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12 November 2019

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

This is an interesting novel. The book came highly recommended to me from two friends who have literary and environmental sensibilities that I respect, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year, which is an accolade worth noting – a validation of its quality. It is a story about trees, and about “radical” environmental activists who try to save them. I suppose it could be viewed as a …

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1 May 2019

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Peter Wohlleben is a forester, managing a forest in Germany. Over decades among the trees, he has had major insights into the “inner lives” of the trees, and uses this book to collate them and share them with a wider audience. The book opens with an anecdote: he walks by some moss-covered lumps in the forest, and peels up the moss to see what he expects will be “stones” underneath. …

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25 April 2019

How We Got To Now, by Steven Johnson

I was very impressed with Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air when I read it last summer. So recently, I decided to sample another of his books, this one a six-part microhistory about innovations that altered the course of human history. The six are: 1) cleanliness/hygiene (specifically in medicine and drinking water), 2) measurement of time, 3) glass (think lenses!), 4) understanding of light, 5) refrigeration, and 6) the recording …

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15 January 2019

Easing of selective pressure on Opuntia cacti in the Galapagos Islands

A cactus you can pet with your bare hand? Turns out it can tell you something about whether that island contains any land iguanas. A case study in the easing of natural selective pressure.

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14 January 2019

A tale of three iguanas

As noted last week, I spent the week spanning New Year’s Eve in the enchanted isles of the Galapagos. The previous week (over Christmas) my family and I were in coastal Ecuador. I saw a total of three species of iguanas in the two locations, and they offer a neat little story of evolution. Let’s take a look. First, let’s introduce the key players: The green iguana, Iguana iguana (coastal Ecuador, …

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25 April 2018

Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky

A visit to a natural sandstone arch (or “bridge” as the locals call it) in eastern Kentucky yields unexpected bonuses, like fossil wood, Liesegang banding, and the honeycomb-like weathering pattern called “tafoni.”

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9 October 2017

Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass is a collection of thematically-linked essays by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an environmentalist, academic, and Native American. The themes that unite them are plants, the human relationship to the natural world, and love.  I’ve read Kimmerer’s essays in Orion before, but there’s a sort of literary force multiplier when you get a whole book full of her thoughtful insights, story after story, back to back.  Braiding Sweetgrass is a …

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29 September 2017

Friday folds: soft sediment deformation in thin sections of MTD sandstone

The Friday folds are small soft-sediment deformational features within a dismembered, folded sandstone (a “ploudin”) from a mass transport deposit from the latest Devonian of West Virginia.

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2 May 2017

Leafing out to bring down CO2

It’s getting green outside – what’s it mean for the planet? Find out in this blog post contemplating the relationship between spring leaves and atmospheric CO2.

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24 December 2016

A wondrous transformation

It’s bonfire season here in the Fort Valley. I live in a forest, and that forest is full of dead and downed wood. Motivated by a desire to (a) reduce forest fire risk and (b) clear out some of the area under the trees for unobstructed recreation, I gather it up and periodically burn it off in batches. We time these blazes to the weather – before or after after …

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