Archive for May, 2010

Bill McKibben’s EAARTH. A review, a rant, an invitation.

May 31, 2010

Before we all head off into our gas-powered, coal-fired lives this week, I invite you to take the pledge: You will not let the summer go by without reading Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.  It’s not exactly beach reading, unless your beach is on the Gulf of Mexico.  And the way I see it, that is now everybody’s beach, everybody’s wetlands, everybody’s ruin.  We all have a hand in that broken cookie jar.

Bill McKibben would have us know a few simple things:

1.  Climate change isn’t some hypothetical future event.  It’s here.  Now.  And it’s only going to get worse.

2.  Civilization as we’ve known it—the civilization made possible by a stable, abundant and richly diverse planet—is screwed.  Because that planet no longer exists.  It’s over.

3.  Modernity has been made possible by cheap fossil fuels—and those days are gone.

For doubters, there’s data—lots of it.  And the numbers add up to this: the planet that human culture has known for 10,000 years has been changed so dramatically by human activity, McKibben has rechristened it “eaarth,” with an extra ‘a’.  After you read the first half of the book, you might wonder why he didn’t just call it Planet Doom. (more…)


Great Minds, Great Books, and Slow Life

May 23, 2010

Great idea!

Is Alfred Russell Wallace in that bag of household names you keep stashed under the kitchen sink?  I’d wager mostly not.  But back in the 19th century, Wallace was on the trail of a great idea: a theory of natural selection.   You may have heard of it.  And you may have heard of the other fellow who, unbeknownst to Russell, was toiling away at the same great idea.  As so often happens in science, this evolutionary discovery arose not from a solitary brain in a vacuum tube, but from two minds bathed in the same pool of previous discoveries and shared modes of thought.

History is full of such moments.   Did Newton or Leibnitz invent calculus?  Should Berliner or Edison get credit for the carbon button microphone?  How did Janssen and  Lockyer both happen to discover helium while viewing the same solar eclipse via two different spectroscopes at different locations?

Who gets the credit?  The prizes?  The fame?  Whose name gets attached to the gadget or element or process or idea?

I’ve been pondering these questions, partly because I’ve been falling asleep every night for weeks to the lovely tune of Richard Holmes’ Age of Wonder.  Page after page-turning page, I’ve been loving the stories of Romantic age scientists and their dramas of discovery.  Humphry Davy’s experiments with laughing gas are alone worth the price of the book.  Let’s just say he was thorough.

But I’ve also been pondering them because back in April, I thought I’d launched the Slow Book Movement.  As it turns out, though, founding honors must go to I. Alexander Olchowski, who in a preceding act of genius, founded the Slow Book Movement in upstate New York back in November.   Alex’s aim is “to reawaken modern society to the pleasures of slowing down to read.” (more…)

Slow Book Land: Share Your Cake and Eat it, Too

May 6, 2010

The first poem I loved enough to memorize came from The Childcraft Encyclopedia. The books had arrived at our house as if by magic, along with the grown-ups’ World Book.  Each volume wore a different colored band on its spine and all of them were tucked snugly into their own special bookcase.  The snug case, the fancy bindings, the slick paper, the colored pictures, the gold lettering.  OMG.  They sat in the living room, calling, calling.  They mesmerized, hypnotized.  I couldn’t get enough, especially of the volume ‘Poems and Rhymes.’  I remember it had the Carl Sandburg fog and little cat feet poem, which was paired with a drawing of a little boat dock in the fog.  I knew even then that Sandburg’s was a fine, real poem.  But I just couldn’t help it.  Here’s the one I loved:

I had a little tea party

This afternoon at three.

‘Twas very small-

Three guests in all-

Just I, myself and me.


Myself ate up the sandwiches,

While I drank up the tea;

‘Twas also I

Who ate the pie

And passed the cake to me.

I couldn’t get over how great this poem was: the rollicking music, the rhyme of “me” and “tea,” “I” and “pie,” and the change-up from three beats to two in the lines ending “small” and “all.”   But even more than the music, I loved how one child could become three of the most delightful friends.  How delicious to enjoy one’s own company so, and eat all the treats and drink all the tea and still feel as though one had not been a hog, because a tea party is ever-so civilized.  Like a polite guest, you’d shared.

Me: “Oh, hello.  May I offer you a sandwich?

Myself: “Oh yes, that would be lovely.  Thank you.”

Me Again: “Oh, you’re quite welcome.  Cake?”

I: “Oh, thank you.  I do believe I will.”

I loved this poem so much, I had to have it.  So I got to work.  I read a line out loud, closed my eyes and repeated it, read the next line and repeated it, looked at the ceiling and repeated them both together, moved on to the third.  And then the fourth.  If I forgot and had to peek, I made myself start all over.   Line by line, rhyme by rhyme, I learned that poem by heart.  What a lovely phrase, “by heart.”  And that’s exactly what it is, a heart poem.  A by-my-heart poem.   Ready whenever the occasion calls.  It may not be a great poem, but I’ll never lose it.

This week in Slow Book land, browse a shelf.  Find a poem that sings to you.  Learn it by heart.  Then gather together your closest friends, recite your poem, and discover the magic of the tea party poem: you give something away, and you still have it.  And when the recitation is over, be sure to pass some cake and eat some pie and drink up all the tea.