• 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, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)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"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "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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June

Harder

Saw the above today at Grain Edit by Muti and I love it. Available from Society6 as prints and as stretched canvases.

April and May zipped by alarmingly quickly. April was winter and May was summer, and spring somehow vanished. We’ve had hail already, and some fairly ominous weather.

The kids had the play (Wizard of Oz) which went very well, we all survived three days of 4H Beef Club achievement days/show/sale combined with a celebration of 4H’s centennial (the kids sold their steers, Laura won a showmanship award, Daniel received his silver award of excellence and Laura her gold, Davy and Laura won awards for their project books), we seeded our crops, planted and watered 985 little trees, planted two gardens and the potato patch, got the greenhouse up and running, are moving cattle to the various pastures, sorting out bulls, fixing fences. And oh, yes, school, along with some college/university planning, estate matters, and a variety of bird-related projects and trips for Laura. Our nest boxes are almost all occupied (Laura kicked some house sparrows out), and we have eggs and hatchlings everywhere.

Speaking of which, Laura was thrilled to that see her favorite birding radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (which we first discovered as a podcast before wifi let her listen live on Sunday mornings), was the subject of a lovely feature article in The Boston Globe. There might be a quote from a young birder we know…

Also, if you’re in Canada and feeling inclined to support Bird Studies Canada in their national, provincial, and regional conservation and research efforts, Laura is participating in their annual Baillie Birdathon; her 24-hour birdathon was last week (she saw 84 species, four more than her stated goal), but donations will be accepted until the end of July.

This weekend the kids have their 4H Outdoor Club’s achievement day overnight camping trip, which they’re all looking forward to. Much scurrying about, sorting out sleeping bags and making their survival kits. Next week Daniel might be taking his learner’s permit test, which means that between him and his sister, I won’t be driving myself too much.

Some good books we’ve discovered:

Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson (April 2013): somehow I stumbled across this in March and ordered it before publication. An inspiring, very personal little book for young scientists and their parents by the celebrated biologist and naturalist. Particularly helpful if the young scientist in your household happens to be especially keen on biology.

Two Laura found for her work with a Young Naturalists group, trying to get younger kids outdoors and interested in nature:

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013): brand new and delightful. Perfect for kids who think they might be interested in birds, and also for those who think there isn’t anything particularly exciting in their own backyard.

The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides, April 2013). For parents rather than kids, just the ticket if you need specific ideas on how to get started with your kids in the great outdoors.

I’ll leave you with another nifty poster, by Biljana Kroll, also available from Society6. Words to think about as some families’ formal studies come to an end for the summer.

NeverStop

Canadian Curlews

After 17 years in Canada, I’m still not entirely up on my CanLit and find lots of surprises. The latest one is Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, published in 1955. So for anyone looking for some modern CanLit for older students, a living book on extinct/endangered species, and a modern classic movie (adapted from the book) for younger children about extinct/endangered species, we have a couple of recommendations.

A bit of background to explain. For her two 4H clubs, Laura is writing two speeches, one on birds that are extinct, the other on birds that are virtually extinct. Going over her speeches with her, I learned about birds I’d never heard of (not hard for me, since unlike Laura, I don’t sleep with a copy of Sibley’s and read almost exclusively about birds). One of the extinction stories I found quite moving is about the Eskimo curlew. I’ve borrowed a bit from Laura’s speech.

The Eskimo curlew, a medium-sized shorebird in the sandpiper family, is said to have been among the birds that guided Christopher Columbus to the new world. But the curlew is so rare now from overhunting 100 years ago that it’s very probably extinct. If there are any still in existence, scientists think they number fewer than 50 adult birds, when once the population was in the millions and they flew in flocks so thick they formed dark clouds one kilometer wide and long.

If it sounds rather like the story of the passenger pigeon, there are parallels. Nineteenth century American market hunters in need of a replacement for the pigeon, which they had hunted into extinction, looked about and proceeded to do the same sad thing to the Eskimo curlew, which they called “doughbirds” — the birds, heavy from gorging themselves on berries, fruit, and insects in their breeding grounds in the Northwest Territories and Alaska, would put on a thick layer of fat in preparation for their journey. The curlews, again like the passenger pigeons, were so tightly spaced as a flock that a single shotgun blast could easily kill about 20 birds. The survivors had an unfortunate habit of circling back for their injured or dead flockmates, giving the hunters yet another chance. Hunters first starting shooting the birds on their spring migration, then, looking for even more, headed for the curlew breeding grounds, where men would blind the birds with lanterns and then club them.

The Eskimo curlew’s migration, we read, was one of the longest and most complex in the animal kingdom. The winter journey involved a large clockwise circle, starting at the subarctic Canadian tundra, through the western hemisphere, east through Labrador, down through the Atlantic, across the southern Caribbean, and finally to the Argentinian pampas and Chile.

Another strike against the Eskimo curlew, just as it should have been rebounding from overhunting, was the loss of one its important prey species, the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, or locust. If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek”, you might remember the almost biblical plague of locusts in the chapter, “The Glittering Cloud”:

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers.  The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground an dthe house with the noise of a hailstorm.

… Grasshoppers covered the ground, there was not one bare bit to step on. Laura had to step on grasshoppers and they smashed squirming and slimy under her feet. …

Then Laura heard another sound, one big sound made of tiny nips and snips and gnawings.

“The wheat!” Pa shouted. He dashed out the back door and ran toward the wheat-field.

The locusts were the farmers’ scourge on the Great Plains in the 1870s, and their obliteration was as accidental as it was complete, as well as devastating for the curlew population. In fact, entemologist Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood has called it “the only complete elimination of an agricultural pest species”. What happened, Dr. Lockwood discovered, is that

Between outbreaks, the locust hid out in the river valleys of Wyoming and Montana — the same river valleys that settlers had discovered were best suited for farming.

By converting these valleys into farms — diverting streams for irrigation, allowing cattle and sheep to graze in riparian areas, and eliminating beavers and their troublesome dams — the pioneers unknowingly wiped out locust sanctuaries. They destroyed the locust’s equivalent of [the Monarch butterfly’s] Mexican forest wintering grounds. They doomed the species.

For the rest of the fascinating story, you can read Dr. Lockwood’s article here.

Last summer, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service said it is seeking any information about the Eskimo curlew, and will review whether the bird should continue to be classified as endangered or formally designated as extinct. The last sighting confirmed by the Fish and Wildlife Service was in Nebraska in 1987.

Getting back to the point of this post, while helping Laura, we discovered a celebrated Canadian novel written in 1955, Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, which is part of Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart’s New Canadian Library line; I just ordered a copy. I like the idea of the book as a bridge to fiction, especially modern classic Canadian fiction, for her since she reads so much nonfiction (especially so much bird-related nonfiction), and also as an entree into CanLit for an older student who’s ready for a bigger challenge, but not quite ready for some of CanLit’s heavier offerings — though like most CanLit, this book is sad.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

The Arctic day was long, and despite the tundra gales which whistled endlessly across the unobstructed land the day was hot and humid. The curlew alternately probed the mudflats for food and patrolled his territory, and all the time he watched the land’s flat horizons with eyes that never relaxed. Near mid-day a rough-legged hawk appeared far to the north, methodically circling back and forth across the river and diving earthward now and then on a lemming that incautiously showed itself among the reindeer moss. The curlew eyed the hawk apprehensively as the big hunter’s circling brought it slowly upriver towards the curlew’s territory. Finally the roughleg crossed the territory boundary unmarked on the ground but sharply defined in the curlew’s brain. The curlew took off in rapid pursuit, his long wings stroking the air deeply and his larynx shrieking a sharp piping alarm as he closed in on the intruder with a body weight ten times his own. For a few seconds the hawk ignored the threatened attack, then turned back northward without an attempt at battle. It could have killed the curlew with one grasp of its talons, but it was a killer only when it needed food, and it gave ground willingly before a bird so maddened with the fire of the mating time.

The sun dipped low, barely passing from view, and the curlew’s first Arctic night dropped like a grey mist around him. The tundra cooled quickly, and as it cooled the gale that had howled all day suddenly died. Dusk, but not darkness, followed.

The curlew was drawn by an instinctive urge he felt but didn’t understand to the dry ridge of cobblestone with the thick mat of reindeer moss at its base where the nest would be. In his fifth summer now, he had never seen a nest or even a female of his kind except the nest and mother he had briefly known in his own nestling stage, yet the know-how of courtship and nesting was there, unlearned, like a carry-over from another life he had lived. And he dozed now on one leg, bill tucked under the feathers of his back, beside the gravel bar which awaited the nest that the bird’s instinct said there had to be.

Tomorrow or the next day the female would come, for the brief annual cycle of life in the Arctic left time for no delays.

It sounds as if it would make a wonderful living book choice for conservation and natural history studies, too. There’s another edition, a 1990s reissue, which came about because “Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin found this slim 1955 novel on a shelf in the house of friends, and, struck with the ‘plain, succinct evocation and beauty’ of Fred Bodsworth’s writing, suggested its reissue to a publisher.” That volume has a foreword by Merwin and an afterword by Murray Gell-Man, with J.J. Audubon’s painting of Eskimo curlews on the cover.

And for younger children, Last of the Curlews was made into a one-hour animated movie in 1972 to teach children about conservation. I was surprised to learn that it not only featured Vincent Van Patten (I’m old enough to remember “Apple’s Way”), but was also the very first ABC Afterschool Special, winning an Emmy for children’s broadcasting. I don’t read entries at IMDB much, but the reviews for, and memories of, Last are poignant. The animation by Hanna-Barbera is lovely, not at all what comes to mind when I think of H-B (primarily the Flintstones, etc.). We were hopefully optimistic when we heard about this, and delighted to find that it’s available, in several parts, on YouTubePart 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. But a warning that the cartoon version doesn’t sugarcoat the story, which is not a happy or hopeful one. Extinction is extinction. We found a box of Kleenex helpful.

Also on YouTube is a little video blurb by Canadian eco-photographer Edward Burtynsky on Last of the Curlews for the Toronto Public Library.

Digging around online, we learned that Charles Frederick (Fred) Bodsworth is an internationally renowned naturalist, journalist, and novelist. Born in Port Burwell, Ontario, in 1918, after apparently spending some time working on tugboats and in tobacco fields, he became a reporter for the St. Thomas (ON) Times-Journal at the age of 22 and later was a writer and editor both at The Toronto Star and at Maclean’s magazine. Mr. Bodsworth left Maclean’s in 1955 to focus on magazine and nature writing, and novels. He also served as president of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists from 1964 to 1967. In 2002, he received the prestigious Writer’s Trust Matt Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award. I didn’t see any mention online of an obituary or his death, so I hope he is still hale, hearty, and watching birds at 94.

In other school-related news, work on the other speeches and presentation is going well, we’re in the midst of musical festival registration (both as registrars and registrants), the kids are happily galloping through more of Life of Fred, and in the phys ed department, curling season has picked up dramatically and the kids are curling quite well. Laura is also working on a summer internship application, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for that. Oh, and roles have been handed out for Spring’s theater production of “Alice in Wonderland” so there is lots of singing throughout the house.  That and Davy’s cooking — he made baking powder biscuits yesterday and today some delicious gravy from our moose roast — are keeping us warm in this week’s cold snap. And -51 is verrrry snappy.


Christmas in July

Bingo!

Even before we started home schooling, I started adding to the Golden Books, especially the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, collection of my childhood.  I’ve been able to find more titles at garage sales and the Goodwill shop in town, and Abebooks when necessary. Some of our favorites are The Golden History of the World by Jane Werner Watson, and illustrated beautifully by Cornelius DeWitt — perfect for the grammar stage — and Ben Hunt’s crafts and lore books (which I’ve written about before, including here).

The two most elusive titles have been The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments by Robert Brent and illustrated by Harry Lazarus, and  The Giant Golden Book of Biology, written by renowned children’s science writers Gerald  Ames and Rose Wyler, and illustrated by the even more renowned Charles Harper.  I’ve written about the scarce Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments before (here and here); that one is scarce because of the subject and because of nonsense (including much internet nonsense) that the book was once banned, by the government no less.

The Golden Book of Biology owes its popularity and high prices not to its content but to Charley Harper’s artwork and his popularity among graphic artists and designers, and the recent Todd Oldham-inspired Charley Harper renaissance.  Copies of The Giant Golden Book of Biology, published in 1961, the 1967 revised edition (The Golden Book of Biology), and the 1968 second edition have been selling for anywhere from $100 to $600. I’m not a collector of graphic design works* and didn’t want the book to put on the shelf, I just wanted a good quality working copy my kids could read.

Well, I finally lucked out  the other week with a 1967 copy at eBay, and while I didn’t pay anywhere in my customary 25 cents to $5 range, I didn’t pay anywhere near $100 either (or $500, yikes); little enough that I can leave the book on the coffee table for the whole family to enjoy and let the kids read it without encasing them or the book in plastic.  So the lesson here is that patience will pay off…

For me these books, and many of the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, on astronomy (also by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames), the human body, natural history, physicsworld geography (“A Child’s Introduction to the World”), world history, mathematics (another one with crazy prices), and the Golden Book encyclopedia set, are desirable because although they remain, after 40 to 50 years, some of the very best examples of children’s nonfiction. As MAKE’s Mark Frauenfelder wrote about The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments,

The book is an example of everything great about vintage children’s science books. Once you lay your eyes on it, you will come to the sad realization that our society has slipped backwards in at least three important ways: 1. The writing quality in old kids’ science books was better; 2. The design and illustration was more thoughtful and skillful; 3. Children in the old days were allowed and encouraged to experiment with mildly risky but extremely rewarding activities. Today’s children, on the other hand, are mollycoddled to the point of turning them into unhappy ignoramuses.

This blog post at Codex xcix shows a number of illustrations from the book, which gives you an idea of just why the book is so desirable for the art alone. Codex writes,

Charley admitted that he had to learn the subject while he was doing the illustrations, after all, he was an artist, not a scientist. The result, however, was a masterpiece – the quintessential mid-century children’s science text. It is widely seen as his magnum illustratus and has been widely influential to two generations of illustrators and designers. Todd Oldham described it as “…one of my favorite things I’ve ever had in my life,” and the illustrator Jacob Weinstein as “the world’s most attractive textbook.”

More illustrations from the book are at this Grain Edit post.

If you get the chance at library book sales or garage sales, keep your eyes peeled for books by Gerald Ames and Rose Wyler, who were married to each other and who together and separately wrote 50 or so children’s books, mostly on science but also on (science-based) magic tricks and other subjects.  Their publishers included Golden/Western, Harper & Row for a number of Science I Can Read Books, and Julian Messner. According to their individual obituaries in The New York Times, Mr. Ames died in 1993 at the age of 86,  Miss Wyler died in 2000 at the age of 80;

Ms. Wyler once recalled that as a girl she ”always had a collection of stones, bugs or leaves and always wanted to know more about nature.” She never could find books on nature as a child, she said, so at 11 she decided she was going to write them.

Among their best known titles: the highly recommended The Giant Golden Book of Astronomy: A Child’s Introduction to the Wonders of Space (1950), Magic Secrets (first published in 1954 and still in print as an I Can Read Book), Secrets in Stones (1954), The Earth’s Story (1957), First Days of the World (1958), The First People in the World, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (1958),  Inside the Earth (1963), Prove It! (A Science I Can Read Book, 1964), The Story of the Ice Age (1967), and Spooky Tricks (originally published in 1968 and not too long out of print).

The Messner books, written mostly by Rose Wyler, are lovely for young children if you run across them: the “Science Fun” series, including Science Fun with Toy Boats and Planes (1986), Science Fun with Mud and Dirt (1987), and Science Fun with a Homemade Chemistry Set (1988); and the Outdoor Fun series, including The Starry Sky (1989), Puddles and Ponds (1990), and Seashore Surprises (1991).

*  *  *

Interview with Charley Harper at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

* Although I do have my mother’s old copy of Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book, also illustrated by Charley Harper and held together with a rubber band for the past 40 years.

Your own private writing seminar

with John McPhee, via the Spring issue (now online, thank goodness) of The Paris Review.

For example, the importance of using an outline, from the interview with Mr. McPhee by Peter Hessler, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 3”:

INTERVIEWER
Where did this method come from?

MCPHEE
It goes back to Olive McKee at Princeton High School, and the structural outline that we had to have before doing any piece of writing. It came up again when I worked at Time. My first cover story just floored me. It was five thousand words, and I really struggled with the mass of material. I was pretty unhappy. It was just a mess—a mess of paper, I didn’t know where anything was. So I went back to Olive McKee and the outline, sorting through this matrix of material, separating it into components and dealing with one component at a time.

INTERVIEWER
Is there ever a risk of it becoming too mechanical?

MCPHEE
It sounds very mechanical, but the effect is the exact opposite. What it does is free you to write. It liberates you to write. You’ve got all the notes there; you come in in the morning and you read through what you’re going to try to write, and there’s not that much to read. You’re not worried about the other ninety-five percent, it’s off in a folder somewhere. It’s you and the keyboard. You get away from the mechanics through this mechanical means. The spontaneity comes in the writing, the phraseology, the telling of the story—after you’ve put all this stuff aside. You can read through those relevant notes in a relatively short period of time, and you know that’s what you want to be covering.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Also in the Spring issue, Ray Bradbury interviewed on the Art of Fiction, by Sam Weller, from which,

INTERVIEWER
You’re self-educated, aren’t you?

BRADBURY
Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

INTERVIEWER
You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

BRADBURY
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

Read the rest of Mr. Bradbury’s interview, especially on why he refused to write the screenplay for War and Peace, here. (I wrote about Mr. Bradbury and libraries last year here.)

And don’t miss the Review’s interview index, with gems from 1953 to the present.

*  *  *

Books by John McPhee, wonderful wonderful stuff and the perfect living books to include in your home school studies with older children, especially for science.  If you have to choose only one, make it Annals of the Former World, Mr. McPhee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of four books on the geological history of North America, published in a single volume in 1998.

Glowing embers

Elspeth Thompson first came to my attention several years ago through her writings about the environment, self-sufficiency, and ethical living in The Guardian and about gardening in The Telegraph.  I was captivated by her idea to turn two railway cottages into a cottage — could anything be more charmingly English? — her photographs, love of poetry, and by the way, as someone at The Telegraph noted, she found the ethereal in the everyday.  She had a wonderful blog mostly about the railway cottage adventure, Off the Rails but with poems, pictures, and other bits and bobs, and a very new gardening blog started only last month, Gardening Against the Odds, where she wrote about unlikely gardens in unpromising places.  Elspeth Thompson could make a stone in a desert sprout leaves, and she could write about it enchantingly. I began to seek out her books, Urban Gardener and A Tale of Two Gardens, collections of her Telegraph columns; The Wonderful Weekend Book: Reclaim Life’s Simple Pleasures, which just came out in paperback.  And I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Homemade: Gorgeous Things to Make with Love co-authored with Ros Badger, which I want to get for Laura’s summer birthday.  Ms. Thompson sparkled so much through her writing that I can only imagine what it must have been like to know her.

It was catching up at her blog yesterday, when I really should have been packing or cleaning, that I learned the terribly sad news of her death on March 25th from a note by her husband Frank Wilson, who wrote,

It is with the deepest sadness that I must tell you that my beautiful and beloved wife Elspeth died on Thursday 25th March aged 48.

She brought her family and friends so much happiness during her short life and she loved to share some of the things that brought her happiness through her writing. She was loving, warm, wonderful and generous and she will be missed by many.

According to the obituary in The Telegraph, “In recent weeks … she had been suffering from an extreme depression; she took her own life last Thursday.”

Several years ago, Elspeth Thompson was one of the last writers to interview Anita Roddick before the latter’s sudden and untimely death. From that interview,

“The most exciting time is now!” [Anita Roddick] declared, as we prepared to leave. And it was easy to believe that, of ourselves as well as her, as we sped down the drive. It is lined with chestnut trees – some ancient, some planted when Roddick moved in.

Typically impatient, she tried to stop the designer planting small trees: “I’ll be dead before they’re fully grown!” He persuaded her that they would grow quickly. What a great sadness that she will never see that happen.

I’m so very saddened to think of Elspeth Thompson’s death, especially in the spring, with her garden waking up and waiting for her.  In her first, and only, blog post at Gardening Against the Odds, she wrote on March 7,

Why do we garden? And why does the passion with which we garden so often seem to be in inverse proportion to the conditions in which we do it? This is a question on which I often ponder while weeding my seaside garden or cycling down London’s sooty, smelly Brixton Road. This last month, three instances of what I call “gardening against the odds” have made me ponder even more. Number one is a balcony in a concrete council block that I pass on my bike ride into the centre of town. Every summer, this tiny, unprepossessing space – it can’t be more than 6 x 4ft – and overlooking a busy road – is a riot of sweetcorn and sunflowers. I’ve never once seen the owner, but like to fantasise that it’s one of the many local residents who came over from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, for whom beans and corn in the back yard mean independence. Anyway, it does cheer me up as as I ride past.

The second is a roadside verge down near the south coast, in the village where we spend most of our weekends. On a turning off the busy sea road into a modern housing estate, someone has taken the trouble to plant a narrow strip of “no-man’s land” with bearded iris, sisyrinchiums, white astrantia and low-growing grasses and campanulas. It’s such a beautiful piece of planting, I’m surprised it doesn’t cause traffic accidents. And it seems to me all the more beautiful for it being completely selfless – it reminds me of that old hippy tenet to “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”.

The last instance, and one it makes me sad to write about, concerns the father of a close friend of mine, who recently died from cancer. Some weeks ago, having just been told the worst by the hospital, he became agitated that he had not been able to order and sow seeds of the balsam flowers (Impatiens balsamina) that he and his wife have always loved to grow in their garden. You could call it displacement anxiety, but I could understand this gnawing concern about his favourite seeds, which were no longer offered by the mail order company that he habitually used. Sensing the comfort he would have in knowing the garden would be full of these sweet-smelling flowers all summer, even if he might not be there to see them. I helped to track down the seeds, he sowed them and a few weeks after his death his widow sent me a small tray of seedlings to plant in my own garden.

So what is this human urge to garden – to fill our living space, no matter how small – with living plants; to embark on this passionate collaboration with nature, however seemingly inauspicious the circumstances? After 20 years of travelling to write about gardens, it is by no means just the great and grand gardens that remain in my memory. If anything, I remember all the more vividly the hundreds of tiny patches – on strips of rooftops, sun-baked shingle, even the tops of narrow boats or travellers’ converted buses – all conceived and tended with the deepest love and care. I remember the nonogenarian who was still planning (and did, in fact finish) an ambitious water cascade in his garden in Oxfordshire; the front garden fashioned from blue and white painted breeze blocks and car-tyre containers in rural Barbados; the miniature Versailles behind a modern housing estate in Holland; the woman who raises homegrown vegetables, including 20 types of basil, on a tiny roof terrace in Chelsea.

It is in honour of these and all the many other “gardeners against the odds” that I am planting out John Bloom’s balsam in my garden this afternoon.

And that, years later, I am beginning this blog.

Would that she had been able to continue living, gardening, blogging.  I’ll end here with the poem Elspeth Thompson posted this past New Year’s Eve, “Twenty Blessings” by Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark,

Twenty Blessings
by Thomas A. Clark

May the best hour of the day be yours.
May luck go with you from hill to sea.
May you stand against the prevailing wind.
May no forest intimidate you.
May you look out from your own eyes.
May near and far attend you.
May you bathe your face in the sun’s rays.
May you have milk, cream, substance.
May your actions be effective.
May your thoughts be affective.
May you will both the wild and the mild.
May you sing the lark from the sky.
May you place yourself in circumstance.
May you be surrounded by goldfinches.
May you pause among alders.
May your desire be infinite.
May what you touch be touched.
May the company be less for your leaving.
May you walk alone beneath the stars.
May your embers still glow in the morning.

Blessings on Elspeth Thompson, her husband and young daughter.  May they always be surrounded by goldfinches.

The Book of Life

This has long been on my wish list at Amazon.com for the kids — The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth, edited by Stephen Jay Gould.  A few times a year, it goes back and forth between my wish list and shopping cart, and it was in my shopping cart in January when I hit send to order a few things for my mother to help spruce up the kitchen.

Since I missed Darwin Day 2010, I’ll offer this book as my belated many happy returns to the great man.  And a reminder for anyone who hasn’t seen it before, my big Darwin Day roundup from last year is here at Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day.

Going back to Mannahatta

“On a hot, fair day, the twelfth of September, 1609, Henry Hudson and a small crew of Dutch and English sailors rode the flood tide up a great estuarine river, past a long, wooded island at latitude 40° 48′ north, on the edge of the North American continent.  Locally, the island was called Mannahatta, or ‘Island of Many Hills.’ One day the island would become as densely filled with people and avenues as it once was with trees and streams, but not that afternoon.  That afternoon the island still hummed with green wonders.  New York City, through an accident, was about to be born.”

Eric W. Sanderson, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York  City (Harry N. Abrams, 2009)

*  *  *  *  *

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Henry Hudson in New York. Before Henry sailed into the harbor, the river was known by the local Lenape as Muhheakantuck, “the river that flows both ways”. Having grown up a block and a bit from the river, I’m delighted to offer a bit of a round-up to celebrate the occasion.

First up, the official Hudson 400 website:

Albany, and the entire Hudson River Valley region of New York State, have already begun celebrating a significant anniversary. The year 2009 officially marks the 400th anniversary of our European founding by Dutch explorer, Henry Hudson. The Hudson 400 celebration offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the Dutch heritage of the Hudson Valley and to celebrate with special events on the Hudson River, along the shores of the river, and at historic sites throughout the region.

While the official motto is “Celebration of Discovery”, the website does note that

For centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, Algonkian-speaking Native Americans lived along the Hudson River. In the Upper Hudson Valley, it was the Mohican people who greeted Henry Hudson, as he anchored his ship the Half Moon in this fertile river valley in 1609.

There is also the official Henry Hudson 400: Amsterdam & New York 2009 website, featuring the pages “Henry Who?” and “Why Celebrate?” From the second,

In many ways Manhattan, not Plymouth Rock, is where America, and all that it represents, began. Following Hudson’s voyage, the Dutch Republic, the most progressive and commercially powerful force in the 17th century established the settlement of New Amsterdam in 1624.

At its peak, fully half the residents of New Amsterdam were from other nations, making it a true multicultural enterprise, a lively, liberal, idea-driven business community united in its focus on trade as the abiding source of the common good.

So it can be said that, from the start, New York was then what it has become today, a working symbol of freedom based on competence and respect, diversity and tolerance. The progressive connections between New York and its Dutch progenitor, Amsterdam, were and are profound.

The 400th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage comes during the age of globalization and offers a timely opportunity to celebrate and reinvigorate this vital transatlantic connection. Hudson’s discovery, and the achievements of Dutch businessmen in the years following, embody the unshakeable belief in new horizons, spirit of enterprise and diversity of views that remain defining characteristics of New York. Festival events will stimulate fresh understanding of this correlation, one that stimulates the city’s expansive cultural and trade developments to this day.

And then there’s the NY400 website, home of Holland on the Hudson, also known as the official website of the Government of The Kingdom of the Netherlands for the celebrations of NY400.  As part of the festivities, New Amsterdam Village has been set up in Bowling Green Park, from September 4-14. The village

consists of traditional Dutch canal houses, a windmill and a stage set up on an open, outside area. In the village some of the best known Dutch agricultural products and foods can be sampled and bought, including some our famous cheeses, herring, dollar pancakes also known as poffertjes, sirup wafels (stroopwafels), cut flowers, flower bulbs and green roofs.

The Village has a historic component as well: traditional crafts are shown, such as wooden shoes making, glass blowing and a floral workshop. You can also rent orange Dutch bicycles for free there, to bike to the different NY400 Week events throughout the city.

In addition to the New Amsterdam Village, there’s also the New Amsterdam Market on South Street, a new public market near the site of New Amsterdam’s first market of 1642.  The season begins this Sunday, September 13, Harbor Day, with these vendors planning to attend. Dates for the rest of the year are October 25, November 22, and December 20.

The Half Moon and New Netherland Museum: Albany, New York’s New Netherland Museum operates the Half Moon, a reproduction of the ship that Hudson sailed in 1609 from Holland to the New World; the website is available in English and in Dutch. For those who can’t make it to Albany, you can take a virtual tour of both the Half Moon and the colony of New Netherland.

The Albany Institute of History & Art is featuring the yearlong exhibit, “Hudson River Panorama: 400 Years of History, Art, and Culture”, from February 7, 2009 to January 3, 2010.  From the exhibit’s webpage,

This unprecedented year-long exhibition will commemorate Henry Hudson’s 1609 exploration of the river that bears his name, and the remarkable narrative of the people, events, and ideas that have shaped this magnificent region.

Featuring hundreds of artworks, artifacts, interactive displays, and rare archival documents from the Albany Institute’s renowned collections, “Hudson River Panorama” encompasses five major themes relating the many agricultural, industrial, and cultural influences of this historic waterway: Community and Settlement; Natural History and Environment; Transportation; Trade, Commerce, and Industry; Culture and Symbol.

The Albany Institute not surprisingly also has a collection of Hudson River School Art, “The Landscape that Defined America”, with more than “60 paintings and oil sketches by first and second generation Hudson River School artists, and over 100 sketches, sketchbooks, letters, photographs and other related materials”, by Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Jasper Cropsey, James Hart, William Hart, John Kensett, Homer D. Martin, David Johnson, John Casilear, and George Inness.

In connection with the Hudson anniversary, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx offers a new installation by Holland’s leading garden designers, Piet Oudolf and Jacqueline van der Kloet, the Seasonal Walk, which has its own website and which The New York Times‘ garden writer Anne Raver recently wrote about here. From her article,

Mr. Oudolf is the Dutch horticulturist who masterminded more than five acres of perennial gardens at the Battery, at the tip of Manhattan. There, and here in the Bronx, he teamed up with Jacqueline van der Kloet to arrange and time thousands of bulbs and other plants that bloom from spring to late fall. Observing this latest collaboration unfold from week to week is a revelation for any gardener.

You can now plant the new orange “Henry Hudson” tulip, which was formally introduced on Wednesday by Princess Maxima of the Netherlands, at Battery Park. For more information, visit www.bulb.com (more here for educators, non-Hudson related).  Canada gave the Hudson his own flower, the hardy white rugosa in the Explorer series, in 1976, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Felicitas Svejda at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm.

Still in the garden, don’t miss Fritz Haeg’s Lenape Edible Estate in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The garden, planted in June, “provides a view back to the lives of the Lenape people, how they lived off the land on the island of Mannahatta, from the native edible plants and the mounded plantings of bean, corn and squash, also know as ‘three sisters’.”  Harvest is planned for Monday, September 14 with a free public reception from 6-8 pm.

Wave Hill, the public garden along the Hudson River in the Bronx, presents the art exhibit “The Muhheakantuck in Focus” (August 1 – November 29, 2009), using the original Lenape name for the river.  The exhibit features project by contemporary visual artists exploring “the native people’s engagement with the river, both before and after Hudson’s arrival on its shores”. The press release contains more information, and The New York Times ran a review the other day, calling the show “is a thoughtful, informative and entertaining” and noting that “there is enough good artwork here to impress upon viewers that the quadricentennial is a time not just to celebrate, but to remember”.

Through December 31, 2009, you can stroll through history along The New Amsterdam Trail in Manhattan, a 90-minute audio/walking tour of 17th century Dutch America. You can download the map as well as an audio narration of “Ranger Story: Nieuw Amsterdam to New York” by park historian Steve Laise, Chief of Cultural Resources for the National Parks of New York Harbor.

At the beginning of the month, a fleet of Dutch flat-bottom barges sailed into New York Harbor after crossing the Atlantic aboard Dutch freighters. The sailing vessels are “descendants of the sailing ships that plied Dutch coastlines in the 17th century, immortalized by the country’s painters, and closely related to the first ships built in New York.”  The fleet will remain in the harbor for three weeks, “taking part in sailing races on the city’s waterways and offering tours and transport to visitors”, and taking part in a grand naval parade, the Admiral’s Sail, with a “flotilla of lighted ships [coming] down the Hudson into the harbor past Battery Park”. Sunday, September 13 is Harbor Day in New York, and you can sail along on Pete Seeger’s Clearwater sloop; check here for more festivities.  The fleet will then sail up the Hudson River to Albany before returning, again via freighter, to the port of Amsterdam.

From September 3, 2009 to January 3, 2010, Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Museum, in conjunction with the National Archives of the Netherlands, is presenting the exhibit, “New Amsterdam: The Island at the  Center of the World”, of rare maps and documents of 17th century New York.  The presentation, by the way, takes its name from Russell Shorto’s 2005 book, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped New York. The centerpiece of the exhibit will be

the now-famous letter, dated November 5, 1626, from one Pieter Schaghen, listing, among other items, the purchase of Manhattan for 60 guilders (falsely converted to $24 in the 19th century). The Native Americans actually saw this transaction as a treaty for the usage of land, not a purchase.

If you can’t make it to NYC in time, the Museum has a small online gallery of prints and maps. Edward Rothstein’s review of the exhibit for The New York Times is here. From which,

The exhibition has problems: the design (by Urban A&O and Thinc) is awkward, the chronology often hard to trace and the commentary and contexts too cursory. But these rarely seen documents are landmarks, mapping out early New York history. There is an open, oversize book in which, in elaborate script, the Dutch East India Company prepared a contract with Henry Hudson (misnamed Tomas Hutson), ultimately charging him, in 1609, with discovering a route to Asia via a northeast passage over Russia. Instead, of course, that venture led to the beginnings of Dutch colonization in North America.

From 1626 there is a letter that was once folded to form its own envelope; it is now torn and stained by the fingers that must have handled it, addressed to “High and Mighty Lords.” It is a dispatch from Pieter Schaghen to the directors of the recently formed Dutch West India Company, whose title implicitly recognized that the way east lay elsewhere. The letter disclosed the latest news about New Amsterdam from a Dutch ship that had arrived home: reports that “our people are in good spirits and live in peace,” that they have sowed and reaped their grain, that the cargo contained 7,246 beaver skins and 48 mink skins. And that, oh yes, the settlers had “purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders.”

The New York Times‘s article heralding the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage, “Henry Hudson’s View of New York: When Trees Tipped the Sky” by Sam Roberts, January 25, 2009

The Hudson River sloop Clearwater, established by Pete Seeger in the sixties to clean the river; Pete Seeger on the State of the Hudson, and the DVD edition of the PBS documentary ‘Til the River Runs Clear.  The Clearwater website’s education page and free goodies page are worth visiting.

Riverkeeper‘s Quadricentennial Exhibit: A Hudson River Journey

The grand opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson will be held on the weekend of October 2-4. The new pedestrian walkway is the former Poughkeepsie-Highland railroad bridge; you can read an 1887 account of the bridge construction in Scientific American here. According to the book Bridging the Hudson by Carleton Mabee, “The Poughkeepsie railroad bridge was the first bridge to be built over the Hudson River from the ocean all the way up to Albany. It was a technological wonder. Opened in 1889 soon after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, it is not only higher above the water than the Brooklyn Bridge, and founded deeper in the water, but also longer. When it opened, its promoters claimed it was the longest bridge in the world.”

Walking Off the Big Apple blog (“A Strolling Guide to New York City”), handy and very well written– and photographed — whether or not you need quadricentennial information and musings

And this being 2009, of course Henry Hudson has a blog

Music:

Songs of the Hudson River, including Pete Seeger’s “Old Father Hudson River”

Tom Winslow’s Clearwater song, “Hey Looka Yonder (It’s the Clearwater)”, on mp3

The out-of-print songbook, Songs and Sketches of the First Clearwater Crew: A Musical and Pictorial Log of the Maiden Voyage of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, compiled and edited by Don McLean (yes, that Don McLean, who was a troubador on the sloop’s maiden voyage), and illustrated by Tom Allen

Hudson River balladeer Rick Nestler, one-time member of the Hudson River Sloop  Singers and also a member of the Clearwater crew, who penned the song “The River That Flows Both Ways”

“Broad Old River 2” by the Hudson River Sloop Singers; order here

Jerry Silverman’s new New York Sings: 400 Years of the Empire State in Song (scroll down to listen to 25 songs from the book, including “Land in Sight” and “Half Moon”, and to find upcoming concert dates)

The new CD from Betty and the Baby Boomers, “Where the Heron Waits”, a collection of river songs “marking the Boomers’ long involvement with Hudson River education and advocacy”

The Barefoot Boys’ “Sweetwater Passage”; the boys are Rich Bala (see below), Rick Hill, and Tom White

Rich Bala’s “Hudson Valley Traditions”

The Westchester, NY a cappella ensemble Sing We Enchanted offers “Hurrah for the Hudson: River Songs & Ballads”

Storyteller Jonathan Kruk and folk balladeer Rich Bala are The River Ramblers, who offer four educational musical presentations, including “The River That Flows Both Ways” and “Revolution on the River” (more here)

Bob Lusk‘s blog about the folk music of the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains

Historical balladeer Linda Russell offers an educational program, “Songs of the Historic Hudson”

The new “River of Dreams” CD — see below

Finally, make your own music with wind chimes.  Not just any wind chimes, but Woodstock Percussion‘s new five-pitch Hudson River Chime, “tuned to the pentatonic melody” of Pete Seeger’s “My Dirty Stream (The Hudson River Song)”.  Read about the chimes here, watch/hear them here, and buy them here; a portion of the proceeds for each chime goes to Clearwater.

Art/Hudson River School:

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site at Cedar Grove, which for the festivities has a “loan exhibition of paintings by 19th century masters of the Hudson River School of art, depicting views of the river and related and connecting bodies of water”.

“Seeing the Hudson: An Exhibition of Photographs and Paintings on the Occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson’s Sail of Discovery”, September 17 to October 31, featuring the works of painters
Samuel Colman (1832-1920),
Jon R. Friedman,
Joseph Antonio Hekking (1830- 1903),
William Rickarby Miller (1815-1893),
Robert J. Pattison (1838-1903), and 
Robert Walter Weir (1803-1889); and photographers Carolyn Marks Blackwood,
William Meyers,
William Clift,
Robert Richfield,
Diane Cook,
Joseph Squillante,
Jan Staller,
Elliott Kaufman,
Susan Wides,
Len Jenshel, and

Harry Wilks.  The opening reception will be on the 17th from 6-8 pm.

Books and such for children:

River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River, by the aptly named Hudson Talbott; highly recommended (and not just by me).  River of Dreams has recently been adapted for for the stage (and what a stage) with Casey Biggs and Frank Cuthbert, and the CD soundtrack will have its release party on Sunday, September 13 at The Thomas Cole National Historic Site at Cedar Grove (see above); free admission.

My Mighty Hudson by Mitchell Bring, with a foreword by Pete Seeger; a children’s guide to Hudson River history, science, and fun

Beyond the Sea of Ice: The Voyages of Henry Hudson by Joan Elizabeth Goodman

Hudson: The Story of a River by  Thomas Locker

PBS Kids’ Henry Hudson page, part of their Big Apple History

Henry Hudson at Enchanted Learning

Dover’s coloring book, Exploration of North America and also if I recall correctly, their Woodland Indians book

The 100-year-old children’s history book, The Men Who Found America, by Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson — available online at The Baldwin Project — includes a chapter on Henry Hudson, “The Englishman Who Sailed for the Dutch”.

If you’re home schooling, don’t miss the Homeschooling on Hudson blog

NYC Dept. of Education’s Henry Hudson Quadricentennial Teaching Resources (including a very good listing of museum exhibits)

NYS Dept. of Education’s Champlain/Hudson/Fulton Commemoration Online Resource page

Teaching the Hudson Valley; I quite like the look of most of the 11 lessons in the “Life along the Hudson River: Exploring Nature and Culture” unit

Books and such for older folks:

Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage that Redrew the Map of the New World by Douglas Hunter

A Description of New Netherland by Adriaen Van Der Donck

The Hudson: America’s River by Frances F. Dunwell

The Hudson: A History by Tom Lewis

The Hudson Valley Reader, edited by Edward C. Goodman

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky; also available as a very enjoyable audiobook

Hudson Valley Voyage: Through the Seasons, Through the Years, “An Exploration of Four Seasons and Four Centuries along the Hudson River from Manhattan to Saratoga Springs”, with photographs by Ted Spiegel and text by Reed Sparling

and continue the festivities through next year with Ted Spiegel’s Hudson River Valley Calendar 2010

For the entire family, even if you’re not from, or don’t live in, New York:

The Manahatta Project, by Eric Sanderson and the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, who used the science of landscape ecology to learn what Manhattan would have looked like in 1609, before Hudson’s arrival.

Earlier this year, my father gave me the book that came out of the project, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson (Harry N. Abrams, 2009). It’s a marvel of a book, not just the computer-generated photographs of what the island probably looked like 400 years ago, but also Dr. Sanderson’s “Muir Webs” connecting all the organisms in 1609 New York, and, perhaps most importantly, his last section of the book, a prescription “to bring a little Mannahatta back to Manhattan” to sustain the city’s ecology and its inhabitants. Harry Abrams has done the book justice, with lovely heavy paper and beautiful color illustrations (photography, maps, drawings) throughout.  From chapter one,

It is a conceit of New York  City — the concrete city, the steel metropolis, Batman’s Gotham — to think it is a place outside of nature, a place where humanity has completely triumphed over the forces of the natural world, where a person can do and be anything without limit or consequence.  Yet this conceit is not unique to the city; it is shared by a globalized twenty-first-century human culture, which posits that through technology and economic development we can escape the shackles that bind us to our earthly selves, including our dependence on the earth’s bounty and the confines of our native place.  As such the story of Mannahatta’s transformation to Manhattan isn’t localized to one island; it is a coming-of-age story that literally embraces the entire world and is relevant to all of the 6.7 billion human beings who share it.

The Mannahatta project is the cover story of this month’s issue of National Geographic, “Before New York: Rediscovering the Wilderness of 1609”

The Wildlife Conservation Society page on Mannahatta is here

At the Mannahatta website, you can enter your address or the name of a landmark and see what it would have looked like in 1609, download lesson plans/curriculum, and more.

The Museum of the City of New York is hosting an exhibit curated by Dr. Sanderson, “Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City”, through October 12.  Edward Rothstein of The New York Times reviewed the exhibit back in July, with an accompanying slide show.

Dr. Sanderson, with Eric Wright, helped to make a traditional Lenape wigwam in the New York Botanical Garden’s Family Garden

Eric Sanderson interviews via podcast from WNYC and the NY Times City Room blog

And, if you have younger children at home, you  might want to pair Mannahatta — you can look through the pictures together and read some of the passages aloud — with the wonderful children’s picture book On This Spot: An Expedition Back Through Time by Susan E. Goodman and Lee Christiansen.  In fact, when I first read about Mannahatta, I thought, “Oh good! On This Spot for adults!”

More for the “to read” pile

One of my favorite book bloggers* Colleen Mondor, at her blog Chasing Ray, wrote recently,

Scott Wiedensaul’s Of a Feather is more than a history of birding in America – it’s an excellent piece of American history, a gossipy (in tone but not in fact) look at ornithology and includes so many bits of society and culture that my head was spinning with glee as I read it. This will be front and center in the that feature on birding lit this summer at Bookslut.

I need to remember to check back at Bookslut for that, since I know Colleen will have some great choices.

In the same post, Colleen writes,

Lisa Hamilton writes about being a traveler and witness in her essay for Powells. I just finished her book on three original farmers, Deeply Rooted and will be submitting a review for it for July. Every book on farming I read just makes me shake my head over how distance we have gotten from food and real life. It’s so odd to me how we watch Jon and Kate (and please – everyone has at least once) and that seems real to us. A staged show about a family is reality tv for families to watch. Why real farming and real food and real questions about both of those subjects (plus life and general) matter is what Deeply Rooted is all about. It’s very good stuff.

Colleen, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve never seen Jon and Kate except on magazine covers at the checkout counter.  One of the benefits of having (and, until the antenna is fixed, having had) only two TV channels!

By the way, here’s a link for the farming book,

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton (Counterpoint, May 2009)

* after doing some more catch-up reading, I see there is now a distinction between “book bloggers” and “lit bloggers”.  Heavens. Will need to give this some wine-soaked thought.

Summer surprise

Just received: a parcel from my father containing

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Not a children’s book, but selected for Laura (though I can’t wait to read it), was inspired by Marilyn Stasio’s recent review in the Sunday Times Book Review:

Nancy Drew drives her own blue roadster. Harriet the Spy travels in a chauffeured limousine. Emma Graham, Martha Grimes’s 12-year-old sleuth, takes taxis and trains. Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old heroine of Alan Bradley’s first mystery, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (Delacorte, $23), goes her way on a beat-up bicycle she calls Gladys, more independent and demonstrably naughtier than her literary sister-sleuths.

The neglected youngest daughter of a widower who never looks up from his precious stamp collection, Flavia takes refuge from her loneliness in the magnificent Victorian chemistry laboratory an ancestor installed at the family’s estate in the English countryside. With “An Elementary Study of Chemistry” as her bible, the precocious child has become an expert in poisons — a nasty skill that gets her in trouble when she melts down a sister’s pearls, but serves her well when a stranger turns up dead in the cucumber patch and her father is arrested for murder. Impressive as a sleuth and enchanting as a mad scientist (“What a jolly poison could be extracted from the jonquil”), Flavia is most endearing as a little girl who has learned how to amuse herself in a big lonely house.

After reading that, Laura said she thought it rather sounded like “The Secret Garden” but with a chemistry set instead of a shovel.

Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson, illustrated by Markley Boyer. Dr. Sanderson, who is Associate Director for Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis at the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, was a participant in the recent World Science Festival in the discussion, “The Hudson Since Henry”.  The book caught my attention in May while I was drooling over the planned events.  My father has obviously been working on his ESP skills, especially since the box also included

— Biologist Bernd Heinrich’s newest, Summer World: A Season of Bounty, which I’ve been wanting to read since starting The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology, a recent purchase from BookCloseouts.  But I didn’t mention anything until the other day, well after my father placed his order.

Books do make the best gifts!  Thanks, Pop!

Thomas Berry, 1914-2009: Losing, and finding, the universe

Thomas Berry, the writer and environmentalist who considered himself a “geologian” —  “a historian of the Earth and its evolutionary processes” — died earlier this week at the age of 94.

There are biographies of Dr. Berry at his foundation’s website, here and here.  There are obituaries in The New York Times and in the National Catholic Reporter, which noted,

Fr. Thomas Berry, described in Newsweek magazine in 1989 as “the most provocative figure among the new breed of eco-theologians,” was among the first to say the earth crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. His diagnosis of the negative effects of our religious views on our treatment of the planet rang true for many who were willing and able to work for a cure. Many created their own earth ministries, inspired by the work and life of Fr. Thomas Berry.

An excerpt from Dr. Berry’s book The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (emphases mine):

I was a young person then, some twelve years old. My family was moving from a more settled part of a Southern town out to the edge of town where the new house was still being built. The house, not yet finished, was situated on a slight incline. Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in May when I first looked down over the scene and saw the meadow. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something, I know not what, that seems to explain my life at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.

It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in an otherwise clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do. Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression upon me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet, as the years pass, this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes that I have given my efforts to, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life. …

It seems to me we all had such experiences before we entered into an industrial way of life. The universe as manifestation of some primordial grandeur was recognized as the ultimate referent in any human understanding of the wonderful yet fearsome world about us. Every being achieved its full identity by its alignment with the universe itself. With indigenous peoples of the North American continent every formal activity was first situated in relation to the six directions of the universe: the four cardinal directions combined with the heavens above and Earth below. Only thus could any human activity be fully validated.

The universe was the world of meaning in these earlier times, the basic referent in social order, in economic survival, in the healing of illness. In that wide ambiance the muses dwelled whence came the inspiration of poetry and art and music. The drum, heartbeat of the universe itself, established the rhythm of dance whereby humans entered into the very movement of the natural world. The numinous dimension of the universe impressed itself upon the mind through the vastness of the heavens and the power revealed in thunder and lightning, as well as through springtime renewal of life after the desolation of winter. Then, too, the general helplessness of the human before all the threats to survival revealed the intimate dependence of the human on the integral functioning of things. That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human.

This experience we observe even now in the indigenous peoples of the world. They live in a universe, in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world, no longer live in a universe. We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disneyworld. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner. Summer and winter are the same inside the mall. Ours is a world of highways, parking lots, shopping centers. We read books written with a strangely contrived alphabet. We no longer read the book of the universe.

Nor do we coordinate our world of human meaning with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment inherent in our very nature. Our children do not learn how to read the Great Book of Nature or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.

We have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research to developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources whence we came and upon which we depend at every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. To achieve this perspective we must first make them autistic in their relation with the natural world about them. This disconnection occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet, if we observe our children closely in their early years and see how they are instinctively attracted to the experiences of the natural world about them, we will see how disorientated they become in the mechanistic and even toxic environment that we provide for them.

To recover an integral relation with the universe, planet Earth, and North America needs to be a primary concern for the peoples of this continent. While a new alignment of our government and all our institutions and professions with the continent itself in its deep structure and functioning cannot be achieved immediately, a beginning can be made throughout our educational programs. Especially in the earlier grades of elementary school new developments are possible. Such was the thought of Maria Montessori in the third decade of this century.

In speaking about the education of the six-year-old child, Maria notes in her book To Educate the Human Potential that only when the child is able to identify its own center with the center of the universe does education really begin. For the universe, she says, “is an imposing reality.” It is “an answer to all questions.” “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” This it is that enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” Then the writer mentions how this experience of the universe creates in the child admiration and wonder and enables the child to unify its thinking. In this manner the child learns how all things are related and how the relationship of things to each other is so close that “No matter what we touch, an atom or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We frequently identify the loss of the interior spirit-world of the human mind and emotions with the rise of modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant thing, however, is that we have lost the universe itself. We achieved extensive control over the mechanistic and even the biological functioning of the natural world, but this control itself has produced deadly consequences. We have not only controlled the planet in much of its basic functioning; we have, to an extensive degree, extinguished the life systems themselves. We have silenced so many of those wonderful voices of the universe that once spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence.

We no longer hear the voices of the rivers or the mountains, or the voices of the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. Everything about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.” We continue to make music, write poetry, and do our painting and sculpture and architecture, but these activities easily become an aesthetic expression simply of the human and in time lose the intimacy and radiance and awesome qualities of the universe itself. We have, in the accepted universe of these times, little capacity for participating in mysteries celebrated in the earlier literary and artistic and religious modes of expression. For we could no longer live in the universe in which these were written. We could only look on, as it were.

Read the rest here.

A partial Berry bibliography:

The Great Work: Our Way into the Future

The Dream of the Earth

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, with physicist and mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme

The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Berry, edited and with a foreword by Mary Evelyn Tucker (Columbia University Press, August 2009)

Some Berry links:

An 2006 interview with Father Berry: “I did walk in the woods a great deal when I was a child. Already, the woods and nature were the most important things in my life. By the time I was ten or eleven years old, I had a feeling that something was wrong. I didn’t, of course, have the least idea of what this was all about, but I grew up with the feeling that I couldn’t trust the developing industrial world in which I was living.”

A 2002 interview originally published in The Sun Magazine: “Much of the Bible is concerned with how humans should relate to God, and to one another. What’s gotten lost is our intimate relationship with the natural world. Our theology is highly developed, and our anthropology — our study of each other — is highly developed, but our so-called life sciences are still trying to figure out how nature works in order to control it.”

Tentative high school science plans

I’ve been working for the past few weeks on what I’m going to do for science with Laura from grades 9-12; she’ll be starting 7th grade this fall, but like many home schoolers I feel more comfortable starting to plan sooner rather than later.  Of all three children, Laura, the eldest, has struggled the most with math (though this year has begun to enjoy the subject, perhaps because she’s also now finding it easier), and is also a keen naturalist, animal lover, and excellent young farmer.  Science, as well as math, are the two high school subjects I feel least comfortable winging and feel best having set out as some sort of plan.

My tentative plan, always subject to change, has involved cobbling together my own choices of books, some of which are already on the shelves at home, along with Teaching Company DVDs, based more or less the Well-Trained Mind rotation of biology (9th grade), earth science/astronomy (10th), chemistry (11th), physics (12th).  There’s also the option, I decided the other day, which I’ll give Laura for 12th grade of another year of biology instead of physics, concentrating on something she’d find interesting; in that case, we’d probably work through one or both of the Teaching Company physics courses (see below) over a couple of summers. She can specialize in ornithology, animal behavior, evolution, botany or whatever she chooses. We’d probably sort that out at the end of 10th grade, after two years of high school science.

I’ve selected completely secular textbooks where necessary (rather than “living books”), but I have tried to make sure they are written by experts in their respective fields who, preferably, are also good writers who make the subject engaging, rather than by committee.

A note: there are so many excellent, worthwhile and worthy books and documentary series on the sciences that I had a hard time winnowing things down.  There is probably more winnowing ahead.  As always, my choices were informed by own preferences.  I’m keen on the works of Chet Raymo, Isaac Asimov, and have recently become a fan of Timothy Ferris.  You might have your own favorite scientists and writers, and I urge you not to be confined by my own preferences and prejudices.  This is science, not rocket science, and there’s more than one way to do this.

OVERALL: We’ve been unschooling science for the most part.  Starting this year and next with Laura for 7th and 8th grades, and of course the boys will be around (so they’ll have two sessions), I’d like to go systematically through one of the first Teaching Company courses I bought, “Joy of Science” with Professor Robert Hazen, along with the book Science Matters by Prof. Hazen and James Trefil; I think their textbook version would be overkill for us at this point.  Also, with Laura’s love of her iPod, perhaps too the audiobook version of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Aside from the four-year breakdown, over the course of high school I’d like to do a light survey of the history of science using the book and new-on-DVD series “The Day the Universe Changed” by James Burke, of “Connections” fame. I’d also like to see each of our children involved at least for one year in high school on the executive of our local naturalist club

BIOLOGY (9th grade): We’re actually going to do a fairly specific farm study, using the provincial Green Certificate program for young farmers, with the specialization of cow-calf beef production.  She’ll also be able to use the program as her 4H project for the year. I’d also like to see if the each of the kids could take a course at the agricultural college in town in connection with the Green Certificate program, in the animal sciences department (anatomy and physiology or genetics of livestock) and/or an internship at the vet clinic. Like most good cattle farmers, we have a copy of Beef Cattle Science by Ensminger on the shelf, for the kids to work through. Also to read: Cattle: An Informal Social History by Laurie Winn Carlson and Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef by Betty Fussell; possibly the new Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Rimas and Fraser.

The more general stuff we’ll use, especially if we can’t manage to arrange for courses at the local agricultural college: the Teaching Company class “Biology: The Science of Life” taught by Stephen Nowicki of Duke. To read: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas; The Way Life Works: The Science Lover’s Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson; if we weren’t planning on the beef cattle approach, I think I’d use Hoagland’s textbook version of The Way Life Works. Also, In a Patch of Fireweed: A Biologist’s Life in the Field by Bernd Heinrich (not as good as his later Snoring Bird, but more manageable for ninth graders).

EARTH SCIENCE/ASTRONOMY (10th grade): the combination “Nature of Earth” courses from the Teaching Company (“An Introduction to Geology” and “Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy”), along with 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo; Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe by Timothy Ferris; The Crust of Our Earth: An Armchair Traveler’s Guide to the New Geology by Chet Raymo; A Field Manual for the Amateur Geologist: Tools and Activities for Exploring Our Planet by Alan M. Cvancara or The Practical Geologist: The Introductory Guide to the Basics of Geology and to Collecting and Identifying Rocks by Dougal Dixon; Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space (for general reference); and The Natural History of Canada by RD Lawrence, for Canadian content. Also perhaps one of New Yorker writer John McPhee’s series on North American geology, Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, The Control of Nature, and Assembling California; if you don’t have the individual titles, as I do, you can by the one-volume collection, Annals of the Former World which includes all but Control. Additional DVDs: Timothy Ferris’s “Seeing in the Dark” and “The Creation of the Universe”, and Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”; and Iain Stewart’s “Earth: The Biography”

CHEMISTRY (11th grade): working through Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson, with the help of his HomeChemLab website; and either Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham or what WTM recommends (Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide by Houk and Post). I don’t know that we’d need the TC course (High School Chemistry) for this, but perhaps. Also to read: Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks; Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley; Creations of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite. Also, if necessary, by the co-author (with Basher) of The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!, high school chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle’s chemistry pages; and my own periodic table round-up.

PHYSICS (12th grade): I was leaning toward the WTM recommendations (this and this) until I ran across How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis A. Bloomfield; while/before Laura works through the textbook, I would work through Dr. Bloomfield’s How Everything Works: Making Physics out of the Ordinary. At his reassuring website, Dr. Bloomfield has a guide to physics homeschooling and an instructor resources page.  Plus either “Physics in Your Life”, “Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists”, or “Great Ideas of Classical Physics” course from the Teaching Company, and the puzzle/brainteaser books by Franklin Potter and Christopher Jargodzki.

I have to admit I’m also intrigued, more for the boys than for Laura, by Richard Muller’s “Physics for Future Presidents” course (with webcasts) and books (there’s a textbook edition and a general trade edition).  Also intrigued, more for Laura than her brothers, in the classic Physics for Poets by Robert March, which is also an option depending on how things go through high school; I like this additional bibliography. To read: Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov; First You Build a Cloud: And Other Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life by KC Cole (recommended by JoVE); and, if manageable, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard Feynman.  On DVD, NOVA/“Einstein’s Big Idea” and NOVA/”Physics: The Elegant Universe”. Free online from MIT, Physics I: Classical Mechanics with Prof. Walter Lewin.  And some Leon Lederer links: FermiLab, and QuarkNet.

*  *  *

Other useful links:

MIT OpenCourseWare

Free online MIT course materials for high school (biology, physics)

Writer, home educating mother, and GeekMom Kathy Ceceri’s Home Biology blog and Home Chemistry blog; be sure to check all the links in the sidebars

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! co-author Adrian Dingle’s Chemistry Pages

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The Farm School Science page (at the top above, to the far right, over the carrot leaves)

Darwin 200: Day 5: Poetry Friday

A twofer, featuring excerpts from an 1802 poem by Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin; his last work, the volume was published posthumously. You can find the entire work here.

The Temple of Nature:
Or, The Origin of Society:

A Poem, with Philosophical Notes

by Erasmus Darwin

Canto I
Production of Life

I. BY firm immutable immortal laws
Impress’d on Nature by the GREAT FIRST CAUSE,
Say, MUSE! how rose from elemental strife
Organic forms, and kindled into life;
How Love and Sympathy with potent charm
Warm the cold heart, the lifted hand disarm;
Allure with pleasures, and alarm with pains,
And bind Society in golden chains. …

V. “ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves21
Was born and nurs’d in Ocean’s pearly caves;
{27} First forms minute22, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; 300
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.

“Thus the tall Oak, the giant of the wood,
Which bears Britannia’s thunders on the flood;
The Whale, unmeasured monster of the main,
The lordly Lion, monarch of the plain,
The Eagle soaring in the realms of air,
Whose eye undazzled drinks the solar glare,
Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,
Of language, reason, and reflection proud,
With brow erect who scorns this earthly sod,
And styles himself the image of his God;
Arose from rudiments of form and sense,
An embryon point, or microscopic ens!

“Now in vast shoals beneath the brineless tide,
On earth’s firm crust testaceous tribes reside;
Age after age expands the peopled plain,
The tenants perish, but their cells remain;
Whence coral walls and sparry hills ascend
From pole to pole, and round the line extend.

Read the rest here, if you have the time.

*  *  *

And something charming I came across for the younger set, thanks to The Ethical Palaentologist, from a 1980 book called Hocus Pocus Diplodocus: The Entire History of the Universe in 21 Poems by Tom Stanier:

Mister Darwin wrote a book
(The Origin of Species).
Let us look at life, he said,
In all its bits and pieces.

Find the rest of the poem here.

*  *  *

Darwin’s Ark: Poems by Philip Appleman, illustrations by Rudy Pozzatti (Indiana University Press, 2008); this is a new paperback edition (originally published in 1984) with prints by Rudy Pozzatti.  Stephen Jay Gould says of the book, “Philip Appleman has captured the elusive themes of Darwin’s worldview and translated them into items of beauty that also provoke thought.”  Prof. Appleman has also written novels, including Apes and Angels, and is the editor of the Norton critical edition of Darwin, first published in 1970 and considered by Dr. Gould to be “The best Darwin anthology on the market”.
*  *  *

Finally, the poet Ruth Padel has just published a biography about her great-great grandfather, Darwin: A Life in Poems (in the UK, Chatto & Windus, February 5, 2009; in the US and Canada, Knopf, late March or early April 2009, and the Chatto & Windus edition with the nicer cover should be available in Canada as well).

You can recent reviews at the Financial Times (“an imaginative and dynamic response to a man who changed the way we understand ourselves”) and  The Economist:

As the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth on February 12th approaches, it is good to welcome a biography which is relatively small, but in no way superficial or scanty. Ruth Padel has achieved this feat by writing her great-great-grandfather’s life in a sequence of often quite short poems. Through her verses she seeks to capture the “voice” of Darwin, thus performing a difficult act of literary ventriloquism. Ms Padel, who often writes about animals, embeds many of Darwin’s own words—from his books or his letters—in her poems, and the results tend to give the sense of being jointly authored. Sometimes she shapes entire gobbets of quotation into her own poetic passages. If this seems to be a bit of sly plagiarism, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like a deft act of collaboration between the living and the dead, one melding easily with the other. …

And why are poems a good way of illuminating a life such as Darwin’s? The best lyric poems—think of Keats or Shelley, for example—are moments of epiphany, a sudden opening out onto magic casements. And Darwin, throughout, was in the grip of something very similar: a terrible, destabilising sense of wonder. He sensed intimations of the marvellous everywhere he looked. All the sadder then—and this is something that Ms Padel does not explain—that, later in life, the man who carried with him on the Beagle a copy of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”* found that he could no longer enjoy poetry.

By the way, as part of American Public Media’s “Speaking of Faith” program, “Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin”, you can listen to a discussion of Darwin’s fondness for Milton’s poem and his description of the Atlantic Ocean.

*  *  *

Kelly Herold, who established Poetry Friday, is hosting today, so head over to her blog, Big A little a, for the complete round-up.  Thanks for hosting, Kelly, and thanks especially for Poetry Fridays.

Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day

(Previously posted last year as “Funny, you don’t look a day over 198”, with some updates and revisions)

adday

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
Charles Darwin

A very happy 200th birthday, and a big Valentine’s smooch, to Charles Robert Darwin, born February 12, 1809.

(And to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, too, who was born on the same day, in 1884; interestingly, she and her father shared a lifelong interest in human evolutionary biology, and she went on to study the growing field of molecular genetics.)

To celebrate this year, Farm School offers a highly subjective, not at all comprehensive Charles Darwin bibliography and list of resources for the entire family, with serious and lighthearted offerings; remember, I’m not a trained scientist or a biologist, just a very amateur naturalist who likes to read.

Science historian and songwriter Richard Milner performs a one-man musical show about Charles Darwin, “Charles Darwin Live and In Concert”.  Find him in concert or lecturing at a venue near you.  Milner has been a guest on WNYC (and here‘s his WNYC visit the other year). If he won’t be close by, check the website for a CD or to book the show.  And Milner is also the author of the forthcoming Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z, with a preface by his longtime friend Stephen Jay Gould and foreword by Ian Tattersall (University of California Press, March 2009).

The Darwin Exhibit

The Darwin exhibition, called variously “The Evolution Revolution” and “Big Idea” is at its final stop, at London’s Natural  History Museum, from November 2008 through April 19, 2009. The exhibit opened in New York in 2005 at the American Museum of Natural History, whose website for the exhibit is still up, with a good list of resources. The exhibit, the “most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled on Darwin and evolution includes rare personal artifacts”, has been organized by The American Museum of Natural History in New York, with Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum; Boston’s Museum of Science; Chicago’s Field Museum; and the Natural History Museum, London, to commemorate the bicentennial. The London Natural History Museum has a good mini website on evolution.

Books for children

Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Daniel Loxton

Darwin: With Glimpses into His Private Journal and Letters by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, April 2009)

What Mr. Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granström (Frances Lincoln, March 2009)

What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer (National Geographic, January 2009)

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman (Candlewick, January 2009). Publishers Weekly starred review here.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Holt, December 2008).  Charles and Emma gets a starred review in the January/February 2008 issue of The Horn Book, and in Publishers Weekly here. Ms. Heiligman’s husband is author Jonathan Weiner, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time.

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer (Harcourt, January 2009); historical fiction about the young Darwin, just setting sail for adventure.

Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins, April 2009). The author of My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, and other children’s classics for more than 40 years “traces the evolution of a species of giant turtles on the Galapagos Islands from millions of years ago to the present”.

Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Zina Saunders; to be published April 2009 by Chronicle Books as part of Ms. Markle’s intriguing new series (Animals Christopher Columbus Saw, Animals Robert Scott Saw)

Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant (no relation, I believe, to William Jennings…)

The Tree of Life by Peter Sís

The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver, illustrated by George Lawrence (University of New Mexico Press, 2007)

The Sandwalk Adventures: An Adventure in Evolution Told in Five Chapters by Jay Hosler (author of Clan Apis). A comic book by Hosler, a biologist and cartoonist, about the Victorian naturalist’s attempt to explain evolution to a family of mites living in his eyebrows. No, really. Something for the whole family to enjoy. Really and truly. Here’s more from Dr. Hosler on Charlie Darwin: Charlie and Darwin Saves the World.

The Adventures of Charles Darwin by Peter Ward (Cambridge University Press, 1986); chapter book about life on the HMS Beagle as told by a young cabin boy

Inside the Beagle with Charles Darwin by Fiona MacDonald, illustrated by Mark Bergin

Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Harrison

The Beagle and Mr. Flycatcher: A Story of Charles Darwin by Robert M. Quackenbush; apparently out of print in the US (though not in the UK) but worth searching out at the library because Quackenbush is always fun

Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kristan Lawson (Chicago Review Press)

Charles Darwin: A photographic story of a life by David C. King (a Dorling Kindersley biography)

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Lauren Stringer

Life Story: The Story of Life on Our Earth from the Beginning Up to Now by Virginia Lee Burton

Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story by Jennifer Morgan, illustrated by Dana Lynne Andersen

The Cartoon History of the Earth series by Jacqui Bailey and Matthew Lilly, published by Kids Can Press; including the titles The Birth of the Earth and The Dawn of Life

Eyewitness: Evolution by Linda Gamlin (Dorling Kindersley)

From DK, Evolution Revolution: From Darwin to DNA

The Tree Of Life: The Wonders Of Evolution by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Judeanne Winter Wiley

We’re Sailing to Galapagos by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Grazia Restelli (Barefoot Books)

The Evolution Book by Sara Stein; out of print but worth checking the library

Evolve or Die (from the Horrible Science series), by Phil Gates

Evolution by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Aliki (Harper, 1989); out of print but well worth finding for the very young

Around the World with Darwin by Millicent Selsam, illustrated by Anthony Ravielli (Harper &  Row, 1961); you can’t go wrong with Millicent Selsam

Books for older children and adults

The Voyage of the HMS Beagle by Charles Darwin, first published in 1845

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (first published in 1859); new illustrated edition, edited by David Quammen

The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin (1871); there is also a new concise edition with selections and commentary by Carl Zimmer (see below)

The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin (1872)

From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals), by Charles Darwin and edited by Edward O. Wilson

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, edited by Nora Barlow

The Portable Darwin, edited by Duncan M. Porter and Peter W. Graham (from the Viking Portable Library series)

The Norton Critical Edition of Darwin, edited by Philip Appleman (third edition, 20001), first published in 1970 and considered by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould to be “the best Darwin anthology on the market”.

Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822-1859, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, with a foreword by Stephen Jay Gould.  New anniversary edition published by Cambridge University Press in June 2008.

The Beagle Letters, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, with an introduction by Janet Browne

Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1860-1870, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Alison Pearn, and Samantha Evans; with a foreword by Sir David Attenborough. New anniversary edition poublished by Cambridge University Press in June 2008. This volume and the foregoing are a distillation of the late Professor Burkhardt’s 15 volumes (to date) of Darwin’s correspondence.

The Triumph of the Darwinian Method by Michael T. Ghiselin (Dover, 2003)

Charles Darwin: Voyaging and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, by Janet Browne; Browne’s two-volume biography. She has also written a “biography” of Darwin’s best-known work, Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography (from the Books That Changed the World series)

Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It by Loren Eiseley. Out of print. Find it.

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen

Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man by Tim Berra

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, edited by Stephen Jones, Robert D. Martin, and David R. Pilbeam; with a foreword by Richard Dawkins

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins

Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World by Paul D. Stewart

Darwin for Beginners by Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon

Ever Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth, edited by Stephen Jay Gould

The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould, edited by Stephen Rose, with a foreword by Oliver Sacks

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould

The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E.O. Wilson

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

Evolution: Society, Science and the Universe, edited by Andrew C. Fabian; with essays by Stephen Jay Gould, Lewis Wolpert, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, and others (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith by Philip Kitcher (Oxford University Press)

Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science by the Working Group on Teaching Evolution, National Academy of Sciences

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives by David Sloan Wilson

What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr; Dr. Mayr’s speech, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought”, is here.

Evolution by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu (translated by Linda Asher), with photographs by Patrick Gries

From So Simple a Beginning: The Book of Evolution by Philip Whitfield (Macmillan, 1993); out of print

Just A Theory: Exploring The Nature Of Science by Moti Ben-Ari; not specifically about evolution but very useful

Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, with a foreword by Edward O. Wilson (Belknap Press, February 2009)

Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z by Richard Milner, with a preface by Stephen Jay Gould and foreword by Ian Tattersall (University of California Press, March 2009).

The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Stewart Thomson (Yale University Press, February 2009)

Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book: Revived and Illustrated, edited by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway (Glitterati, November 2008)

Darwin: Graphic Biography, a comic book/graphic novel by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne (January 30, 2009)

Darwin’s Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England by Steve Jones (Little, Brown, January 2009 in UK, March 2009 in Canada); an excerpt in The Guardian, and reviewed in The Economist.  Steve Jones is the author of Darwin’s Ghost.

Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (Houghton Mifflin, January 2009); reviewed in The Economist

Darwin Slept Here: Discovery, Adventure, and Swimming Iguanas in Charles Darwin’s South America by Eric Simons (Overlook, January 2009)

Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts edited by Diana Donald and Jane Munro (Yale University Press, April 2009); a “lavishly illustrated book” published to accompany an exhibition organized by the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, in association with the Yale Center for British Art

by Charles’s great-great-granddaughter, Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel (Knopf, March 2009).  Ms. Padel is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Zoological Society of London. She will read from the new book, and converse with geneticist Jonathan Howard, at “Darwin, Poetry and Science”, chaired by Randal Keynes, at the Royal Society, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, Somerset House on Monday, 9 February 2009 at 6:30pm.

* * * *

Books by science writer and reporter Carl Zimmer:

Virus and the Whale: Exploring Evolution in Creatures Small and Large, edited by Judy Diamond, with Carl Zimmer, E. Margaret Evans, Linda Allison, and Sarah Disbrow; published by the National Science Teachers Association, 2006. An activity book for teachers and their students, which includes parents and their students.

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer’s companion guide to the PBS series of the same name (see below)

At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea

Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins

Mr. Zimmer has a ScienceBlog, The Loom: A blog about life, past and future. Not only is there lots of good stuff to read, but he has a regular feature, Science Tattoo Friday, where some of the tattoos are so fascinating and attractive (such as the Copernicus/scientific revolution ones) that I sometimes forget how much I dislike tattoos.

Coloring Books

Galapagos Islands Coloring Book (Dover Coloring Books); for young children

The Human Evolution Coloring Book by Adrienne L. Zihlman (HarperCollins); this one is similar to Wynn Kapit’s books (on geography, physiology, and anatomy) and is not for younger children.

Book lists

PZ Myers at Pharyngula has some of the best online prehistory/evolution reading lists in a variety of categories — “for the kids”, “for the grown-up layman”, “for the more advanced/specialized reader”, etc. (scroll through the comments for more titles).

Coturnix’s book list for adults; he’s moved recently, and is now at ScienceBlogs with A Blog Around the Clock

Magazines, Journals & Articles

The January 2009 issue of Scientific American, entitled “The Evolution of Evolution”; articles include “Darwin’s Living Legacy” and “Testing Natural Selection with Genetics”; Scientific American also offers on February 12, 2009 a special Darwin Day podcast

Scientific American‘s 2002 article by editor John Rennie, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” (including the hoary old chestnut, “Evolution is only a theory”)

New York Times profile of E.O. Wilson, “Taking a Cue From Ants on Evolution of Humans” (July 15, 2008)

Guardian profile of E.O. Wilson, “Darwin’s natural heir” (February 17, 2001)

Verlyn Klinkengborg’s New York Times column, August 2005, Grasping the Depth of Time as a First Step in Understanding Evolution” and his editorial today, “Darwin at 200: The Ongoing Force of His Unconventional Idea

On Film

“Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life”, a one-hour BBC One documentary special narrated by Sir David Attenborough, 1 February 2009; Sir David is described in this BBC press release as “a passionate Darwinian”.

Speaking of the BBC, the Beeb is hailing Darwin this year as “The Genius of Evolution” with a variety of special presentations

Evolution” (PBS), narrated by Liam Neeson. There is also a companion volume, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer (see above); and the PBS program website, with some projects and links for “Teachers and Students”

Dr. Jacob Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man”(BBC, 1973), new on DVD (five disc set)

“Growing Up in the Universe” on DVD (two disc set, region-free); Richard Dawkins’s 1991 five one-hour lectures for children, originally televised by the BBC as part of The Royal Institution The Christmas Lectures for Young People, founded by Michael Faraday in 1825.

NOVA: Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution” (PBS)

NOVA: Genius: The Science of Einstein, Newton, Darwin, and Galileo” (PBS)

“Inherit the Wind” starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly; based on the play, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

On the Big Screen I: The film “Creation”, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connnelly, based on Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution (published in 2001) by Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson. The movie is adapted from the book by John Collee (Happy Feet and Master & Commander) and directed by Jon Amiel (The Singing Detective). To be released in the autumn of 2009.

On the Big Screen II?: a film adaptation by Chase Palmer of the recent book Evolution’s Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin’s Voyage Aboard the Beagle by Peter Nichols (a bargain right now at Barnes & Noble, by the way).  Not much news on this one lately, so it may have fizzled.

Music

Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera “Princess Ida”, first performed in 1884, features the song “The Ape and the Lady” (see the accompanying illustration by Gilbert himself below).  You can listen to a 1924 HMV D’Oyly Carte recording; and here are the lyrics from “The Ape and the Lady”,

A Lady fair, of lineage high,
Was loved by an Ape, in the days gone by
The Maid was radiant as the sun,
The Ape was a most unsightly one.
So it would not do ;
His scheme fell through,
For the Maid, when his love took formal shape,
Expressed such terror
At his monstrous error,
That he stammered an apology and made his ‘scape,
The picture of a disconcerted Ape.
With a view to rise in the social scale,
He shaved his bristles, and he docked his tail,
He grew moustachios, and he took his tub,
And he paid a guinea to a toilet club
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through
For the Maid was Beauty’s fairest Queen,
With golden tresses,
Like a real princess’s,
While the Ape, despite his razor keen,
Was the apiest Ape that ever was seen!
He bought white ties, and he bought dress suits,
He crammed his feet into bright tight boots
And to start in life on a bran new plan,
He christened himself Darwinian Man!
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through
For the Maiden fair, whom the Monkey craved,
Was a radiant Being,
With a brain far-seeing
While a Man, however well-behaved,
At best is only a monkey shaved!

Richard Milner (see above) as “Charles Darwin: Live and In Concert”, and also on CD.  At the website, you can listen to excerpts of “When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish” and “I’m the Guy Who Found Natural Selection”.  The New York Times recently discovered Dr. Milner and has a related science blog post by John Tierney for a science song contest offering “a prize to the Lab reader who comes up with the best lyrics to be sung by Charles Darwin or any other scientist, alive or dead.”

“Origin of Species in Dub” by the Genomic Dub Collective. Yes, that would be reggae. Not just a CD and MP3s, but a DVD too and online videos. And a bonus track, “Dub fi Dover”, to celebrate the outcome in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial. Truly amazing.

Charlie is My Darwinby the Torn Rubbers, official theme song of The Friends of Charles Darwin ; and a bonus,The Darwinian Theoryby John Young, C.E. (to the tune of the Scottish ballad, The King of the Cannibal Islands)

British composer Michael Stimpson is working on a classical piece,Into the Unknown, to celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin.

Timothy Sellers’ band, Artichoke, released a CD several years ago, 26 Scientists, Volume One: Anning — Malthus; the lyrics and a clip of the song about Darwin, who beat out da Vinci and Doppler for the fourth letter of the alphabet, are here. The CD is $10 at the band’s website and you can buy or download the disc at CD Baby, where you can also read more about it from Timothy Sellers, who was also interviewed by The New York Times.

“Evolutionation” by Dr. Art the Singing Scientist (to the tune of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”), from the CD “Bio-Rhythms III”

Professor Boggs in his Mad Science Factory sings “Evolution (Not So Scary)”; you can listen to a clip here.

By the way, in my search for Darwinian music, I found something MASSIVE, for those who like to learn, and teach, with music. It is in fact called MASSIVE: a database for “Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere”. The database, which is maintained by Greg Crowther and is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library,

contains information on over 2500 science and math songs. Some of these songs are suitable for 2nd graders; others might only appeal to tenured professors. Some songs have been professionally recorded; others haven’t. Some are quite silly; others are downright serious.

A delight, which you can also listen to all day, all week, all year at MASSIVE Radio — many thanks to Greg Crowther and the band Science Groove for putting it all together. Read more about them here.

Finally, sung to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Model Major General” and inspired by Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements”, here is Amadan’s I Am the Very Model of a C – Design – Proponentsist

The Darwin Day website has a variety of audio files, some from the sources mentioned above

HMS Beagle

Project Beagle website and theBeagle blog

If you or your kids get inspired by Project Beagle and want to build your own — ship, that is — you can, with the HMS Beagle plastic ship model kit (1:96), made in Germany by Revell; “features detailed hull with gunports, deck with hatches, masts, yards, 2 anchors, stairways, sails, railings, wheels, cannon, lifeboats with oars. Also included is yarn for rigging, flag chart and display stand with name plate. Measures 16″ long and 11 3/4″ high.”

HMS Beagle: Survey Ship Extraordinary by Karl Marquardt; part of the Anatomy of the Ship series by Conway Maritime Press, which includes volumes on the Endeavour, Bounty, and Bellona.

Out and about online

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Ask a Biologist

Becoming Human website

The Charles Darwin Forum

The Charles Darwin Has a Posse sticker page, from Colin Purrington. Because you can never underestimate the power of a well-placed sticker or bookmark. As I noted in my 2005 Posse post, “As Darwin himself said, and as you can be reminded daily from a bookmark, ‘Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life as one can, in any likelihood, pursue’.” Colin also has a Charles Darwin/Posse store at Cafe Press where you can outfit yourself completely for the festivities.

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online: “This site contains Darwin’s complete publications, thousands of handwritten manuscripts and the largest Darwin bibliography and manuscript catalogue ever published; Darwin Online also hundreds of supplementary works: biographies, obituaries, reviews, reference works and more”, including MP3s for your listening edification and pleasure.

Cambridge University’s Darwin Correspondence Project, founded in 1974 by Frederick Burckhardt (see below), with a remarkable online database with the complete, searchable, texts of around 5,000 letters written by and to Darwin up to the year 1865. The project continues despite Professor Burckhardt’s death last fall at the age of 95.

More Darwin at Cambridge, with the Darwin 2009 Festival. Charles Darwin began at Christ’s College Cambridge as a student in 1827, at the age of 18. Four years later he sailed forth on the HMS Beagle. Of his years at university, he once wrote, “The only evil at Cambridge was its being too pleasant.”

Darwin Day Celebration website, with links, events, and other items leading to a celebration of the great man’s bicentennial on February 12, 2009.

Darwin200, a bicentennial project from the Natural History Museum in London, England

Darwin at Downe, his home and neighborhood

Who knew that Darwin had a rose? The gorgeous David Austin series, which sadly doesn’t grow in my chilly garden, includes the Charles Darwin rose, which you can see here.

The Dispersal of Darwin blog, with a long list of Darwin links

Encyclopedia of Life

Evolve2009, commemorating the occasion in and around San Francisco

Colin Purrington is also the force behind the Evolution Outreach Projects page, which includes a wealth of educational and amusing links

Evolved Homeschooling blog — “A collection of evolution and science resources for the secular homeschooler”, webring, and Cafe Press shop

More shopping, over at EvolveFish’s Darwin Day shop

You can join the Friends of Charles Darwin, gratis. FCD has a long list of science and Darwin blogs

National Center for Science Education, and the Center’s page of resources; the NSCE has a new page on the Darwin Bicentennial in the News

Nature Podcast: Darwin

New York Times “Times Topics” page on Charles Darwin

New York Times “Times Topics” page on Evolution

The Panda’s Thumb; Panda’s Thumb Darwiniana links

The Species of Origin

Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science (NY Academy of Sciences)

Understanding Evolution website, created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology; lots of resources for educators and children

Toys for the young and young at heart

(I haven’t ordered from any of the following companies so you’re on your own)

Charlie’s Playhouse: “We make games and toys that teach kids about evolution, natural selection and the work of Charles Darwin”, including a giant timeline floor mat, giant timeline poster, ancient creature cards, and a great selection of t-shirts

Thames & Kosmos Milestones in Science kit

Evolving Darwin Play Set

Charles Darwin bobblehead

Charles Darwin finger puppet

Charles Darwin “Little Thinker” plush toy

Charles Darwin and friends in the Oddfellows Scientists Collection

Charles Darwin fridge magnet

Charles Darwin jigsaw puzzle

Highly evolved Lego: model of the HMS Beagle, Darwin aboard ship, the man, the man in the lab, Origin of the Species

From the Farm School archives

Readers and scientists celebrating Darwin, new books for children

Just a theory, celebrations at Cambridge University

Radio Darwin, radio and television celebrations at the BBC

“Part of nature”, Desmond Morris salutes Charles Darwin as a “Hero for our age”

Science resources for The Coalition On The Public Understanding of Science’s Year of Science 2009. Guess what’s up for February?

Celebrating Christmas with Colin Purrington’s Axis of Evo project

Banned Books Week 2008

The new anti-intellectualism plus scientific illiteracy equals the perfect storm over evolution

Arabella Buckley and Darwin

Lincoln and Darwin together again (2008)

Charles Darwin and Sir David Attenborough, in cold blood

Funny, you don’t look a day over 198 (the original February 2008 version of this post)

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs, a post for the creation museum carnival (May 2007)

Project Beagle (March 2007)

Celebrating Darwin Day: Many happy returns (February 2006)

Charles Darwin Has a Posse (December 2005)

* * *

If you have any additional suggestions or recommendations or corrections (links have moved around by themselves, disappeared, etc. more than once), please add them to the comments below. Thank you!

Here’s mud in your eye

and on your hands and on the shelf.

It occurs to me that while the kids are mucking about out of doors boosting their immune systems, you could make it an educational experience as well.  Some Farm School favorites, from the shelves (our own and the library’s) and wish lists:

For children:

Life in a Bucket of Soil by Alvin Silverstein and Virginia Silverstein (Dover Publications, under $6); geared toward children ages 9-12, from the authors of A World in a Drop of Water

One Small Square: Backyard by Donald M. Silver, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne and Dianne Ettl

For older children and adults:

Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners by James B. Nardi

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan

Tales from the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean Life by David W. Wolfe, a plant physiologist at Cornell University

and because while you’re all out playing in the soil, you may as well do something with it:

Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

Science

Farm School blog posts/General Science:

Tentative high school science plans

Do It Yourself Science

Science with Tom Edison

Learning to think like scientists, and learning how to think about science

More food for thought: connections and disconnections

Science Summer School

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

The beautiful basics of science

A virtual education, about the debate on virtual science classes

Farm School blog posts/Biology:

Darwin and evolution resources for Darwin Day aka Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs

Charles Darwin Has a Posse

Celebrating Darwin Day: Many happy returns

Farm School blog posts/Natural History:

Nature writing and writers

Farm School blog posts/Chemistry:

Do It Yourself Science

Retro Chemistry

Still sniffing around the kitchen: Chemistry with the Curious Cook; which means you might be interested in this review by Nicole at Baking Bites of How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula Figoni

Review: The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Basher and Dingle

Farm School blog posts/Physics:

Spreading the love

Lists of Living Books for Science:

4 Real Learning “Great Outdoors” book list; nature study and natural history books for grammar stage and up, including picture books

Regena’s lists of science and history books

Paula’s Archive: Grammar stage science book list compiled by Carol Richey

Links and Resources:

The Society for Amateur Scientists (“Helping Ordinary People Do Extraordinary Science”), also known as SAS, and SAS’s Labrats program for children; both SAS and Labrats are headed up by Dr. Shawn Carlson

Dr. Shawn Carlson’s CD compilation of 72 years’ worth of “Amateur Scientist” columns from Scientific American magazine: Amateur Scientist 4.0 CD, “Science Fair Edition”

The Guardian‘s Science Course: Part I, The Universe; Part II, Life & Genetics; Part III,The Earth; Part IV, Humans; Part V, Energy; Part VI, Building Blocks; and Part VII, Experiments for Kids

Home Chemistry

Singing Science; free songs to download

Geekdad, from Wired

Charles Darwin Has a Posse: awareness stickers

Boing Boing

“The Way Things Work” two-disc DVD set by David Macaulay

Modern Mechanix

Scientific American article, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” by John Rennie, September 2002

Science books from the Farm School bookshelves, library list, shopping carts, and wish lists:

Biology:

The Intelligent Man’s Guide to the Biological Sciences by Isaac Asimov; don’t hold the unfortunate title of the 1960 book against Asimov (for older children and up)

Scientific American: The Amateur Biologist by Shawn Carlson (for ages 9 or 10 and up)

Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth by Andrew H. Knoll (for older children and up)

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin(for older and up)

The Fairy-Land of Science by Arabella Buckley; free online in book form here and as an audiobook at Librivox here (for younger children)

Natural History/Nature Writing (by author):

Edward Abbey

Liberty Hyde Bailey

Wendell Berry

Hal Borland

Rachel Carson

Gerald Durrell

Loren Eiseley

Edward Hoagland

John Kieran

Barbara Kingsolver

Joseph Wood Krutch

Gale Lawrence

RD Lawrence

Aldo Leopold

Barry Lopez

Bill McKibben

John McPhee

Farley Mowat

John Muir

Sigurd Olson

Ernest Thompson Seton

Edwin Way Teale

Henry David Thoreau

and also

Nature Writing: The Tradition in English, edited by Robert Finch and John Elder

American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben(Library of America, April 2008

Nature Study:

How to Be a Nature Detective by Millicent Selsam, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (for young children)

The Listening Walk by Paul Showers, illustrated by Aliki; I prefer the original unrevised edition of 1961 with Aliki’s black and white, less cutesy illustrations (less distracting), but am glad to see that this one is still in print (for young children)

Exploring Nature with Your Child: An Introduction to the Enjoyment and Understanding of Nature for All by Dorothy Edwards Shuttlesworth (1952); out of print but worth buying secondhand

The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell, with Lee Durrell; out of print and worth tracking down (for the whole family)

The Amateur Naturalist’s Handbook by Vinson Brown (and also his How to Make a Home Nature Museum and How to Make a Miniature Zoo, two of my childhood favorites)

Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock (for the whole family)

The Beginning Naturalist: Weekly Encounters With the Natural WorldA Field Guide to the Familiar: Learning to Observe the Natural World, and A Naturalist Indoors: Observing the World of Nature Inside Your Home by Gale Lawrence (for the whole family)

The Curious Naturalist by John Mitchell and The Massachusetts Audubon Society (for the whole family)

The Fieldbook of Natural History by E. Laurence Palmer and H. Seymour Fowler (originally published in 1949, revised in 1975, and which I suspect grew out of Palmer’s 1927 The Nature Almanac: a Handbook of Nature Education); Palmer, a professor of nature study at Cornell University, was a colleague of Anna Botsford Comstock (for the whole family)

The Nature Handbook: A Guide to Observing the Great Outdoors by Ernest Herbert Williams (for the whole family)

Naturalist’s Guide to Observing Nature by Kurt Rinehart (for the whole family)

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth (for the whole family)

The Amateur Naturalist by Nick Baker (not to be confused with the Durrell title, but quite good)

The Study of Life: A Naturalist’s View by RD Lawrence

The Natural History of Canada by RD Lawrence, revised by Dr. Michal Polak

Entrusted to My Care by Grant MacEwan (older readers and up)

Collecting for the City Naturalist by Lois J. Hussey and Catherine Pessino (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975)

John Kieran’s A Natural History of New York City: A Book for Sidewalk Naturalists Everywhere

The Urban Naturalist by Steven Garber

City Birding: True Tales of Birds and Birdwatching in Unexpected Places

Snowshoeing Through Sewers: Adventures in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia by Michael Aaron Rockland

Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn by Hannah Holmes

Chemistry:

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, and written by Adrian Dingle

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson (DIY Science series)

Fizz, Bubble & Flash!: Element Explorations & Atom Adventures for Hands-On Science Fun! by Anita Brandolini

Mad Professor by Mark Frauenfelder

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments by Robert Brent; out of print but available as a free PDF to download, and available in softcover via Lulu for under $30.

Basic Chemistry Experiments (A Golden Hobby Book) by Robert Brent; an abridged edition of The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, also out of print. Keep your eyes peeled at garage sales.

How and Why Wonder Book of Chemistry by Martin L. Keen

Entertaining Science Experiments With Everyday Objects by Martin Gardner

Chemical Magic by Leonard A. Ford and E. Winston Grundmeier

Mr. Wizard’s 400 Experiments in Science by Don Herbert and Hy Ruchlis

The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things by Monty L. Fetterolf and Cathy Cobb

Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore by Harold McGee

Physics:

Physics: Why Matter Matters! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, and writtenby Dan Green

Physics in a Hardware Store by Robert Friedhoffer

Physics in a Housewares Store by Robert Friedhoffer

Rubber-Band Banjos and Java Jive Bass: Projects and Activities on the Science of Music and Sound by Alex Sabbeth

How Do You Lift a Lion? by Robert E. Wells

Gizmos and Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why) by Jill Frankel Hauser

Hands-On Physics Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Cunningham and Herr

Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov

Fear of Physics by Lawrence M. Krauss

Earth Science:

Basin and Range, In Suspect TerrainRising from the Plains, and Assembling California by John McPhee (available together in the collection Annals of the Former World)

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space by Isaac Asimov

Astronomy:

Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer, first in the (DIY Science series) by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space by Isaac Asimov

The Stars: A New Way to See Them and Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey (of Curious George fame)

General/Reference:

Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery by Isaac Asimov

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer and illustrated by Felicia Bond

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay

Why Science? by James Trefil

The Nature of Science: An A-Z Guide to the Laws and Principles Governing Our Universe by James Trefil

Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy by Robert M. Hazen and James Trefil

Midautumn

Edwin Way Teale, in his Autumn Across America (subtitled “A naturalist’s record of a 20,000 mile journey through the North American autumn”), 1950:

There is a midsummer. There is a midwinter. But there is no midspring or midautumn. These are the seasons of constant change. Like dawn and dusk they are periods of transition. But like night and day and day and night they merge slowly, gradually. As Richard Jeffries once wrote, broken bits of summer can be found scattered far into the shortening days of fall. Only on calendars and in almanacs are the lines of division sharply defined.

And writingly beautifully about the bane of my existence, as I try to get the house ready for our giant pumpkin carving party,

…all the thistle thickets were dusty that day. Here, too, the gray autumn dust had settled. It coated my shoes. It surrounded my feet in a moving cloud when I strode through the dry vegetation. Dust — the bane of the immaculate housewife, the cause of choking and sneezing, the reducer of industrial efficiency — dust to a naturalist represents one of the great, essential ingredients in the beauty of the world.

If it were possible to banish dust from the earth, the vote probably would be overwhelmingly in favor of it. Yet subtract dust from the 5,633,000,000,000,000-ton atmosphere that surrounds the globe and you would subtract infinitely more. You would rain blue from the sky and the lake. For fine dust, as well as the molecules of vapor and the air itself, scatters the blue rays and contributes color the the heavens above and reflected color to the waters below. You would eliminate the beauty of the autumn mist and the summer cloud. For every minute droplet of moisture in fog and cloud forms about a nucleus of dust. You would hat the rain and never know the whiteness of drifted snow. For raindrops and snowflakes and hailstones also come into being about a center of airborne dust. You would remove the glory of the sunrise from the world and wipe all the flaming beauty of the sunset from the sky. For sunrise and sunset, as we know them, are the consequence of the rays passing through the hazy, dusty air near the surface of the earth where the blue rays are filtered out and the red and orange rays pass through. …

Nearly as much as the scent of leaf fires in the dusk, the smell of dusty autumn weedlots is part of the early memories of the fall. During our westward travels with the season I asked many people what scent first came to mind at the mention of autumn. To some it was the fragrance of ripe grapes, to others the kitchen smells of canning and jelly-making, to others the aroma of the apple harvest; to most, I think, it was the scent of burning leaves, but to more than I expected it was the mingled odor of the weedlot, the smell of ragweed and sunflower and sweet clover and dust, the very breath of autumn’s dryness.

(Little pie pumpkins from the kids’ garden this summer)

Poetry Friday: Poems for peasants

I fell off the Poetry Friday bandwagon with a loud thump at the beginning of the Summer, when it seemed as if we were always gone, or getting ready to go somewhere, on Fridays (and sometimes Thursdays). But with school starting next week, I’m ready to haul myself back up; in fact, that’s me above, at left in the pointy hat.

After I’d decided that this would be the week of the big climb, I had a note from Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti letting me know that the Poetry Foundation article she had mentioned earlier this year is now up at the PF website: “Home Appreciation”, subtitled, “Homeschoolers are turning a million kids on to poetry — through fun, not homework. Here’s how you can do it too.” I’m tickled to be mentioned in Susan’s article, along with other home schooling mums Karen Edmisten and Jenny at Little Acorns Treehouse, delightfully encouraging librarian Adrienne Furness at Homeschooling and Libraries, and Julie Bogart of Brave Writer. Thanks so much, Susan. By the way, don’t miss Susan’s Poetry Friday article at the Poetry Foundation, if you haven’t read it yet.

If you’ve found your way here from the PF article, welcome to Farm School. The Poetry & Broccoli post mentioned by Susan is here. More Farm School poetry posts are here, and can also be found if you scroll all the way to top of this page (well past the bandwagon) and to the right and click on the tab that says “Poetry”. You can also try the similarly titled “Poetry” WordPress tag, which has everything here I’ve slapped with the tag, including all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts.

I’ve dithered long enough, so here’s my poem for the day, which, I admit, I love especially for its first line and the word “earlily”, and which I dedicate to the sweet poets visiting our fields, pastures, and gardens all Summer.

Wild Bees
by John Clare (1793-1864)

These children of the sun which summer brings
As pastoral minstrels in her merry train
Pipe rustic ballads upon busy wings
And glad the cotters’ quiet toils again.
The white-nosed bee that bores its little hole
In mortared walls and pipes its symphonies,
And never absent couzen, black as coal,
That Indian-like bepaints its little thighs,
With white and red bedight for holiday,
Right earlily a-morn do pipe and play
And with their legs stroke slumber from their eyes.
And aye so fond they of their singing seem
That in their holes abed at close of day
They still keep piping in their honey dreams,
And larger ones that thrum on ruder pipe
Round the sweet smelling closen and rich woods
Where tawny white and red flush clover buds
Shine bonnily and bean fields blossom ripe,
Shed dainty perfumes and give honey food
To these sweet poets of the summer fields;
Me much delighting as I stroll along
The narrow path that hay laid meadow yields,
Catching the windings of their wandering song.
The black and yellow bumble first on wing
To buzz among the sallow’s early flowers,
Hiding its nest in holes from fickle spring
Who stints his rambles with her frequent showers;
And one that may for wiser piper pass,
In livery dress half sables and half red,
Who laps a moss ball in the meadow grass
And hoards her stores when April showers have fled;
And russet commoner who knows the face
Of every blossom that the meadow brings,
Starting the traveller to a quicker pace
By threatening round his head in many rings:
These sweeten summer in their happy glee
By giving for her honey melody.

* * *

John Clare (1793-1864) was the son of a farm laborer and an English poet. In his lifetime he was known as “the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet”, he died in a lunatic asylum in obscurity, and today is considered England’s foremost nature poet. His works are also subject to a bizarre copyright battle.

Clare worked alongside his father from a young age, but was sent to school for three months each year until he turned 12. He published his first volume, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery at the age of 27, followed the next year by The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems, both to great acclaim. He cut as dashing a figure as his fellow Romantic poets, but outlived them considerably; however, Clare spent his last years — more than 20 of them — in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he continued to write poetry, including his most celebrated work, I Am, until his death at age 70. He also has a blog, and a luscious David Austin rose.

* * *

Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library has today’s Poetry Friday round-up, where you can find lots of poems to get you through the Labor Day weekend and into the school year. I’m also looking forward to catching up with Charlotte’s Summer posts.

The clearest way

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir

I’ve been rereading Muir since our friend died last week. Which reminded me that nature writing has been a popular subject this summer, both at Granta and at Lapham’s Quarterly.

Granta‘s Summer issue, “The New Nature Writing”, includes an article by Mark Cocker, which is a lovely wide to tide yourself over while waiting for Crow Country to swim across the pond; I’m getting very close to ordering the book from The Book Depository. Also Jonathan Raban’s article on “the de-landscaping of the American West”. From Jason Cowley’s editor’s letter,

When we began to commission articles for this issue we were interested less in what might be called old nature writing – by which I mean the lyrical pastoral tradition of the romantic wanderer – than in writers who approached their subject in heterodox and experimental ways. We also wanted the contributions to be voice-driven, narratives told in the first person, for the writer to be present in the story, if sometimes only bashfully. The best new nature writing is also an experiment in forms: the field report, the essay, the memoir, the travelogue. If travel writing can often seem like a debased and exhausted genre, nature writing is its opposite: something urgent, vital and alert to the defining particulars of our times.

The writers collected here are all on some kind of journey of discovery, as the best travel writers were, but at a time when so many of us are concerned about the size of our carbon footprint, they have no need to travel to the other side of the world to understand more about themselves and their relation to the world they inhabit. In this sense, many of the stories in this issue are studies in the local or the parochial: they are about the discovery of exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary. They are about new ways of seeing. Many of the pieces can also be read as elegies: we know how our world is changing and what is being lost and yet we are powerless to prevent the change.

Lewis Lapham’s summer issue, “The Book of Nature”, includes old writings — by John Muir, Thoreau, Henry Beston (who was also Elizabeth Coatsworth’s husband), Rachel Carson, Hitler, and Countee Cullen on New York City — and also new ones, from Frederick Turner on “The Art of Nature”, and Bill McKibben on “Living Deliberately”, among others. From editor Lewis Lapham’s preamble,

The texts in this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly go in search of an understanding of what we mean by nature, ask where to mark the boundaries between mind and matter, body and soul, the human and the nonhuman, between what’s out there in the woods and what’s in here with the endorphins and the organelles. Absent an answer to the questions, I don’t know how we call off the dogs of planetary ruin. The steadily multiplying world population (projected to increase from 6.5 billion to 9.1 billion people by 2050) is likely to impose unbearable burdens on increasingly scarce supplies of earth, air, fire, and water. The arithmetic suggests that we have no way of avoiding calamity without first giving up our belief that somehow there is an irreconcilable difference (substantive and spiritual as well as moral and aesthetic) between what is “natural” and what is “artificial.”

123 Book Meme

Kris Bordessa at Paradise Found has tagged me for a book meme I’ve seen on a number of blogs but have managed to avoid so far. But because my blogging has been, and will probably continue to be, pretty limited during the growing season, I’ve decided to take Kris up on it. I’m also aware that I owe Monica at educating alice a post for the Passion Quilt Meme she tagged me for months ago; do I dare admit that I find absolutely paralyzing taking the perfect picture that sums up what I’m most passionate about, for my children to learn?

So here are the rules for the 123 book meme:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

In fact, it’s not as easy as I thought. The nearest book at hand is Roget’s Thesaurus and doesn’t have sentences. The next nearest book is one of my newest Bookcloseouts purchases, My Gardening Journal, which is so new that page 123, one of the blank pages for me to fill out in the “Inspirations” section, is still blank. The next book, our latest re-readaloud, the wonderful Log Cabin in the Woods: A True Story about a Pioneer Boy by Joanne Landers Henry (think of Farmer Boy set in Little House in the Book Woods), has only 60 pages.

One more chance then, and a book I just brought home from the the Goodwill shop. This is what happens, I think, in a house with lots of books.

There was the day when my wife and I sat silently on a hill overlooking a fairly large lake that lay some seven miles north of our property and watched a hunter and its usual quarry at peace with each other. We had set out at first light of a lovely spring morning, and had walked along an ancient trail that twisted and turned through a mixture of terrain cloaked by profuse and diverse plant growth. For the first half hour of our trek, we walked through rocky land on which grew isolated pines and spruces and where mosses and ferns and berry bushes grew in companionable splendor; then the land dropped and we had to wade through marshy places and cross ponds by stepping along the edge of beaver dams, our vision restricted to no more than a few yards ahead because of the multitude of sapling poplars that competed for growing space.

From The Zoo That Never Was, by R.D. Lawrence (my copy is Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981; hardcover, first edition). The Zoo is Ron Lawrence’s account of the wild menagerie he and his wife Joan established in 1965 at their 350-acre property in Ontario.

You can find a complete R.D. Lawrence bibliography here. While Zoo is new to me, the kids and I have read and enjoyed Paddy, about raising a baby beaver, and all Canadians and Canadaphiles who enjoy the great outdoors should have a copy of Lawrence’s The Natural History of Canada, either the original or revised edition.

From a post five years ago by Canadian naturalist, artist, and writer Barry Kent MacKay after Lawrence’s death:

Ron was born at sea, on September 12, 1921, in Spanish territorial waters, but aboard a British vessel. That was appropriate as his father was English, his mother Spanish, and to me Ron was a perfect blend of the two cultures, his Spanish temper and romantic flare modified by classic British reserve. …

In 1954 Ron immigrated to Canada, a country at peace, and a country that embraced what he yearned: the solitude of wilderness. He worked briefly for The Toronto Star, but his main interest was in getting away from people and human affairs, and into wilderness. He was, like many Europeans, fascinated by the concept of wilderness still inhabited by bears and wolves and chose a country where there was still such wilderness to be found. He settled into a cabin in the forest at Lake of the Woods, living off the land as a labourer and logger. …

In 1958 he left his homestead and took his sole companion, part dog, part wolf, Yukon, to explore still more remote areas of the Canadian wilderness, roaming far from civilization in the wild places of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, B.C., the Yukon and the Northwest Territories and south into parts of the United States, such as Yellowstone National Park.

For one 14 month period he lived with Yukon in the B.C. wilderness with no contact with any other human during that period. In 1961, he left the wilderness, and as journalism and writing seemed to come effortlessly to him, he worked for a couple of newspapers in Winnipeg, before coming to Toronto, where he met and married his first wife, Joan Frances Gray. He
earned money writing for the old Toronto Telegram, while maintaining wilderness property north of the city. He worked as a publisher for a weekly journal for awhile. His beautiful and beloved wife, Joan, featured in his earlier books, tragically died young, and he sold his farm and moved to BC, where he wrote Voyage of Stella and Ghost Walker.

In 1973 he returned to Ontario where he married Sharon Frise. I can attest that they were deeply and satisfyingly in love, and lived on 100 acres of wilderness property in the Haliburton Highlands in the company of their companion wolves, Tundra, Taiga, Alba, Bridget, Leda and Numa, working to rescue and rehabilitate wild animals (helping more than 900, with a very
high success rate).

“I seek acquaintance with Nature, — to know her moods and manners. Primitive nature is most interesting to me. . .”
Henry David Thoreau, 1856

(I’m not keen on tagging, so if you want to play along, leave a message in the comments, please.)

Nature writing and writers

Am slowly going through scads of Google Alerts and finding some good stuff.

Including:

Another good review of American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben (Library of America, April 2008). I’ve had this on my wish list for a few months since reading the Washington Post review by Gregory McNamee. The latest review is by Brian Sholis for Metro Times Detroit (the city’s “weekly alternative”), who writes that the new book

represents a Herculean effort on the part of author and activist Bill McKibben, its editor, to bring together the texts most relevant to an audience unfamiliar with the topic. It is matchless in its heft, generous in scope (included are Sierra Club founder John Muir and Marvin Gaye), and, with a detailed chronology in its back matter, serviceable in its depth. …

…nearly all of the writers we associate with the movement, from the middle of the 19th century to the present, appear here, including Henry David Thoreau, Muir, John Burroughs, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez and Michael Pollan. So do a handful of unexpected figures, from P.T. Barnum to Philip K. Dick to R. Crumb. A library that included this volume and Thomas J. Lyon’s utilitarian 2001 book This Incomparable Land: A Guide to American Nature Writing would offer fragments from or information about many of the books important to mainstream discourse on the topic.

Bill McKibben also has The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life out this Spring (Holt, March 2008).

More books on nature writing:

The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook: A Creative Guide by John A. Murray

Nature Writing: The Tradition in English, edited by Robert Finch and John Elder (which I believe is a hardbound, non-college text edition of the Norton Book of Nature Writing by Finch and Elder)

Writing About Nature: A Creative Guide by John A. Murray

Writing Naturally: A Down-To-Earth Guide to Nature Writing by David Petersen

The Alphabet Of The Trees: A Guide To Nature Writing, edited by Christian McEwen and Mark Statman

A Natural History of Nature Writing by Frank Stewart

A Crow Doesn’t Need A Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra, illustrated by Diane Boardman (unlike the other titles in this list, good to use with younger children)

There is, not surprisingly, a website called Nature Writing. And a blog, On Nature Writing, though it’s been inactive since February.

The Library of Congress offers its science reference guide on Nature Study, Nature Writing: Past and Present

Nature Writing Resources from the English department of Virginia Commonwealth University, and also from Grand Valley State University in Michigan

Advice on keeping a nature writing journal, with brief excerpts from The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook, via Cal Poly

Writing about Nature and Environmental Issues, from MIT OpenCourseWare

The state of nature writing in the UK, from Robert Macfarlane’s columns for The Guardian: “Upwardly mobile” (September 2007) and “Call of the wild” (December 2003) are two, and his “Common Ground” columns listed here. Mr. Macfarlane is author of the recent Wild Places and was interviewed for Bookslut in 2004 following publication of his Mountains of the Mind.