Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Nature rejuvenates, in person and virtually: Part 2

I had so many wonderful titles to share on the topic of yesterday's post I couldn't fit them all in. So here's Part 2 of our illustrated nature books, a balm to the spirit and an inducement to sally forth at the first opportunity. The first two stay close to home: Call to Love: In the Rose Garden with Rumi and A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard: A Seasonal Guide to the Flora & Fauna of the Eastern U.S.
I was prompted to obtain Plants: Why You Can't Live Without Them (by B.C. Wolverton & Kozaburo Takenaka) after perusing a mesmerizing article in the New Yorker about plant intelligence written by food guru Michael Pollan. Here's a passage:
Indeed, many of the most impressive capabilities of plants can be traced to their unique existential predicament as beings rooted to the ground and therefore unable to pick up and move when they need something or when conditions turn unfavorable. The "sessile life style" as plant biologists term it, calls for an extensive and nuanced understanding of one's immediate environment, since the plant has to find everything it needs, and has to defend itself, while remaining fixed in place. A highly developed sensory apparatus is required to locate food and identify threats. Plants have evolved between fifteen and twenty different senses, including analogues of our five: smell and taste (they sense and respond to chemicals in the air or on their bodies); sight (they react differently to various wavelengths of light as well as to shadow); touch (a vine or root "knows" when it encounters a solid object); and, it has been discovered, sound.
In a recent experiment, Heidi Appel, a chemical ecologist at the University of Missouri, found that, when she played a recording of a caterpillar chomping a leaf for a plant that hadn't been touched, the sound primed the the plant's genetic machinery to produce defense chemicals. Another experiment, dome in Mancuso's lab and not yet published, found that plant roots would seek out a buried pipe through which water was flowing even if the exterior of the pipe was dry, which suggested that plants somehow "hear" the sound of flowing water.
Just an aside, but I still can't believe the New Yorker continues to spell out all of their numbers!
Let's end on a grand note, with My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir (The 100th Anniversary Edition, illustrated with color photographs by Scot Miller). The black-and-white images are from the original edition by Muir (left), the founder of the Sierra Club.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The nurturing power of viewing nature

Most of us would probably deduce that being around nature is beneficialwhether it be beach, forest, the local park, or our own back yards. But even looking at pictures of natural items or habitats can have strong positive effects as well. As reported in Slate:
In the 1980s, experimental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan studied the effects of nature on people. They found that small glimpses of the natural world—“nearby nature”—could have measurable effects on well-being. Even an insignificant or faraway sight, such as a few trees viewed through a window, could still give us a good feeling. The Kaplans found that people with access to nearby natural settings were healthier than those without. And these subjects also experienced increased levels of satisfaction with their home, job, and life in general.
Nearby nature does not have to be beautiful or complex. And, surprisingly, you do not have to be actually outside to gain the benefits. Many studies that have looked at this have taken place indoors, using images rather than the real thing. The effect is still potent when viewed through a window or seen in a photograph or video. A painting, even a wall calendar, can have a similarly beneficial effect.
These findings complement biologist E.O. Wilson’s writings on biophilia, the attraction to life and lifelike processes. They are also linked to biophilic design, an architectural practice championed by social ecologist Stephen Kellert. Biophilic design connects buildings to the natural world to create environments where people feel and perform better. Designs might include gardens, water features, and shapes mimicking those from nature like shells and foliage. There will be natural materials, plenty of light, and open spaces.
I must admit, it was sheer pleasure to round up for you the images below, all of which are taken from nature books we're currently carrying. Enjoy! (Photo at left by Tim Palmer)
Trees and Forests of America, photographed by Tim Palmer
Eliot Porter's In Wildness is the Preservation of the World has sold more than 1 million copies. This 50th anniversary edition combines the words of Henry David Thoreau with color photographs by Eliot Porter of New England woods and streams, taken in all seasons over ten years. Below, "Glen Canyon," 1960.
How about the gorgeous, massive pine tree (Picea Grandis) seen in the vintage botany plate above? More of its ilk can be found in The Beauty of Trees, by Michael Jordan. And going from macro to micro, the images below are from Extraordinary Leaves, a photographic exploration by Dennis Schrader and Stephen Green-Armytage (excerpt here).

Friday, December 27, 2013

2103: The crème de la crème in book covers & music

"Best of 2013" lists are popping up like crocuses in spring, so I thought I'd bring you a few highlights relating to books and music. Left and below are my favorite book cover designs spotlighted by the New York Times and the bookish blogs casualoptimist and bookpage (the Donna Tartt and Eleanor Catton covers appeared on multiple lists).
This brilliant design was among creativebloq's "10 Inspiring Magazine Covers of 2013." The shoes are all ones worn by marathoners.
Last year Van Cliburn died, and the 22-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, who acknowledges him as an inspiration, looks to be one of his musical heirs. In a discussion of the "best and worst classical music of 2013" on the website of New York's WQXR, critic Anne Midgett called him “a pianist whom I find totally exciting. I hear a lot of great concerts in the course of a year but I find that Trifonov has something really special and is a really interesting artist and somebody I look forward to hearing again and again.” Here's Trifonov performing Chopin's 12 Etudes, Op. 25. (And if you haven't seen it, we are carrying Legendary Van Cliburn: The Complete Album Collection.)
The WQXR discussion also turned to the dearth of women conductors, as reflected in the following exchange.
“Classical music has proven to have a particularly thick glass ceiling. People are looking at the situation and saying, ‘It’s been years people, why do we still not have very many female conductors on the podium? And when we do, why is it such a big deal?’ There’s still that funny ambivalence about how far we should look at this as a phenomenon and how far we should pretend we’ve all been equal all along.”
Justin: The lack of women on major podiums is a sign of the difficulty that the whole establishment has in adapting at all. What happens is these institutions are very rigid and brittle and when they come up against an obstacle they know that they’re going to splinter and so they avoid the obstacles. It’s a very inflexible set of relationships…
Heidi: “The New York Philharmonic seems to be about 50 percent women these days – so why not on the podium?”
Perhaps prejudice endures because conductors can't be auditioned blind, as in orchestras? In any event, we're big fans of the Baltimore Symphony's Marin Alsop, as well as JoAnn Falletta (left).
Turning the dial over to NPR and its attendant blogs, we were pleased to see that we had chosen to feature three of its Top 10 Folk and Americana Albums of 2013: Guy Clark's My Favorite Picture of You; Jason Isbell's Southeastern; and Patty Griffin's American Kid.
I'll close with a few nice freebies. To sample the new Digital Concert Hall you can watch a full-length concert video of Sir Simon Rattle conducting Mahler's 1st and Beethoven's 4th Symphonies. And if you're not surfeited with holiday music, here's an off-the-beaten-track selection, opera star Angela Gheorghiu in a selection from her new album of Romanian Christmas carols.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays from Daedalus Books; more retro images of boys & girls having winter fun

Here's wishing you a blissful, book-filled holiday season!
Who else used to read under the covers with a flashlight?
Love the mutt!
Yes, Virginia, girls can throw a mean snowball!
Is her Pa a furrier?
Love the boy sopranos on this beautiful old carol.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why Not Keep It Simple, Santa?

“We often reenacted the Christmas story, bringing baby Jesus gifts of “gold, Frankenstein and fur.” As we grew older, my father got into the act, appearing as a 'wise guy'—Groucho Marx or a dancing drag queen.”

guest blog by Susan M. Lanterman
The holidays are occasions to hand down age-old family traditions—except when it comes to my family. My grandparents emigrated from Italy, where celebrating Christmas involved throwing an extra chicken in the pot and a log on the fire. Hence, my parents were not indulged with the typical trappings of the season.
When we were children, our father would oblige us by providing a white work sock to “hang by the chimney,” which was attached to our gas stove. His idiosyncratic version of  'Twas the Night before Christmas involved Santa squeezing through the oven door to deliver his presents. My sister and I spent hours editing our letters down to request only one gift each. Every year we were the last children on Santa’s ride, only to discover a potato, an onion, and some pocket change in our socks. Then one Christmas morning I rose early to discover my mother shoving a turkey into the oven whilst my limp, empty stocking hung nearby. The jig was up.
The following year we guilt-tripped “Santa” into putting real presents in our stockings, and he delivered an unwanted harmonica and plastic flute. We played them continually to ensure that in the future Santa’s little helper would pay attention to our ransom notes and thus enjoy a little “peace on earth.”
We often reenacted the Christmas story, bringing baby Jesus gifts of “gold, Frankenstein and fur.” As we grew older, my father got into the act, appearing as a “wise guy”—Groucho Marx or a dancing drag queen. He did not take gift giving seriously.
When I had my own family, I accepted the role of Mrs. Claus with vigor.  As with Chinese New Year, I had an annual theme. There was the year of the fruitcake, where I concocted a sleighful of edible goodies—molding chocolates, caramelizing popcorn, and baking cookies in all shapes and sizes. My pièce de résistance was constructing a gingerbread house. Unfortunately, it collapsed under a heavy accumulation of white frosting. I should have used my fruitcake as a foundation.
Next there was the year of the cross-stitch. Every family member was outfitted with clothes created on my Singer sewing machine: boys’ coveralls that looked more like bloomers; bathrobes made of towels (doubly useful); cross-stitched Kleenex box covers—who knew they would last a lifetime!
This was followed by the year of the yarn. If only I had taken up storytelling instead. My attempt at knitting produced ridiculously long scarves and matching pompom hats with rows resembling a spiderweb. The tube socks that could only be worn without shoes were “hung by the chimney” the following year.
Recently we attempted the year of the gift that keeps on giving. In lieu of buying presents for each other, we purchased farm animals for families in impoverished countries. This satisfied my desire to not engage in a commercialized Christmas, but in the end I couldn’t resist buying a few things to put under the tree.
My theme this year is based on the old Shaker hymn, “Tis the gift to be simple…” It doesn’t take a village of elves or a plaza of chain stores to provide a meaningful expression of love and caring. Forgiveness, patience, humility, gentleness, and kindness can be freely given—not only at Christmas, but all year long. Who knows, maybe this is the year it will go viral.
Susan M. Lanterman is completing a young adult novel, Hasta Luego, Santa Claus, which follows the antics of a teenager and his family of illegal immigrants. She is also writing a collection of short stories based on her renovated Victorian B&B (www.Leathers-Snyder.com).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Vintage images of Father Christmas and Santa Claus

Traditional folkloric figures such as Old Father Christmas, Sir Christmas, and Lord Christmas derived from the bearded Old English god Woden. They represented the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, but were not associated with children or the bringing of gifts. Below, Father Christmas as pictured in Josiah King’s The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686).
 Above: a right jolly old elf! Below, some sort of naughty/nice tally seems to be going on.
Above: These kids are out and about at night for a fortuitous encounter w/ the big red-suited fella himself! Left: Santa has finally ditched the reindeer.
View more historic & vintage depictions of Santa here. See illustrations for and parodies of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("The Night Before Christmas") here. Finally, below is a printable tree ornament.