30 April 2012

Memoir and Memories in Shadid's House of Stone

The Americans for Peace Now site has posted a review of Anthony Shadid's posthumously published book, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and Lost Middle East.

was a highly regarded Middle East correspondent for the New York Times who tragically died earlier this year from an apparent severe asthma attack while on assignment. He was a beloved UW-Madison grad and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for the Washington Post. His book Night Draws Near is essential reading for anyone interested in stellar journalism.

The NY Times published a House of Stone excerpt last February.

From the APN book review:
The definitions of Arabic terms and the descriptions of personal interactions coalesce into a sense of place only slowly penetrated, and once penetrated, if not quite familiar, still never again entirely alien.


This is the crux of Shadid's memoir, not the restoration of his great-grandfather's house, but the restoration of a family's history embedded in a place to which it no longer belongs, a place, moreover, which no longer exists.

I look forward to reading this book.

Driftless Highlight on Boing Boing

Maggie Koerth-Baker, science writer/editor at Boing Boing, wrote a short little piece last Friday called The Driftless Area: Wisconsin's strange ecology. As part travelogue and part earth-science lesson, it does a nice job of explaining the allure of this unique region. Koerth-Baker is based in Minneapolis. A train ride down the Mississippi and into Wisco brought her to Madison for a book reading and afforded what seems to be her first glimpse into idyll Driftlessness. You can follow her on Twitter, as I do, at @maggiekb1.

Though she focuses on the Baraboo Range as an exemplar of the area's topography, this is just a small part of the larger unglaciated driftless region. Surrounding the confluence of the Wisconsin River and the mighty Mississippi, the Driftless Area expands across NE Iowa, SE Minnesota, SW Wisconsin, and NW Illinois. I've written a little about my experiences in the Driftless Area, here and there.

Koerth-Baker offers a good, short read with some beautiful images. She also defines monadnock so, that's nice. You'll probably learn something.

28 April 2012

On Writing, Rivers, and Place Identity.

Image borrowed from NY Times review
On the banks of Thoreau's beloved Concord River, UMass-Lowell hosted author Jane Brox as she spoke of "Reading, Writing, and Sense of Place." Brox wrote Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light which was praised as one of the top nonfiction books of 2010 by TIME magazine, among others. It was reviewed in the New York Times, here. Speaking of rivers and home brought up memories of my own hometown and the river running through it.

I've written about this little river before.

How have your memories of  places changed over time? For me, when I go "home" to SE Minnesota, it is a mixture of memory and change that gives me pause. Often the difference between the "then" of youth and the "now" of adulthood have an intuitive continuity. Sometimes there is a striking disconnect.

Sunset on the Root.
The changing community and my changing self find, in essence, one common constant: the Root River. One may never look into the same river twice, so to speak, but time and again, there it is. Even after disastrous floodwaters recede, or when drought threatens, there it is. Popular with anglers, paddlers, and bikers along the converted railroad trail, it is the lifeblood of this Driftless rural region in many ways, not the least of which is tourism.

I often feel I should write about it, the old home place, but never really have. Writing for an audience of one (oneself) seems an exercise in solipsism unless tied to some greater, external relevance.  That relevance (or, more specifically, the time to ponder it) just hasn't cracked my consciousness. Or, if it has, I've just been too busy to notice. It is a "place" I carry around with me still, a piece of what social scientists and humanistic geographers usually call place identity.

A water trail map (pdf) from MN DNR is available here, for those who are interested. Write about it or your own home place. And, please, let me know if you do.

22 April 2012

Searching for Sense of Place

Below is a sample of results from a Google search of the phrase "sense of place." Every day I receive a list of search results from both "regular" Google and Google Scholar. These are a few from "regular" Google. You can see in each one where the phrase "sense of place" shows up. Everything from literary tourism to neighborhood economic development and even a bit on Roger Corman's "Nurses" series. Whoa!    
Artists of the Week: Bob Diven
Las Cruces Sun-News
"Dinosaurs are the mascots for my interests in science and the origins of life, which are really a search for my own origins and sense of place. Plus, there are a lot of fun things you can do with dinosaurs." . His film projects include "Mom," a ...
New US literary tourism: read it, watch it, live it
Chicago Tribune
But Southerners claim a distinct sense of place and storytelling art rooted in the often tragic history of a region where, as Faulkner famously wrote, "the past is never dead. It's not even past." "It's the Civil War, it's the King James Bible, ...
Neighborhoods need city's help
It's exploring “form-based code” (see box) to help neighborhoods create a heightened sense of place and scale, plus economic stability. The city's new economic development director, Odis Jones, who starts work Monday, needs to focus on neighborhoods.
Stop the demolition of First Christian Church
The Gazette: Eastern Iowa Breaking News and Headlines (blog)
When done properly, be it a cathedral or simple one-room dwelling, architecture can provide a sense of place, civic pride and spirit outside oneself that hits on the greater spirit of mankind. I wonder what it would cost to build First Christian Church ...
Trees stand tall in Sunshine State
The News-Press
Our connection to trees is emotional as well; many of our well-loved leafy landmarks are key to the region's sense of place. Many mourned the ancient live oak outside the old Lee County Courthouse (now commission chambers) that had been ailing and ...
Bangkok haunted by caricature
The Nation
The plot was outrageous but fast-paced, and Burnett's sense of place was superb. The second, "Bangkok Tattoo", carried forth his main characters - Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a former monk turned honest police detective; Colonel Vikorn, his venal but ...

Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Nurses Collection
In fact, one of the only highlights of Candy Stripe Nurses is this near-documentary sense of place: barrio tenements sprouting bright-hued graffiti, crabbed auto graveyards teeming with wreckage, and greasy-spoon diners strewn with neon lights. Shout!
Earth Day Emphasizes Environmental Needs
The Ledger
"We need to increase awareness of how conservation areas provide vital services like clean water, give local communities their sense of place and hold the secrets of sustainability for future generations." Martin said the challenge is continuing to ...

17 April 2012

Dumping Your Drugs

Chemicals in regional ground- and drinking-water resources is nothing new. But it is easy for most of us to ignore or forget.

In 2008 I conducted a research project with my academic adviser, Prof. Bret Shaw, to investigate medication disposal in the hospice industry. We were interested in talking with hospice professionals (in Wisconsin, USA) about the disposal of pharmaceuticals in their agencies. 

Individuals undergoing hospice care often get very strong medications. But what happens after the drugs expire or are no longer needed? Often, for reasons of safety or other concerns, they are simply flushed down the toilet or tossed in the trash. Concerns about the negative environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the water has grown in recent years.

Various outlets provide some basic information on the issue, including MSNBC, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the World Health Organization.

I recently noticed that the article Prof. Shaw and I published as a result of our research has been cited a couple of times, in 2010 and 2011. The Google Scholar search results are here. As a "young" social science researcher, it is nice to sense that others find one's research interesting as well as methodologically sound enough to cite (in one case, several times). 

Disposal of household pharmaceuticals is not just an issue facing hospice agencies. Think of how many expired or unused prescription drugs are sitting in your own medicine cabinet. What do you do with them? If you flush them down the toilet or down the drain, where do you think they go? They certainly don't just disappear.

Thankfully this issue has gotten some attention. Many communities now have "clean sweep" programs like the one here in Dane County, Wisconsin. Wastewater treatment plants do not generally screen out pharmaceutical pollutants. They go right through, into the ground and surface water systems of your community or, more accurately, downstream communities. Evidence suggests that the cumulative effects of decades of negligent disposal has led to negative consequences on aquatic plant and animal life. 

The Food & Drug Administration offers guidelines for the safe disposal of unused medications.

15 April 2012

Sacred Headwaters, BC

Orion Magazine has a short but powerful slide show of images from Sacred Headwaters, British Columbia. The inherent beauty of this remote and relatively unexplored region is being threatened by powerful forces supporting natural resource extraction. What makes a place worth protecting? Should resource extraction be allowed under minimal-impact agreements? How will awareness campaigns help (or hurt) the critical aspects of public opinion formation?

The site Water Canada, from which I borrowed the above photo, also explains some of the issues surrounding the Sacred Headwaters area, including quotes from National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence, Wade Davis.

13 April 2012

Feeling the Magic

The Main Mouse, in front of Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center
Much has been written about Disney World and the whole Disney empire. Writing about it here seems redundant. But I'm doing it anyway. Bracketing for a moment the excessive commercialization and questionable environmental impacts of this multinational corporation, I have to say I enjoyed my family visit to Orlando's crown jewel. Yes. I felt the Magic.

Victoria Gardens at Epcot Canada
Out of trips to Magic Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, and Epcot (we skipped Animal Kingdom) - Epcot was the consensus favorite for the (3) adults. Magic Kingdom did the trick for the (2) six-year-old girls. Epcot tries to (re)present cities/cultures/countries from around the world. It largely succeeds, as far as theme parks go. The essence of the "World Showcase" is in every way rooted in Sense of Place. From the food to the music, costumes, beverages, architecture, and decor; it is multi-sensual. It works.

Visiting with two six-year-olds doesn't allow for lingering in "boring" places, of course. But even walking past the many cultural significations was interesting. The stone facades and log cabins of Canada; the fish 'n chips, soccer jerseys, and tea gardens of the UK; flower garden refinements and wine from France; beer hall pretzels and steins of Germany; the deep allure of Tokyo pagodas; rustic charms of Haiti, and many more... Norway, China, Mexico, Italy, Morocco. Around the world on one small lake.

The tourists, a large and seemingly unhealthy lot, detract from the otherwise carefully crafted multi-sensual sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the various international stations. But what can you do? I will just say C'mon, people. It's time to get off the couch, ditch the processed food snacks and show a little self-respect. I know leisure and convenience rule, but seriously. Can't we be nice to self and other for a while? If you're looking for hope in humanity's future, steer clear of Orlando, Florida. That's probably too much but it is all I'll say.

Educational signage for the Creole gardening style of Haiti
Koi pond in Epcot Tokyo
I digress. I had fun. Not being a world traveler as much as I would like, it is nice to catch the faintest hint of cultural diversity on a pseudo-global scale. Through a college-student employment exchange program, student-age employees can be found working their "home country" section of Epcot. The young woman who served me a beer in Germany was from Freiburg. The young woman who served me a beer in France was from Paris. You get the picture.

Marie, from the Aristocats, on the streets of Paris.

And speaking of pictures, here are a few more. I could go on but this post has lingered long enough. Overall, I recommend taking in Disney World at least once in a lifetime. It is quite a spectacle, and one by which all other theme parks are rightly judged. But once is probably enough for most people. Maybe twice if a decade or more intervenes.

We spent five days going back and forth and between parks. Next time, if there is a next time, I think three days followed by a couple days of lazy beach-combing would make for a better vacation experience.

Thanks to my friend Adam who sent a link to this NY Times aricle on the same topic. If you're going to "Do Disney," read up, make a plan, have fun.

Clock tower at Epcot Germany
Just another tourist, soaking in the culture.