Sunday, November 14, 2010

Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

News from the forest canopy

Great report on American Public Media's "The Promised Land" series: botanist Nalini Nadkami on her work on the forest canopy in Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon, and the Olympic Peninusula. Bringing totally original discoveries about trees/forests/the canopy. 'For generations we've been looking at the roots. We've ignored the canopy -- a unique ecosystem to itself.' AND how Prof. Nadkami also works with Washington State correctional facility inmates on botanical research and production of mosses for the horticultural trade. "When we come to understand nature, we are touching the most deep and most iportant parts of ourself."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Texts about places: evocations of place and time

Over the past few days I've read two short books, which could hardly be more different, yet both evoke their meaning and insight from writing about place. Each is better in reflection of the other.

Ted Kooser's Lights on a Ground of Darkness: An Evocation of a Place and Time (University of Nebraska Press, 2005) provides vignettes from the lives of Kooser's parent's, grandparents', and great-grandparents' generations in and around Guttenberg, Iowa. Kooser mourns and celebrates the lives rooted there, along with the irises that have been dug up each generation and moved from house to house over the generations: "An iris offers its beauty and fragrance as if nothing has changed, as if no one were gone."

Alain de Botton's A Week at the Airport (Vintage International, 2009) provides a different set of vignettes about people and place -- but in this case the place is the newly opened Terminal 5 at Heathrow, the time span is just one week, and the focus is not the passing of the generations but the passing of people, products, and technologies through one of busiest, most concentrated geographical points on earth. "We forget everything. . . . And so we gradually return to identifying happiness with elsewhere: twin rooms overlooking a harbour, a hilltop church boasting the remains of the Sicilian martyr St Agatha, a palm-fringed bungalow with complimentary evening buffet service. We recover an appetite for packing, hoping and screaming."

Kooser offers us the horizons, the cornfields and gardens, and those irises. de Botton offers us flying behemoths, the luggage and freight logistics infrastructure, passenger security procedures, and first-class airport lounges. Both with awe and authentic reverence for the lives passing through the place.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Insights into eBooks

As is often the case, I found a new post by Frederic Filoux of the Monday Note blog insightful and challenging. The very existence of eBooks challenges our concept of what it means to own a book. Filoux pushes it to the next logical degree -- to our future ability to own the right to access of a book (no matter the physical/virtual format).

Gold nanoparticles could transform trees into street lights

A post today on has an amazing report about some scientists in Taiwan who have implanted gold nanoparticles into street trees -- turning them into evening street lights with attendant electricity cost savings and CO2 emissions cuts. Fascinating implications. Thanks to Richard Alomar, The Landscape blogger, for passing this story along on FB.

Ginkgos, Brooklyn Botanic Garden


Time lapse video posted on

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Landscape architecture reasserting its voice

It's a pretty much an "inside-baseball" controversy (but it's inside urban design/planning). At the time of the 50th anniversary of Harvard's Urban Design Program, Graduate School of Design, there's a lively discussion going on about the increasingly high-profile roles of ecosystem-thinking and landscape design in urban planning/design. Most recently, Harvard GSD's Alex Krieger provides a Metropolis magazine POV. I like Krieger's comment: "Why should not the landscape architecture profession re-assert its voice, as concern about ecological footprints gains broad public notice. It has been the design discipline that has most consistently retained consciousness of humanity's impact on land and evnrionments. We at the GSD even recall that the birth of American urban planning, as a serious academic discipline, begins with the lectures at Harvard of Fredick Law Olmsted, Jr. in the 1920's."

Threats to iconic American trees

The most recent e-newsletter from The Cultural Landscape Foundation has a good slideshow about some endangered iconic/historical trees throughout the U.S.