• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2012 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

The Science of Christmas

Since 1825, December has been the month for The Royal Institution of Great Britain’s “Christmas Lectures for Young People”, established by Michael Faraday, who presented 19 of the early lectures himself. According to the RI, the lectures “serve as a forum for presenting complex scientific issues to children in an informative and entertaining manner, and are particularly well-known for students’ participation in demonstrations and experiments”.  Since 1966, the lectures have been on television thanks to the BBC, and many are available free online; registration, which is free, is required and highly recommended.

Some notable lectures and lecturers: in 1964, Desmond Morris on “Animal behaviour”; in 1973, David Attenborough on “The language of animals”; in 1977, Carl Sagan on “Planets”; in 1991, Richard Dawkins on “Growing Up in the World” (which is also free online here).

This year’s lecture is “The 300 million years war” presented on Saturday, December 5th by Prof. Sue Hartley:

Plants might seem passive, defenceless and almost helpless. But they are most definitely not! Thanks to a war with animals that’s lasted over 300 million years, they’ve developed many terrifying and devious ways to defend themselves and attack their enemies. Vicious poisons, lethal materials and even cunning forms of communicating with unlikely allies are just some of the weapons in their armoury. Using these and other tactics, plants have seen off everything from dinosaurs to caterpillars.

You can watch a number of Royal Institution lectures for Children at the RI’s web archives.

Also available online at the RI website: games (What’s Inside an Element?, The Science of the Elements Quiz, Build Your Own Skeleton, and more) and pages of educational resources for teachers and others.

Yet another reason to home school

After Wal-Mart, [Ms. Perry] was off to Meijer’s to look for an Xbox 360 for her son, and for gifts inspired by the film ‘Twilight’ for her 12-year-old daughter.

” ‘She’s got to have the Twilight lip gloss,’ Ms. Perry said. ‘Every girl at her school has it, so she’s got to have it, too’.”

from yesterday’s New York Times account of Black Friday 2009

*  *  *  *

As I was reminded while poking around the Whole Foods store on Amsterdam and 97th yesterday ($9.99 for 30 ounces of mashed potatoes, and organic, naturally colored sprinkles for baking, neither of which exists at my Co-op supermarket in Alberta), my husband, children, and I live in a very, very different world.

When I headed out here last week, my 12-year-old daughter, who is more or less unaware of the phenomenon that is Twilight (until she reads this blog post maybe) was reading Anne of Green Gables, rereading The Penderwicks, working on her quilling cards to sell at the Christmas Farmer’s Market on Tuesday, using Blistex Medicated Berry Lip Balm, and doesn’t really have to have anything for this Christmas…

More on history and food

If you happen to find yourself in NYC next week, food historian Francine Segan is speaking at the 92nd Street Y on the history on the history of pie (hat tip to Allison Hemler at Serious Eats NY):

Pie! A Tasting and History, Tuesday, November 17, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

From the Y’s website:

Pies, both sweet and savory, have a fascinating history. find out the stories behind pie-eating contests and the three-foot-high pasta pies served to Italian royalty; pie recipes that won $25,000; why the expression “American as apple pie” is grossly untrue and much more. Includes tasting of mock apple, lemon meringue and banana cream pies, tarts and savory pies. Recipe handouts allow you to indulge your sweet tooth at home.

As a child I was always intrigued by the recipe for mock apple pie on the Ritz crackers box (and also by the tale of Ma Ingalls’ similar pie, made with green tomatoes), but never quite intrigued or brave enough to actually make it. 

If you can’t make it to New York but would like to include more food in your history — or music and movie appreciation –studies, Ms. Segan has a list of her lecture topics here (Feasting with Caesar: Lush Life in Ancient Rome and The King’s Table: Sea Serpent Stew & Dragon’s Brew, for delicious example) and has also written a number of cookbooks to spark your imagination:

Shakespeare’s Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook

The Philosopher’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook

The Opera Lover’s Cookbook: Menus for Elegant Entertaining

Movie Menus: Recipes for Perfect Meals with Your Favorite Films  


Schnitzels and shells: Cooking behind the lines

This being what the Canadian government now calls Veterans’ Week, it seems a good time to note that the new documentary film “Cooking History” by Peter Kerekes just had its New York City premiere at the American Museum of Natural History.  From the website,

What keeps the armies of the world going? Tanks, submarines, airplanes, bullets, bombs? Actually, bread. Bread and blinis and sausage and coq au vin, even “monkey meat” rations. As one cook puts it, without food, the army would be in a shambles. Taking a tour of 20th century battlefields, Peter Kerekes revisits its mess halls and field kitchens, asking the cooks to recreate the meals they served at the front. One Russian woman prepares blinis she once made for the soldiers fighting off the Germans outside Leningrad. Another hunts mushrooms in a Czechoslovakian forest. Hungarians slaughter a pig for kolbasz. A German sings a fight song while baking black bread for the soldiers who just took Poland. A French conscientious objector chases a cockerel for his dinner. Reliving the battles while they prepare the food, the cooks are proud of their roles in serving their countries yet remain haunted by the suffering.

You can watch the trailer at the AMNH website, too.

And from Variety‘s review,

Proving the maxim “An army marches on its belly,” playful docu “Cooking History” inventively uses the field kitchen as a prism through which to view 20th-century European history. Slovak multihyphenate Peter Kerekes (“66 Seasons”) provides fascinating sociological insights via powerfully staged interviews with a baker’s dozen of military cooks, plus Marshal Tito’s personal taster. Already released in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and winner of the international feature prize at Hot Docs, this tasty morsel (including 10 recipes) should be gobbled up by niche arthouse distribs and broadcasters around the world.Structured as separate episodes that consider conflicts such as WWII; the Russian invasions of Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Chechnya; the Franco-Algerian war; and the Balkan bloodbaths, Kerekes lets his articulate (and mostly aged) subjects hold forth in monologues, prompted every now and then by his off-camera questions. Through their subjective recollections, food preparation becomes a metaphor for battle strategy.

Engrossing as the cooks’ personal histories are, the extraordinary nature of the docu lies in the theatrical way in which the monologues are staged. Never mere talking-head shots, they take place against clever and elaborate backgrounds; in some instances, the subjects play to the artifice of the helmer’s setup, deliciously adding to the stories they tell.

For instance, Peter Silbernagel, the only crew member to survive the sinking of the submarine Hai in 1963, talks about his experience while preparing schnitzel on a sandy beach in Sylt, Germany, as the tide slowly rolls in and floats his table away.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Blue Trout and Black Truffles: Peregrinations of an Epicure (1953) by the reporter Joseph Wechsberg, who wrote for The New Yorker (more here), Gourmet, and Esquire:

For a great many people 1929 was the end of Prosperity.  For me it was the end of Gastronomy. I was drafted for eighteen months’ service into the Czechoslovak Army.  

Military experts have called the old Czechoslovak Army a good army, but I’ve often wondered how far the army would have got if, following Napoleon’s celebrated dictum, it had had to march on its stomach.

At five in the morning — the hour when I’d gone to bed in my happier days of freedom — we had to queue up for something called, for lack of a more suitable word, “café.”  This “café” came in large squares, which had the size of tombstones, the color of dehydrated mud, and the smell of asphalt.  The squares were dumped into large containers of boiling water, where they dissolved instantaneously into a witches’ brew.  It was always lukewarm when the cooks poured it inot our tin cans, though it might have been piping hot only a moment ago.  “Café” and a piece of dry bread were the soldier’s breakfast.  Fifteen years later, when I was drafted into another army — the Army of the United States — there used to be much griping at breakfast-time because the eggs were not sunny-side up or the milk wasn’t cold enough.

There were no such gripes in the Czechoslovak Army.  There were no eggs.  There was no milk.  We hated the witches’ brew until the winter maneuvers started.  After lying outdoors all night long in snow and ice, we were overjoyed at the sight of the field kitchen arriving through the misty dawn.  Something miraculous had happened to the “café“: it was piping hot, had the color of fine Italian espresso, and tasted like an exquisite blend of Puerto Rican and Guatemalan coffees.

Trip report, part 5: NYC, Lego and lights

At FAO Schwartz, the boys were delighted to find another giant Lego sculpture, but had to wait for lots of adults to get out of the way before having their own picture taken,

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On Thursday evening, we went to see the Metropolitan Opera’s lively production of “The Barber of Seville” at Lincoln Center, Tom’s and the kids’ first live opera. The production was very, very good and the kids, and Tom, enjoyed themselves. Joyce DiDonato was especially good.  There weren’t many kids in attendance, and other audience members seemed truly delighted to find children — especially those who weren’t the seat-kicking and when-is-this-over kind — there.

Tom and Laura loved the Sputnik chandeliers in the opera house,

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Trip report, part 4: NYC, still wet, still wild

On Wednesday we took off for the Statue of Liberty, which Tom and the kids had seen only in passing on the Staten Island Ferry the other ferry; and I hadn’t been there since I was about 12, when we went with a friend’s teenage nephew, visiting from Scotland.  My sister, who works in the museum field, spoke with a colleague who arranged for us to take the much smaller, and less crowded, staff boat, first to Ellis Island for a 40-minute wait and then on to Liberty Island. 

Laura was happy to find a cormorant on the pier waiting for us; the picture isn’t great since I was in a hurry to snap the bird before it flew off,

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Our ship comes in,

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Aboard ship,

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Full speed ahead, racing the Staten Island ferry,

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On Ellis Island during our brief stopover,

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The kids enjoying the view,

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Standard tourist shot,

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The kids were very excited to discover all the money on the side of the pier, while we waited for the ferry,

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Daniel and Davy bedazzled by the bonanza,

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Heading back to Manhattan,

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On landing at Battery Park, we were surprised to find a wild turkey hen walking around,

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It turns out her name is Zelda and she’s lived in southern Manhattan for about six years now,

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Trip report, part 3: NYC, Columbus Day

On Columbus Day, we thought we’d head off in search of model railroads, first at The Red Caboose store on West 45th, just off Fifth, and then at the NYC Transit Museum shop in Grand Central.

Never a dedicated Columbus Day parade goer, it never dawned on me that 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues would be part of the staging area for the parade.  The first tip-off came at 6th Avenue, where a cop had the street barricaded off, but like the New Yorker I used to be, without thinking I just put my head down and kept walking as though I belonged on the street, hoping that Tom and the boys would do the same. It worked and before long we were at the end of the block looking for the little hidey-hole that is The Red Caboose. We found it, but the news wasn’t good: the door was padlocked. It was then that I realized that the owner probably figured that with all the parade nonsense going on on the street outside, it wouldn’t have been worthwhile to come in and open up the store.  The boys were very, very disappointed.  So too were the three men who arrived just after we did, standing morosely in front of the padlock.

The boys cheered up a bit when we found the Batmobile parked outside.  Who knew that Batman is Italian?

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I managed to snap them in front of the car just before Batman zoomed off,

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The boys above are looking rather shifty, because they were distracted by a high school band still rehearsing. We didn’t know why they couldn’t rehearse with their hats on (speaking of  hats, Davy very pleased with his new Zabar’s ball cap),

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Italia truck, the front,

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Italia truck, the rear,

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Say what you will about the recently re-elected Mayor Bloomberg, but the streets are a darn sight more flowery (and clean) than they used to be,

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And my favorite parade floats of the day, the traditional … garbage trucks,

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Then we headed a few blocks over, through more barricades, to Grand Central to the MTA Transit Museum Store, where last year in late November — I realize now it was probably a holiday special — the store had an amazing, enormous Lionel train display.  The kids were crushed to find out that the space was now occupied by an exhibit, “The Future Beneath Us”.

We did make it back to The Red Caboose a few days later, no parades, and it was open.  It’s a crowded basement treasure trove, the sort of place any train-crazy eight- and 10-year-old boys would love. Packages of HO and other scale people, animals, and vehicles are stapled to any available surface. There are display cases, stacks, and open boxes of model trains, cars, and other items. We spent at least an hour in there, some of which I spent on a stool in a corner with my eyes closed, wedged in between various merchandise and paraphernalia, trying to block out the incessant sound of a train whistle. But the boys loved it (or did I say that already?). And I shot myself in the foot early on in the visit by discovering, and mentioning to Tom, a no-longer-being manufactured Skilcraft Visible Cow kit, brand new and still wrapped in plastic. Tom thought it was too good to pass up, so, yes, it came home in our luggage, to keep our Skilcraft Visible Horse company.

Trip report, part 2: NYC, still wild

On our second day, Sunday, we were up bright and early to go birding in Central Park with Deb Allen. We met what seems to be a devoted group of regulars by the Turtle Pond dock near Belvedere Castle, where I spent many high school Saturdays climbing the castle and the rock walls below. Laura was delighted to be in the midst of the fall migration, surrounded by her favorite warblers, and found it interesting that some of the birds we take for granted and enjoy in full summer plumage, such as goldfinches, are simply visitors in New York in the autumn.  Also novel was birdwatching as a large group activity.  

We started off at the Turtle Pond,

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Laura with her new binoculars, a belated birthday gift from Grandpapa,

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While everyone else looked at and for birds, I happily admired all of the plantings and the garden furniture near the Shakespeare Garden,

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The lack of binoculars didn’t hinder Daniel,

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and I can tell you that by the end of our birdwatching, that backpack was full of acorns, all of which made the journey home with us.

The group zeroes in on a new specimen,

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Laura in her element,

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We walked through the Ramble, then out onto the very new Oak Bridge (which is really steel and aluminum).  Here’s the view from the bridge,

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On the way toward Strawberry Field,

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Laura kept a list in a notebook of all her sightings for the day, which included ruddy ducks and gadwalls at Turtle Pond, brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglets, a swamp sparrow, a northern water thrush, winter wren, brown thrasher, eastern towhee, and pine warbler. I’m sure there were more, but I’m not the official birder in the family. Between the birds and the lovely New York birders we met, it was a wonderful morning.

We left after two hours (the walks usually last three hours) to head over to my parents’ apartment to make pancakes for brunch. As it was, we ran into a 10-block street fair at Broadway and 86th Street, which slowed us down considerably,

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Making Nutella crepes with hygienic gloved hands,

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Not tiny, shiny vegetables and fruit but magnets,

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Woven baskets,

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Trip report, part 1: NYC, wet and wild

We were in NYC and Washington, DC, earlier this month, from the 9th to the 26th, visiting my parents and doing some sightseeing.  The day after we arrived in NYC, the 10th, we walked a few blocks to Riverside Park and 72nd Street, where we were able to take advantage of the last weekend of free kayaking in the Hudson River, which seemed to be a dandy way to celebrate Henry Hudson’s quadricentennial. I discovered the activity trolling through the NYC Parks Department website, which I’ve used before to find fun, free events on our trips.  And a big thank you to the members of the NYC Downtown Boathouse for making the kayaking possible.

It was a rather cool and raw day to be on the Hudson, especially because everyone exited the kayaks soaking wet, but great fun and our hotel* was just a few blocks away for a hot shower and change of clothes afterwards. Daniel, who brought his new movie camera, and I passed on the fun, opting to stay on land and photograph the others…

Laura and Tom surveying the river,

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Putting on life jackets,

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One of the Boathouse volunteers, cleverly wearing a wetsuit, kindly offered to take my camera to get pictures of the intrepid sailors down on the pier:

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I got the camera back just in time to watch my husband and eldest child paddle off 

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toward New Jersey,

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While they were paddling back,

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Davy got ready 

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to hop in when it was his turn,

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and then off they went,

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And then they were back,

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On the way out of the park we said goodbye to Eleanor Roosevelt and friend,

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* For the second year in a row, we stayed at the Hotel Beacon on Broadway between 74th and 75th Streets, right across the street from Fairway; for the second year in a row, our suite looked out on Fairway, and the kids enjoyed watching the trucks pull up to unload their boxes of fruits and vegetables.  Reasonably priced, recently renovated, with kitchenettes (though this year’s was much teenier than last year, with room for one, if you held your breath) and a laundry room.  Clean, attractive, comfortable, conveniently located — all in all, highly recommended. (Oh, and the windows open for fresh air if such things matter to you.)

A woman’s wit

Lady Russell had little taste for wit, and of anything approaching to imprudence a horror.”
from
Persuasion by Jane Austen

If you happen to find yourself in New York City between this Friday and March 14, 2010, head over to the Morgan Library & Museum for their new exhibition, “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy”.  As The New Yorker noted recently, “If you blanch at the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, take solace” at the Morgan’s exhibit:

This exhibition explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Offering a close-up portrait of the iconic British author, whose popularity has surged over the last two decades with numerous motion picture and television adaptations of her work, the show provides tangible intimacy with Austen through the presentation of more than 100 works, including her manuscripts, personal letters, and related materials, many of which the Morgan has not exhibited in over a quarter century.A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy also includes first and early illustrated editions of Austen’s novels as well as drawings and prints depicting people, places, and events of biographical significance.

The exhibition is organized into three sections — Jane Austen’s life and personal letters (one-third of all of her surviving correspondence are at the Morgan), her works, and her legacy — and also includes a documentary-style film directed by Francesco Carrozzini with interviews with Fran Lebowitz and Cornel West, who may or may not be Janeites. 

And if you find yourself in NYC with children, bring them along.  On Saturday, February 6, the Morgan offers the Family Program, “Paper Dolls at the Ball: Jane’s Fashion for Kids”.  Then again, if you can’t make it to NYC and still want paper dolls at the ball, try this Dover book or Donald Hendricks’ Paper Dolls website for Miss Austen herself as well as many of her characters, including a jazzy Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, an elegant Emma, and Anne Elliott and a very dashing Captain Wentworth from Persuasion.

Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

The above is the title of the 2009 CBC Massey Lectures, given last month by Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis, and now in book form too, as The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Dr. Davis is currently a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. The lectures begin their airing on CBC Radio tonight, on the program “Ideas” with episode/lecture one, “Season of the Brown Hyena”.

From the first lecture:

One of the intense pleasures of travel is the opportunity to live amongst peoples who have not forgotten the old ways, who still feel their past in the wind, touch it in stones polished by rain, taste it in the bitter leaves of plants. Just to know that, in the Amazon, the Jaguar shaman still journey beyond the Milky Way, that the myths of the Inuit elders still resonate with meaning, that the Buddhists in Tibet still pursue the breath of the Dharma is to remember the central revelation of anthropology: the idea that the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is simply one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.

*  *  *  *

Episode/Lecture Two, “The Wayfarers”, airing November 4, 2009

Episode/Lecture Three, “Peoples of the Anaconda”, airing November 5, 2009

Episode/Lecture Four, “Sacred Geography”, airing November 6, 2009

Episode/Lecture Five, “Century of the Wind”, airing November 7, 2009

According to the “Ideas” website, audio files will be posted the day after each broadcast.

Wade Davis at TED Talks

A few of the many other books by Wade Davis:

The Clouded Leopard: A Book of Travels (having just seen a clouded leopard for the very first time, at the National Zoo in Washington, I’m looking forward to reading this)

Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures, edited by Wade Davis and K. David Harrison (National Geographic, 2008)

The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes

 

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