A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Guest post by Laura V.

Published 70 years ago, A Sand County Almanac was a prescient body of work for its time. Today, overlooking some dated cultural and technological references, it remains just as relevant, if not more so. Leopold was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa. The nonprofit Leopold Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin, serves as headquarters for the Aldo Leopold Foundation and visitor center and marks the spot on which he died of a heart attack while fighting a wild fire in 1948.

In the first section, A Sand County Almanac is divided into months. Leopold explores the cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena surrounding his weekend home “the shack” in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, outdoor sportsman, and exquisite writer. He is a more modern version of the rugged nature writer in the vein of Emerson and Thoreau. He sometimes uses literary devices that are simple in their architecture but absolutely delightful to read. My favorite is his use of felling a seasoned dead oak as a vehicle to recount the history of the land on which his farm is situated. I also like the Odyssey parable in the second section.

The second section is entitled, “Sketches Here and There” where he talks about his travels through various states, Canada, and Mexico. The essays show his maturation into the naturalist and conservationist he became. These recollections are often sad, with his description of lost ecology when settlers colonized various locations. His writing is nonetheless a joy with his observations and musings on the local habitats.

The final section is called “The Upshot” he describes the need for an ethic toward the land that diverges from the one perpetuated for millennia, man as ruler over nature therefore he is free to use it however he pleases. He argues for a broader imagining of respect for our land that isn’t solely measured through economics.

This book is timeless and beloved among conservationists. It would have probably continued to sit on my reading wish list, however, had it had it not been for my enrollment into the Scott County Master Conservationist Program. The book was required reading and we were each given a copy. I hungrily devoured it like a banquet of both familiar and new ideologies. I just wish the agricultural community specifically and the general public as a whole would have heeded his advice.

The Master Conservationist program was an excellent course at Nahant Marsh through Iowa State University Scott County Extension. We had several exciting field trips in which we visited natural areas in and outside the Quad Cities. I learned a great deal through firsthand experience in the fields and prairies. The course included many informative readings and videos. I loved the classes and Brian Ritter, the Executive Director’s wit and humor made them even more enjoyable. It was fun to converse with like-minded individuals who were learning along with me. I encourage everyone with an interest in conservation to register for the next program in 2020!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challenge Readers!

How is your month of Science reading going? I have to admit, I’m lagging a bit behind. The book I chose (Light From Other Stars by Erika Swyler) hasn’t completely grabbed my interest but it’s early yet and I’m going to keep reading. Some books just take time.

If you’re struggling to check off Science in this year’s Challenge, why not try a movie instead? Here are some good ones.

Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly. Cracking the code the Germans used in World War II was vital to the success of Allies. Even after one of their Enigma machines was captured, untangling the complex code, which changed every day, was next to impossible, until the genius of Alan Turing finds the solution. Based on historical fact, this film is equal parts tense and heartbreaking.

Hidden Figures starring Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson brings us the true story of the African-American women who were vital to the success of NASA and the space race. Struggling against prejudice – both because they were women and because they were African-American – they persevered with courage and stubbornness as well as having brilliant minds.

The Martian with Matt Damon. And exploratory team on Mars leaves Mark behind, believing he was killed in the sudden storm that has forced them to leave. Mark is very much alive and relatively well except, he’s alone on Mars with limited supplies and little hope for rescue. How he copes, using intelligence and ingenuity and sheer pluck makes for a tense and fascinating movie.

The Big Bang Theory television series. I have to admit, I started watching this series quite late in it’s run, but once I did I was hooked and it was easy to catch up with reruns on cable and DVDs from the library. Yes, it’s pretty silly and really, who in their right mind would ever want to live with Sheldon, but it also celebrates intelligence and education and the sciences. The characters all grow and mature over the course of the series (something that doesn’t always happen on tv) and they’re always good for a laugh. Bazinga!

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter and EMT in Austin,Texas. She’s very good at her job, respected and well-liked by her crew. She has a unique ability to remain calm under the most stressful circumstances and is fearless in dangerous situations.

Her well-ordered, tightly scheduled life begins to collapse when she is confronted by the past and when her semi-estranged Mother calls, begging her to move across the country to help her, Cassie reluctantly agrees. She can no longer stay at her current job so she packs up her life and moves to the Boston area.

Life at the small town fire station Cassie transfers to is very different from her job at the progressive and brand new Austin station. The all-male crew resent her and consider her a newbie. Funds are short and much of the equipment is old or lacking. Cassie is forced to prove herself over and over, enduring the pranks and hazing along with the rookie that joins the same day as she does. Cassie takes it all in stride except for one thing – that rookie. She has shut herself off from emotions for so long, the attraction she feels toward him is confusing and upsetting. She believes that emotions, especially love, make you weak. To top it off, her Mother is a constant source of anxiety and frustration.

Things You Save in a Fire is fast moving, exciting and complex. The descriptions of the life of a firefighter (at work and at play) are very interesting and help you appreciate what a difficult but rewarding career it must be. There are funny parts – most of the hazing is done in good spirits and Cassie has a dry sense of humor. Cassie is a wonderful character, fiercely committed to her job, strong yet vulnerable. and the crew grow to respect her. There is a serious side to the book as well, how the past can shape you and overshadow your life.  It gradually becomes apparent why Cassie has shut down her emotions and built nearly impregnable walls to protect herself; breaking down these walls is difficult and plagued with setbacks. You’ll find yourself rooting for Cassie every step of the way. Highly recommended.

Travel Talk – Preserving the Memory

So, you’ve gone on a fabulous trip, or have one coming up. Now the question is, how do you hang onto those happy memories?

Photo book. There are dozens of companies that help you put together a photo album of your trip at a variety of price points and features. These can be lots of fun to make and you don’t need a lot of technological skills. Just upload your photos to the company’s program, choose your templates and go! I love photography and always make a photo album when I get home from a trip – it’s a great way to relive and remember a special time.

Scrapbook. Take all those brochures and ticket stubs and business cards and put together a scrapbook. I also like to include things like candy bar wrappers and small paper shop bags, anything that is unique and different from home. You can add handwritten notes about the different objects or decorate the pages however you want. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to make a scrapbook – it is for your enjoyment. (The same is true of photo books)

Postcards. You’ll find post cards everywhere of course, even if snail mail is on the decline. They’re a great alternative if you’re not interested in photography, or want a perfect shot of a famous landmark or one you wouldn’t be able to get (like a bird’s-eye view of the Grand Canyon) I pass on the kitschy, jokey postcards, but if that’s your jam, go for it. I love museums and like to grab a few postcards of favorite paintings – they are much better quality than anything I can photograph (and sans tourists!) and look lovely in a frame in my house.

Souvenirs. Every major (and many not-so-major) tourist destination will have souvenirs for sale. A lot of times these are, shall we say, not terribly sophisticated or subtle. Again, if that’s your jam, go for it – not judging. But if you’re looking for something more authentic, I suggest that you shop for souvenirs at the local grocery store. Candy bars (both fancy and regular), coffee, tea and mustard made in the country you’re visiting are excellent choices and easy to fit into a carry on (if you don’t go overboard which I tend to do!). If you have checked baggage, you can take home local wines and olive oils; I’ve even heard of people bringing French butter home in their suitcase!

The ultimate goal, of course, is to have something that reminds you of a trip – the different atmosphere, the culture, the inspirational things you saw, the happy memories.

Now it’s your turn – what do you bring home from your travels?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – September

Hey Reading Friends! It’s September! Time for a new topic in the Online Reading Challenge! This month our topic is: Science!

OK, maybe right off the bat the idea of reading about Science is not particularly appealing. But hang in there! There are some fascinating titles – fiction and non-fiction – that just might change your mind. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is a novel based on fact about an ordinary, working class girl, and a spinster gentlewoman that make one of the great scientific discoveries of the 19th century when they uncover fossils along the coast of Lyme Regis, England. Chevalier weaves the story of the friendship between the woman and the many restrictions women of the early 1800s faced with actual history into a fascinating novel.

More exploration of women in the sciences can be found in The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict (about Albert Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right) and Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini, a novel about Ada Lovelace a brilliant mathematician that many consider the inventor of the earliest computer. If you like mysteries, check out the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters about an intrepid lady archaeologist and her Egyptologist husband as they explore pyramids and solve murders in Victorian-era Egypt. For science fiction lovers, you can’t beat The Martian by Andy Weir about an astronaut mistakenly left behind on Mars during an exploratory mission.

Even fiction-only readers will find something fascinating among the non-fiction books. Take a look at Longitude by Dana Sobel about the search for how to calculate longitude (crucial for sailing ships) and how it was discovered. David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers will take you to that windswept North Carolina beach at Kitty Hawk and the breakthroughs that led to flight. Go inside the early days of NASA and the making of the space program with The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (now being made into a mini-series)

I am planning on reading Light from Other Stars by Erica Swyler, set in the near future about astronauts, the altering of time and family. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Also, the cover of the book is really pretty! I’ll let you know how it goes!

What about you? What will you be reading this month?

August Online Reading Challenge – Wrap Up

Hello!

August has come to an end! How did your Reading Challenge reading work out this month? There are a lot of great books about art and artists, so I hope you were able to find something you enjoyed.

I had a good reading month. I read Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese. It focuses on women from two different time periods, Adele Bloch-Bauer from the 1900s through the 1920s and her niece, Maria Altmann in the 1940s. Both women live through turbulent times and their stories are heavily influenced by one of Gustav Klimt’s most iconic paintings.

Adele Bloch-Bauer comes from a wealthy family and marries a wealthy, influential man. Despite her many privileges, she longs for more – more freedom, more intellectual stimulation, more passion. Vienna before World War I was second only to Paris for artists and intellectuals and the avant garde movement. Adele became a part of their social circle and, with her husband, became a patron of the arts. Through these circles she met Gustav Klimt who was already creating a stir with his modern paintings. Gustav asked Adele to pose for him and she sat for what became “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, a painting rich with symbolism and painstakingly embellished with gold leaf.

Maria was a newlywed when the Nazi’s invaded Austria in 1938. Almost immediately restrictions were imposed on the Jews. Maria and her family debate whether to stay or leave. They were non-practicing Jews and had served Austria loyally for generations, but it didn’t matter; their homes were confiscated, their possessions seized and their rights denied. Bit by bit Maria and her extended family flee, some to England, some to America, some to Canada, leaving everything behind. Not everyone survives – Maria’s parents refuse to leave Vienna – but those that do build new lives far from what they knew before.

One day, decades later, Maria learns that Austria is offering reparations for the art and valuables that were seized during the war to anyone who can prove that they are the rightful owner. Maria realizes she has a claim to the famous portrait of her aunt and begins the uphill battle to have it returned to her family.

You may have seen the movie The Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren that came out a few years ago and is adapted from this book. The focus of the movie was on Maria’s political battle over the painting, but Stolen Beauty focuses more on Adele’s story and her relationship with Klimt, about Klimt and his various projects plus there is a lot more information about the modern movement in art and architecture which was shaking up the establishment at that time. Maria’s chapters are tense and vivid as the mounting pressure on the Jews becomes unbearable but Adele is the real star of the book. As usual, the book was better than the movie except for one thing – the movie allows you to actually see the painting, it’s size and its remarkable intricacy and detail. And the gold – breathtaking!

Stolen Beauty makes me want to visit Vienna and New York City (where Adele’s portrait now hangs) to see Klimt’s work in person! Highly recommended.

How did you do this month? What did you read for August?

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

A forbidden love, a mystery shrouded in superstition and myth, a clash of cultures and generations – all of these elements and more make up The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, recreating the long-gone world of colonial Malaysia shortly before World War II.

Several main characters are at the center of the book. There is Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker who moonlights as a dance-hall girl to earn extra money to pay off her Mother’s mah-jongg debts. Ji Lin wants more from life than to become a wife, but her stepfather has denied her request to further her education. Instead, her step-brother (by marriage) Shin, who she has fallen in love with but believes he will never feel the same, is the one sent to medical school.

Then there is Ren who once worked as a houseboy for an elderly English doctor. Before the doctor dies, he asks Ren to find his missing finger which had been amputated years ago; the doctor believes the local superstition that if missing parts of a body are not returned and buried within 49 days, the soul will be doomed to wander forever.

And then there is William Acton, the doctor that Ren now works for (and that Ren believes has the missing finger). Acton has secrets of his own including why he has been banished from his wealthy family estate in England.

The Night Tiger is part romance, part murder mystery, part coming-of-age. These different story lines slowly begin to intersect until the book comes to an explosive finish. The descriptions in the book are vivid from describing the ordinary – the fragrant, delicious food, to the overwhelming – the lush tropical jungle, to the mystical – the countless superstitions and myths from the meanings of numbers to the many stories about tigers and men who turn into tigers. You’ll fall a little bit in love with the characters, especially Ren and Ji Lin and this long gone world of colonial Malaysia.  All of this adds up to a colorful and fascinating novel. Highly recommended.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Fellow Readers!

How is August treating you? Have you found something great to read for the month of Art? I’ve already finished my book (Stolen Beauty by Laurie Albanese) which I’ll talk more about at the end of the month, but if you’re still looking, I recommend you take a look at this title.

If you haven’t found anything yet for August and are looking for something relatively quick, I have some movie suggestions for you.

Monuments Men with George Clooney and Matt Damon (and many other famous names) follows the World War II platoon that went into Germany to try and save and recover some of the thousands of art and artifacts stolen by the Nazi’s. Not the greatest film ever made, but the history of this real life group of men (based on fact) is riveting.

Mr Turner stars Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner, Britain’s most famous and revered landscape painter. Turner wasn’t exactly the most pleasant fellow, and this film doesn’t gloss that over.

Pollock with Ed Harris depicts the story of Jackson Pollock, the first great American modern painter. With success comes fame and fortune, but a volatile temper and emotional instability brings self-doubt and threatens his life’s work.

Doctor Who, Series 5, Episode 10 – “Vincent and the Doctor”. OK, this one is not a movie, but an episode from the television series Doctor Who and even if you’re not a Doctor Who fan (Really? Come on!), this is well worth tracking down. The Doctor and his companion Amy travel back in time and try to help Vincent Van Gogh. He is plagued by terrible visions (which turn out to be a terrible monster from another planet only he can see, but just go with it) While the story is science fiction, the human elements – Van Gogh’s suffering, the Doctor and Amy’s compassion, the impact of Van Gogh’s legacy is brilliant, beautiful and ultimately, heartbreaking. Highly recommended.

Travel Talk – Iowa, Part 3

Hello again! Here we are with our third installment of exploring Iowa for Travel Talk. This month Michelle and I are talking about some great museums. I love museums – art, history, science I love it all. In my experience, museums are beautiful places filled with endlessly interesting and inspiring displays. Guess what – the museums in Iowa are no different. Bonus – these are all within in an easy day trip of Davenport!

Here are Michelle’s picks:

The University of Iowa Natural History Museum in downtown Iowa City is a free and fascinating look at Iowa’s history.  The museum offers an up-close look at hundreds animals from around Iowa and the world.  The Hall of Birds and the Hall of Mammals are especially worth a visit. When visiting the Hall of Birds, visitors can view over 1,000 birds, many who make their permanent or seasonal residence in Iowa.  These specimens were collected throughout the years by University of Iowa professors. Make sure you find the Laysan Island Cyclorama which replicates a 1914 bird sanctuary in Laysan, an outpost of the Hawaiian atoll.  In 1914, the sanctuary was the home to over 8 million birds of 22 different species.  Across the museum is the Hall of Mammals which displays animals from around the world.  Among the highlights is the skeleton of a 47 foot Atlantic Right Whale.  A final stop should be Iowa Hall, which allows visitors to travel through Iowa’s 500 million year geological, cultural and ecological history.

The Des Moines Art Center is a gem both inside and outside, with noteworthy art on its walls along with the architects who designed the structure in three parts.  The building is designed by world famous architects Eliel Saarinen (portion built in 1948), I.M. Pei (structure completed in 1968), and Richard Meier finishing the museum in 1985.  Inside, the Art Center has a stellar permanent collection which includes works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder along with rotating special exhibitions.  A second part of the Art Center is the Pappajohn Sculpture Park located in downtown Des Moines.  Admission is free for both!

And here are my recommendations.

National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids. Completely rebuilt after the devastating 1993 flood, the Czech Museum is a gorgeous tribute to the craftsmanship and beauty (don’t miss the crystal chandelier in the lobby) of Czech art. There are also extensive displays of the history of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These include full size reproductions of a Communist watch tower and steerage rooms that immigrants would have stayed in on their voyage to America. There are also stunning examples of crystal, porcelain and needlework on display.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. His Presidency might not have been a success, but Herbert Hoover was a great statesman. He was instrumental in providing food relief to Europe and Russia during and after World War I and later after World War II, saving millions of lives. He and his wife Lou traveled extensively and many of the things they collected on these travels are on display. There is also a lot of information about Lou who was brilliant in her own right (to this day, she is the only First Lady to speak an Asian language – in this case Mandarin Chinese)

This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are loads of great museums throughout the state – and in Davenport itself! (the Figge, the German American Heritage Center and the Putnam, to get you started) Here’s a tip for you – keep an eye on the website of any museum you might be interested in – most of them have exhibits that run for a short period of time as well as their permanent displays. These can be a great opportunity to see art and artifacts from far-flung museums, right in your own backyard!

Now what about you – what museums in Iowa would you recommend?

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Tiffy needs a place to live, now, but her low-paying editorial assistant job doesn’t exactly allow for posh digs. Or anyplace that’s habitable really. So, against the advice of friends, she takes a flatshare. It’s a nice apartment in a great location in central London and she can actually afford the rent, what’s not to like? Ok, her new flatmate is a guy and there’s, um, only one bed but! He works nights as a pallative care nurse and spends the weekends at his girlfriends’ place so they’ll never see each other. Right? Great! Problem solved!

Leon needs some extra cash. He loves his job but it takes most of his energy and time so a second job isn’t the answer. He’s almost never at his flat except to sleep during the day so why not share the space? It’s a great plan! Leon’s girlfriend shows the potential roomie the flat and assures Leon that Tiffy is dull and unattractive. Perfect! Leon doesn’t even have to meet the flatmate, it’s all tidy and anonymous and great! Except, Tiffy brings some of her things to the flat – which, ok, to be expected – but they’re bright and girly and the opposite of dull. Huh.

Then the post-it notes begin. At first it’s formal and impersonal – “Help yourself to the leftover cookies!” – but pretty soon their notes become friendlier and bits of their personalities shine through. Tiffy is bright and funny and optimistic and Leon is kind and patient. Of course, inevitably, they run into each other, in the flesh. Literally. Sparks fly. Tiffy is not dull and unattractive. Leon has recently broken up with his girlfriend. Can Tiffy and Leon move from flatmates to friends to something more?

The Flatshare is a fun romance. The final outcome is pretty much inevitable but the path these two take is interesting and adds a lot to the story. There is the shadow of domestic abuse (NOT between Tiffy and Leon) and the long term damage it causes, staying loyal to someone when everyone else has doubts, taking a risk and walking through that door, opening yourself up to love again. Leon and Tiffy are great characters that you’ll root for, and their supporting cast are fun and interesting. Plus, it’s set in London. Blimey! What’s not to like?