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Nature

Apr 19 2016

Monkey Town, U.S.A.

by Hope L

Smiths

While reading the latest issue of my favorite DCPL mag, Smithsonian, I learned that one can still visit Monkey Town, U.S.A. ( actually Dayton, Tennessee), where they celebrate annually one of the most controversial trials in our nation’s history.

“Pretty much every summer since 1988, this tiny Appalachian town (pop. 7,200) has roused itself to celebrate that publicity stunt gone viral.  The Scopes Trial Festival, held over two weekends in July, features live bluegrass, tractor and craft shows, and a fried-Oreo food truck.  A storyteller spins his tales like a barker at a sideshow.  The centerpiece of the festival is a town-commissioned musical, Front Page News, which re-enacts the trial in the vast courtroom where it was held.

The play, performed by members of the nearby Cumberland County Playhouse, is essentially a rebuttal to Inherit the Wind ( both the DVD of the film starring Spencer Tracy and the book by the same name are available at DCPL).  The Hollywood version of the trial is widely loathed in Dayton, and the Front Page News does hew much more closely to the court transcript.”

Both the book and the DVD are available at DCPL.

 

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Oct 9 2015

Meru vs. The Holiday Inn

by Hope L

meruI have written previously here about adventurous sports like mountain climbing, ultra-marathons and cross-canyon treks.

But when I saw the film Meru (which won the Audience Award at Sundance) over a weekend at the Midtown Art Cinema, I thought, “Oh, come on now!”

Narrated by one of my favorite authors, Jon Krakauer (who knows a few things about mountain climbing), the film follows the pursuit of three climbers to summit the thus far unattainable Himalayan peak Meru. (Click here to see the movie trailer featured at The Guardian.)

Now, when I read and blogged about Krakauer’s and other climbs of Mount Everest, I thought surely that must be the ultimate challenge. Hardly. Meru sort of makes Everest look like the Holiday Inn.

I’m exaggerating, per usual, but watching these guys in their ledge bivouac, dangling precariously and waving in the sheer winds of an ice storm, having first lugged their equipment up the straight vertical cliffs (no sherpas in their right minds would work here), fighting frostbite and avalanches in a quest to perch atop a single “shark fin” protruding from this massive rock–well, let’s just say they wrote the book on crazy.

But almost running out of food and fuel has to be the last straw. It’s not like they have Papa John’s on speed dial up there.  I mean, even at the bottom of the Grand Canyon you can get a meal in a restaurant!

No, although the views are breathtaking at the top of the world, I fear my only involvement in extreme sports will have to continue to be outlasting the green-haired Generation X-er on the Stairmaster next to me at the gym.

And oh, does that make me happy!

Mammoth Book of Eyewitness EverestBut undoubtedly I will be reading more about Everest soon, inspired by the new movie with Jake Gyllenhaal.  There’s nothing better on a chilly day (or a hot one) than reading inside in a comfy chair (or sitting in a climate-controlled theater) while the crazy people in freezing, life-or-death adventure-dramas do their thing.

Use this link to find more books at DCPL about mountaineering and Everest, including The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Everest edited by Jon E. Lewis, with 32 firsthand accounts.

Note to self: Stock up on hot chocolate and popcorn!  It’s going to be a COLD winter!

If you want to view the trailer for Gyllenhaal’s film, see: Everest – Official Trailer (HD) – YouTube.

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Sep 8 2015

All Cats, All the Time

by Hope L

kitt

Recently, a person who works behind my library branch found a litter of kittens under his car.  He came to the library to ask for ideas or for help, and naturally the staff directed him to moi, the resident Cat Lady.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love cats. We have four of our own–two senior citizens and two juvenile delinquents that some like to call kittens. But I am not looking to rescue six more cats.  Although, I must admit, I did the math and came up with ten cats and thought to myself, “Hmmm … cheaper by the dozen?”  NOT!

But as I followed the man asking for help and saw the poor little things under the car, and their mother was purring and rubbing up against my legs. I just couldn’t leave them.  After all, the man needed to go somewhere and couldn’t back his car out, now could he?

So, of course, we boxed up the felines and I ended up at the nearby animal shelter and asked if there was room at the inn, and natch, there was not. They offered me medical care for the cats and asked if I would foster the family until they could be adopted. “Why, sure,” I said, wondering to myself how long it would take for my spouse to file for divorce. Yes, we would take the kitties, I planned, and our four could reside upstairs and these wildish six downstairs, which would make 10 cats altogether.

Now, after you wrap your mind around that, keep in mind that Mama cat was quite friendly at our first meeting, even allowing us to place her and her brood into a cat carrier that I just happened to have at-the-ready at the branch, just in case a wandering cat happened along again in the parking lot, as they often do.

Now, Mama was actually purring and rubbing up against my leg at home in our basement when she bit my ankle. It just drew just a bit of blood, which did not concern me too much.  “Just a little love bite,” I said to myself. The next time, though, she sank her fangs into my forearm, leaving a bruise and a full six-teeth mark that bled impressively. “Nope. Not a love bite–this is clearly a warning: ‘Stay away from my children –  or I’ll cut you!'”

Fiercely protective, that one. But she needn’t worry because her kids will be well-taken care of and, more probably, spoiled rotten.  And luckily for you cat lovers out there, DeKalb County Animal Shelter is running a September “Fall in Love” adoption special through September. All dog, cat, kitten and puppy adoptions are free.

Well, I can’t finish now without recommending a few books, too. Check them out at DCPL.

Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sitter by Jeanne Adlon and Susan Logan

The Complete Cat’s Meow: Everything You Need to Know about Caring for Your Cat by Darlene Arden

The Everything Cat Book [eBook]: All You Need to Know about Caring for Your Favorite Feline Friends by Karen Leigh Davis

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Jul 17 2015

Greener than Envy

by Rebekah B

tiny-grassThe science investigating consciousness and intelligence in plants is a fascinating and rapidly developing field of study. The thinking that all intelligent life forms require a brain and “standard” nervous system is in the process of possibly being debunked. Vegans, beware: Cruelty-free living may, alas, be impossible! However, increasing awareness of all life forms does allow us to make better choices, gives us all an opportunity to be grateful, and to realize that to be alive is to cause some degree of harm to other beings. I do love plants very much, and I feel a great affinity with them. As an amateur gardener, I am frequently impressed by the survival strategies of plants, and how they sometimes compete with one another, and sometimes cooperate…not unlike us humans!

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire, among other titles, published a highly informative article on the subject describing recent developments in plant science in the The New Yorker on December 23, 2013, called The Intelligent Plant.” I have read portions of The Secret Life of Plants, mentioned in the opening remarks of Mr. Pollan’s article. Like him, I was deeply intrigued by the experiments with plants and polygraphs conducted by former CIA polygraph expert Cleve Backster, involving events from distances of several hundred miles, in which plants were recorded registering a variety of responses to various thoughts and stimuli. Pollan pursues that the 1973 title compiled a “beguiling mashup of legitimate plant science, quack experiments, and mystical nature worship that captured the public imagination at a time when New Age thinking was seeping into the mainstream.” Here is a quote from the article:

“Backster and his collaborators went on to hook up polygraph machines to dozens of plants, including lettuces, onions, oranges, and bananas. He claimed that plants reacted to the thoughts (good or ill) of humans in close proximity and, in the case of humans familiar to them, over a great distance. In one experiment designed to test plant memory, Backster found that a plant that had witnessed the murder (by stomping) of another plant could pick out the killer from a lineup of six suspects, registering a surge of electrical activity when the murderer was brought before it. Backster’s plants also displayed a strong aversion to interspecies violence. Some had a stressful response when an egg was cracked in their presence, or when live shrimp were dropped into boiling water, an experiment that Backster wrote up for the International Journal of Parapsychology, in 1968.”

macleans35_plants02

While The Secret Life of Plants intrigued a generation or more of minds and hearts willing to change the standard view of plants being immobile, senseless vegetable matter, Pollan claims that the romanticism of the book may have damaged the reception of more recent ventures by plant scientists to more thoroughly explore the cognitive abilities of plants through controlled experiments that can be replicated. Some scientists go even further, claiming self-censorship, fearing that serious scientific studies of plant cognition will be poorly received. Nonetheless, there are scientists who label themselves “plant neurobiologists” who are working to radically transform our perceptions of our chlorophyll-laden friends. Here is another quote from The Intelligent Plant,” where Pollan speaks of a 2006 article from the journal Trends in Plant Science:

The six authors—among them Eric D. Brenner, an American plant molecular biologist; Stefano Mancuso, an Italian plant physiologist; František Baluška, a Slovak cell biologist; and Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh, an American plant biologist—argued that the sophisticated behaviors observed in plants cannot at present be completely explained by familiar genetic and biochemical mechanisms. Plants are able to sense and optimally respond to so many environmental variables—light, water, gravity, temperature, soil structure, nutrients, toxins, microbes, herbivores, chemical signals from other plants—that there may exist some brainlike information-processing system to integrate the data and coördinate a plant’s behavioral response. The authors pointed out that electrical and chemical signalling systems have been identified in plants which are homologous to those found in the nervous systems of animals. They also noted that neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate have been found in plants, though their role remains unclear.”

Professor Mancuso

Michael Pollan actually traveled to Florence, Italy, to meet Stefano Mancuso (photo right), who passionately pursues and defends the concept that having a vertebrate-type nervous system and being mobile are not necessary requirements for intelligence. He further explains that because plants are basically stuck where they are and are frequently consumed, their “modular” structures allow them to lose up to 90% of their bodily structures without dying. Because plants are literally rooted to the ground, their survival depends upon their ability to be highly aware of their surroundings and to use various modes of perception to defend and perpetuate themselves. Some scientists claim that plants have as many as 15 to 20 senses to our five, or six, if you believe in intuition. The following is also from Pollan’s New Yorker article:

Plants have evolved between fifteen and twenty distinct senses, including analogues of our five: smell and taste (they sense and respond to chemicals in the air or on their bodies); sight (they react differently to various wavelengths of light as well as to shadow); touch (a vine or a root ‘knows’ when it encounters a solid object); and, it has been discovered, sound. In a recent experiment, Heidi Appel, a chemical ecologist at the University of Missouri, found that, when she played a recording of a caterpillar chomping a leaf for a plant that hadn’t been touched, the sound primed the plant’s genetic machinery to produce defense chemicals. Another experiment, done in Mancuso’s lab and not yet published, found that plant roots would seek out a buried pipe through which water was flowing even if the exterior of the pipe was dry, which suggested that plants somehow ‘hear’ the sound of flowing water.”

If anything, reading The New Yorker article will renew your sense of wonder and respect for the mostly-silent, green beings around us. By some estimates, plants make up over 99% of the Earth’s biomass. Let’s hope they are not plotting to use their smarts to replace the insignificant 1%, of which we are only a small part!

An additional book about plant intelligence and other interesting plant facts in the DCPL system:

The Secret Language of Life: How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate by Brian J. Ford, 2000

Interesting links:

Press releases from the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology

The New Scientist: Smarty Plants (PDF document)

Public Radio International article: New Research on Plant Intelligence May Forever Change How You Think About Plants

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Consider the cockroach.

No, seriously–consider the cockroach, if just for a moment. For most of us, the very thought of these despised and lowly creatures sends a chill down our spines and plants an ugly, homicidal thought in our minds. It’s probably fair to say that we see cockroaches less as living things or creatures than as diabolical instruments of disgust–existing solely to pop up at the opportune time to scare the living daylights out of us, whether we’re in the shower or raiding the kitchen for a midnight snack. And the cockroach doesn’t weather our contempt alone, for while the humble roach is arguably the most despised arthropod on the planet, most people don’t think much better of his (or her) relatives. Bugs, spiders, scorpions–basically, if you’re small, creepy/crawly, and have more legs than Fido in the back yard, then it’s safe to assume that you’re not high on anyone’s “favorite critter” list.

I must admit that even as an ardent bug lover, I have a bit of a blinder when it comes to seeing these amazing creatures as, well, creatures, instead of “objects” of admiration. What I and the bug haters have in common is a tendency to de-animate insects–to neglect the fact that they are animals, with behaviors and drives similar in kind, if not degree, to anything found on the Serengeti. Even most entomologists, who probably have a greater appreciation for creepy crawlers than the rest of us, often view insects through a disturbingly mechanistic lens; insects are biological “machines,” with “sophisticated hardware and software” honed by millions of years of evolution.

Compleat CockroachSo what does it take to open our eyes and reconsider? Well, you can heed my advice and consider the cockroach. David Gordon’s The Compleat Cockroach: A Comprehensive Guide to the Most Despised (and Least Understood) Creature on Earth puts a spotlight on this most hated of insects, drawing attention to some little known facts. Did you know, for instance, that many species care for their young? Or that, despite their reputation as “dirty nasty bugs,” they actually clean themselves with a fastidiousness that puts most cats to shame? While it’s unlikely to convert any hardened roach hater–or make the average Joe have second thoughts about reaching for the bug spray if one scurries across the floor in front of him–at the very least, Gordon’s book opens up the possibility of recognizing these bugs for the amazing animals they are.

LIfe in the UndergrowthIf you don’t want to dive head first into the world of cockroaches, then you might want to give a gander at David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth. Although this is just one part in the splendid Life series by the renowned naturalist, it stands out for being the first to actually examine small land invertebrates from their perspective, using technologies previously unavailable to give a bug’s-eye view of the world. The results are telling; it turns out these tiny biological “machines” are endowed with a myriad of complex behaviors and even rudimentary personalities. If you’re able to resist the cold shudder from getting up close and personal with so many bugs, you just might find yourself marveling at the ballet of a springtail mating dance, or the tender care a wolf spider puts into crafting an egg sack for her young. It may not be the best cure for arachnophobia, but you just might give pause before introducing a spider to the bottom of your shoe.

These books introduce the zany idea that we can actually develop a rapport with arthropods as fellow living animals; they live, die, swim, feed, and care for their young, just like any creature, and in ways both spectacular and familiar. They are not instruments or machines; they don’t exist to annoy or frighten us. They’re our neighbors on the same blue planet, and while they may not be as cuddly as a puppy or as majestic as an elephant, they are no less fascinating, or worthy of our respect.

If I’ve sparked your curiosity, here are two other bug books to get under your skin:

So maybe we should show a bit more understanding to our crawly kin–or at least, not automatically reach for the Raid can at every turn.

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May 18 2015

What’s In a Story?

by Jencey G

Mary Alice MonroeMary Alice Monroe stopped by DCPLive to discuss her new book coming soon to DeKalb County Public Library. I first met her at a Georgia Center for the Book event while she was giving a talk on The Butterfly’s Daughter. I have had the honor to read and share some of her other books. Her most recent series is the Lowcountry Summer Trilogy, which includes The Summer Girls and The Summer Wind. It will end this year with the publication of The Summer’s End.

Thank you for coming! I am excited to discuss The Summer’s End. Could you tell our readers why it was important to tell this story in three different books: The Summer Girls, Summer Wind, and Summer’s End?

Summer GirlsMary Alice Monroe:  This story required more words! Dolphins are an exceptional and beloved species. Dolphins excel in communication, have strong family and community bonds, and live in the present. Three issues face dolphins that needed attention: feeding of wild dolphins, water quality, and injuries. I needed a strong trilogy with memorable characters to carry through all the themes: communication in The Summer Girls as the estranged sisters reconnect; healing in The Summer Wind as Dora and Delphine heal from wounds, and release in The Summer’s End as each woman discovers her own voice and path.

How did you decide to focus your books around the lives of animals? Why is it important to tell their story?

MAM: The inspiration for my books is always some aspect of nature. I wait for some signal–either from a person or event–to alert me it’s time to write about that species now. For the trilogy, it was learning that 49% of Charleston’s resident dolphins were deemed “not healthy.” That number is 52% in Florida. I didn’t want to write Flipper but a book that was relevant today.

What do you hope it accomplishes?

MAM: I believe in the power of story to effect change. I’m a storyteller. I do not preach or tell my readers what to do. Instead, I create compelling stories peopled with rich, well-rounded characters that will bring my readers into the story world. When my readers connect emotionally with the animals, then they care.

The focus in this novel is the bottlenose dolphin. What other animals have you written about?

MAM: The list is growing. In The Beach House novels I’ve written about sea turtles. I’m still on the turtle team, so maybe another is in the pipeline. The monarch butterfly is in The Butterfly’s Daughter; raptors–hawks, owls, eagles–in Skyward; the shrimping industry in Last Light Over Carolina, The Summer Windand the disappearing grass and craft of sweetgrass baskets in Sweetgrass.

Can you tell us about your next project?

MAM:  In the Lowcountry Summer novels I told the story of three women during one remarkable summer on Sullivan’s Island. There is an engagement, or two…so, you’re all invited to a wedding next summer! I’m writing A Lowcountry Wedding and having the best time. My daughter had a lowcountry wedding so I’ve a lot to share. It will be fun to bring back the summer girls, and especially the dueling grannies Mamaw and Granny James!

Do you think you would write another series?

MAM:  Yes, when the story idea merits the time and effort. Each book of a series must stand alone and yet continue the themes of the series. It’s a complex, challenging process and not every story idea can or should extend beyond one book.

How can readers support your cause that you are so passionate about?

Summer's EndMAM:  When I was young and overwhelmed with all I wanted to do to help the planet, my Daddy told me to just “light one candle.” It was very wise and has guided me throughout my life. My hope is that if a reader is inspired by my book, she will find her own path to help that species through volunteering or donations, or her vote–and, perhaps discover what candle she can light in her own life. One small change in one life can change the world!

Could they visit or support the Georgia Aquarium?

MAM:  The Georgia Aquarium has several ongoing research and conservation programs that all make a difference for species and for the community.

Thank you again.

To learn more about bottlenose dolphins, check out these fine books: Hope for Winter: The True Story of a Remarkable Dolphin Friendship told by David Yates, Craig Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff, and Isabella Hatkoff (and the related story Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again), The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner, Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival by Janet Wyman Coleman, and Dolphins by Anna Claybourne.

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Apr 24 2015

Loving Mother Earth: Life in the Balance

by Rebekah B

sustainability graphic

Hello readers,

As an inquiring mind, I am interested in many vital subjects, including health, finding balance, sociology, and the environment. Throughout history, various cultures around the world have created, developed, and maintained very different philosophies, laws, and ways of being. These traditions directly affect the way humans interact with the planet, which provides for our needs and sustains our ability as humans to continue to live and reproduce. Some traditional hunter-gatherer cultures, such as our Native American forebears, most of which have been supplanted by more aggressively conquering cultures, constantly adapted individual human behavior to the requirements of their environment. Taking only as much as needed, these types of cultures lived in harmony with their habitat. As in the story of Cain and Abel, the hunter-gatherers were decimated by the builders of cities and civilizations. This story is very intriguingly explained in the philosophical tale Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn. In the tale, Ishmael is a wise mountain gorilla who can transmit his thoughts telepathically. He tries to locate a receptive person to share his knowledge about sustainability and the regrettable choices and collective fate of the human race.

SEEDSClub

Generally speaking, mythologies equate the planet Earth itself as a feminine figure or mother. Abundance, nurturing, and an infinite variety of creative strategies to live and adapt are just a few characteristics of our Earth.  Even in human terms, many of us think of mother figures as individuals whose lives are dedicated to giving and to serving others. A more mature perspective is perhaps one in which we not only show gratitude for those gifts, but also dedicate ourselves in service to those who have given so freely and selflessly of their time, energy, and love to us.

We live in a time in which human populations are larger than our Earth can sustain, especially given the post-industrial lifestyle that a large majority of the world would like to emulate. We know about sustainability, global warming and climate change, green energy and building practices. We know the advantages of organic farming and a mostly plant-based diet compared to the feedlot farms and widespread use of pesticides and hormones in farming. We know that clean water supplies, our most precious resource, are limited. We know that what was believed to be a panacea–better living through chemistry–is not what our hopes invested in these technologies would have produced in actuality.

sustainability-impactAnd so we need to step back, to consciously reduce greed and unlimited taking from Earth. We need to give back to our planet and live in harmony with her. In ancient China, the wise philosophy of the balancing of all energies may one day inspire us to respect the feminine, which is the more passive and receptive of the two forces–the giver of life. It is my personal hope that we may collectively learn that we cannot expand without end and use all available resources for our own benefit. The masculine energies of activity, expansion, and domination can happily be balanced by the feminine. Slowing down, enjoying family life, spending time in and with nature, creatively reusing man-made and natural products, using our ingenuity to create sustainable ways of living and producing energy, and admiring and respecting the wonders of our world are just a few ways of returning to balance. Our Earth needs our cooperation as much as we need her support. For this year’s celebration of Earth Day, please remember that we are all part of nature, and nature is part of us.  Loving and caring for our common heritage is just as important as taking care of our own bodies, our families, our homes.

DCPL owns and shares many wonderful works related to environmental awareness and self-responsibility.  Here are a few fairly recent books about sustainable living that you may find enlightening:

On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz, 2013

Do-It-Yourself Sustainable Water Projects: Collect, Store, Purify, and Drill for Water by Paul Dempsey, 2013

Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, by James E. McWilliams, 2009

The Organic Family Cookbook: Growing, Greening, and Cooking Together by Anni Daulter, 2011

What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden? 100% Organic Solutions for Berries, Trees, Nuts, Vines, and Tropicals by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth, 2013

Compact Houses: 50 Creative Floor Plans for Efficient, Well-Designed Small Homes by Gerald Rowan, 2013

The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise by Garret Keizer, 2010

The Island President (DVD recording), 2011

For children:

Earth Day Everyday by Lisa Bullard, 2012

Earth Day Birthday by Maureen Wright, 2012

 

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Apr 10 2015

Live Like You’re Dying

by Camille B

A few weeks ago I happened to walk through a spider’s web right outside my back door. Huge and beautifully spun, Anansi was sitting smack-dab in the middle. My son turned to me and said, “Mom, can you imagine how long it took that spider to build that web, and you destroyed it in like, what, two seconds?”

Well! As much as I didn’t care for the guilt trip, it really started me thinking hard about my own life, and how very much like a spider’s web it is–the fragility, and how it can all just disappear in the blink of an eye. We work so hard every day to pay our bills and put food on the table for our families–sometimes placing our own hopes and dreams on hold for everyone else, until one day, just like that web, our lives are swept away and we never get a chance to do any of the things we longed to do. If someone were to call you up right now and tell you that tomorrow would be your last day here on earth, what would be some of the things you’d most regret never doing? I mean, apart from spending more time with loved ones, etc., what would be the one thing you’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done yet?

We save and plan and keep dreaming dreams that we never try to make happen. We put off taking that trip, or signing up for that Spanish class, learning to play the guitar or taking salsa lessons. You know? Things that have nothing at all to do with New Year’s resolutions–we want to do them just because. For those of you who’ve already planted your flag on Mount Everest, run with the bulls in Spain, or appeared as a contestant on American Idol, kudos to you! For the rest of us, let’s say we start reviewing that old bucket list again. Take it out from under the mattress where you hid it three years ago. There you go, dust it off and begin, no further delays; that spider probably thought he had until tomorrow too.

Sometimes things appear more achievable when we think about them futuristically, when they’re way off and not right there in our faces–but in terms of next week or a month from now, not so much. Some of us have a little more courage than others and simply go ahead and do it, so we can check it off our list. But, for a lot of us, it might not be that easy. We might need a little nudge (okay, a great big shove) in the right direction. If that’s the case with you, why not start with something on your list that’s simple.

Like me, I’ve never been to a play (I know, horrified gasps everywhere), but it’s always been something on my “I’ll Do It Some Day” list. Going to a play is more than doable–and I need to just go ahead and get it off my list already, right? For you, it might be traveling. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take that special trip somewhere and don’t know where to start, or even which country you’d like to visit. The naturally spontaneous at heart use strategies like dart throwing to select their destinations. They find a map, throw a dart, and wherever it lands, Voila, that’s where they go! For the not-so-spontaneous, there are great books at DCPL that can give you some ideas. For example:

Italy’s Best Trips: 38 Amazing Road Trips, written and researched by Paula Hardy, Duncan Garwood & Robert Landon Italy

The Best Place to Be Today: 365 Things to Do & the Perfect Day to Do Them, compiled and edited by Sarah Baxter

World’s Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places, foreword by Andrew McCarthy, with recollections by Bill Bryson, Anna Quindlen, and more

1,000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz

When travels take you to foreign destinations or distant shores, you’ll want to at least be able to ask for a bottle of their fine wine in the native tongue. I’m just saying, why, you may need to brush up on your foreign language skills. The Library can provide you with helpful information in this area as well, from learning the very basic everyday language that will enable you to survive your trip without accidentally saying something to land you in jail, to material that will help you become a bit more fluent and sophisticated in your speech (should you have to meet with the Ambassador). In particular, you might want to try our online resources Mango or TeLL Me More.

And, if there is absolutely no way you’re getting on a plane, that’s still not a problem because there are other options closer to home to choose from:

Hiking Georgia: A Guide to the State’s Greatest Hiking Adventures, by Donald W. Pfitzer and Jimmy Jacobs, with photography by Polly Dean

60 Hikes within 60 miles: Atlanta including Marietta, Lawrenceville, and Peachtree City, by Randy and Pam Golden

Road Biking Georgia: A Guide to the Greatest Bicycle Rides in Georgia, by John T. Trussell

Your bucket list includes all the things you’d like to do before kicking the proverbial bucket–maybe a goal, dream or experience you’d like to fulfill before the sun sets on your life. They can range from the simplest of things, like taking a cooking class, donating blood or volunteering at a soup kitchen–to ones that border on the line of outrageous, like skinny dipping, crashing a wedding or covering your entire car with post-it notes. The sky is the limit.

What you put on your list might seem mundane to others, but don’t let that deter you. Or, it might seem over the top, silly or even outrageous to others. Go ahead and do it anyway–if it’s not hurting anyone (and you’re not committing a felony), go for it. And hey, you might even get a few raised eyebrows along the way from the people who thought they knew you oh-so-well, but that’s okay, too. You’re doing this for you.

Below, I’ve listed twenty things that came up on the bucket lists of different people across the globe. I wouldn’t mind trying some of them myself; others simply stirred my curiosity, as I’m sure they will yours. There is also a cool website bucketlist.net where you can view pages and pages of entries of what others put down as their number ones. Some of them will surprise you and, who knows, some may even inspire you and change your life.

  • Run a marathon (for fun)
  • Make a world map of all the places you’ve been
  • Publish a story, article or poem
  • Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • Go on a road trip with friends
  • Attend a Masquerade Ball
  • See the Seven Wonders of the World
  • Party with the Black Eyed Peas
  • Eat a hot dog on Times Square, NYC
  • Visit the Anne Frank House
  • Take a cruise
  • Fly first class
  • Ride a double decker bus in London
  • Knit and donate 100 scarves to the homeless
  • Attend a Dancing with the Stars show
  • See the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve
  • Ride a horse
  • See all fifty states in the U.S.A.
  • Volunteer at a hospice
  • Plant a tree and watch it grow through every season

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Nov 7 2014

The Thing with Feathers…

by Rebekah B

Hello readers,

murmurations1

Who among us has never envied a bird in flight? Our mysterious neighbors, many of them so well adapted to urban life, are a subject of endless fascination.

Noah Strycker’s book, The Thing With Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, is a delightful read, chock full of fascinating historical, scientific, and personal observations about our feathered friends.

A bird lover from childhood, Strycker shares his sense of wonder and dedication to learning about birds of all types and origins in this lyrical and well-written book. Easy to read, The Thing With Feathers will fill you with admiration and inspire you, the reader, to raise your appreciation for large and small winged creatures, some of whom may inhabit your back yard.  From the repulsively mesmerizing visual and olfactory abilities of turkey vultures (who have cast iron immune systems) to the violently competitive and over-stressed hummingbirds, from the astounding navigation skills of homing pigeons, to the friendly curiosity of penguins, Strycker does not cease to fascinate.

murder of crows

Having observed over 2,500 species, the author has spent months at a time watching birds in a variety of remote locations, including the Ecuadorian Amazon, Cape Crozier, Antarctica, the Australian outback, the jungles of Costa Rica and Panama, the Galápagos Islands, and more. Each chapter of the book is devoted to a different type of bird, whether it be a parrot or snowy owl, detailing the author’s personal experiences with these creatures while demonstrating an impressive array of scientific research illustrating the prowess of each of these avian wonders.

To share with you just a small sample of this tribute to the native intelligence and personality of these birds and how this information is relevant to the nearly naked, or at least featherless bipedals that we are, here is a short excerpt from the introduction of this captivating book:

Some bird behaviors don’t apply to humans, and those are especially fascinating and exotic: a ‘sixth’ magnetic sense (see ‘Fly Away Home: How Pigeons Get Around’), flocks that operate as magnets (see ‘Spontaneous Order: The Curious Magnetism of Starling Flocks’), and the smelling power of turkey vultures (see ‘The Buzzard’s Nostrils: Sniffing Out a Turkey Vulture’s Talents’). It’s hard to imagine having such super-powers, though birds sometimes inspire us to try.

But if you look closely enough, many seemingly incredible bird feats have human counterparts, with interesting lessons. Cooperative nesting in fairy-wrens (see ‘Fairy Helpers: When Cooperation is Just a Game’) helps illustrate why humans are usually nice to one another. The dazzling speed of hummingbirds (see ‘Hummingbird Wars: Implications of Flight in the Fast Lane’) serves as a warning about our own quickening pace of life. Snowy Owls (see ‘Snow Flurries: Owls, Invasions, and Wanderlust’) confirm that not all who wander are lost. Even the domestic chicken (see ‘Seeing Red: When the Pecking Order Breaks Down’) has something to teach us about the natural pecking order.”

parliament of owls

The Thing With Feathers is full of humor, sensitive observations, scientific data, and a compelling vision of birds as intelligent and emotional beings with distinctive individual personalities as well as an amazingly varied capacity for survival.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading each page of this lighthearted yet serious book.

DCPL has two other fascinating books related to the topic of little known aspects of animal or plant intelligence, and how this relates to us as humans:

 Images above, from top: A murmuration of starlings, a murder of crows, parliament of owls

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Sep 12 2014

Ready for Fresh AND Affordable

by Rebekah B

un climate summit 2014

At DCPL, if you haven’t already taken note, we have a wonderful collection of documentary films.  A lover of the cinema and an eternal student, I am always eager to check out new additions to our collection.

As world leaders calling for restoration of ecosystems prepare to convene at the United Nations Climate Summit this September 23rd in New York City, the largest people’s demonstration on climate change is also scheduled on the morning of September 21st. In the spirit of environmental awareness, I am trying to do my part to make our society, economy, and food/health-care more sustainable. Although I am unable to attend the NYC march, I can write, watch relevant movies, exercise, buy healthy local foods, recycle and re-use items instead of buying new, travel less…and much more!

Fresh_flyer

One of the films that I recently watched and found noteworthy from our DCPL collection is Fresh: New Thinking About What We’re Eating, produced and directed by Ana Sofia Joanes in 2009.  With an outlook intended to be as objective as possible while supporting the sustainability and local food movement, the film features visits to industrial or conventional farms and to sustainable organic farms and lightly touches upon the problem of food deserts.  The film also includes interviews with farmers from both ends of the spectrum, some of whom had begun their careers as conventional farmers, later converting to organic farming, as well as urban farmers, activists, and smaller businesses promoting locally produced foods.

By visually demonstrating and comparing the processes, output, economics, and attitudes of industrial and sustainable farming, I was able to observe for myself as well as to learn from the experiences of these Americans who have devoted their lives to farming, producing and distributing food.  There is a lushness and beauty to the farms where animals and humans share information about living in harmony with nature that is so harshly lacking in the feedlots and chicken farms, where the animals appear stressed, their coats and feathers dull or literally hen-pecked. Prior to watching this film, I did not realize that industrial farmers clip the beaks on their chickens and that pigs’ tails are trimmed.  Bored and frustrated, the animals often attack one another in close quarters, where they never see the light of day.

anajoanes

Organic farmer Joel Salatin of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia demonstrates how he pastures his herd of about 300 cows in fields in which over twenty different types of grasses and wild flowering plants flourish. Conventional farm feedlots group together thousands of animals in close quarters. As in nature, in which cows naturally move to different areas over the course of a day or week to graze, Joel rotates the cows (and pigs) to varied pasture lands from day to day.  Bringing in chickens to the pastures where the cows have grazed, the birds earn their keep by picking the fly larvae from the cow manure deposited throughout the field, allowing the cows to soon return and avoid infection by parasites.

Mr. Salatin explains that sustainable farms are much more efficient and clean than industrial farms.  The animals are healthy, yet they are given no medications, and the veterinarian is almost never needed.

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Conventional farms produce huge amounts of pollution growing grain that does not feed people, but cows (who are by nature consumers of grasses). It is expensive to produce this grain, which requires huge amounts of water and enormous quantities of pesticides.  Groundwater and soil are polluted and depleted by this process, and the natural variety of grasses that would ordinarily populate and regenerate the soil is suppressed.  Feedlot animals are regularly injected with antibiotics and consume pesticides through the grain they eat.  Their feces accumulate in large quantities and cannot be recycled because of contamination by the drugs and pesticides.  Additional pollutants are created through the gases produced by the waste.  The continuous use of low-grade antibiotics causes bacteria to mutate, creating strains that are antibiotic resistant, affecting animals and humans alike and creating risk of untreatable infections. The meats produced by grain-fed cows and pigs are also unhealthy because of concentrations of pesticides, antibiotics, and omega 6 fats accumulating in the meat from the high carbohydrate diet.

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Conventional farmers interviewed in the film complain that they have difficulty finding people to work all shifts in their plants, particularly in the processing areas, because of unhealthy conditions.  It becomes clear that going against nature is expensive, inefficient, unhealthy, unpleasant and sometimes life threatening to both people and animals.

Today, we face a quandary.  Large industrial farms receive federal government grants to raise grain that does not feed people.  These single crop farms threaten plant and animal diversity and are creating an environmental disaster.  By producing local food even in urban areas, we can lower the costs of creating sufficient, healthy, fresh foods and make them affordable and available to everyone in the country, including low income families in urban areas.  By watching this film, while already convinced of the necessity to make healthy and local foods available at reasonable cost to our entire population, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location, I feel the urgency to help people become more aware of the environmental consequences of conventional agriculture in this country.

industrial vs conventional farming

As consumers, the film notes that each purchase we make is a vote, a demonstration of each of our voices in the democratic process. By purchasing local foods, we are supporting the sustainable movement.  By supporting organic farms that produce quality products, we are supporting our economies and producing jobs in places where people enjoy their work and are well paid for the work they do.  Animals who are raised in accordance with the laws of nature are happier and healthier, and the interconnected process of sustainable farming ensures sufficient food for everyone at a lower cost with infinite benefits for all.  The rear panel of the jacket of a documentary new to DCPL, Fed Up, reads: “This generation will live shorter lives than their parents. By 2050, one out of every three Americans will have diabetes.”  If this is not a wake-up call to change your family’s eating and buying habits and to take action to change the American way of life for the better, I don’t know what is!

basket of veggies

Industrial agriculture and feedlots are responsible for the production of more greenhouse gases than the burning of fossil fuels, to the order of at least 18% (in 2008) according to Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  An Indian economist and vegetarian, Dr. Pachauri recommends a reduction in the consumption of meats as an important personal contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases and the global warming effect.  Choosing to eat grass-fed organic meats or organic poultry is also a good choice. Whatever decisions you consciously make in this direction contribute to the return to balance of man’s relationship with nature.  Your stomach will thank you!

A selection of documentaries on sustainable living and health, the environment, and climate change in the DCPL collections:

Fed Up  2014

Hungry for Change 2012

Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic? 2010

Plastic Planet 2009

Burning the Future: Coal in America 2008

Carbon Nation  2011

Children of the Tsunami 2011

Garbage Warrior  2007

No Impact Man 2008

Food, Inc. 2008

Blue Gold World Water Wars 2008

Car of the Future 2008

Farmageddon 2011

It’s a Big Big World. The Earth Needs You: Recycling and Caring for the Environment 2007

Freeze, Freeze, Fry: Climate Past, Present, and Future  2007

The Science of Climate Change 2014

Sustainability in the 21st Century 2008

Tapped  2010

The Garden 2008

Fast Food Nation  2006

Business Advice for Organic Farmers 2012

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