Tag Archives: nature

In 1918, California Drafted Children Into a War On Squirrels

29 Nov

Perhaps you are unacquainted with the California War on Squirrels, 1918. Read about it here in a fascinating story by Dave Gilson at Atlas Obscura: In 1918, California Drafted Children Into a War On Squirrels | Atlas Obscura

South Dakota Harney Peak to be Renamed Black Elk Peak: Politicians Upset

12 Aug

The renaming of a Black Hills peak would please Black Elk and Crazy Horse, I think. Read about it at Native News Online: South Dakota Harney Peak to be Renamed Black Elk Peak: Politicians Upset – Native News Online

Whaling art found in a logbook.

19 Nov

After exhausting the fisheries around New England, 19th-century whaling ships needed to go farther afield, taking years-long journeys to distant oceans to find their prey. “These extended trips offered more leisure time,” the curators of a new exhibition of whaling artwork at the Providence Public Library write, “and many whalemen chose to fill that time in artistic pursuits.”

So writes Rebecca Onion at Slate’s The Vault about some fascinating watercolors of whale hunting by James Moore Ritchie in the 1840s.


You can view the entire post, with more pictures, here: History of whaling: Whaling art found in a logbook..

What Does a [Natural Science] Curator Do?

10 Jul

If you have ever wondered what a curator does, this post by Charles Preston the Draper Natural History Museum of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West provides an enlightening explanation: What Does a Curator Do? – Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West puts collections online

17 Apr

Yee  haw! The Buffalo Bill Center of the West–formerly the Buffalo Bill Historical Center–is announcing the debut of its Online Collections.

The announcement and the portal is here: The New Online Collections – Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The collections are stunning in their scope and variety–Buffalo Bill Cody material, Western art, Plains Indian crafts, firearms, Yellowstone Basin environment. My wife and I got to explore them extensively in 2002-2003. Now they will be available digitally to a global audience.

Carl Preussl’s Old Faithful

24 Mar

Carl Preussl painted Yellowstone’s Old Faithful (1929) in a manner that suggests nature’s power, both in geyser and in color. Tourists, then and now, pay attention, at least for a moment. (Cars were no longer new in the park then; you can see touring cars depicted in the painting at the bottom.)

The original is at the Whitney Gallery of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. A post on the painting from the BBCW is here: Treasures: Carl Preussl’s Old Faithful.

U.S. Streets and Rivers

8 Jul

Understanding “place” includes, of course, geography. Maps are part of the construction of places–and they can also help us see places. Matt Rosenberg’s About.com Geography provides this information about two U.S. maps that can help us see some places anew:

Two incredible maps of the conterminous 48 United States show nothing but the streets and streams. The first, All Streets, is the product of Ben Fry and it consists of 240 million road segments. It clearly displays the density of urban areas along with the topography of the country in road-less regions. The second map, All Rivers is a more natural detailed view of the topography of the country, displaying the watersheds of the nation. Both maps are absolutely worth a look.

Apropos “Groaning in the West,” Does End Time Belief Really Cause Climate Change Apathy?

8 Jul

Given my post “Groaning in the West,” this thoughtful analysis of evangelical apocalyptic beliefs and their relation to environmental action is helpful:

Does End Time Belief Really Cause Climate Change Apathy? | Atheologies | Religion Dispatches.

To quote from the author, Robin Globus Veldman,

In my own research I did find some evidence of apathy about climate change that seemed to be related to end time belief. This only seemed to be the case among those who were truly passionate about the end times, however. In a small-town Pentecostal church I visited, for example, during a Sunday service the pastor painted a vivid picture of a world descending into chaos, listing a coming “holy war” with Iran, Christians being  persecuted around the world, the inability to pray in school (“These days you get in trouble if you say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes at school!”), and the way society increasingly “exalted the homosexual lifestyle” as signs that the end times were near.

“The Bible says this will happen in the Last Days, before the Rapture. We should expect suffering if the Lord tarries. Jesus Christ is coming back!” he concluded exultantly.

Not surprisingly, when I conducted a focus group at this church, the end times seemed to be on everyone’s mind. When we talked about caring for the environment, for example, Craig cautioned that it was important to draw the line between protecting the creation and worshipping it, while Julie agreed, adding that, “like with the polar bears and stuff, of course I don’t want them to die, but you also have to realize this is just a part of the world coming to an end like it’s supposed to. And there’s nothing really that they can do.”

After Sarah chimed in “Yeah, we can’t stop it,” Julie continued, arguing, “That’s why we need to be educated in the Bible, so we know what signs to look for. Because you’re just wasting all that money on research when it’s, sadly, not going to help.”

Such views contrasted with those I heard from people who believed that Jesus would return to earth but did not actually think they were living in the last days. There, I almost invariably heard statements expressing ethical responsibilities vis-à-vis the environment. For example, Jessa pointed out that

“we constantly talk about the end times and as Christians we look forward to that but the Bible didn’t tell us to be stupid. When the Bible says if you have faith as the grain of a mustard seed you can move mountains, it didn’t literally mean for us to go and start trying to pick up a mountain. . . . [W]henever He tells us that we’re going to see these signs of the end times, He doesn’t tell us to stop living because the world’s coming to an end. He wants us to live for Him every day, and living for Him means taking care of the world, and seeing that the environment is changing, and that we have an effect on that.”

in many cases such comments may have reflected ideals more than practices, as I did not see much evidence of dedication to environmental stewardship beyond recycling. But the majority of my respondents rejected the logic that end time belief justified inaction of any kind, pointing out that they still held bank accounts, sent their kids to college, and otherwise planned for the future.

This belies Barker and Bearce’s claim that any Christian who agreed to the question “do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ—that is, that Jesus will return to Earth someday?” would have been likely to discount the future. From what I saw in the field, people who did not live in the shadow of the Last Days recognized the folly of giving up on this world when it was uncertain when the next one would come.

Perhaps even conservative Christians act as much from the pull of things other than God as they do from God.

Arctic ship logs help scientists reconstruct climatic history

1 Jul

For those of us in the field of history, we often get some variation of the question, “Of what use is history, anyway?”

One specific answer is given in this High Country News article by Eric Wagner:

Arctic ship logs help scientists reconstruct climatic history — High Country News.

Here’s the beginning of Wagner’s piece:

The morning of April 19, 1875, dawned cool and foggy in San Francisco Harbor. Aboard the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship Yukon, Assistant Commanding Officer Gershom Bradford stepped onto the deck. He watched as the men set up the rigging and filled large tanks with freshwater in preparation for the schooner’s upcoming voyage. He was eager to be underway. As was I, having recently joined the crew.

Well, sort of. As Bradford gazed into the mist 138 years ago, so do I gaze into my laptop’s soft glow. The officer’s script in the electronic scan of the Yukon’s logbook is antiquely florid, but I do my best to transcribe his observations. Once finished, I click “Save.” One day down, thousands to go.

This is Old Weather, a citizen-science project run in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Archives and Records Administration, as well as a host of museums, universities and historical societies. It conscripts members of the willing public, like me, to sift through logs from 19th and 20th century U.S. Arctic surveys, and transfer ship locations, weather observations, air and water temperature, and barometric pressure data into spreadsheets more suitable for statistical analysis. Ultimately, the data will help scientists better understand how the climate has varied in the past, and improve projections of change in the future.

I feel a thrill at the thought of joining the Yukon on this adventurous and newly virtuous mission. I chose her because she was one of the first American vessels to explore the western Aleutian Islands — a place I’ve always wanted to see. But when we ship out, we don’t head for Alaska. Instead, we sail up the coast to Eureka, where we spend a few weeks measuring the depth of the seafloor by day, returning to the harbor at night.

Sometimes we anchor off Humboldt Point, which I’m sure is very pretty.

Still, it’s not exactly the derring-do I was hoping for.

More on Pilgrimage–but with ties to tourism and the source of the Mississippi

3 Jun

Art Remillard has contributed a chapter to a new book on religion and the Mississippi River. His focus is on Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi.

In his reflections about his project, he notes the close connection of tourism  and pilgrimage to a place such as Lake Itasca:

In Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner identify the traces of religious activity in secular travel, writing “a tourist is half a pilgrim, if a pilgrim is half a tourist.” Commenting on the American bicentennial, the authors discuss how millions of people had traveled to national parks and forests, both for recreation and “to renew love of land and country.”

While Itasca’s traveler-pilgrims weren’t talking much about national identity, they did use religious language to translate their accomplishments and transformations. One bicyclist, for example, finished at Itasca and remarked, “On the outside I may have looked the same. . . but my muscles and soul had changed me into a pilgrim.” Punctuating this sentiment, she “baptized” her bike in the headwaters, “for a spiritual amen.” When Eddie Harris began his canoe trip downriver from Itasca, he wrote, “It’s not a Gothic cathedral, but a lovely little chapel whose absolute artistry you do not expect, and you’re awestricken.” As he formed a bond with this environment, he also began relating to its history. Specifically, he recalled Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the explorer credited with locating the source in 1832 and providing its name (derived from the Latin words veritas and caput, for “true head”).
Not surprisingly, connections between tourism and pilgrimage are sustained by the emotional responses of tourist-pilgrims to places such as Lake Itasca. Remillard notes:
As I quickly learned, the story of the headwaters is one of discovery, discrediting, and re-discovery. On February 1, 1806, army lieutenant Zebulon Pike trudged through the snow to Leech Lake, and proclaimed that it was the river’s source. “I will not attempt to describe my feelings on the accomplishment of my voyage,” he wrote in his journal, “for this is the main source of the Mississippi.” Then, in 1828, Italian adventurer Giacomo Beltrami published A Pilgrimage in Europe and America, wherein he claimed to have “found” the source at Lake Julia. Beltrami said that the “sublime” site of the lake filled him with “an almost heavenly ecstasy.” Finally, Schoolcraft made the enduring claim that Itasca was the source. “What had been long sought,” he exclaimed, “at last appeared suddenly . . . the cheering sight of a transparent body of water burst upon our view.”
As I studied the details of their expeditions, I noticed that each explorer relied on emotion to validate his claim. In other words, they used an expression of wonder to legitimate their discovery, rather than citing any empirical evidence. From this position of feeling, they confidently inscribed new meaning on to the landscape, replacing an old map with a new one.
For the entire reflection by Remillard, see here.
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