Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Feathers; The Evolution of a Natural Miracle"

Book Review
Feathers; The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson Basic Books, Philadelphia PA. 2011

Discovery, questions and the search for possible explanations, such is the joyous nature of science. Thor Hanson immediately engages the reader as a friend and invites you to share his journey of discovery about feathers. His comfortable voice weaving scientific accuracy and engaging story reminded me of another of my favorite science writers Bernd Heinrich (The Geese of Beaver Bog). When Hanson began to mention a professor with a cabin in the Maine woods, I knew it was no coincidence. Thor Hanson studied under Heinrich and carries on with his professor’s insightful way of making science accessible to a broad audience.

From dinosaur fossils haloed with imprints of their feathers to specially dyed and designed feather costumes worn onstage in Las Vegas, Hanson explores the origins, function, miraculous qualities, beauty and yet undiscovered abilities of fluff and quill. Did you know that the reason Dickens's Tiny Tim was anticipating a holiday goose dinner was because the number of geese needed to furnish the feathers for quill pens meant that there were a lot of geese available at the butcher shop? With the replacement of the quill pen, geese gradually moved off our menu.

Feathers have driven people to do amazing things. They encouraged us to take to the air ourselves and public outrage at the excessive consumption of birdlife to decorate women’s hats with feathers led to the first conservation movement in the United States. The Audubon Society and the Migratory Bird Act are all interconnected with feathers.

If you love birds, have ever worn a feather in your hat band or wonder how human use of resources can impact the world, pick up a copy of Feathers. Hanson will reveal truths about these downy delicacies that you have never dreamed of and will inspire you to ask more questions yourself. This is one of my favorite books of the year.

Other Book Reviews:
Alex and Me
The Geese of Beaver Bog
Survival of the Sickest

Friday, September 09, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I keep a journal. Not everyday, but on occasions when I feel the need to document. On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was not at home. I had spent the night at my sister's so that I could drive to San Diego and take care of my cousin's children while her husband had surgery. It wasn't until the next day that I wrote the following:

Thousands of people in New York and Washington D.C. are dead. Terrorists commandeered commercial aircraft and crashed them into the two towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. An attempt to crash one into Camp David failed and the innocent people on the plane crashed into a rural area in Pennsylvania. This is one of those moments, like Pearl Harbor, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, that marks the ending of a generation.We have a President who is not up to the leadership necessary for the moment. While the country still reels from the events that unfolded yesterday, Muslim fundamentalists are being identified as the perpetrators. The balance in the world teeters and nothing will be quite the same again.

Vengeance toward fundamentalist zealots is like trying to discipline a chicken, it only feeds chaos. People who have nothing will follow a zealot, hoping to gain something. The anarchists early in our own country in the last century were foiled not by increased police, but by the growth of labor unions and living wages. People who have something are less likely to threaten their neighbors, because they do have something to lose.

Yesterday as the horror unfolded, as the World Trade Towers collapsed killing perhaps as many as 40,000 people, I was taking care of J's four-year-old Matthew, while the other kids were at school and E was recovering from surgery on his neck for a ruptured disc. Then, the whole events were unbelievable. But last night driving home, the skies were amazingly dark. There were no planes flying. John Wayne Airport was a parking lot of airplanes. They were side-by-side, wing tip to wing tip. Others were parked even on the runways. LAX was vacant, nothing. 

People are gathering at centers in New York to fill out forms with identifying information about their loved ones. The Pentagon is still burning. Five stories of rubble fill the streets of the financial district in N.Y. and the two towers that I can remember walking beneath and looking up at, are gone. 

Here on the west coast we are safe, but are we? In my 2-story house with more bedrooms than we need, can there be safety when other people have nothing? I don't think so.

I look back at the past 10 years and I am saddened that rather than become global citizens many Americans have become more insular. We deny that we are the greatest consumers of unreplenishable natural resources. The planet suffers at our hands and now that the years of waste and want have come to an end for 90% of the population, so many look back clinging to the past rather than looking forward to a future where we must behave differently for the planet. Americans are acting like the southern aristocracy after the Civil War, we want the luxury we had and are unwilling to accept that it was unsustainable. This year global climate change is impacting food and water resources. We thought that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed our lives, but the change ahead of us in the next ten years is unimaginable.