Category Archives: Uncategorized

Volver a Los Andes | Return to the Andes

After so many hours of travel (and planning), our group of three arrived in Pisac, a small Andean town in Peru’s Sacred Valley, outside of Cuzco. The dusty landscape, sprinkled with sparse gray-green vegetation; the half-finished houses and their gap-toothed smiles of ubiquitous local red brick; fabrics so vibrant their colors shout for you to take notice and realize it is the short, sturdy women in bowler hats whose bright weavings carry whimpering child and pounds of produce alike.

Yes, I am back among Andean culture (or Quechuan, more specifically), which I haven’t seen much of in the four years since I was in Bolivia.

Despite being severely sleep-deprived, I’ve mostly been able to string together enough coherent Spanish to get us the essentials our first day in Peru. Most importantly, coordinating our 45 minute taxi ride from the Cuzco airport to Pisac when our hotel failed to send the promised taxi. Attitudes are very relaxed in general and you definitely have to ask several times if you really want something (bottle of water, the check, taxis apparently). But cows in the middle of the road come even when you didn’t order one, as we and our eventual taxi driver discovered, coming around a bend in the anciently terraced hillsides.

And if you so much as glance at anything in the well-known (but rather touristy) artisan’s market in Pisac’s plaza, you will get all the attention you didn’t know you needed. But I’m pretty sure some wee ones I know didn’t know they needed the llama hats they’re going to get.

Llama hats

Tomorrow we venture back to Cuzco to tour colonial churches, Incan art museums, and potentially ogle the stars of the Southern Hemisphere at a planetarium. Tonight, we’re pretending it’s not 8:00 p.m. as we snuggle in while children, dogs, flute players, and drummers sing us an uncommon lullaby. Bienvenidas a Peru.

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A World Without Ice

Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park.

Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park. Ashley Braun/All rights reserved.

Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.

— University of Michigan geophysicist Henry Pollack, A World Without Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Breaks 2007 Record Low

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2011 Science Oddities: The world’s tiniest periodic table and a geophysicist who loved limericks

For my first post of 2011, I will turn your attention to two examples of the delightful idiosyncrasies of scientists. Others may prefer to call them the “geekery” typical of “nerds,” but that’s too dismissive when you consider how trendy it is nowadays to be labeled a “nerd.” E.g., “Geek is chic,” etc.

First, here is the the world’s itty-bittiest periodic table of the elements, which has been imprinted onto a single human hair (as a birthday gift, of course!). When you see this scientist’s hair, you too will realize the inspiration for this present.

Via @Holly_Richmond.

Second, let us take a moment of seismism (or silence, if you prefer) for the passing of Jack Oliver, the geophysicist who shook the world into accepting the theory of continental drift (as in plate tectonics, or, how the world is actually a broken jigsaw puzzle that floats on a sea of Jello that just won’t quite set). The New York Times Science section concludes its obituary of Oliver by pointing out his propensity for writing limericks, which he used in-between the chapters of his 1998 autobiography, Shakespeare Got It Wrong: It’s Not “to Be,” It’s “to Do”:

The youth wondered what he should be.

His prof said, “You’re missing the key.

Life’s not to be, but to do.

Pick a task, follow through.

You’ll live ever after most happily.”

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Litany

the bread and the knife

Photo: Brian via Flickr Creative Commons

1 : a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation
2 a : a resonant or repetitive chant
b : a usually lengthy recitation or enumeration

Litany

by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine . . .
~Jacques Crickillon, Belgian poet

“You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.”

On a related note, I’m confident that my brilliant 3 year-old niece Emma is also capable of reciting poetry like this little boy:

You are the bread and the knife …
You are the bread and the knife …
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I and love and the Avett Brothers

If you have never heard of the Avett Brothers, then I apologize for not introducing them to you sooner. I’ve been a growing fan of them this past year or so, thanks to fellow Grister and co-Avett obsessor, David Roberts. I finally attended one of their shows in Seattle at the Paramount Theater this past July (touring for their album I And Love And You), and it was hands down the best musical experience of my entire life. The Avett Brothers’ performance swayed between a continuum of high energy alt-folk-rock and the singular, haunting tones of emotion — all told through the voices, guitar, and banjo/piano of brothers Seth and Scott Avett, stand-up bassist Bob Crawford, and cello-swinging Joe Kwon (currently with them on tour).

Words fail to describe the power, elegance, and sincerity of their style, their lyrics, their musical threads. I swoon. And I replay their music relentlessly.

See what I mean here in their moving ballad, “I And Love And You”:

And here, experience the incredibly artistic pairing of music and painting in this video for their thought-provoking song “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”:

The video portrays the inevitable lifecycle of human development. As NPR reports it:

“Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise” was written about the temporary nature of our buildings and our mentality,” says Scott Avett.  “Accepting the temporary state we may be in. (Artist) Jason (Ryan Mitcham) with his landscape paintings, and some that I’d seen that he’d animated, dealt with the temporary nature of the world around us.”

Rather than make a bunch of different paintings for the animation, Mitcham gradually altered a single painting 26-hundred times. Ten alterations to the painting equaled one second of film.

Now that you’ve been introduced, you have no excuse not to love them too.

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The Peace of Wild Things

“When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound,

in fear of what my life and my children’s life may  be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water,

and the great heron feeds.

I come to the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come to the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

~ Wendell Berry

Camano Island

Camano Island, WA

I’m going to the woods this weekend.

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I take my World Oceans Day marinated in oil

Or, at least, that’s the way it seems this year for the new U.N.-declared holiday, in light of the crude catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

While the salty seas off of Louisiana could definitely use some lovin’, the rest of the oceans aren’t faring much better. The following issues wouldn’t mind it at all if you started throwing out some life preservers:

  • Life in plastic, it’s gone gastric: That is, for this albatross chick and other sea animals that mistake tiny bits of discarded plastic in the water for food. Unfortunately, some of that little plastic debris adds up to a huge, floating Pacific garbage patch about twice the size of Texas. And there’s another one in the North Atlantic too.

    Claire Fackler, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

  • Bleach out and touch someone: One of the first sure signs of climate change was warming ocean temperatures which started bleaching coral reefs. Which means they — and many of the tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain — die.

    Bleached staghorn coral ... the water ain't fine here. Photo: Matt Kieffer via Flickr Creative Commons

  • On acid: A neat trick of what’s known as the “carbon cycle” is that the oceans absorb about 25% of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by, for example, burning fossil fuels. However, when it dissolves into sea water, a weak acid known as “carbonic acid” forms, which disintegrates the shells of sea life. This less-than-neat phenomenon is known as ocean acidification. Get more info from Sigourney Weaver and the Natural Resources Defense Council:
  • Go fish: Actually, don’t. My good-natured environmental policy professor, Dr. Bill Evans used to work with the International Whaling Commission, and I believe, also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And one thing I learned from his class was that there are now waaaay too many boats — rather than fish — in the sea. According to scientists, if fishing continues at the same rate, most of the world’s seafood stocks will collapse by 2048. (Source: Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Worm et al. Science 2006;314:787–90)
  • Bluefin tuna is blue to the albacore over its threatened status. Photo: bzibble via Flickr Creative Commons

Now, for some good news: The collapse of the world’s fisheries can be avoided. The same doomsaying scientist published a more optimistic outlook last year, but it has lots of big ifs, including the effects of fisheries management, climate change, and ocean acidification. So don’t think you’re off the hook quite yet! (Source: Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Worm et al. Science 31 July 2009: 578-585)

And here’s a little Gristy advice for how to help the oceans by eating more kindly: How to choose sustainable seafood. Or, like me (even in pre-vegetarian days), you could skip the seafood altogether. Happy World Oceans Day!

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The most pun you’ll have all day

That’s how I’d describe my job at green news site, Grist.org, where I’ve been working (and previously, volunteering) for the past 2.75 years. Because Grist is a nonprofit media organization, much like NPR, every now and again we ask our dedicated readers to support the important work we do explaining, analyzing, and making fun of the vital environmental issues of the day. And when that’s not enough, we bug you, our generous and good-looking friends and family (did I mention how clever you are?).

appeal email header

Why should you donate $5 or $15 or $35 (or whatever you can) to support intelligent, analytical, and punny green news?

  1. You could help me continue living the dream of writing stories and headlines as if I worked for the most important fake news site of our day, The Onion. Example: National parks close for annual remajestification (The Onion); BP oil chief says catastrophic oil spill really not all that big (me).
  2. You’ll be helping bring more brilliant works like these into the world when you adopt an environmental journalist (me):
  3. If I reach 20+ donations made in my name (of any amount!), I’ll be all-but-assured total domination in the Grist staff donation contest. And if everyone in the office gets at least ONE donation made in their name, we get to throw a pie in the face of our founder and president, Chip Giller. If you’ve never been able to pie your boss, please, allow yourself to live vicariously through me.
  4. Seriously, if you want to live in a healthy world with clean water, air, and soil, then please consider sparing a dime to educate the public (and/or yourself) via Grist about how we can get there as smoothly and punly as possible. It’s tough times for everyone right now in this economy, but especially so for nonprofits and journalism, and Grist represents both of ’em. Lucky us!

If you do donate, please do so through one of the special donate links I’ve sprinkled around this blog post, like this one: DONATE HERE PRETTY PLEASE. Thank you! (And look for a snail-mail thank-you card.) See how happy you can make me?

me heart ice cream

Your donation will go directly to Ashley's Emergency Organic Ice Cream Fund*. *Not actually true. It goes indirectly.

And if you can’t afford to donate at this time, please consider spreading the word through Facebook or Twitter. Muchas gracias!

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By the way, I did make it back to Seattle

Sorry if anyone was in doubt as to whither I ever returned from my adventuresome getaway in Bolivia, full of international mystique and cultural embrace. Which, as you can see, sometimes involved embracing international/cultural symbols, like this biodiversity tree at the Mariposaria (Butterfly/Ecological Park) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

me hugging the Tree of Biodiversity

I even hug trees carved to represent all the biodiversity in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Try and stop me.

There are so many words I want to write and pictures I want to post here that I’ve been overwhelmed into not doing any of it. That and a combination of out-of-town weekends and the series finale of LOST. Do you realize that after Memorial Day weekend, it will have been two months since I’ve spent seven consecutive days in the same city? My carbon footprint hates me.

But at least I got to visit a place like Cotoca, the small town outside of Santa Cruz, where the Virgin Mary appeared (tiny) in the trunk of a tree and where now stands this beautiful church and plaza (full of sloths, or perezosos aka “lazies”):

The church at Cotoca at sundown

I had a wonderful time across Bolivia, but I am so happy to be back in Seattle. Things I love/missed: my neighborhood of Fremont, my garden, my bed, my favorite sustainable sandwich shop Homegrown, my boyfriend, my friends, my family, being able to breathe normally, being vegetarian, staying up on current events, the Seattle skyline, riding the bus, and understanding full conversations.

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Less than dial-up internet …

That would be no internet at my homestay house here in Santa Cruz, where at least the season is always summer.

So far I’ve been rocking ecological parks, zoos, and private botanical gardens here, chock-full of scarlet macaws, peccaries, and spider monkeys. It’s a mix of the sad and the inspirational, really. (Please don’t feed the animals plastic, kids.) I have tons of photos and videos to share when I’m not sitting at an internet cafe, like right now.

I also attended a way-to-long presentation at a water treatment facility, although it was interesting that it is putting online the first ever program to capture biogas from the water treatment and burn it to use for electricity. They were all in cahoots with the World Bank to even receive carbon credits for it, but the current left-leaning government is “anti-capitalistic” and hates carbon markets. Ergo, they’re scrambling for different financing but still moving forward with the project, which I viewed today. After glimpsing the poo-ponds, that is.

I return to the U.S. this Saturday night and will complete a massive upload of backlogged notes and photos, which I’m sure everyone is looking forward to. 😉

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