The Tangled Nest

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Welcome Spring

March 31st, 2013

Thank you Marigold, Ophelia, and Ethel for the beautiful eggs. And happy spring to everyone!

Eggs490

I heard the neighborhood flickers drumming in earnest on my early morning walk today. Let the wild rumpus begin!

 

→ No CommentsCategories: chickens, eggs, seasons, urban nature

Chickens in the Winter Garden

February 22nd, 2013

It’s a wet blustery day here in Seattle–a good day for braised kale and quinoa with tahini sauce, or a nice plate of kale chips fresh from the oven.  Kale is one of a few veggies that can overwinter in Seattle without a cold frame or garden cloth tunnel (we can also grow broccoli and some root vegetables). Carrots and kale are made sweeter by a release of sucrose after our mild frosts.  Fortunately, we have a nice kale crop flourishing in our winter garden this year.

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Don’t we?  Winter is also the season I give the chickens free range in the backyard, since there isn’t much in the garden for them to ruin.  Our current group of chickens never seemed to like kale (which is odd, because chickens eat almost anything–my daughter took this as evidence that she herself should not have to eat kale:  if even chickens won’t eat it, surely it is indigestible, and no animal should be eating it, including teenage humans).  But for some reason these bad little hens had a sudden change of heart.  Maybe they found out about the sweet sucrose. I only know that when I went out to gather my feast, all I found was Ophelia the Buff Orpington among the bare dinosaur kale branches.  I guess it’s market veggies for me today.  And time to start dreaming in earnest of the spring garden…

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It’s Darwin’s Birthday: Celebrate Fiercely

February 12th, 2013

DarwinPosseI love Charles Darwin.  I love his sweet, flawed humanity; his affection for his family; his books, his quirky letters, his diaries.  Most of all, I love his innate, constant wonder in the face of the natural world.  Join me in celebrating Darwin’s birthday.  Here are some of my favorite ways to conjure the spirit of the great naturalist:

1.  Go outside.  Looking over the top of my computer and out the window this moment, I can see a flicker, three crows, two black-capped chickadees, once chestnut-backed chickadee, and Worthington the squirrel.  I can watch the drip of the light winter Seattle rain, and I pause to wonder over all these things.  But it is when I get off my widening bum and step through the doorframe that I am truly able to “contemplate” Darwin’s “tangled bank,” (which I wrote about in a sidelong manner here) to enjoy up close his “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful that have been, and are being, evolved.”  No matter how urban our homes (or how rainy the day), a short walk will provide opportunities to observe representatives of these “endless forms,” and to embrace Darwin’s truest legacy–a deepened sense of interconnection with all of  life.

2.  Read a few of Darwin’s letters.  I love epistolary collections, and Darwin is one of my all-time favorite letter-writers.  So often we have the big, bearded, Father-of-Modern-Biological-Science image of Darwin in our head–an image staid, daunting, and not much fun.  In his letters we find someone much more delightful–communicating with his friends via pen and ink, Darwin is alternately silly, serious, whimsical, catty, gossipy, caustic, spoiled, lovable.  Bawdy?  Never.  But dip into his letters, and I will make you two promises:  you will learn things about Darwin you never imagined to be true; and you will want to run outside and lie in the grass, soaking up the secrets of nature, as Darwin himself did.  We have 14,000 extant letters from Darwin.  For a manageable and well-chosen sampling, see Frank Burkhardt’s collection Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin 1860-1870.

3.  Observe pigeons.  Darwin was a famous pigeon collector, and in the myriad forms that sprang from the common urban rock pigeon, he found a perfect example of his basic tenet–diversity in lineage. (While members of the Victorian fanciers disagreed with Darwin–How could their many beautiful breeds all be connected to that dirty little bird?  Surely the breeds were genetically unique!the latest research vindicates Darwin.) Modern urban pigeons get a bad rap (“sky rats,” some call them) but they are gentle, watchable birds with iridescent feathers, and a fascinating behavioral repertoire.  Put your observations to good scientific use by joining Cornell Lab’s Project PigeonWatch.

4.  Read The Origin of Species!  You didn’t think you were going to get out of here without me recommending that, did you?  This is one of my favorite nightstand books. When I am feeling crabby or anxious or isolated, I  read a few paragraphs, and remember my place in life–simultaneously small and meaningful; individually alone, yet intimately connected.

pilgrim on the great bird continent5.  Read my book on Darwin, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent.  It tells the story of Darwin’s own evolution as naturalist, focusing on little-known diaries, and ornithological notebooks.  Of all my books, this lesser known volume is my favorite.

6.  Celebrate Fiercely.  William McDonough, co-author of the iconic and wonderful Cradle to Cradle:  Rethinking the Way We Make Things, speaks often about celebration.  When asked about this by Justine Toms, he looked out over the profligacy of a spring flower field and said, “It’s not about survival of the fittest.  It’s about those who celebrate the most being the evolutionary winners.  Nature is all about fierce celebration.”

Certainly Darwin’s birthday should be observed for the rest of the month, at least.  How will you celebrate?

“Darwin has a posse” image by Colin Purrington.

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Friday Links: Amazing Bookstore, Natural Kids, Litany, and a Marley-Mumia Encounter

February 7th, 2013

Livraria Lello:  I posted a couple of photos from this incredible bookstore in Porto, Portugal to my Pinterest account. Wow! That woodwork! That staircase!
Livraria-Lello-Porto

Natural Kids: Recent academic research shows that when nature elements are incorporated into playgrounds kids have more fun, are more active and utilize more motor skills. And getting them out of cars, and instead walking or cycling to school, improves their concentration:

The survey looked at nearly 20,000 Danish kids between the ages of 5 and 19. It found that kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school.

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Pan This Book! Tireless Portland cycling promoter/writer/publisher Elly Blue is experimenting with soliciting funny one-star Amazon reviews for her book Everyday Cycling. She says,

My reverse astroturfing campaign made some people laugh (usually shortly after it made them confused) and seems to have resulted in a sales bump. But the jury is still out on whether or not it’ll continue to be a good thing in the long term, or end up a liability.

 
Marley

One Love: In honor of Bob Marley’s birthday this week, here’s a remarkable piece of audio history: Bob Marley interviewed in November 1979 by an award-winning local Philadelphia journalist named Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Litany: How wonderful is this? A 3-year-old recites the poem Litany by Billy Collins.

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Happy Superb Owl Sunday

February 3rd, 2013

There are a lot of superb owls on the internet, but this is one of my favorites.

I don’t know where this was filmed, but it’s a Eurasian Eagle-Owl (captive, as indicated by the jesses on her legs). You can see the family resemblance to our ubiquitous North American Great Horned Owl–both birds are in the genus Bubo. Gorgeous!

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Friday Links: Cute Kittens, Mistaken Maples, and Siberian Hermits

January 31st, 2013

Happy Imbolc or St Brighid’s Day, the awakening of the land to the coming spring. The days are getting longer and lighter! My friend Waverly has a great blog post about this part of the wheel of the year.

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Credit: Flickr / Merlijn Hoek

The Power of Cute: New research has revealed that looking at cute images of baby animals doesn’t just make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but can actually improve your work performance and help you concentrate. With her endless love of all things cute and cuddly, Claire’s going to end up a Zen master!

Hobbit Legalese: One lawyer provides an incredibly detailed analysis of Bilbo’s contract with the dwarves.

The Influence of Austen: A recent study has found that Jane Austen, author of “Pride and Prejudice, “ and Sir Walter Scott, the creator of “Ivanhoe,” had the greatest effect on other authors, in terms of writing style and themes.

Canadian Bill Features Norway Maple: Canada’s launched a new twenty dollar bill, featuring a maple leaf. But according to Canadian botany professor Julian Starr, “This could not be confused with a native species of Canada. It basically looks like a Norway maple.”

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How Much Do Cats Kill?  Cute or not, new research indicates that they kill a lot, a fact that is written up in very different styles by The Oatmeal, by Nature, by The New York Times.

Best of 2012 Journalism: The Byliner has pulled together their list of the top 102 pieces of journalism from last year. Many great reads on this list.

Natalia-and-Agafia40 Years In The Siberian Forest: Speaking of compelling reads, this new story in Smithsonian is almost unbelievable: a single family, living in the woods of Siberia for 40 years without any contact with other humans. Their pots and metal implements wear out, yet they survive. One is there still.

More Cute:  Oh, you want a little more cute to improve your concentration? Well conveniently, our friend Trileigh Tucker, a fellow nature blogger and great photographer, just went to Antarctica and met these baby fur seals:

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Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, and Mozart’s Birthday!

January 26th, 2013

January 27th, 2013 is a big anniversary.  Time to celebrate! I plan to rise early and spend a few quiet hours curled up with a copy of Persusion (I’ve read P&P lately, and winter puts me in the mood for Captain Wentworth) while I listen to Mozart’s violin sonatas.

4208075159_39eded5c6c Austen is a strong alternative voice in this time of all-pervasive technology.  She reveals the true threads that hold society and community together, and the actions that rent them.  She teaches us manners, of course, but also how to duck them when necessary, in favor of something wilder.  We typically turn to the Brontes when we want to be windswept, but Miss Austen  knows her way through the wilderness (and the poultry yard);  it is a misconception that her characters spend their days wandering about the drawing room.  David Ehrenfeld notes that although she rarely comments on nature directly, “Nature in Jane Austen’s works is like nature in the Hebrew Bible:  it is there as a constant presence, it is an essential fact of life, and because of this it is rarely separated out for special comment.”  Time to read Austen again, and with a fresh ear.

Papageno

Papageno statue in Bruges, Belgium

And Mozart!  In the classical music world Beethoven gets all the “wild man” credit, but Mozart spent his short life composing in a frenzy, running all over Vienna through sun and snow on foot, with tiny pointed shoes.  He felt the weather on his face and listened to the songs of birds.  When he wrote Die Zauberflute, the “everyman” appears in the shape of Papageno, a feathered bird-man.

An auspicious day, indeed!  How will you celebrate?

 

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Radical De-Cluttering

January 23rd, 2013

The new year is a traditional time for cleaning out closets and drawers, clearing out the old, and making way for the new.  I want to make sure that the “new” for me is not new stuff, but a new level of simplicity, new avenues for happiness in daily life.  Some time ago I began a practice I call “radical de-cluttering.” cairnI started by going through all my closets and drawers, and giving away bags of stuff.  Clothes went to the local charity, books to our beloved Pegasus Book Exchange. After this initial cleansing, I began to follow the usual anti-clutter guideline that appears in magazines and on “simplicity” blogs:  whenever you acquire something, you give something similar away.  New shirt?  Out with an old piece of clothing.  New book?  Old book out. I quickly found that this was no challenge at all.

So I set a new rule for myself:  One in, two out.  Whenever I acquire something, I get rid of two things.

In my practice of radical de-cluttering, the things that come in and go out do not have to be the same thing.  I can buy a book, say, and give away a pair of shoes and a flower pot.  This allows me to re-dress imbalance, and to choose what I want to emphasize in my life (including a little joyful frivolity). Maybe I have too many hats, but could use a pair of garden clogs.  Maybe I have too many books, but don’t care! Maybe I want to keep more and more books, and less and less of everything else until eventually I live with nothing but a library and a teacup!

teaI make exceptions:  consumables such as food (obviously), but also other things that are regularly used up and replaced–office supplies, kitchen towels, socks. (This allows me a nice bit of room to cheat, since I am obsessed with office supplies, and I seem to let myself have as many notebooks and bottles of fountain pen ink as I want.)  Otherwise, in my calculus a thing is a thing.  I don’t care how big or how small it is, or how much it cost.  A car counts for one thing, a book of poetry counts for one thing, and I don’t make exceptions for gifts I receive, or fabulous thrift store finds.

One in, two out.  Even though I started by (I thought)  thoroughly doing away with the superfluous, I am amazed that after about a year, the one in/two out rule is still very easy to live by.  I am looking forward to it becoming difficult.  I am hoping, one day, to get to the point that  the material things I keep in my life are so well-chosen that I have to think deeply about any acquisition I make, to wonder, “Wow, if I really want this thing, then what will I give up?”  To have to truly measure need/desire/authenticity.  Maybe someday when I am aged and wise my possessions and my spirit will find themselves in perfect harmony–then maybe I’ll change to the one in/one out plan, or not bother to think about such things at all.

I love (to the point of obsession, really) the work of Lloyd Kahn, and have spent much of this month pouring over his newest volume, Tiny Homes:  Simple Shelter.  With my drastic need for privacy, and a daughter who plays cello, piano, guitar, and ukulele, I don’t envision us moving into a tiny home anytime soon.  The airiness of our old farmhouse feels simple in its own right.  But I do agree with Kahn’s feeling that everyone can find inspiration in the tiny shelter movement:  “You can get ideas here for simplifying your life, wherever you live.”

Want to join me in Radical De-Cluttering?  What other ways are you all simplifying in 2013?

Thank you for the CC-licensed photos: Flickr users Neil Bonnar (rocks) and Laurel Fan (tea).

→ 13 CommentsCategories: garbage, Simplicity, waste reduction

Friday Links: Netherfield, Parisian Kale, Salted Chocolate, and Hay Hooks

January 18th, 2013

Netherfield Ball +200: The BBC is staging a re-creating an entire Regency ball – to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride And Prejudice.
Netherfield
I have always been enamored of the mannered domesticity in Miss Austen’s novels.  In a 90-minute special, experts will re-stage the planning and rehearsals for an early 19th century ball, as well as looking back at the first-hand testimony of ball-goers of the time.  It will end with an authentic recreation based of the ball at Netherfield, a turning point in the romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy.  Oh, please please!  Someone invite me!

KaleKale Comes To Paris: An American woman, Kristin Beddard, recently launched a movement to bring what  is often deemed the healthiest veggie in the world to her adoptive hometown, where it seems some Parisians believe that kale grows on trees.

Get Your Shit Together: The brainchild of Chanel Reynolds who lost her husband suddenly, the Get Your Shit Together website makes it easy to put your life, your data, your commitments, and your finances in one easy organized online place. I know I’m inspired. Just do it!

chocolatesmallHome Made Chocolate Bars: One of my favorite chefs, David Lebovitz, has posted a tutorial on his blog for making simple, delicious chocolate bars at home. And also Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups!

Urban Hay Hooks: Erik at Root Simple asks, “Are hay hooks the new urban hipster accessory?

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→ 4 CommentsCategories: Friday links, recipes

The Tribe of Teenager

January 14th, 2013

The other day Tom and I were on our way to pick Claire and her friend up from the local movie theater, where they’d seen “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” uggs We must have been 30 seconds late, because my phone dinged with a text:  Where r u?!  As we approached we spotted them standing in front of the theater, but it wasn’t until we pulled right up to the curb and were about to yell out the window for them to hop in that we realized, “That’s not Claire and Helen!”  It was two other 14-ish year old girls wearing black leggings, Ugg boots, hooded jackets, upswept ponytails, and holding phones.

Desmond Morris was a renowned animal ethologist for decades before turning to humans as his subject, and publishing The Naked Ape in 1967 (inspiration for a 1980s PBS series).  In his extensive study of human behavior, Morris explores the many biological activities that humans share with animals, including:  sex; the rearing of young; exploration and migration; finding food; the formation of groups, flocks and tribes; and the seeking of comfort.  Morris is intrigued by the ways these biological behaviors have shaped themselves to fit the parameters of modern human population centers, urban places, and technological interface. I was fascinated by his thoughts on the need for humans, and humans that are coming-of-age in particular, to conform to a group through clothing, jewelry, and even mode of communication.

When my independent-minded, free-spirited young daughter became a teenager, suddenly concerned with wearing the exact same clothes as everyone else and talking to her friends primarily via text-message, I felt like a failure.  Naomi Klein’s No Logo is coffee table reading in this house, and now my kid only wants to shop at Hollister.  Where did I go wrong?  Morris’s work re-frames this:  no, she’s not a mindless conformist zombie automaton.  She’s seeking–and finding–group identity, as humans her age have always done, through the culturally recognized adornments of the day.

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Working to change the culture and construct more meaningful identifiers than those desirable by Claire’s peer group over time is an essential goal; but in the meantime, foisting my hippie ways on a teenager who has to go school every day might actually run counter to her positive psycho-biological development.  A positive feeling of peer security and belonging at this difficult age sets the stage for creative/artistic individuation in the later teenage years, and into adulthood.  Does this mean that I buy her every little conformist tidbit she thinks she wants?  Yeah, uh, no. But I do think more compassionately about what these things mean for kids her age.

For more on creating meaningful cultural identities from birth to death, I highly recommend Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul.  

[Apologies to all the commenters on this post:  we had a techno-glitch, and your comments were lost.]

 

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