Monday, May 29, 2006

Water Themed Afternoon

The Long Wharf area is lively and fun on warm days in the summer. It is a short walk to Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, the North End, and the New England Aquarium. Harbor tours, whale watches, science cruises, small tall ships, and Provincetown ferries all leave from the wharf. This afternoon I took the round trip commuter boat to Charlestown. It took half an hour and cost a total of $3. It was nice to get some ocean breeze and a view of the harbor and skyline. It was a good day for it.

Immediately afterward I met a friend and we took a quick walk through the New England Aquarium. Since we had a free pass it did not seem wasteful just to spend 45 minutes inside. The Amazing Jellies exhibit was the highlight. I overheard a father telling his son that jelly did not come from jellyfish. We also watched divers at the top of the tank, who were following the sharks around with fish on the ends of sticks. The sharks were not interested. We were told that they had just eaten that morning. Not that much had visibly changed since our last visit one year ago.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Boston Public Library

The main branch on the Boston Public Library (BPL) in Copley Square is a nice place to visit. It has excellent research facilities and a large rare book collection. The McKim building, which is the older part of the library, features large murals on the third floor by John Singer Sargent, and rotating art and rare book exhibits. Free art and architecture tours are led by volunteers at various times during the week. Today I saw sheet music and librettos of Mozart's music from the late eighteenth Century and early to mid nineteenth Century. There was a much larger exhibit of vintage and antique items and memorabilia relating to Joan of Arc. For anybody with an interest in her story and the later embellishments, it is a must see. Since nobody knows what she looked like, the pictures of her run the gamut from childlike and very feminine to strong and courageous. The collection was a donation to the BPL from Cardinal John Joseph Wright who used to shelve books in that very library. Who says that library work cannot lead to bigger things?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Brookline Artists' Open Studios

Brookline artists are exhibiting their work in their homes as well as public buildings this weekend. A nice color brochure with pictures of the art as well as a map of sites was printed in advance. It is a well organized event with green balloons outside each place where art is on display. The quality of the art and photographs varies widely as could be expected.

Frances Nason Schreiber made some handsome watercolors with an especially nice sunset. Jenny Amory had lush green photos of both Maine and the Dominican Republic. Lina Marks exhibited elegant collages made of tiny squares of colored paper. Her landscapes were beautiful. In the same room her daughter Nancy Marks showed her own prints.

Gillian Jackson's nature photography was outstanding. Two photos of Elbow Beach in Bermuda showed a white beach with surf and an oncoming storm in the distance. They were majestic. Some of the other photographers work was uninspired. Most of the totally abstract work did little for me. A sunny Saturday with a cool breeze made for a good day trekking around Brookline.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Protecting African Elephants from Poachers

Much of the big game in Africa is on the decline, largely from habitat loss and poaching. One of the most effective ways that elephants have been protected has been the 1990 worldwide ban on the trade in ivory. The United States alone used to be responsible for importing 45% of the ivory from recently slaughtered elephants. Last night I listened to a lecture by Dr. Delia and Mark Owens, an American couple from Georgia, who devoted ten years of their lives trying to prevent poachers from completely decimating the elephant population in the North Luangwa National Park in the northeast region of Zambia. The Owens Foundation has a good website. Now they are on a two month lecture circuit to promote their new book, "Secrets of the Savanna". They had a high tech presentation with video clips, photos, and music. They no longer live in Africa, but the research portion of the project they started continues and is supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society of Germany. The Owenses continue to support the community development work in the villages surrounding the NLNP, which is now run by their Zambian protege Hammer Simwinga.

In 1985 the Owenses entered the North Luangwa Park to do research on lions. They soon realized that organized poaching was decimating the wildlife and that the elephants were in imminent danger. They switched priorities and developed a multi-faceted plan to save the remaining elelphants. Mark and Delia provided jobs for the local people that paid more than poaching. They set up schools and loaned money for the development of small businesses. They also armed and paid game wardens as well as training them. They met with some initial success. Then the conflict grew as the poachers threated the Owenses. Mark dive bombed the poachers camps with his plane and shot cherry bombs at them to try to scare them away. Die-hard environmentalists might be delighted with this approach, but I did wonder where American nationals should draw the line in deciding the future of territories within sovereign states. Do the ends always justify the means?

What finally ended the poaching and conflict between Mark and the poachers was the international ban on the trade in ivory, and the fact that slowly the villagers realized that Delia and Mark were on their side and improving their lives, not just the elephants. Now foreign nationals come to this region on safari to see the animals. The elephant population in the park has climbed to 2,200 from a low of 1,3oo. From the mid 1970s to the late 1980s, 93% of the elephants in the park had been shot and killed. Since the elephants with the largest ivory were killed by poachers for their tusks and meat, the elephant social structure has been terribly disrupted. Females are producing their first calf at a much younger age and young males have become much more aggressive with each other. It is not certain whether the stable matriarchal family group structure will return or if the elephant culture has been permanently disrupted there. As long as the ivory ban is in place and the local people have jobs, the elephants stand a chance.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Biography of a Powerful English Lady

Listening to this afternoon's lecture made me wish that I knew more about the Tudor Period in England. Bess of Hardwick lived from 1527 until 1607, which was a very long life in that era. Historians had given her a bad reputation as a "shrew" (whatever that is supposed to mean), and Mary Lovell, the author of the recent biography, wanted to set the record straight. Although three previous biographies had been written about Bess, Ms. Lovell read many original love letters between Bess and her four husbands, as well as court documents, and other original sources. The story that emerged from Bess's long and complex life was hard for me to follow. Although born into a very poor noble family, and having little formal education, she navigated her life through the troubled times of King Henry the VIII, King Edward VI, Mary Queen of Scots, And Queen Elizabeth I. In fact she outlived all four of them.

Bess must have been a very charming woman, because many powerful men and women were extremely fond of her. Her friends helped her immensely during her life. At least two of her husbands were passionately in love with her. She liked large houses, fine furniture, and silver. Not only did she enjoy high living, she also knew the legal system very well and defended her rights and wealth. She improved Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth, both of which became very large estates. She mined slate on her lands, built a glass factory, and had large revenue from agriculture . Bess understood finance and business as well as courtly behavior and entertaining. Mary Lovell's talk about her book "Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth" was accompanied by very good slides and a dry wit. I did not mind sitting for nearly ninety minutes, as she was a very engaging speaker.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Harvard Museum of Natural History

Recently I visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) with a man of many talents. He plays the cello, sails, is a ski instructor in the winter, and is an informal science educator. Also being an avid gardener, he was very interested in the glass flower collection. About a hundred years ago, a German father and son team made exquisite reproductions of flowers using blown glass and wire for Harvard. The flowers are surprisingly realistic and a delight to see.

The comparative zoology collection features mammals as large as a giraffe and a tiger as well as vultures, songbirds and numerous other animals. We briefly looked at minerals and the climate change section before crossing over for a fifteen minute walk through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology In ninety minutes we just did a brief overview of all of the collections of the Museums. The HMNH is a Museum worth visiting several times. There are just too many specimens to admire in one visit. It is free on Sunday mornings as well as to Harvard employees and those with a valid Cambridge Library Card.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Great Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary

Today I had planned to go see the exhibit Painting Summer in New England, at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Furthermore, I had reserved a free ticket for a lecture about the exhibit. That would have made for a nice day. However, my friend from Rhode Island wanted to take me to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Sanctuary in Concord, MA. I had not been there for a few years and did not hesitate to accept the offer. It often has unusual wildlife and a cacophany of bird calls.

We had trouble finding it again as it is not well marked from the road. The trails were in good shape and the sun pretty persistent. Lots of colorful Red Wing Blackbirds with striking markings, Canadian Geese, and two swans were easily in view. We could see large fish close to the surface of the Great Meadows Pond. Obstructions have been erected to keep the carp from entering the major pond area, because they destroy the habitat for native species. Kayakers were paddling up and down the Concord River, coming ashore to walk partway around the Pond. I had not expected to spend so much time in nature so early this year. For the last two years I have had to be content with city parks and arboretums. The trips to Walden Pond and to Great Meadows have been an unexpected treat.