Thursday, May 27, 2021

Symphonic Spring

 As I listen to the symphony of birds this late-spring morning, I am grateful to Rachel Carson, who shares a birthday today with my favorite librarian. We have both been influenced greatly by Rachel and owe her a debt of gratitude for her courage. 

Her work on Silent Spring was inspired by a letter that came from just about 10 miles east of where we sit -- a woman concerned that the protected bird habitat near her home had fallen silent because of indiscriminate spraying of pesticides. That letter was to inspire the rest of her life's work, and much of ours. Please see the important messages below from A Mighty Girl, as well as more on Rachel Carson from this blog and from Pamela's library blog.

Happy Birthday, Rachel Carson!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Protecting Land: A Geography Course

This post is an invitation to Bridgewater State University students to consider signing up for a course on Land Protection that I am offering in the fall 2021 semester, as I have about once every two years -- always in autumn semesters -- since 1999.

For those readers who are not BSU students, I offer this post as a glimpse into the way I connect environmental geography to public policy in my teaching.

When I arrived at Bridgewater in 1997, the same course was called Management and Preservation of the Natural Environment. If that sounds like a name arrived at by a committee, it is because it probably was. The course served not only students in geography, but also students in environmental management (which is no longer on the books), biology, and anthropology.

I was pleased that such a course existed, and though I have made it my own, it does follow some of the themes established by Professor Emeritus Reed Stewart over the years he taught it. Students who come to this course from varied backgrounds learn about conservation easements and other tools useful for the long-term management of land. Many examples are from New England, but the rest of the U.S. and some international cases are also studied. We also learn from each other, as this course attracts students with a variety of environmental interests and background.

The shorter title conveys, I hope, all of these outcomes more succinctly.
Since I began teaching this course in 2000, field trips have been an important part of the experience. We have been fortunate to visit properties that are of both historic and scientific interest that are directly connected to the course readings. This year we are fortunate to be adding two local field trips for the first time.

The field trips have always required a bit of extra planning, and in this "unprecedented" year the planning is a bit more complicated because of the uncertainty of re-opening plans. As of late May, I am optimistic, but nothing is certain just yet. For this reason, I am making the syllabus available and am including details both about the field trips and about the considerations related to Covid-19. Please see the GEOG 332 course syllabus for details now and throughout the summer ... and let me know if you have any questions about the course.

How does a wall get built in a forest? Short answer: it doesn't.
Students who complete this course can give a much more
thorough (and Thoreau!) answer and explain why it matters.
(Photo was taken during a Harvard Forest field trip in this class.)


I am very pleased that for the first time we will be including a local farm (the Maribett Farm) in the course -- either in person or virtually (see Covid-19 details in syllabus). The farm is connected to some of the land-protection and conservation practices I employ at my home in Bridgewater. The farm itself was established using some of the provisions we discuss throughout the course, by which a property seller can influence future land-management decisions. In this case, the family whose land was to become the farm was the family of Dr. Reed Stewart -- the emeritus professor who created this class! It will be an honor to learn how his family's vision helped to shape what continues to be a model of environmental stewardship.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Break It All

My initial interest in Latin America was the problem of deforestation in the Amazon. I lived in Mexico and in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands for a number of years before living in Rondônia for three months for my dissertation research in 1996. Thanks to people I met during that stay, I started to learn something about the music of Latin America. 

I took more interest in the music around me during our last year living in southmost Texas, and I started to do a bit of research on the cultural geography of the music of the entire region. A decade later, I did a small tour of Massachusetts college campuses, discussing the topic as a MaCIE Lecturer -- complete with a wheeled suitcase full of CDs so I could play examples for my audiences.

The eclectic music I have found -- much of which I have also played for a lot of my classes -- has included rock music, and some of that rock has exhibited interesting connections with traditional musical forms. So I was excited to learn that the growing catalog of original international programming from Netflix would include a six-part series on Latin rock. 

My favorite librarian (and fellow Latin Americanist) and I have now watched the first and second episodes, and almost everything we have seen and heard is new to us. In other words, the world of Latin rock music is much bigger than we realized, and the coverage of Break It All: The History of Rock in Latin America is thorough.

The second installment -- "La Represión -- is particularly poignant, as it focuses on a period in which young musicians and their fans found themselves at odds with increasingly repressive governments, most of which were closely allied with -- or even installed by -- the United States. Weaving together archival video from the first half of the 1970s and interviews with many of the musicians themselves, we learn about varying degrees of repression in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina.

Young voters and rock music were part of Salvador Allende's political success,
and he recognized their importance. He is shown here praising Victor Jara,
a musician whose assassination followed his own by just a few days.

One chilling detail is the bonfire in which Chilean soldiers burned rock music albums during the 1973 U.S.-backed coup. It reminds me of the glee with which religious extremists in the United States were destroying albums just a few years later. I witness the breaking-not-burning version at indoor rallies of Kansas City Youth for Christ. I was never tempted to go that far in my "devotion" but nor did I understand the real implications of such frenzy until reading F451 years later. It was also at KC-YFC that I first heard the name of Guatemala's dictator Ríos Montt -- whose religiosity was admired by the group.

Allende's attitude toward youth and music was in sharp contrast to those of the dictators who followed him in Chile and elsewhere. In Argentina, for example, Jorge Alberto Fraga was both a military dictator and the secretary of social welfare. When asked for his opinion of the origin of drug addiction, he did not hesitate to equate social pathologies with the very act of thinking. More work and less studying were needed, in a view echoed by anti-intellectuals to this day.

Lagniappe: Brazil

So far, the series makes very little mention of Brazil, perhaps because the producers speak Spanish but not Portuguese (I'm speculating). This episode brings to mind three Brazilian artists -- two musicians and one visual artist -- whose stories I do know and share with my students. One of them is Chico Buarque de Holanda, whose ongoing performance of the song "Calice" was a remarkably brave act of defiance during that country's dictatorship. 

Another is Sergio Mendes, who spent much of his career in the United States after being forced to flee. When he eventually went home, he named his next album simply Brasileiro, meaning Brazilian. The Grammy-winning album bursts open with 100 samba drums recorded in Rio -- where these things are decided -- and continues as a musical declaration of this refugee's right to return.

The final example is an artist I met personally -- and whose work is on the wall in front of me as I type this: Anká. My encounter with him and his art is described in the third entry of my Folha da Fronteira newsletter, written just after I visited his Amazon hermitage in 1996. I explain that he would not tell me his full name nor the place of his birth -- and I thought he was kidding when he said that these were "details for the police." It was almost 20 years later that I realized he was not kidding at all, and that it was no coincidence that a Brazilian man of a certain age without a phone, a legal name, or even a street address would also be an artist. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Whale Cultures

Tuning in to WBUR today, I thought I was listening to an interview with writer Carl Safina, the only MacArthur genius I have ever met in person. The author of The View from Lazy Point is on my mind because I have been reading essays by my honors students connecting that book to a recent LOE segment.

The subject of today's interview on Here & Now was not Safina, nor was he speaking of climate change, as Safina does in Lazy Point. Rather, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry reminded me of Safina because he was speaking about the culture of whales in much the same way that Safina does in his most recent book: Becoming Wild: How Animals Learn Who They Are.

An orca in New Zealand. (National Geographic for Disney+/Kina Scollay)

Both Skerry and Safina speak in surprisingly human terms about the families and cultures of animals. Safina has written persuasively about the distinct cultures of macaws, apes, and whales. Skerry's focus is on the whales, which are the subject of the new docuseries Secrets of Whales, which is being carried on Disney Plus.

Bonus: Living On Earth, the excellent radio program mentioned above, has also recently interviewed Brian Skerry about his whale project. 

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