• 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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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

More BirdCasting

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Exciting news for us — Laura is in Washington, DC to help celebrate the 500th show of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, and will be part of the live broadcast tomorrow from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Talkin’ Birds is a live interactive half-hour radio show about wild birds and nature, airing Sunday mornings at 9:30 Eastern, on WATD (95.9 FM); you can read more at the Facebook page and listen with live streaming on Sundays here. They’ll be joined by Smithsonian ornithologist Bruce Beehler.

Ray has been an extremely generous, kind, and encouraging mentor and friend to Laura ever since she discovered the show about five years ago and then started calling in. I wrote back in June 2009 (“BirdCasting”), when she was 11,

Laura has developed an interest in, and growing passion for, birds since last summer when I helped her put up some bird feeders around the yard. Her interest in the Christmas Bird Count last year is what got our family in touch with the local naturalist society. She spends much of her free time feeding, watching, listening to, and reading about birds. And recently she realized that there might be birding podcasts she could make use of on her iPod; she’s become a big fan of podcasts. So with my researching and her vetting, we came up with this list of her favorite birding podcasts…

It didn’t take long for Talkin’ Birds to become her very favorite. And for the past while, she’s been part of the crew as a far-flung correspondent; when Ray gives her advice on how to speak on the radio, he knows what he’s talking about. I keep thinking how I, at her age, would have taken an invitation to take part in a live broadcast in front of a theatre full of people. I’m fairly certain that I would have said, thank you so much for asking, but no, and spent the rest of my life kicking myself for missing such a wonderful opportunity. The differences between extroverts and introverts!

Tom is with her, since while we have no problem sending her alone to the wilds of Ontario, we figured a major city is probably more enjoyably and safely negotiated with an adult travelling companion (the show staff are in town just for 36 hours), and Tom needed a holiday anyway. Good reports back from the hotel, the Liaison Capitol Hill (which has a pillow menu believe it or not), and also their restaurant last night, Cafe Berlin. They’re hoping to get to Bistro Cacao, not too far from the hotel, before they leave on Tuesday. Huge thanks to Talkin’ Birds for underwriting her flight and part of the hotel stay.

I’m writing this post as a thank you for so many things that have become an enormous part of my daughter’s life, and also as a reminder for any other home schooling parents who might still be reading — if your child has a particular interest or passion, even if you as the parent have little knowledge of (or interest in) the subject, modern technology has made it possible to reach out and find those who can inspire, guide, and teach your child. And if you teach your child about internet safety and writing skills, he or she can do much of the reaching out himself or herself, which is a good skill to learn. Living on a farm in rural western Alberta hasn’t been any sort of impediment, and a flexible home schooling schedule has meant Laura could take advantage of spending a month last fall as an intern at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, banding birds and working on an independent research project, or participate in an event like tomorrow’s festivities. Age isn’t a barrier either, as most home schooling families know; she’s been able to write bird book reviews, receiving printed and e- books regularly, and when she realized that there wasn’t a Facebook group for Alberta Birds (and birders), though most of the other provinces and states had something, she started one; the group now has more than 2,000 members who share their photos and videos, as well as sightings, birding stories, and blog posts. She’s made lifelong friends and learned more than my husband and I could have ever taught her, and we continue to be touched and amazed by the support and generosity of so many adult birders so eager to take young people under their wings and nurture this budding interest. It reminds me very much of gardeners I’ve met the world over who are always so quick to offer seeds and cuttings, in order to spread not just a love of nature but the joy of a passion shared.

In their absence, the boys and I are holding down the fort and farm, more like hunkering down, since winter finally arrived today, with a high of -5C and some snow that won’t be melting any time soon. Tomorrow’s daytime high is to be -11C with an overnight low of -15C. Welcome, winter. I think…

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.


A laughing sound

That would be me, delighted because Colleen Mondor in her latest Bookslut in Training column recommends as her Cool Read The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal by Sallie Wolf.  Delighted because next month is Laura’s 13th birthday, and the book — a “blend of poetry, field guide and nature notes” — sounds perfect for her.  Colleen, who also blogs at Chasing Ray, writes,

Wolf arranges her entries by season, and includes bird lists, haiku, observations, ruminations, watercolor illustrations and drawings on every page. Essentially, she is inviting the reader into her life, providing a space at her window and her desk. It is a very personal work, for all that it does not share about Wolf’s actual personal life. You are merely seeing what she sees, and perhaps altering your own conclusions about art and nature through her influence. Teen readers who might be wary of their own creativity, and are reticent to face the blank page, will find a sympathetic fellow artist here — someone who uses the barest of brush strokes to capture the creatures she sees. Exquisitely designed by Charlesbridge, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound is one of the more elegant books to come across my doorstop in a long time. I hope a lot of young birders and artists and poets find it.

I think the book might be a bit young for Laura but I still think she’d enjoy having it, and she can always use another journal.  There’s another bird book I’d really like to get her, too, and while it shouldn’t be listed at an online bookseller for a decent price, it is.  I’ll post the title if I manage to get my mitts on it*.

The publisher’s page with various links and downloads is here.  Sallie Wolf has a blog and a website (where I learned that much like Davy, as a child Sallie loved Ben Hunt books and wanted to be a Mohawk. Davy wants to be an Iroquois, but why quibble?)

You can find all of Colleen’s warm weather reading titles for your favorite children and young adults in this post, Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy.

* Apparently the book is still in stock and winging its way to me:  the hardcover edition of Tim Birkhead’s The Wisdom Of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, for $10.11 CAN, much cheaper and sturdier than the paperback edition coming out in March.  And for some reason the copies at Amazon.ca are  $26.92 and $39.57 — odd.

“The King Canute playbook”

Environmentalist Bill McKibben, who is also scholar in residence at my old college and co-founder of 350.org writes in the February 25 issue of The Nation,

Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I wrote what many have called the first book for a general audience on global warming. One of the more interesting reviews came from the Wall Street Journal. It was a mixed and judicious appraisal. “The subject,” the reviewer said, “is important, the notion is arresting, and Mr. McKibben argues convincingly.” And that was not an outlier: around the same time, the first President Bush announced that he planned to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.”

I doubt that’s what the Journal will say about my next book when it comes out in a few weeks, and I know that no GOP presidential contender would now dream of acknowledging that human beings are warming the planet. Sarah Palin is currently calling climate science “snake oil,” and last week the Utah legislature, in a move straight out of the King Canute playbook, passed a resolution condemning “a well-organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome” on a nearly party-line vote.

And here’s what’s odd. In 1989, I could fit just about every scientific study on climate change on top of my desk. The science was still thin. If my reporting made me think it was nonetheless convincing, many scientists were not yet prepared to agree.

Now, you could fill the Superdome with climate-change research data. (You might not want to, though, since Hurricane Katrina demonstrated just how easy it was to rip holes in its roof.) Every major scientific body in the world has produced reports confirming the peril. All fifteen of the warmest years on record have come in the two decades that have passed since 1989. In the meantime, the Earth’s major natural systems have all shown undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater and so on.

Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the United States, never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet. At least partly as a result, Congress feels little need to consider global-warming legislation, much less pass it; and as a result of that failure, progress towards any kind of international agreement on climate change has essentially ground to a halt.

Climate-Change Denial as an O.J. Moment

The campaign against climate science has been enormously clever, and enormously effective. It’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it. The best analogy, I think, is to the O.J. Simpson trial, an event that’s begun to recede in our collective memory. For those who were conscious in 1995, however, I imagine that just a few names will make it come back to life. Kato Kaelin, anyone? Lance Ito?

Read the rest of “The Attack on Climate-Change Science” here.

McKibben’s new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, comes out next month.


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.

The Science of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our ship comes in,

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Aboard ship,

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Full speed ahead, racing the Staten Island ferry,

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On Ellis Island during our brief stopover,

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The kids enjoying the view,

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Standard tourist shot,

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

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Daniel and Davy bedazzled by the bonanza,

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Heading back to Manhattan,

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

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

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Trip report, part 2: NYC, still wild

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

We started off at the Turtle Pond,

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

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The lack of binoculars didn’t hinder Daniel,

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

The group zeroes in on a new specimen,

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Laura in her element,

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We walked through the Ramble, then out onto the very new Oak Bridge (which is really steel and aluminum), and toward Strawberry Field,

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

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

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Science for all, and all for science

I’m still catching up on my online reading, so I only just saw Bob Thompson’s especially thorough August 1 piece at Make: on choosing a microscope, along with exciting news from the Make: folks,

We’re in the process of working on a new area of Make: Online that we’re really excited about. It’s called the Make: Science Room. We’ll have a full announcement and launch in a few weeks.

Bob Thompson is the author of the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer, as well as the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture, which we like very much and which I’ve written about here and here. To go with the home chemistry book, Bob maintains the good HomeChemLab website.

Here’s to an imminent launch of the Science Room!

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!”

Name change

Our rabbits mentioned in a recent post, Claudia and Verbena, will now be known instead as Claude and Verbena.

At feeding time this morning, Laura discovered a nest topped with rabbit fur, and underneath three pink babies.  Verbena had a litter shortly after arriving at our farm, but the babies didn’t survive.  So this is a bit of a surprise, and a nice one at that.  Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail all doing well so far.  And I’m pleased to think that Verbena enjoyed a particularly good prenatal diet — the last of the garden’s lettuce, pea pods, carrot and beet tops, kohlrabi leaves and trimmings, odds and ends of cucumbers.

UPDATED on Saturday afternoon to add: All three babies doing well and hair starting to come.  Laura is entranced with their teeny tiny ears and tails.  I have to admit I was a bit worried through yesterday, when the temperature dropped considerably, down to the low/mid teens (Celsius) with rain.  Not the best weather for small hairless creatures…

Dipping a toe

… back into blogging after what has turned out to be a two-month sabbatical.  No apologies, no regrets.

It has been a marvelous summer, and at the moment we’re marveling that, here on the prairies six hours north of Montana, not only is summer still hanging on but we’re having a heat wave —  high 20s Celsius, with a forecast 33 C for Thursday.  The farmers’ crops are are drying in the fields, but the weather is perfect for the tomatoes and peppers as long as I can keep the water coming.  And it’s getting dark now disturbingly early, just after eight o’clock.

Our own crops are harvested, such as we could this year.  After we finished cutting and baling the alfalfa for hay, we cut and bale our barley crop early, several weeks ago, for greenfeed, instead of combining the grain. The boys are out as I type, with the water trailer, giving the shelterbelt trees a good soaking, and weeding the rows.

Speaking of the shelterbelt, in early July we took our first ever summer vacation, a whopping two-and-a-half days through Saskatchewan.  Our main destination was the shelterbelt tree center at the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in Indian Head, SK, which holds an open house every summer.  It’s the first time in the four or five years since we’ve started planted trees that we’ve been able to make it, mainly because of the drought which meant the hay wasn’t ready yet for cutting.  We attended seminars, took a tour of the center, watched demonstrations of the equipment — including the where-have-you-been-all-my-farming-life Weed Badger, which we are thinking would mean an end to endless weeding — and went home with all sorts of goodies, including notepads, water bottles, posters, and more little trees to plant. The town of Indian Head not only has a lovely ice cream parlor on Main Street, but has some of the most gorgeous Victorian houses, and beautifully tended gardens, on well-treed streets I’ve ever seen in a prairie town. We also stopped at Moose Jaw for a tour of the Tunnels and (even better) the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre at the edge of town, where we met and handled George, the ambassador owl, fed grasshoppers to some others, and were able to buy very inexpensive owl pellets for dissection.  Next stop was Rouleau aka Dog River for the kids’ sake, though admittedly we were about two years late with that one.  On to Regina, where we managed to make a 6 pm tour of the legislature building and afterwards strolled through the lobby of the Hotel Saskatchewan since Laura has inherited from her mother and grandmother a love of grand old hotels.

Various other goings-on since my last post, but not in any sort of order (not much for pictures though, because either the camera hates the computer or vice versa and I can’t figure out which or why):

— Tom directed the kids to take the majority of the new-crop kittens to the fair, to Old MacDonald’s barn where they would be adopted. Only to turn into a softie when at said barn said kids discovered rabbits.  Laura asked first — “Dad, could I have a rabbit please?” But instead of a direct “No”, Tom mumbled something about having to make sure she’d do all her other chores first, etc. Which sounded, to Laura’s ears (and to mine) very much like “Yes”.  Which is all the boys needed to hear.  Which is why we now have two bunnies, Verbena and Claudia, happily munching on carrot tops, kohlrabi leaves, and other garden scraps.

— The rest of the time at the fair was equally exciting.  All three kids showed pens of chickens, their calves (on what turned out to be an exceedingly hot day), won prizes, spent two days riding the rides on the midway, showed off their handiwork at the exhibit hall (Laura displayed an example of handwriting, flowers, her quilling, and other things I know I’m forgetting; the boys displayed Lego creations, including Davy’s manure spreader made out of bricks, as well as first-prize winning birdhouses, one shaped like a grain elevator, and other assorted items; and all three and Tom displayed pint sealers of threshed grain, and sheaves of grain and forage).  We all ate homemade pie from the United Church booth and drank lemonade, and watched the show on the grandstand with good friends who came in from out of town to take in the festivities. And, as usual, we brought home the chicks hatched out at the incubator display.

— The kids spent the latter part of the summer getting ready for children’s day at the Farmer’s Market in town, when anyone under 14 can get a table for free, instead of the usual $10.  The boys decided to take what they learned from making my birthday present, a plant cart made from an old barbecue (I had seen the idea in the June 2008 issue of Harrowsmith magazine, and kept reminding the boys that it would make a dandy Mother’s Day or mother’s birthday present), and turn it into a business.   The first project they did with Tom’s supervision and help, and then they knew enough to set out on their own.

— Davy fractured his wrist in early August, jumping off a swing at a friend’s house.  His first injury in six or so years of professional swing jumping.  But the new doctor in town said all he needed was a splint and an ace bandage for three weeks, which was very easy to manage, especially for showers and baths. The splint and bandage just came off, and the wrist seems to be as good as new.

— Tom’s aunt and uncle in town took off for a 10-day vacation, telling us we could pick all of their raspberries.  One of the  most delicious presents we’ve ever received.  I went in every other day for an hour and a half of picking, and by the time they returned we had eaten as many fresh raspberries, and raspberry crisps, crumbles and clafoutis as we could, and I had canned the rest as jam and preserves to enjoy until next summer.  Ditto with saskatoons, some which we picked wild and others from friends’ bushes. Chokecherries, Evans cherries, peaches, and pears are up next for syrup, jelly, and canning.

— We started up our formal studies yesterday, a bit earlier than usual, but then we’re taking off for a few weeks next month to visit grandparents in NYC, and then on to Washington, DC.   Since Farm School is going to Washington, it seemed appropriate to spend our first day watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, which will be a springboard to the next two months of civics, folk songs, vocabulary, and more.  Next up, “Much Ado About Nothing”, in preparation for the Folger’s new production.  Oh yes, and math, grammar, writing, spelling, science…  For Laura, science will be based on around one of her recent 12th birthday present from her grandparents, Birds of Central Park. I’m looking at a bird walk or two with Dr. Bob DeCandido, and have already found the perfect city souvenir for Laura.

Many thanks to the two or so readers, in addition to my parents, who’ve stuck it out over here in the barrens. Any point in a (not) back-to-school roll call in the comments, just to see who’s still here?

Speechless and scary

The New York Times‘s account of the arrival of a busload of paleontologists last week at the Creation unMuseum in Kentucky.

Tidbits:

“I’m very curious and fascinated,” Stefan Bengtson, a professor of paleozoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said before the visit, “because we have little of that kind of thing in Sweden.”

*  *  *

The scientists received the group admission rate, which included lunch.

*  *  *

“I’m speechless,” said Derek E.G. Briggs, director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, who walked around with crossed arms and a grimace. “It’s rather scary.”

*  *  *

Many of the paleontologists thought the museum misrepresented and ridiculed them and their work and unfairly blamed them for the ills of society.

“I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

* * *

By the end of the visit, among the dinosaurs, Dr. Briggs [of Yale’s Peabody Museum] seemed amused. “I like the fact the dinosaurs were in the ark,” he said. (About 50 kinds of dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, the museum explains, but later went extinct for unknown reasons.)

The museum, he realized, probably changes few beliefs. “But you worry about the youngsters,” he said.

* * *

Dr. [Tamaki] Sato [a professor of geology from Tokyo Gakugei University in Japan] likened the museum to an amusement park. “I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Disneyland,” she said.

Did she enjoy Disneyland?

“Not very much,” she said.

*  *  *

Do yourself and your kids a favor this summer.  Visit and support a real natural history museum, and return often.  I have a brief listing in this old post from 2007,

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs

and there’s a good listing at Natural History Museums by Location, brought to you by Paleoartisans.

(While you’re waiting to go to the museum, read Carl Zimmer‘s February 2009 article in Seed Magazine on “The Awe of Natural History Collections”)

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!

Down a lazy river

BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN.
from “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome

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As I wrote the other day, the boys were eager to take their new inflatable dinghy (on sale at the hardware store last week) down the river.  I did have some doubts about sending an eight-and-a-half year-old, ten-year-old, and even a 12-year-old, with only informal paddling and sailing experience but strong swimming skills, off for three hours on their own on the river.  No cell phone either.  But they did have life jackets, common sense, and enthusiasm, and the river couldn’t have been any calmer.  Saturday night, after a long, hot (31 degrees C) day most of which was spent helping their father shingle a roof, the boys along with their sister set sail on the river about two miles south of our house, where the river valley backs on to a farmer’s pasture.  The plan was for the kids to paddle the eight to 10 miles in the dinghy to the provincial park in town.  With leisurely paddling along the very quiet waters and lots of animal-watching, the trip took them about three hours.  We collected them just before 10:30 pm, and they were all grinning broadly.  By their count, they noted 30 sightings of beavers (Davy figured only 18 beavers in total, with lots of repeats including one who kept swimming just ahead of the dinghy), six beaver lodges, five muskrats, two deer (one mule, one white-tail), two mother ducks with ducklings, one dead female mallard in the reeds during their only portage, and 20 geese.

The kids were inspired by hearing Tom regale them again and again with his story of paddling contest down the North  Saskatchewan River when he was in his twenties, and by the Arrogant Worms/Captain Tractor song, “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate”.  Here’s to many more summer adventures.

Some pictures from the beginning of the trip.  It was getting too dark for photos at 10:30.

Loading up the dinghy,
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Laura surveying the river valley,

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A curious muskrat,

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Around the bend and away,

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Related Farm School posts:

Paddle your own canoe

But will they change Titty’s name?

A manual for childhood

Why safer isn’t always better

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

Outdoor life, or, How to have an old-fashioned, dangerous summer

BirdCasting

Laura has developed an interest in, and growing passion for, birds since last summer when I helped her put up some bird feeders around the yard.  Her interest in the Christmas Bird Count last year is what got our family in touch with the local naturalist society.  She spends much of her free time feeding, watching, listening to, and reading about birds.  And recently she realized that there might be birding podcasts she could make use of on her iPod; she’s become a big fan of podcasts.  So with my researching and her vetting, we came up with this list of her favorite birding podcasts:

BirdNote, on NPR

Birdwatch Radio, with Steve Moore

For the Birds and here too, with Laura Erickson

Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds

This Birding Life, with Bill Thompson

WREN Radio

If you have any other favorites, please let us know and we’ll add them to our iTunes list.  Thanks, and happy listening!

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.

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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)

Letting the sun in through the cellophane

Men and boys are learning all kinds of trades but how to make men of themselves. They learn to make houses; but they are not so well housed, they are not so contented in their houses, as the woodchucks in their holes. What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? — If you cannot tolerate the planet that it is on? Grade the ground first. If a man believes and expects great things of himself, it makes no odds where you put him, or what you show him … he will be surrounded by grandeur. He is in the condition of a healthy and hungry man, who says to himself, — How sweet this crust is!
— Henry David Thoreau

When talk began of the trillion-dollar stimulus package and zeroes began to swim before my eyes, along with visions of my impoverished grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I began to wonder about the idea of a consumer economy.  I’m no economist and not a professional historian so I honestly don’t know some of the answers: what exactly is a consumer economy? is it better than the alternatives? what are the alternatives? is there such thing as a producer economy? did we once have one and was it replaced?  And then, with some doubt, do we want to continue with a consumer economy by propping it up with a stimulus package? Do we want to continue down this same road?

If we do decide that the sort of economy to have is a consumer economy, then we probably do need to get people shopping for more stuff.  Then again, that striving for ever more stuff in the wake of the astonishing prosperity of the postwar years, has led us toward suburbs and urban sprawl, instant mashed potatoes, Jell-o salad, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Diners Club, and Ron Popeil’s Ronco empire of things we never knew we needed.

Yesterday in The New York Times economist Thomas Friedman asked “a radical question”:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …

We can’t do this anymore.

Read the rest here; it’s not very long but offers plenty to think about.

It makes me feel less loopy, as a home educating farm wife on the prairie who steered clear from any economics courses, reads more than she remembers, and has to keep looking up exactly how many zeroes are in a trillion, to know I’m not the only one asking away and wondering and that some of the others who are asking and wondering do in fact know what they’re talking about.  The connection between Mother Nature and the economy occurred to me the other day as I was getting together a list of resources for the kids on the present situation and the Great Depression, and, to a lesser extent, the Panic of 1893.  Their recent questions — including “when does a recession turn into a depression” — made me realize we need to do more than just discuss the news they read and hear about. And there’s no separating Mother Nature and her Dust Bowl from the Great Depression.

As I’ve been thinking about this for the past month or so, I also remembered reading in the 1986 E.B. White biography by Scott Elledge that in 1933 Andy White had written a three-piece satirical essay on the Depression, though I couldn’t recall any of the particulars.  I looked it up in the book and found the series was called “Alice Through the Cellophane”.  Here’s what Mr. Elledge wrote,

In [the series White] took issue with various theories advanced for remedying the Depression. To the economists who held that prosperity could be regained only by restoring the consumers’ buying power, he said that “man’s buying power is one of the least noble of his powers and should not be the arch that supports his peace and well-being.”  Efforts to stimulate production  too, he believed, were misguided.  Pointing to the excess of unnecessary goods already being manufactured, and to their consumption by people whose demand for them had been artificially stimulated, he advocated buying nothing — or at least no more than absolutely needed.  He proposed, on the contrary, to decrease production, and to do that by means of a paradoxical scheme: by paying the highest executives the lowest wages and the lowest-ranking employees the highest salaries.  Such a pay scale would provide no incentive to climb the ladder, and those finding themselves by mischance at its top would have no desire to stay there and produce more goods.

White concluded the essay by calling up the memory of Henry David Thoreau, who “had rejected the complexity of life,” and by  urging his fellow men to imitate Thoreau.  His final words were:

“The hope I see for the world, even today, is to simplify life . . . . Nature (whose course we are about to prevent her from taking) is, I grant, complicated; but it is only on the surface that her variety is baffling.  At the core it is a simple ideal.  You feel it when lying stretched on warm rocks, letting the sun in. It is just possible that in our zeal to manufacture sunlamps at a profit, we have lost forever the privilege of sitting in the sun.”

(I’d like to request, please, that The New Yorker consider making E.B. White’s three-part series, “Alice through the Cellophane”, 1933, available online for free to all readers as a public service. Many thanks.)