Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Ecology of Pooh


When Winnie-the-Pooh got stuck in the doorway of Rabbit’s home after feasting on large amounts of honey, he was assisted by a great and very strange chain of being. In Ernest H Shepard’s illustration, Christopher Robin can be seen tugging on the wedged bear, followed by four rabbits, a stoat, a mouse, Piglet, three more mice, and a hedgehog. Yet another mouse scampers to join the effort. A beetle is landing behind the mouse, and aloft are two more beetles, a dragonfly and, finally, a butterfly. In Disney’s animated film, made four decades — and a hemisphere — away, the chain is foreshortened and adapted to a New World audience. Pooh remains stuck of course, and Christopher Robin still leads the effort, but lined up behind him are Kanga, Eeyore, Roo, and a Gopher! In the cartoon, the Gopher makes it clear, and Pooh reiterates it, that he ‘is not in the book’. A translocation to a new place can be unnerving: though some things remain the same, alterations are inevitable.
I recently sat with pencil sharpened and notebook at the ready, like an anthropologist in exotic terrain, to watch Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), a feature-length collection of the earlier animated shorts. What happened, I wondered, when England’s most famous fictional bear migrated across the Atlantic and settled into an American landscape? Like Pooh, I had grown up in the British Isles and in my ripe maturity emigrated to the US. Like Pooh, I had spent much of my time out of doors. Over the back wall of our family home in southern County Dublin were mile after mile of farm fields, interspersed with shrubby hedgerow. Not quite as bucolic as Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, perhaps, but there, until the summer dusk drove us home, was where we largely spent our childhood vacations. Like the transplanted Pooh, the terrain in which I now dwell in the New World is hospitable enough in many ways, and yet it is also uncanny. It is not quite home. The suspicion I am investigating here is that, from an environmental perspective, there is more to this bear of ‘very little brain’ than meets the eye.
Read on here at Aeon

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Walking, Dublin (Sat, 23RD February, 2013)



Before Nelson’s pillar trams slowed, shunted, changed trolley, started for Blackrock, Kingstown and Dalkey, Clonskea, Rathgar and Terenure, Palmerston Park and upper Rathmines, Sanymount Green Rathmines, Ringsend and Sandymount Tower. Ulysses, James Joyce.

PraegerWalk0001_28Only thoughts reached by walking have value.Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche
In 1987 I saw him for the first time. I was crossing Central Park in the back seat of a Hyundai being driven by my wife, V. The traffic stalled a moment and I looked across to the oncoming traffic, also stalled, and saw my doppelg√§nger in the back seat of the opposite car. Our jaws — both of which had a rufous-coloured carpeting of beard — dropped simultaneously, and simultaneously we were whisked away a few moments later by the renewed flow of traffic to live out our lives in opposite directions. Those paths crossed again yesterday, a quarter century later. I saw him strolling down Rathmines Road Lower in Dublin carrying his bags of shopping. We were both alone, both on foot, both now with long white hair, and both gray bearded. We performed a furtive mutual inspection, then, though it was barely perceptible, shuddered, before taking off once again to complete our lives elsewhere. There are directions beyond sensible reckoning in which a person may fly or drive or walk, so it is unlikely, even if we both were to live another hundred years, that we will encounter each other again.

I set out recently to walk towards Dublin city center with a destination but no especial route in mind. The point of departure was my childhood home in Templeogue Village — until the 1950s fairly discrete from Dublin city — and the destination was the city center where I was to meet some friends at the Market Bar later in the evening. En route I wanted to inspect the “country home” of the Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865 – 1953) in Rathgar. In fact, I am back in Dublin for a couple of weeks to sift through the Praeger archives at the Royal Irish Academy in Dawson St. In the course of my previous investigations on Praeger — an author of over 800 papers and 20 books on Irish natural history — I had learned that he had maintained a rock garden in his Rathgar home. I wanted to see if this rockery persisted in some form. Three points: Templeogue, Zion Road in Rathgar, and the Market Bar triangulated the route, though the passage was determined by the limits of my endurance (I am, after all, a man of 49 years), and my vague interest in punctuality (though friends in a Dublin pub tend to find things to do whilst waiting on an errant party member). As is the tradition among Irish naturalists, I sustained myself with a bar of chocolate.

Read on (here)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ecological Restoration: scientific, philosophical, and sustainability perspectives: a Chicago Wilderness view


The ecological restoration of degraded lands is older as a practice than the disciplines that study it, and that seek to advise its proponents.  These disciplines, however, have an opportunity to refine the work, and to reflect upon the significance of its outcomes in much the way that intellectual engagement with any praxis – agriculture, hunting, or even art, for example – can augment practice.

The ecological evaluation of restorative management identifies best practices, measures progress towards stated targets, and elucidates basic ecological processes from ongoing manipulations of managed landscapes. The social sciences have clarified the way in which restoration emerges from the institutional governing structures, and sought to identify the processes whereby management is either agreed upon, or alternatively provokes, opposition in communities adjacent to restoration sites.  Philosophical reflection on restoration sharpens our understanding of key conceptual terms, like nature, revises our considerations of ethical obligations, and can help restorationists appreciate the full spectrum of values emerging from attempts to “make nature whole.”  The way in which restoration influences well-being and “topophilia” – an abiding love of place – is of interest to environmental psychologists.  Restoration may provide a profound way of getting to know a new place, and awaking practitioners from what I call “toponesia”, a forgetfulness of place.

Using examples from the Chicago Wilderness region I briefly inspect each of these perspectives: restoration from a natural and social sciences, environmental philosophy, and as a sustainability endeavor that can potentially evoke a love for and allegiance to the places that we live.

Draft abstract for panel on "Interdisciplinary Insights for Guiding Future Ecological Restoration and 
Sustainability Efforts." For SER Midwest Great Lakes Chapter Meeting next month (see here)