Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Late Night Paragraph on Urban Ecology

Ecology as a scientific discipline was developed in the 19th Century by investigators with urban affiliations who often inclined towards the wilder places of nature. Indeed, despite the pronounced urban institutional setting for the development of ecology in the 20th Century there was a surprising paucity of reference to towns or cities in the literature of the discipline until the final decades of last century.

Since that time, however, the growth of urban ecology as an vibrant sub-discipline has been quite remarkable. Urban ecology developed both by the adaptation of classical ecological ideas to urban locations but also by the cultivation of novel ecological ideas specially proposed to understand urban patterns. Some of this novel theorizing admittedly drew inspiration from social theory elaborated in the early 20th Century.

As recently as the last few years, some of urban ecology’s indigenous theorizing, is being applied to understand phenomena in arenas remote from cities. This perhaps marks a significant maturation of urban ecology.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Talk: Echoes from the Little Stream of Death Wednesday, (in Chicago April 15 7:00-8:30 p.m.)

DePaul Students visit Glaisín Na Marbh in 2013
Glaisín Na Marbh (Little Stream of Death, in translation) is a now deserted town-land in a remote corner of Killarney National Park, Ireland.  Several families died there during the Great Famine of the 1840s. 

The surrounding landscape is beautiful: bog stretches away from the lazy beds where once the potatoes were grown; the oak woodlands encroach from the other sides. I recently proposed establishing a long-term recording station to monitor this wild landscape. However, an email exchange with an old friend halted the project.  In this presentation I reflect on why my friend’s arguments, on the ethics of sound recording, were so convincing.  

The only recording of Glaisín Na Marbh  that we can agree upon is in the form of a song, Cold is the Night, that I wrote with two noted Chicago-based Irish musicians, Kathleen Keane and James Conway. Kathleen and James will perform the piece.

I will present on DePaul Humanities Center: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at an event called The Sound and the Sample

An evening of three radically different live performances and analysis of what it means to take a sound from its original context and repurpose it, giving it new meaning elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 15
7:00-8:30 p.m.
Cortelyou Commons
2324 N. Fremont St.
Chicago, IL 60614

Kathleen Keane and James Conway perform an original piece of music for which I wrote the lyric Cold The Night. 

The venue is awesome - the acoustic should be grand.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lost For a Moment in Popo Agie Wilderness Area

Liam Heneghan

Almost a decade ago I made a small blunder along the trail through the Popo Agie Wilderness that almost cost me my life. That Wyoming wilderness area encompasses over one hundred thousand acres of granite peaks, narrow canyons, glorious alpine valleys, and icy lakes and streams. Twenty of its peaks exceed 12,000 feet, including the Wind River Peak which rises to 13,255, and though it is frequently visited by climbers, for the most part we walked alone through the vast landscape.

I hiked in there for a few days with a veteran of those trails. His son-in-law was the third of our little party.  It was late summer and there was already a slight bite in the air suggesting the oncoming of autumn.

Even now, these several years later, at times I glance at a map of the region reminding myself of where I lost the trail and struck out towards oblivion. It was late on the first evening of our hike and we were hoping to make good progress into the back country before we made camp. Although I was a seasoned camper, having slept under canvas close by Irish National Parks for part of each summer during my college years, I had never been in such formidable wilderness, nor had I ever been on so arduous a hike. But I was poorly prepared for the trip, having, in retrospect, a false confidence in my own charmed life and an assumption, that I now regard as almost fatally flawed, about the fundamentally benign nature of the world.  No map, no compass, no food in my pack, no survival gear, no clue.

We had incautiously spread out along a mile or so of trail.  I was to the rear, having deliberately slowed my progress so as to enjoy solitude. My wilderness reverie had been punctured a little by a small party who were packing out of the area. We nodded our hellos and on I walked, slightly vexed that our group was not, in fact, alone.  They were the only people we saw that day.  It was fortuitous that they were there it turned out.

The day wore on, the sun was low, and the sparkling gray of the granite was replaced by the slate gray of the early evening sky. On and on I trudged.  Enough light remaining to illuminate a descent into the pretty valley where we were to camp, but not enough for me to clearly discern my companions who, for all I knew, were now setting up their tents.  Perhaps dinner would await me!

The sound of evening in Popo Agie Wilderness is a rare delight. Crystal clear alpine streams gurgle, birds fidget in the scrubs, and the wind mutters through the grasses.  As I walked along I became aware of a muttering in quite a different key.  Eventually, I turned and scanning the horizon I saw the hikers I passed on the trail waving down the valley at me.  They were, in fact, yelling at me, though the wind muted them.  I waved back begrudgingly, not at all impressed to have my evening so disturbed.  I turned back to the trail but the yelling continued.  The Popo Agie Wilderness gets an occasional grizzly but it seemed unlikely that this was what they wished to warn me of. Perhaps I had missed some wonderful sight — the geology of the region is quite spectacular — I looked around that spot. Moments went by and though I could not make out what they were saying, nor could I discern the meaning of their gesticulations, all of a sudden, it dawned on me that I was going in the wrong direction, heading away from rather than towards my companions. Thus, thanking them, with a acknowledging wave, I retraced my steps and eventually rejoined my friends.

Now, I realize that this may seem like the smallest of matters.  After all, had I really been in all that much danger? I had been on the wrong trail for no more than thirty minutes, and a little light remained in the sky. Though in winter the temperatures in the Popo Agie, even in the valleys, can plunge to minus forty below, in late summer the nights were merely cool.  Indeed, my misstep seemed so inconsequential that when I caught up with my party I decided not mention it.  Perhaps, though, it was shame.

In quiet moments ever since I have speculated about the journey’s end if those hikers had not intervened and had I simply marched on.  When would I have realized I was not catching up? Was that trail leading to some temperate valley where I could have bedded down for the night, albeit hungrily, or down inhospitable scree and into a freezing lake.  And having discovered myself alone and map-less would I have subsequently hiked back successfully to Landers, the nearest town, or gotten lost in the 1400 square mile Wind River wilderness complex of which Popo Agie is just a tiny part.

What I learned, though not on that day it’s true, but rather in slightly panicked later re-enactments as I looked at those maps, is that what the wilderness means is that to be unprepared is to flirt with perishing.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Existential Princess: A Fairy Tale

by Liam Heneghan

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived on a small blue-green world that orbited a medium sized but feisty sun. Now this particular princess came from a long line of primates that had evolved slowly on the equatorial band of her world.  She was fang-less and claw-less and relatively hairless, and alas several very formidable cats had discovered that her kind was remarkably tasty.

But the princess possessed a remarkable gift: she could imagine the future. After consulting with her scientists — who also shared this gift, for this was their unique possession — she learned that one day she must die just as the scientists too must surely die. Moreover, she learned that everything that lives must perish. She learned too that the feisty sun that shone so gaily in sky would steadily increase in luminosity and one day would engulf the small blue-green planet.

The princess placed her forehead — behind which was stored the peculiarly ample brain that characterized her people — in her hands and she wept. After a while her weeping turned to a quiet sobbing and the sobbing became a mild shuddering and eventually the shuddering came to an end. The princess looked up at last and saw a child pass by where she sat.  And knowing that this child too would die she spoke unto the child saying: “Once upon a time….”

Once upon a time there was a ferocious cat…
Once upon a time there were were three bears…
Once upon a time there was a woodcutter with a beautiful daughter…
Once upon a time there was a ogre who loved flowers
Once upon a time there was a princess….
Once upon a time…

Upcoming Talk: Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Embedded Environmental Curriculum in Classic Children’s Literature

From the National Science Teachers Association Website 

"Featured Presentation: Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Embedded Environmental Curriculum in Classic Children’s Literature

Friday, March 13 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM
McCormick Place, W185 b/c
Join Liam for an extensive content analysis of classic children’s literature as he shows how collectively these stories contain a sophisticated and yet accessible short course on environmental themes. He will share examples from several favorite works and illustrate how teachers can use these books to promote environmental education, while deepening understandings of the ideal components of environmental literacy.
Presenter(s): Liam Heneghan (DePaul University: Chicago, IL)
Bio: Speaker PictureLiam Heneghan is an ecosystem ecologist working at DePaul University, where he is a professor and chair of Environmental Science and co-director of DePaul University’s Institute for Nature and Culture. His research has included studies on the impact of acid rain on soil foodwebs in Europe, and inter-biome comparisons of decomposition and nutrient dynamics in forested ecosystems in North America and the tropics. 

Over the past decade, Liam and his students have been working on restoration issues in Midwestern ecosystems. He is co-chair of the Chicago Wilderness Science Team. Liam is also a graduate student in philosophy (MA 2013) and an occasional poet pondering Hopkins' "nature is never spent."
FORMAT: Featured Speaker
SUBJECT: Earth and Space Science
CONFERENCE STRAND: Natural Resources, Natural Partnerships"