing and playing and to sun themselves in the summer heat. Talk about cute-overload. They fell down a lot.
So far, the hummingbirds and the otters haven’t shown up yet but as you can imagine, I eagerly await their arrivals. I listen each day for the distinctive buzzing of hummingbird wings so I can get the feeders out, and keep an eye on the lake for the sinewy, graceful lines of swimming mustelids.
In the plant world, the manzanita (Arctostaphylos) has beautiful hot-pink flowers hanging from beneath its leaves already, and the tiniest tips of fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) are poking out of the ground where I planted one last year. Soon the Ponderosas will start smelling sweet!
I am so, so fortunate to experience all of these things each day, and I want you to know that you can experience them too. This world is just outside your door, even if it’s only in the microcosm of the cracks in the sidewalk where dandelions and ants are the predominant species.
What are the signs of spring where you are? I would love you to leave a comment sharing the things you’re noticing about the changing of plants and animals as the seasons shift in your part of the world. Thanks for reading!