Friday, December 28, 2018

Blackburn Challenges

Lone Voyager: The Extraordinary Adventures Of Howard Blackburn Hero Fisherman Of GloucesterLone Voyager: The Extraordinary Adventures Of Howard Blackburn Hero Fisherman Of Gloucester by Joseph E. Garland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first heard of Howard Blackburn because several friends in my New Bedford rowing clubs (WCR and AMHS) have participated in the Blackburn Challenge, a 20-mile race in the Gloucester area. I have not been in any races above 4 miles, but do hope to undertake this one someday.

I had heard snippets of Blackburn's biography, and decided that diving into his biography would be a good way to begin my sabbatical. I had already told my university that while 80 percent of my sabbatical would be devoted to curriculum development, 20 percent would be nautical studies not directly related to my teaching. The "starting gun" for my spring sabbatical was the submission of fall-semester grades, but I found the early chapters of Garland's work a very welcome diversion from end-of-semester chores.

It was also good to be reading this book after my first visit to Nova Scotia, whose geography figures prominently in the story. The maps in the book itself are rather feeble -- those who do not know New England and the Maritimes can benefit by reading this with an atlas handy.

The opening pages are astounding -- I had no idea that Blackburn's most dramatic ordeal took place when he was so very young. It was as gruesome a rowing story as can be imagined. While some -- perhaps most -- survivors of such calamity and grievous injury at sea would find a career inland, Blackburn spent the next 20 years setting ever-more elaborate nautical challenges for himself.

Driven to go ever-greater distances in ever-smaller boats, he contorted his ample frame into boats that I would not want to sail for an afternoon, and piloted them through conditions they were not built to endure. As a fellow human of substantial size, I could feel my back and legs ache as I read some passages. I was also incredulous as I read how he endured illness and injury. He would wave off the assistance of other mariners when he was clearly too sick to pilot anything.

Garland -- an accomplished mariner himself -- draws on exhaustive documentary research to write .a detailed account of adventures that always began in Gloucester but extended thousands of miles from there, in all directions.

One of my rowing clubs is also a sailing club, in which I have gained just enough experience -- mainly as ballast -- to appreciate some of the details of the sailing, while also realizing just how much of the terminology I still do not know. (Short version: a bit of wind is a really good thing; a bit more can be even better; but a lot more can be catastrophic.)

The protagonist risks being one-dimensional; after all, he has essentially the same response to every nautical challenge, which is stubborn determination.

Throughout most of the book, his wife Theresa is mentioned only when he is about to set out on a long and risky voyage, and she is only mentioned as being absent from the dock. In later chapters, we learn a bit more about their family life. We also learn about Blackburn's business dealings, which mainly involved keeping a saloon open during periods of frequently changing alcohol laws.

For me, Blackburn's most admirable qualities were those that did not garner as many headlines as his nautical daring-do: gratitude and generosity. Having been rescued from the sea by people who were themselves on the edge of starvation, he endured months of deprivation along with them. This is what drove him to always be certain he was financially comfortable. But he remembered how generously they had shared from their scant provisions, and so lavished donations on them for the rest of his years. His saloon regulars trusted so much in his generosity that they would support the poor simply by leaving cash in a jar on his bartop.

Lagniappe: I encourage anyone who reads this to read the entire Afterward. Some of it is a rather tedious account of the chain of ownership of the various sloops and dories mentioned throughout the book, but part of it is a surprising confession by the author himself.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Where the Wild Coffee Grows

Where the Wild Coffee Grows: The Untold Story of Coffee from the Cloud Forests of Ethiopia to Your CupWhere the Wild Coffee Grows: The Untold Story of Coffee from the Cloud Forests of Ethiopia to Your Cup by Jeff Koehler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Kubbo aallegaata, Kafachoch kashoo aalle.”
~~Kafa Proverb: Without forests, no life for Kafa.

“Move up a degree [Celsius], you affect taste. Move up two degrees, you affect production. Three degrees, mortality: your plants are dead.”
~~Aaron Davis, Kew Gardens, to a Specialty Coffee Association of America symposium in Boston, 2013.

Jeff Koehler begins and ends his telling of the story of coffee in Kafa (or Kaffa), the kingdom that gave the world coffee and which is now a province of Ethiopia. The beginning chapters push the history of its use centuries earlier than I have read elsewhere, and offer a convincing case that coffee culture was established in the same area long before it reached Yemen on the Arabian (think Arabica) Peninsula. The ending chapters persuade the reader of the vital importance of Kafa’s remaining coffee forests.

Methodically building on the story of coffee’s origins, Koehler takes the reader on a botanical journey that spans continents and centuries. He demonstrates that the historical geography of coffee is essential to the future of a crop that is quite vulnerable to a changing climate.

Although I have been teaching and learning about the geography coffee for nearly two decades, I found compelling new lessons in every chapter of this well-researched text. I expect this quickly to become one of those books that students thank me for assigning.

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Friday, December 07, 2018

Last Annual Tea Tasting

Enjoy these teas with my Honors students on Wednesday, December 12. From 3:20 to 4:10 that afternoon, we will be in the Atrium of the Conant Science Building (now known as DMF), where the Ben Linder Café could one day be located.

From China and Ceylon, by way of Tealuxe in Providence
clockwise from top-left
Golden Monkey Keemum (black)
Ti-Quan Yin Iron Goddess of Mercy (oolong) 
Dragon Pearl Jasmine (green)
Yalta Evergreen Estate Ceylon (black)
Background

I spent my 2012 sabbatical both learning more about coffee and expanding my interests to include tea. As part of that process, I was an informal observer at a meeting of the U.N. Intergovernmental Group on Tea. The meeting was much smaller than I expected -- even the hotel staff did not know what it was. The convener welcomed the 38 attendees as the "Captains of Tea." Plus me, the Coffee Maven. I think I was one of four U.S. citizens at the meeting, and I still remember a delegate from India who, when I asked how many people worked for him casually replied, "one-point-two." Meaning 1,200,000 tea workers!
IGG-Tea Climate Committee: Serious business in a casual setting
I spent part of that meeting as an observer of the Committee on Climate change, a top tea agronomist from each of three major producers: India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. We gathered around the pool where they wrote -- and allowed me to provide some input as a geographer -- a preliminary plan for the global tea industry to respond to climate change. The Captains of Tea adopted the plan unanimously, a pleasant surprise in the city that is the principle locus of climate deniers on the planet. That experience led me to offer a one-credit honors colloquium, with the intention of helping the IGG-Tea to implement that plan.

This proved far too ambitious for a one-credit class, but the students enjoyed learning about both tea and climate change, so I continued to offer the course as an opportunity to explore both topics. I did so with increasing attention to the notion of climate justice, which I learned about from Dr. Mary Robinson during that same sabbatical.

Each semester since the autumn of 2013, students in this colloquium have explored tea, climate change, and the relationships between the two. They have done a variety of projects in response, and in the past couple semesters have had a terrific new resource: the IGG-Tea group has published a final report. It is quite different from what we envisioned, but in many ways more useful and robust. Students this semester have been delving into that report and will be presenting some of its more interesting findings in our brief tasting event.

Lagniappe

This "last annual" tasting is also the first to be offered by students, though I did provide a tea tasting for faculty colleagues at the CARS Celebration in 2013. The Tea & Climate Change colloquium has had a good run, but after 11 semesters it is time to move on. I could offer a class on chocolate, but instead will use the colloquium to explore a great city that I know only from afar: New Orleans, A Global City.

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