Feeds:
Posts
Comments
Map: Jacob Turcotte/Christian Science Monitor.
Efforts are afoot in Florida to save the the biodiversity of the Everglades by saving the water.

Last Thanksgiving, when John and family went to Florida, they sent great videos of a ride on one of those Everglades airboats that seem to float above the surface and allow visitors to get up close and personal with Everglades wildlife.

I had read, though, that the Everglades region was in trouble from overdevelopment and water pollution. Today’s article shows people are making a strong effort to protect it.

Richard Mertens has the story at the Christian Science Monitor, “Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands.

“There’s one small difference: This patch is flecked with tiny specks of white, scattered like scraps of paper around a puddle.

“ ‘This year is pretty quiet,’ Dr. Cook has been saying. ‘It’s not very good for wading birds.’

“Now he looks more closely. The specks resolve into a variety of different birds, not all of them white: great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, white ibises, and pale pink roseate spoonbills, all standing in and around the shallow water. …

“For the birds of the Everglades, it’s not really been good for almost a century. First came the plume hunters of the 1800s and early 1900s, who shot birds by the thousands so that their feathers could adorn women’s hats in New York and London. Then came the speculators, developers, and visionaries who did more lasting damage, draining the marshes, logging the cypress swamps, digging canals, and building levees. They turned the Everglades into fields and housing tracts until half of it was gone. What’s more, says Paul Gray, a biologist with Audubon Florida, ‘The half of what’s there is all screwed up.’ 

“Today the state of Florida, the federal government, and many private organizations and individuals are working to bring the Everglades back -– at least the half that’s still left. Everglades restoration became national policy in 2000 when Congress adopted the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

“Since then, lawsuits, political fighting, and dwindled funding have at times slowed progress. But in recent years restoration efforts have gained momentum. Some projects have been completed, and new ones are underway. …

“ ‘The Everglades ball is rolling,’ says Peter Frederick, a retired wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida and an expert on Everglades restoration. 

“But will it work? Everglades restoration is a long-term undertaking. It’s expected to cost $23.2 billion and take until 2050 to finish. People often say it’s the largest ecological restoration project ever. ‘A lot could stop it,’ says Dr. Frederick. …

The Everglades system is unique in the world, an inextricable mix of water and vegetation resting on a shallow bed of porous limestone.

“More than just Everglades National Park, the Everglades once encompassed the whole southern third of the Florida Peninsula. … In those days, water that fell during Florida’s summer rains drained slowly south into Lake Okeechobee, a huge basin that in many places is hardly deeper than a suburban swimming pool. When the water was high, it lapped over the southern rim and flowed a hundred miles south in a broad sheet, through swamps and saw-grass marshes, wet prairies and sloughs, before finally discharging through mangrove swamps and coastal islands into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a rich and biologically diverse ecosystem governed by water. And the land was very flat. …

“Today those Everglades are mostly gone. They’re no longer a single vast interconnected system of flowing water but a collection of divided and diminished parts – large shallow basins separated by levees and tied together by gates and canals, with some devoted to holding water, some to cleaning it, and others to conserving wildlife.

“Lake Okeechobee is diked and polluted, and the swamps and saw-grass marshes that once received its overflowing waters are a checkerboard of sugar cane fields. The flow of water from north to south is much reduced, where it survives at all. For all its natural abundance, the Everglades today is an artificial landscape, a creature of engineering as much as topography and nature. 

“The main challenge of restoration is hydrological. It’s to re-create the old pre-drainage conditions by delivering more clean water to the Everglades. It’s to bring back the old cycle of rising water in summer followed by a long drying out through the winter. It’s to restore, at least in part, the slow flow south.

“The easiest way to accomplish this would be simply to pull the plug: tear down the dikes and levees, fill the canals, and send the engineers home. But restoration is also political, and it has always involved more than the Everglades. Its aim is also to provide clean water to coastal cities and estuaries and protect them from flooding. It’s to preserve and irrigate an agricultural district the size of Rhode Island that sits in the middle. …

“ ‘They all say the best engineer is no engineer at all,’ says Dr. Frederick. ‘Let nature do the work. The problem is that we now want to do more things with that water than we used to.’

“Dr. Cook enjoys a stork’s-eye view of the Everglades. His weekly flights take him over both the good and the bad, the degraded and the only partly degraded. [Some] areas are thick with cattails, a sign of nutrient pollution. Passing over one of these, Dr. Cook says, ‘We can’t get it back to what it once was, for maybe 100 to 200 years. But we can improve it for wildlife.’ …

“Sometimes there are surprises. In 2017, Hurricane Irma inundated the Everglades. The next spring, birds nested in numbers no one living had ever seen. To biologists, it seemed a vision of the old Everglades – and of what might still be.

“ ‘As an ecologist, you think, you get the water right and maybe they’ll come back,’ Dr. Cook says.”

Lots more on what’s being done at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

Disappearing Arts

Photo: Ronan O’Connell.
Once reserved only for Thailand‘s elite, authentic benjarong porcelain takes highly skilled artisans days to create.

The other day, Princeton University reported that “a tortoise from a Galápagos species long believed extinct has been found alive and now confirmed to be … the first of her species identified in more than a century.” Wow. Good thing there are people working all the time to identify and save species.

Efforts to save dying arts are also important. Here is one practiced in a village in Thailand.

Writing last November at National Geographic, Ronan O’Connell reported, “Few tourists to Bangkok know that the glimmer of the iconic Wat Arun temple is thanks to the same magnificent Thai porcelain that decorates five-star hotel lobbies or serves as dinnerware in high-end Bangkok restaurants.

“Hand painted with intricate Buddhist motifs, benjarong porcelain once was reserved only for Thailand’s elite. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Thai royalty ate from delicate benjarong dishes and plates, wealthy women stored jewelry in benjarong boxes, and Bangkok’s palaces displayed tall benjarong vases.

“In the early 1900s, mosaics made of benjarong shards began embellishing many of the city’s most important Buddhist temples. … But it soon fell out of favor, and porcelain production eventually ceased.

“It would now exist only as an antiquity if not for a village that, in the 1980s, saw an opportunity to revive the art form. Located about 19 miles west of Bangkok, Don Kai Dee has grown to become what Atthasit Sukkham, assistant curator of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University, describes as the sole source of authentic benjarong. …

“As of November 1, vaccinated travelers can visit Thailand quarantine-free, where they can buy benjarong from the artists at Don Kai Dee, learn the history of Thai ceramics at Bangkok’s Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum (reopening in December), and admire the exquisite benjarong decorations in the Thai capital’s Grand Palace. …

“It took the 1982 closure of a ceramics factory near Bangkok to resuscitate this royal craft. Urai Tangaeum was one of dozens of Thai artists made redundant when that workplace closed in Samut Sakhon province, where Don Kai Dee is also located. …

“Instead of wallowing in her misfortune, Tangaeum recounts, she decided to take a risk. After studying benjarong designs, she began painting them on plain ceramics sourced from factories. When it became apparent Thai buyers appreciated this forgotten product, she bought her own kiln. Slowly, Tangaeum created a start-to-finish benjarong studio at Don Kai Dee. Nearly 40 years later, this has become a co-operative where dozens of potters share skills and knowledge.

“During tours of Don Kai Dee led by senior workers, tourists to the village learn that each benjarong item is crafted using a nine-step process involving up to four different artists. It begins with soils from three Thai provinces. When mixed together they provide the perfect blend of plasticity, heat absorption, and white-color finish.

“After being shaped on a pottery wheel, the benjarong item is set in an electric kiln for 10 hours at 1472°F (800°C). Once it cools, the item is coated with a glaze and baked for another 10 hours at an even higher temperature, until it gleams.

“The next step is benjarong’s trademark. Artists paint designs with liquid gold, which costs $5,000 per liter, according to Tangaeum’s daughter, Nippawan. This gilding is executed only by veteran workers, who have 20-plus years’ experience in a profession which some artists can continue well into their 60s.

“Finally, another worker traces around the golden lines with colored paints, then a supervisor inspects the piece. The process finishes with another blast in the oven. It takes three to four days to produce a benjarong cup, dish, or plate, which go for at least $30 each. That time frame extends to two weeks for the largest vases, which can be up to six feet tall and cost as much as $10,000. …

“While shops across Thailand sell mass-produced, cheaper versions of benjarong, Don Kai Dee is the only source of authentic, traditional benjarong, according to ceramics expert Sukkham. At Don Kai Dee, tourists can purchase ready-made items and have them personalized on site, or order custom artworks to be shipped to their homes.

“The village does not have a website, with most of its sales done in person at the village, or via art dealers who facilitate purchases for rich clients, Pongmatha says. Some of these buyers pay up to $30,000 for particularly intricate, gold-laden dining sets.

“The expense of benjarong reflects the painstaking intricacy of its crafting. It requires poise and persistence to scrawl precise benjarong designs for hour after hour. It is those attributes, above all, that decide whether a benjarong student can become a master.

“ ‘We have many young people who come to the village to learn benjarong, but most don’t last,’ [villager Prapasri Pongmatha] says. ‘They have enough skill, but not the patience. Making benjarong can make you crazy if you aren’t patient. But if you are patient enough, it is very soothing, nearly like meditating.’

“The humble incomes earned by Benjarong artists also deter young Thai people from learning this craft, according to her daughter, Supawan Pongmatha. The 39-year-old says she loves making these ceramics. But she does so only in her spare time, having decided to instead become an art teacher, a more stable job with a higher salary.

“ ‘Young people want to make money, to feel they have a safe job with a good future,’ Supawan says. ‘Being a benjarong artist is not as reliable.’

“Without a robust new generation of craftspeople making benjarong, its future is uncertain, the villagers agree. Forty years ago, benjarong was a relic. Having slowly roused this art form out of hibernation, the artists of Don Kai Dee are now fiercely trying to keep it awake.”

More at National Geographic, here. Wonderful pictures. (Four free articles per month.)

Want to watch a short video about another endangered craft? Learn about making toe shoes in the UK, here.

Wandering Near Home

Looking for turtles.

I do my wandering in a small circumference, but I’m always finding something new. Today’s photos are from favorite haunts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time exploring the woods. Now the granddaughter above and her friend enjoy doing the same thing. They particularly like tromping through the less traveled paths — a great opportunity to practice poison ivy identification.

The next photo shows another Providence pond beloved of turtles. My granddaughter worries about them when they lay eggs on the small beach where people walk.

The next scene was taken from the North Bridge in Concord. The little boathouse belongs to the Old Manse. A fisherman is having a relaxing day on the river near there.

Lots of lupines in a yard devoted to native plants. Iris in my yard. Clematis on a phone pole.

Do you have a guess how far below the Clayhead Trail the beach in the next photo is? This is a true optical illusion as the distance is scores of feet down. Would love it if someone from New Shoreham could tell me just how many. 100?

The next shot is of our town in Massachusetts. The play Our Town was actually performed outdoors in the street here, directed my my friend Dorothy Schecter years ago.

A creative resident hangs a lantern with poetry free for the taking.

I hope you’ll get a kick out of the bumper sticker. Unfortunately, no one was singing when I walked past. Next is a photo of a local second hand shop, followed by one of the cute veggie tables at the new health-food store.

The quilted warning about eating the fish you catch was in Pawtucket at an Art League of Rhode Island show called “Under the Surface.” The Make Way for Ducklings wallpaper covered the windows of a Boston shop that was being renovated.

Photo: Dean Paton.
At Sam Wasser’s University of Washington office, maps show where ivory poaching occurs and where the contraband is exported. Dr. Wasser’s DNA work revealed that most ivory comes from east and west-central Africa.

It’s sad to read that gangs with powerful tentacles in every country are deeply embedded in the trafficking of endangered species. But on the other side, you know, environmental warriors have superpowers of their own, powers that go beyond righteous indignation.

Dean Paton writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When Sam Wasser was a young biologist studying baboons in Tanzania, he never imagined he would one day lead an international force cracking down on the smuggling of illegal goods, from elephant ivory to pangolins and timber.

“Yet fighting transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs in law enforcement parlance, is exactly what he’s doing today, all because of his passion for animals.

“And because he discovered how to extract DNA from elephant poop.

“Today, Dr. Wasser is a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. But in 1989 he was observing environmental stresses on baboons when Tanzania launched … a ‘brutal crackdown’ on elephant poaching rings. Tanzania battles a reputation for being among a handful of worst offenders in Asia and Africa that fuel the illegal ivory trade.   

“[The crackdown] had unexpected consequences. ‘All of a sudden our baboons started to be killed by leopards at an incredibly high rate,’ Dr. Wasser says. … The team realized the leopards had mostly ignored the local baboon fare while feasting on the remains of elephants left by poachers, who took only the tusks.  

“The decline in elephant carrion and subsequent decimation of the baboon troops ‘made me realize how significant poaching really was on all levels,’ he says, ‘and on all the other species that were similarly affected by the ecological cascade of events.’

“A self-described ‘animal nerd,’ Dr. Wasser points out that elephants are ‘some of the smartest animals around,’ he says. ‘They can recognize themselves in a mirror. You can put a spot on their forehead, and they’ll look in a mirror and they’ll wipe it off. That’s a high cognitive ability.’ But ‘we lost over 100,000 elephants from 2007 to 2015. There are currently an estimated 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa.’

“Dr. Wasser explains that poachers often go back and kill members of the same elephant families – so frequently that he believes it creates a form of elephant PTSD.

“Elephants also exhibit a strong interest in their dead. ‘They’ll go and they’ll just explore the carcasses of elephants. … It’s just too hard to watch, and the fact that we’re developing ways to potentially stop it – it keeps me going.’

“For the baboon studies, Dr. Wasser used hormones from animal dung to help understand their reproductive successes or failures. That work led Dr. Wasser to think, ‘You know, I could apply these tools to elephants. … You could then go and collect dung samples from elephants across the continent, genotype all the samples, and essentially create a DNA map,’ he explains. ‘And we could then get the DNA from the ivory to match to the map.’ …

“By 1997 Dr. Wasser had cracked the code and published one of the first papers on extracting DNA from elephant feces, and ‘right around the same time we were moving forward to see if we could develop methods to get DNA out of ivory.’

“Dr. Wasser’s team got its first break in 2005: Bill Clark, chair of Interpol’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, asked for help analyzing a shipment of ivory intercepted three years earlier in Singapore. It had been the largest seizure of ivory to date, about 6 tons, which included 40,000 carved hankos – also called chops – small pieces of ivory used throughout Asia to ink one’s name or seal on correspondence. Each would fetch about $200 retail, making the hankos alone worth $8 million.

“Until Dr. Wasser and his colleagues employed their emerging science to analyze that seizure, the biologist says ‘everyone’ believed these tusks were coming from all across Africa. But, using their dung-to-DNA analyses, ‘that’s not what we found.’

“Dr. Wasser’s game-changing work helped law enforcement realize the ivory was coming from a small number of specific areas in east and west-central Africa – yet was being shipped out of ports on either side of the continent. …

” ‘People don’t understand the intricate structure in wildlife crime,’ explains Rod Khattabi, a former homeland security agent who now runs the Justice Initiative for the Grace Farms Foundation, which partners with Dr. Wasser to train law enforcement agencies in Africa. … Wildlife criminals operate like independent cells, which makes arresting disparate elements of the syndicate tougher.

“ ‘That’s why Sam is so critical – because he can connect the dots,’ Mr. Khattabi says. ‘He’ll tell me, “Rod, this stuff is coming from Rwanda” even if it shipped out of Togo. He can almost pinpoint where the elephant got killed.’ …

“Dr. Wasser’s sleuthing has expanded beyond elephants. ‘The work that we were doing with the illegal ivory trade – we realized it was relevant to all of these other species that are all coming out of Africa,’ he says. ‘Same problem: transnational criminals shipping it on containers – and us needing to really get the transnational criminals.’

“In 2021, with funding from the Washington State Legislature, Dr. Wasser and his colleagues formed the Center for Environmental Forensic Science. ‘There were also other tools that other scientists were using that could complement what we’re doing,’ he says. ‘Now we’ve got over 40 scientists from the University of Washington alone that are part of our center’ using an array of synergistic methods including isotopes, chemistry, and handheld DNA detectors to fight a spectrum of crimes.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe.
First-graders line up for lunch at McAuliffe Elementary School in Lowell.

The city of Lowell, Massachusetts, has been a “gateway city” at least since the Industrial Revolution. Located on two rivers that powered the early textile factories, it has attracted waves of immigrant workers looking for a foothold, or gateway, to America. Today its many nationalities continue to generate a multicultural energy.

Peggy Hernandez writes at the Boston Globe, “One day last fall, Umalkheeyr Cabdi Mahamed, 17, rose at 3 a.m. to make breakfast for her US history seminar at Lowell High School. The junior wanted to share canjeero iyo suugo, a spiced chicken stew with sweet thin pancakes, her mother’s favorite dish and a reminder of the home she left behind in Somaliland.

“Umalkheeyr was cooking out of more than goodwill; her dish was being sampled for this year’s edition of Tasting History, the seminar’s cookbook. She and her classmates — English learners and almost all immigrants — ultimately contributed 59 family recipes and stories about their journeys to the cookbook.

“Now in its fourth year, the Tasting History project has accomplished more than envisioned. In December, the 2020-2021 edition earned a Founders Award from The Readable Feast, an annual New England culinary book festival. That win led to a trial collaboration between the students and Lowell Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services.

Once a month, one recipe has been served as a lunchtime entree option to a student body of 14,387. The students are now teaching the adults.

” ‘I want people to know our culture because we have a lot of cultural diversity here in the United States. If you share your food, your culture, your experience, you’ll introduce them to your country,’ says senior Samantha Segura Marroquin of Guatemala, 19, who last year submitted a Christmas tamale recipe. …

“The trial [has] been a success, and the collaboration will continue in the fall. Some dishes were so popular Michael Emmons, the food service’s executive chef, hopes to include them into a regular lunch rotation. Dishes like lok lak, a glossy peppered beef served with salad from Cambodia, and feijoada, an inky black bean and pork stew served with white rice from Brazil.

“Lowell Public Schools is an ideal setting for this partnership. The student body is diverse: Hispanic (37.7 percent), Asian (27.5 percent), White (22.9 percent), Black (7.7 percent) and multi-race (4.1 percent). At least 50 languages are spoken in the high school. The four cookbooks reflect that range: 42 countries and one autonomous region are represented.

“The cookbooks are the brainchild of Jessica Lander, 34, a creative English Language history and civics teacher. … Lander arrived at Lowell High School in 2015 and, two years later, came up with the cookbook project while leading her ‘U.S. History 2 Seminar.’ The course covers the 1870s to the present, encompassing an era when 20 million immigrants arrived in the United States.

“While teaching immigration history, Lander recognized her students are, themselves, experts on being immigrants. She developed the cookbook as a means ‘to honor their stories and show their stories are valuable, just as important’ as those in US history books. ‘I wanted to use food as a story of migration,’ she says.

“Sometimes students have had to call relatives in their native countries for help with recipes. They learn to explain cooking techniques as well as ingredients others might find unfamiliar. Family tales introduce each dish. Edits go 15-20 rounds. Dishes are prepared at home and shared with the class. …

“When Alysia Spooner-Gomez, the district’s food service director, learned about the win last winter, she urged Emmons to tap into the cookbook because, she says, ‘it would be a waste to do nothing.’

“Emmons, known as ‘Chef Mike’ to students and faculty, joined the district last fall after a stint as a sous chef for Google in California. He was eager to pay homage to the students’ recipes. ‘We wanted to be culturally responsive and take a step into another world,’ he says.

“Once a recipe is selected, Emmons adapts it for scale and financial practicality. Then he takes it to Lander’s class for taste tests. The students are quick to tell Emmons if his early versions fail their expectations. ‘Letting the kids have a voice in the meal is the most rewarding part of this project,’ he says

“Spooner-Gomez prepares in-house marketing with fliers about the student and their dish then shares background on the meals with faculty. Lunch, like breakfast, is free of charge in Lowell’s public schools through a federal program for low-income districts.

“Lander’s students are awed by the results. ‘I’m so excited that a lot of people like it,’ says junior Nempisey Pout, 18, who submitted a lok lak recipe. ‘The important thing is that I share my culture and Khmer food with students from other countries.’

More at the Globe, here.

A Traveling Cinema

Photo: Kerry Jones.
Artist Kerry Jones turned her old trailer into one of the smallest cinemas in the UK.

Today we have another idea on taking what you have and turning it into something that can delight others.

“Until fairly recently,” writes the BBC, “Kerry Jones’s caravan lay rotting and forgotten about in her garden in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders — a home for discarded bric-a-brac.

“But during the Covid-19 lockdown, the artist and filmmaker saw new potential in the 1980s Swift Pirouette, and resolved to turn it into a tiny, traveling cinema. With a maximum of eight seats, it could be one of the smallest cinemas in the UK.

” ‘It isn’t the first cinema caravan to exist,’ said Kerry. ‘There was one over in Dumfries and Galloway that a friend of mine made at the beginning of the 2000s, that was really inspiring. I’m really interested in projects that involve people out in your community.’ …

“Over the pandemic, Kerry secured a bursary [grant] from the Alchemy Film and Arts charity based in nearby Hawick as part of a local arts program running between July 2021 and December 2023. She used it to renovate the caravan inside and out, swapping the retro mint paneling for a bright red that could be seen for miles. … Inside, she plans to install between six and eight seats, again in a plush, cinematic red fabric.

“Speaking to Mornings with Stephen Jardine, she said: ‘[I’ve] had it for 12 years — it’s been out and about, it’s been used for people to stay, it’s been a spare room. But over the last few years, but it’s just been one of those spaces that you put things in and forget about.’

“Kerry’s caravan cinema project — named Moving Images — [made] its debut at Hawick’s Alchemy Film Festival on 28 April, screening nine short films all made by people in the south of Scotland.

“It comes at a time when Scotland has lost one of its smallest cinemas — the Schoolhouse Cinema in Shetland. This 20-seat cinema, run by local magician Chris Harris, was put up for auction in 2020 after he decided to leave the islands.

“Around the same time another tiny theater opened in the Highland village of Cromarty — a 35-seat facility that took two years to come to fruition.

“Kerry aims to cater for an even more intimate experience, and will be using a small portable projector to save on power without sacrificing picture quality.

“The caravan itself is solar powered, but Kerry said she will borrow a high-quality battery as back-up until she can crowdfund her own.

“Any spare cash will then be put towards taking the caravan on the road — possibly for a tour of free screenings and running filmmaking workshops at local primary schools.

“Kerry added: ‘It’s going to be really adaptable. Selkirk’s market square have said they’d be quite interested in having the caravan there. I’d love to take it out to some of the more rural areas like Duns and Gordon.

” ‘We’re also going to work with a group called Connecting Threads and they’re doing lots of projects along the Tweed [river] — I’d love to see it there, that would be quite magical.’ “

There’s more to read at the artist’s website. “As part of The Teviot, the Flag and the Rich, Rich Soil, our programme exploring the pasts, presents and futures of Hawick and the Scottish Borders and investigating the town and wider region’s cultural identities in relation to land, water, industry, territory, place and environment, Alchemy is offering a number of bursaries to Borders-based artists. These bursaries will support a range of community-oriented projects between July 2021 and December 2023.”

More at the BBC, here, and Jones’s website, Alchemy Film and Arts, here.

Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune.
Linda Taylor talks with a friend as he ferried her paintings to an art show in April. Taylor has lived her Powderhorn Park home for about 20 years and was nearly forced out when her landlord decided to sell.

Here’s a story of people coming together to help a neighbor who was about to be evicted. It’s not necessarily about a greedy landlord. It’s more about systems that make it almost impossible for a person without money to get ahead. And about the power of community.

“Linda Taylor,” writes Sydney Page at the Washington Post, “was given two months’ notice from her landlord to vacate the Minneapolis house she has proudly called home for nearly two decades.

‘It felt like the world had been pulled from under me,’ said Taylor, 70. ‘My house means everything to me.’

“She initially owned the house, but she sold it when she fell prey to a real estate deal she didn’t understand, she said, and has rented the home for about 15 years.

“Earlier this year, Taylor received an unexpected notice from her landlord to leave her white stucco home in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, just a few miles south of downtown, by April 1. Her landlord wanted to sell the house and was asking for $299,000 — a sum Taylor could not afford. …

“She worked at a local nonprofit organization for nearly three years before she was laid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

“She lost her paycheck but continued paying rent — about $1,400 a month — using her savings, money from family and government subsidies including RentHelpMN, a program started during the pandemic to aid Minnesotans at risk of losing housing.

“[Taylor’s landlord] said he would evict her if she didn’t buy the home or leave. …

“ ‘I’m going to do something about it,’ Taylor remembered telling herself. ‘This is my house.’

“She decided to share her struggle with Andrew Fahlstrom, 41, who lives across the street and works professionally as a housing rights organizer. Since he moved to the neighborhood six years ago with his partner, he and Taylor have built a strong rapport. …

“ ‘So many people are losing housing right now,’ he said. ‘If we actually believe housing is a right, then we need to act like it, because the next stop is homelessness.’

“As word of the grass-roots campaign to save Taylor’s home spread around the block, neighbors were eager to help.

“ ‘People listened to what Miss Linda was saying and wanted to do something,’ Fahlstrom said. ‘It was just such a clear and compelling story that everyone rallied for her.’

“According to Taylor, she originally bought the house in 2004, but she started falling behind on payments and felt she was tricked into signing the house back over to the previous owner, who allowed her to stay on as a renter. In 2006, after her landlord was caught in a mortgage fraud scheme — which affected more than 45 homes, including hers — [her new landlord] purchased the house.

“He raised her rent twice during the pandemic, Taylor said, and let repairs and maintenance issues linger. Several times over the years, Taylor — who has five children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren — went to social services and applied for programs and grants geared toward renters who want to buy their homes.

“ ‘Every time I tried to buy it, I ran into a ton of different walls,’ Taylor said, adding that although she knew ‘my children would always support me,’ they were not in a position to offer significant financial help.

“Her neighbors empathized with her predicament.

“ ‘This is a person who has been paying for housing for 18 years. Her rent has gone to pay the property taxes, other people’s mortgages, the insurance, and supposedly repairs, too,’ Fahlstrom said. ‘There needs to be more systemic intervention so that people can stay in their homes.’

“The Powderhorn Park community decided it would not allow their neighbor to be displaced. The group was well equipped to mobilize on Taylor’s behalf.

“ ‘We have an active local neighborhood group because we’re within two blocks of George Floyd Square,’ Fahlstrom said, adding that the 2020 protests over Floyd’s murder by a police officer brought the community closer. …

“Organizers sent a letter to the landlord, urging him to wait on eviction and start negotiations with Taylor so she could buy the house. It was signed by about 400 neighbors and hand-delivered to [him] in February.

“The plea worked. … He lowered the sale price to $250,000 — still out of reach for his tenant.

“ ‘Then it became a fundraising effort instead of an eviction defense effort,’ Fahlstrom said.

“Neighbor Julia Eagles was at the forefront of the initiative.

“ ‘I don’t want anyone getting displaced or priced out of the community,’ Eagles said. ‘We all believed collectively that we were going to do what it takes to keep Miss Linda here. So many people know and love this woman.’ …

“In just four months, the people of Powderhorn Park raised $275,000 for Taylor — enough to buy her home and cover repairs. Any additional funds will go toward utility payments.

“Taylor said she is stunned by the support. …

“She is determined to pay the kindness forward.

“ ‘I’m here to help the next person and the next person and the next person,’ she said.”

More about the effects of community organizing at the Post, here. You can also read about this at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where there’s no firewall.

Photo: Anne Rayner.
Athena watches over a production of ‘Semele’ at the Parthenon in Nashville, a city better known for Country & Western than Early Music.

Well, this is fun. Just goes to show that blanket assumptions about places (about groups of people, too) tare always wrong.

John Pitcher writes at Early Music America, about a recent Vanderbilt Opera Theatre production of George Frideric Handel’s 1744 opera-oratorio hybrid Semele.

“The production, featuring a small student string ensemble and singers expertly coached in Baroque performance practice, ran two consecutive nights inside Nashville’s Parthenon. ….

“Vanderbilt’s historical performance (HP) program is just one part of an early-music scene that’s been ebbing, flowing, and growing in Nashville for nearly 20 years. The city is home to two HP ensembles, Music City Baroque and Early Music City. Each can boast of distinguished pedigrees. There are also a couple of churches, St. George’s Episcopal and First Lutheran, that serve as regular venues for early-music performances, along with an assortment of choral groups that routinely perform Renaissance and Baroque music.

“Nashville’s period-instrument musicians can play Bach’s B-minor Mass with the best of them. But these musicians are influenced just as much by their close association with Music City as they are by their familiarity with valveless horns and viola da gambas. Nashville has a music infrastructure that is second to none, with over 180 recording studios, 130 music publishers, 100 live music clubs, and 80 record labels. …

“It’s not uncommon for Nashville classical musicians to perform Mahler with the Nashville Symphony, record a pop song with Miley Cyrus, premiere a 21st-century piece with one of Nashville’s several contemporary-music ensembles, and give a period-instrument performance of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto — all in a few weeks.

“Chris Stenstrom, a long-time cellist with the Nashville Symphony who also performs regularly with Nashville’s contemporary group Alias Chamber Ensemble as well as Music City Baroque, is typical of this kind of musician. Indeed, he keeps a spare cello in his closet, strung with sheep gut and tuned to A415. ‘I like to have one instrument that’s settled in and ready to play Baroque music,’ Stenstrom says.

“The versatility of Nashville’s historically informed musicians has made them flexible, even delightfully heretical, in their approach to performing early music. … Many of Nashville’s historically informed players are open to performances using modern instruments, and most are utterly expansive in their definitions of what constitutes early music.

“Although Bach, Handel, and Telemann are often performed, one also encounters programs devoted to Baroque women composers, along with music from Nashville’s early history, which includes Negro spirituals, hymns, and fiddle music. ‘Nashville musicians have never felt the need to be completely orthodox in their approach to early music,’ says Jessica Dunnavant, a long-time flutist with Music City Baroque who teaches modern and Baroque flute at both Vanderbilt and Lipscomb universities. ‘Rhinestone and twang are welcome at our concerts.’ …

“Things didn’t get started until 2003, when George Riordan, an oboist and scholar steeped in Baroque performance practice, left his post as an assistant dean at Florida State University College of Music to become director of the School of Music at Middle Tennessee State University.

“That summer, Riordan’s wife, Karen Clarke, a noted period violinist who had performed with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, among others, noticed an item in an Early Music America newsletter that caught her eye. Murray Forbes Somerville just announced he was leaving his position as Harvard University’s University Organist and Choirmaster to take up a post in, of all places, Nashville. …

“Nashville’s classical-music scene was, at that moment, on the cusp of its golden age. Kenneth Schermerhorn, then music director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, had already established a partnership with Naxos Records to record for its American Classics series. This arrangement would soon turn the Nashville Symphony into a Grammy Award juggernaut. Martha Ingram, a Nashville billionaire benefactor, was meanwhile dispensing funds to her favorite performing-arts groups with unprecedented largesse. This culminated with the 2006 opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, modeled after Vienna’s Musikverein.

“The city, moreover, had plenty of choristers who knew their way around Handel’s Messiah, and a growing number of classical musicians who had at least some training in historically informed performance. This was fertile ground for the right maestro to plow.

“Not long after Somerville moved to Nashville, Riordan connected with a phone call. ‘I invited Murray out to MTSU for an early music jam session,’ Riordan recalls. ‘We played that first session, and Murray declared that we needed to put on a show.’ “

Be sure to read the part about finding similarities with Appalachian musical traditions at Early Music America, here. No firewall.

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor.
“Great Pyrenees dogs watch over Navajo-Churro sheep … outside Toadlena, New Mexico. … The sheep flourish in the harsh environment,” according to the Monitor.

I like that the Christian Science Monitor has so many stories about the Navajo Nation and other indigenous peoples. Although I’m not a Christian Scientist, I’ve always been impressed by the objective reporting at the Monitor and its steady coverage of underreported topics.

Reporter Henry Gass wrote recently from New Mexico about the resurgence of sheep farming on Navajo land.

“Irene Bennalley steps out into the fierce afternoon sunlight wearing jeans and a maroon sweater, her long gray hair knotted in a braid. Brandishing a long white stick as her crook, she picks her way across her parched desert farm toward the sheep pen. Answering their bleats with firm instructions in Navajo, she shepherds them out onto the dry, dusty range.

“She doesn’t know exactly how many Navajo-Churro sheep she has, but she ballparks it at around 100 head.

It’s bad luck to keep exact counts of your livestock, her father taught her. Don’t boast about your animals, he would say, or they’ll start dropping.

“Out here, ranchers like Ms. Bennalley can’t afford to lose animals. The winters are cold and hard, and the summers are hot and relentless. Water is scarce and feed is expensive. It’s the main reason she has come to love the breed, known colloquially as churros, that she’d grown up only hearing about in stories.

“The Navajo, who refer to themselves as Diné, have long been a pastoral society. Sheep are prominent in their creation myths, and after Spanish colonists first brought the churro sheep to the Southwest, the hardy, adaptable breed became, over centuries, the heart of a self-sufficient economy and vibrant Diné culture.

“But the days of sheep camps and flocks roaming the arid plains and valleys here are long gone. On two separate occasions the churro came close to full extermination. From over 1 million head at one time, by 1977 there were fewer than 500 left in the world.

“Efforts have been gaining momentum in recent years to rebuild the breed and return flocks to the Navajo Nation. Decades of painstaking, sometimes dangerous, work by a handful of committed ranchers and animal scientists have helped restore the population to over 8,000. 

“Now, people on the Navajo Nation are working to bring flocks back to the reservation, to try and fill the economic and cultural void left by their near extinction. 

“ ‘We’re back in a place of reevaluating how we live,’ says Alta Piechowski, whose family has been involved in restoring the Navajo-Churro for decades.

“ ‘When you’re walking the land [with the sheep], there’s a different kind of healing,’ she adds. ‘It heals your heart, and when it heals your heart you’re going to want other people’s hearts to be healed too.’ …

“An ‘unimproved’ breed – meaning one that hasn’t been selectively bred for market – churros are long and lean. … They are resistant to most diseases, and have adapted over the centuries to thrive in the dry, low-forage climate of the Southwest.

“For the Navajo people, the churro were something of a panacea. They provided a healthy and sustainable source of food and income; their many-colored fleece are ideal for weaving iconic Navajo blankets. And culturally, sheep have always been prominent in Navajo spiritual traditions. One of the six sacred mountains that bound the Navajo Nation, Dibé Nitsaa, translates to Big Sheep Mountain.

“But for the best part of a century, Navajo-Churro have been hard to find on the reservation. 

“The official term used by the U.S. government in the 1930s was ‘livestock reduction.’ The Midwest was in the grips of the Dust Bowl, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, led by commissioner John Collier, concluded that too many livestock were causing land to erode and deteriorate.

“The policy resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of churros, often on the reservation, and sometimes on the properties of their owners. And it came after the Navajo people had spent over 70 years steadily rebuilding their churro herds. …

“Nearly a century since the stock reduction, the collective memory is still raw. Ms. Bennalley speaks mournfully of what she calls ‘the John Collier days.’ For a long time no one spoke of it at all.

” ‘Some people never really got out of losing their sheep that way,’ says Ms. Bennalley. ‘My family, my dad, nobody really talked about it, because it wasn’t something to be proud of.’ …

“ ‘That connection to the sheep is the connection to the land, which is the connection to the culture, which is the connection to the spirituality of the Diné people,’ says Dr. Piechowski, a career psychologist for reservation schools.

“ ‘If you exterminate the sheep, you’re pretty much eliminating [those] connections,’ she adds. …

“The churro never disappeared from the reservation, but the few that remained stayed hidden in some of the reservation’s most remote corners – so remote that the man who first led efforts to bring the churro from the brink of extinction almost died trying.”

Read more about that at the Monitor, here. Lovely photos. No firewall.

Floating Saunas

Photo: Kevin Scott/Dezeen.
The designers of this sauna aimed to build a structure that engaged the local waterways and encouraged people to use them throughout the year, says Dezeen.

When Erik saw my post about a birdhouse championship, he told me one picture reminded him of floating saunas in Sweden. I had to look that up. I found out that saunas on the water are both like and unlike ice-fishing huts. You definitely have to dress differently.

Jenna McKnight at Dezeen writes about the sauna in the above photo: “Visitors can take a plunge into a cold lake after warming up in this floating wooden sauna by Seattle firm goCstudio – the latest example of the trend for buoyant architecture (+ slideshow).

“The structure is intended to be used all year round on Seattle’s lakes and can accommodate up to six people. It is called WA Sauna. … It follows the growing trend among architects to explore the possibilities afforded by building on water rather than land.

” ‘Following in the Scandinavian tradition of saunas as a place for gathering, WA Sauna provides a place for Seattle’s community to share a unique experience on the water,” said goCstudio, a firm founded in 2012 by Jon Gentry and Aimée O’Carroll. …

“Inspired by the concepts of fire, water and community, the designers aimed to build a structure that engaged the local waterways and encouraged people to use them throughout the year. The $25,000 (£17,000) project was funded through community donations and a Kickstarter campaign hosted in the fall of 2014.

“The deck consists of a pre-manufactured aluminum frame and marine-grade plywood with a clear varnish. Boats and kayaks can be tied up to the deck. The floating structure is powered by a 36-volt electric trolling motor. More than two dozen 208-litre plastic drums keep the vessel afloat. …

“Spruce was used to clad the interior and to form the benches. A wood-burning stove heats the space. Users can easily exit the vessel via a door or side hatch and dive into the cool water. …

“The structure was built by studio employees and skilled volunteers. It was erected within a warehouse owned by the local brewery, Hilliard’s, which allowed the team to use the space for free.

“One of the greatest challenges was getting the structure to the lakefront for the first time. … ‘Towed on six steel casters with a 1980 Volkswagen Vanagon, we slowly crept along at dawn making the eight-block trip to the boat ramp in just under three hours.’ …

“Rising sea levels and a shortage of development sites are leading to a surge of interest in floating buildings, with proposals ranging from mass housing on London’s canals to entire amphibious cities in China.

“Other examples that, like WA Sauna, are targeted at communities include a buoyant Nigerian school and a travelling London cinema.”

You can read about another nice sauna at designboom, a site that doesn’t seem to believe in capital letters: ” ‘löyly’ is a prefab floating sauna made of swiss douglas fir. gently swaying in the middle of lake geneva, ‘löyly’ is a floating prefab sauna designed by trolle rudebeck haar – a graduate from the lausanne university of art and design. haar completed this project after spending a year in finland, where he found a true appreciation for the sauna concept and translated it into ‘löyly’ – his final year project. 

“haar designed the structure as a 24 sq. ft floating sauna made of locally sourced swiss douglas fir – a lightweight yet durable material that he salvaged from a sawmill nearby. the entire structure was then coated with teak oil to create a more resistant shell all while preserving the fir’s natural look and feel.

“the interior of the floating sauna oozes with tones of intimacy and comfort. using sliding doors that echo japanese shoji screens, visitors are met with a small wooden burning stove from morzhand. … the choice of stove was made based on practicality: ‘I chose it because it’s compact, transportable, lightweight, and easy to heat up’,  comments haar. 

“haar also had to consider balance and weight while designing the sauna. ‘I was calculating the mass of every unit,’ he explains. the presence/absence of people aboard the floating structure, as well as the placement of the barrels underneath it were all carefully studied to create a safe and enjoyable experience. 

“in just six hours, the floating sauna was built – but haar made it easy to disassemble and scale for different uses.” 

You might also want to click at the Gessato website to see a sauna created by an Italian design team.

Beautifully integrated into its natural surroundings and context, this floating sauna conceptually links Sweden, Italy, and Japan.

“The structure stands on a floating platform, connecting the lake to the land and providing a relaxing space for the guests staying in the clients’ small bed and breakfast. … Self-built by the studio, the project pays homage to nature and sustainability, with impact on the birch forest minimized by moving the sauna on the surface of the water. …

“A glazed wall provides stunning views over the lake, helping guests relax completely and contemplate the beauty of nature. This floating sauna project was presented during the Superdesign Show 2017, held at Superstudio Più via Tortona 27, Milano in April 2017.”

More at Gessato, here, at Designboom, here, and at Dezeen, here. Lots of super pictures.

Photo: Risto Matilla.
Risto Matilla, an amateur photographer, took this picture of ice eggs found on a Finnish beach. The largest was the size of a soccer ball. Ice eggs have also been seen in Siberia and Michigan.

I continually find Nature amazing. Whether it’s the cardinal in my yard this morning collecting grass to build a nest or author Sarah Smarsh’s experience last weekend at an outdoor concert in Kansas, where the audience came terrifyingly close to a tornado-producing supercell. Then there is a weather phenomenon like the one in today’s story,

Nicoletta Lanese wrote about it in November 2019, but it’s new to me. I just had to share it. Especially that picture — worth a thousand words.

Lanese’s report was at the BBC. “Thousands of egg-shaped balls of ice have covered a beach in Finland, the result of a rare weather phenomenon. Amateur photographer Risto Mattila was among those who came across the ‘ice eggs’ on Hailuoto Island in the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden.

“Experts say it is caused by a rare process in which small pieces of ice are rolled over by wind and water.

“Mr Mattila, from the nearby city of Oulu, told the BBC he had never seen anything like it before. ‘I was with my wife at Marjaniemi beach. The weather was sunny, about -1C (30F) and it was quite a windy day, he told the BBC. ‘There we found this amazing phenomenon. There was snow and ice eggs along the beach near the water line.’

“Mr Mattila said the balls of ice covered an area of about 30m (100ft). The smallest were the size of eggs and the biggest were the size of footballs [soccer balls].

” ‘That was an amazing view. I have never seen anything like this during 25 years living in the vicinity,’ Mr Mattila said. …

“BBC Weather expert George Goodfellow said conditions needed to be cold and a bit windy for the ice balls to form. ‘The general picture is that they form from pieces of larger ice sheet which then get jostled around by waves, making them rounder,’ he said. … ‘The result is a ball of smooth ice which can then get deposited on to a beach, either blown there or getting left there when the tide goes out.’

“Similar sights have been reported before, including in Russia and on Lake Michigan near Chicago.”

Jessica Murray adds this at the Guardian: “Jouni Vainio, an ice specialist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, said the occurrence was not common, but could happen about once a year in the right weather conditions.

“ ‘You need the right air temperature (below zero, but only a bit), the right water temperature (near freezing point), a shallow and gently sloping sandy beach and calm waves, maybe a light swell,’ he said.

“You also need something that acts as the core. The core begins to collect ice around it and the swell moves it along the beach, forward and back. A small ball surface gets wet, freezes and becomes bigger and bigger.’

“Autumn is the perfect time to see the phenomenon, according to Dr James Carter, emeritus professor of geography-geology at Illinois State University, as this is when ice starts to form on the surface of water, creating a form of slush when moved by waves.

“ ‘I can picture the back and forth motion of the surface shaping the slushy mix,’ he said. ‘Thanks to the photographer who shared the photos and observations, now the world gets to see something most of us would never be able to see.’ ”

According to a 2016 BBC report, residents of Nyda in Siberia found a strange and beautiful sight “in the Gulf of Ob, in northwest Siberia, after thousands of natural snowballs formed on the beach.

“An 11-mile (18km) stretch of coast was covered in the icy spheres. The sculptural shapes range from the size of a tennis ball to almost 1m (3ft) across. … Locals in the village of Nyda, which lies on the Yamal Peninsula just above the Arctic Circle, say they have never seen anything to compare to them.”

Check out the map showing the location of the Finnish find at the BBC, here, and read more at the Guardian, here. No firewalls, bless their hearts.

Lake Michigan, 2010

Photo: NeuroscienceNews.
Latinos aged 55 and older who participated in Latin dance classes for eight months showed significant improvement in working memory over their peers who did not partake in Latin dance.

When I expressed worry about signs of aging, my scientist brother chided me for not being more upbeat, saying, “The brain can look like Swiss cheese and one can still have a happy hour, or more maybe, left.”

He was right. Today’s article on the virtues of dance for older people underscores that point and suggests that for some, dance can even reverse decline.

NeuroscienceNews describes a recent study from the University of Illinois.

“Latinos age 55 and over who participated in a culturally relevant Latin dance program for eight months significantly improved their working memory compared with peers in the control group who attended health education workshops, according to the study’s lead author, Susan Aguiñaga, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Working memory – the ability to temporarily keep a small amount of information in mind while performing other cognitive tasks – is integral to planning, organizing and decision-making in everyday life.

“The dance program used in the study, Balance and Activity in Latinos, Addressing Mobility in Older Adults – or BAILAMOS – showed promise at enticing older Latinos to become more physically active and help stave off age-related cognitive decline, Aguiñaga said.

“ ‘Dance can be cognitively challenging,’ Aguiñaga said. ‘When you’re learning new steps, you have to learn how to combine them into sequences. And as the lessons progress over time, you must recall the steps you learned in a previous class to add on additional movements.’

“BAILAMOS was co-created by study co-author David X. Marquez, a professor of kinesiology and nutrition, and the director of the Exercise and Psychology Lab at the University of Illinois Chicago; and Miguel Mendez, the creator and owner of the Dance Academy for Salsa.

“BAILAMOS incorporates four types of Latin dance styles: merengue, salsa, bachata and cha cha cha, said Aguiñaga, who has worked with the program since its inception when she was a graduate student at the U. of I. Chicago.

“ ‘It’s an appealing type of physical modality,’ she said. ‘Older Latinos are drawn to Latin dance because most of them grew up with it in some way.’

“Latin dance can evoke positive emotions that prompt listeners to participate, increasing levels of physical activity in a population that tends to be sedentary, according to the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“More than 330 Spanish-speaking Latino adults who were middle-aged or older were recruited for the study, primarily through community outreach in local churches. Participants were randomly assigned to either the dance group or the control group, which met once a week for two-hour health education classes that covered topics such as nutrition, diabetes and stress reduction.

“Participants in the BAILAMOS groups met twice weekly for the dance sessions, taught by a professional instructor for the first four months and later by a ‘program champion’ – an outstanding participant in each group who displayed enthusiasm and leadership qualities.

“The program’s champions were selected and trained by the instructor to lead the sessions during the four-month maintenance phase.

“Over the different waves of the four-year study, the dance lessons were held at 12 different locations across Chicago, such as neighborhood senior centers and churches that were familiar and easily accessible to participants, Aguiñaga said.

“Participants’ working memory – along with their episodic memory and executive function – was assessed with a set of seven neuropsychological tests before the intervention began, when it concluded after four months and again at the end of the maintenance phase.

“Participants also completed questionnaires that assessed the number of minutes per week they engaged in light, moderate and vigorous physical activity through tasks associated with their employment, leisure activities, household maintenance and other activities. …

“As with a small pilot study of BAILAMOS conducted previously, the current study found no differences in any of the cognitive measures between the dance participants and their counterparts in the health education group at four months. However, after eight months, people in the dance group performed significantly better on tests that assessed their working memory.

“ ‘That’s probably one of the most important findings – we saw cognitive changes after eight months, where participants themselves had been leading the dance classes during the maintenance phase,’ Aguiñaga said. ‘All of our previous studies were three or four months long. The take-home message here is we need longer programs to show effects.

“ ‘But to make these programs sustainable and create a culture of health, we also need to empower participants to conduct these activities themselves and make them their own.’ “

The open-access study, “Latin Dance and Working Memory: The Mediating Effects of Physical Activity Among Middle-Aged and Older Latinos,” by Susan Aguiñaga et al appears in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

This really intrigues me. Even though I have no Latin background, music like salsa makes me want to dance, too. I suppose if I were in a research study, though, I’d probably need doo-wop to trigger a primordial urge to leap out of my chair.

More at NeuroscienceNews, here.

Photo: Far Western Anthropological Research Group.
Archaeologists and members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe worked together on a project that revealed the longstanding genetic roots of some of the region’s Native peoples. 

As I learn more about what our dominant culture has done to native tribes, the thing that really gets me is how recent some of the travesties have occurred — and for what stupid reasons. For example, a 1927 California official deciding they “didn’t need land.” Read on.

Jane Recker writes at the Smithsonian Magazine that “for decades, a misperception that the San Francisco Bay Area’s Muwekma Ohlone Tribe was ‘extinct’ barred its living members from receiving federal recognition.

“Soon, however, that might change. As Celina Tebor reports for USA Today, a new DNA analysis shows a genetic through line between 2,000-year-old skeletons found in California and modern-day Muwekma Ohlone people.

“The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, flies in the face of more than a century of misconceptions about the tribe and its people’s long history.

“ ‘The study reaffirms the Muwekma Ohlone’s deep-time ties to the area, providing evidence that disagrees with linguistic and archaeological reconstructions positing that the Ohlone are late migrants to the region,’ write the authors in the paper.

“Members of the tribe, scholars and the public are hailing the work as a chance to correct the record — and perhaps open up opportunities for the tribe to regain federal recognition. …

“The tribe’s history mirrors that of other Native Californians. After more than 10,000 years in the area, Native people were forced to submit to colonization and Christian indoctrination — first by the Spaniards, who arrived in 1776, and then, beginning in the 19th century, by settlers from the growing United States.

“As a result, the Ohlone and other Native groups lost significant numbers to disease and forced labor. Before European contact, at least 300,000 Native people who spoke 135 distinct dialects lived in what is now California, per the Library of Congress. By 1848, that number had been halved. Just 25 years later, in 1873, only 30,000 remained. Now, USA Today reports, there are just 500 members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.

“The Ohlone people once lived on about 4.3 million acres in the Bay Area. But federal negligence and anthropologist A.L. Kroeber’s 1925 assessment that Native Californians were ‘extinct for all practical purposes’ caused the federal government to first strip the Muwekma Ohlone of their land, then deny them federal recognition, writes Les W. Field, a cultural anthropologist who collaborates with the Muwekma Ohlone, in the Wicazo Sa Review.

“Even though Kroeber recanted his erroneous statement in the 1950s, the lasting damage from his diagnosis meant the very much not-extinct members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe never regained federal recognition, according to the New York Times’ Sabrina Imbler.

“The new research could change that. It arose after the 2014 selection of a site for a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission educational facility. The area likely contained human remains, triggering a California policy that requires developers to contact the most likely descendants of people buried in Native American sites before digging or building. When officials contacted the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, its members requested a study of two settlement areas — Síi Túupentak (Place of the Water Round House Site) and Rummey Ta Kuččuwiš Tiprectak (Place of the Stream of the Lagoon Site).

“Experts from Stanford University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, cultural resources consulting firm Far Western Anthropological Research Group and other institutions led the research. But members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe were involved in every aspect of the study. …

“Researchers and tribe members alike commented on the unique nature of the collaboration.

“ ‘When you’re a student doing the work, it’s not common to have this kind of direct connection to the people who are “the data” that you’re working with,’ says lead author Alissa Severson, a doctoral student at Stanford University at the time of the research, in a statement. ‘We got to have that dialogue, where we could discuss what we’re doing and what we found, and how that makes sense with their history. I felt very lucky to be working on this project.’ …

“The team analyzed the DNA of 12 individuals buried between 300 and 1,900 years ago, then compared the genomes to those of a variety of Indigenous Americans. They found ‘genetic continuity’ between all 12 individuals studied and eight modern-day Muwekma Ohlone Tribe members. …

“Tribe members hope the new evidence of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe’s longstanding connection to the land — and their ancestors — will spur politicians to finally recognize the tribe. According to an official tribal website, Muwekma Ohlone families started the reapplication process in the early 1980s and officially petitioned the U.S. government for recognition in 1995. Despite filing a lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe is still not recognized by the U.S. government.

“Co-author Alan Leventhal, a tribal ethnohistorian and archaeologist who works with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, tells USA Today he’s hopeful this new research will help cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape that’s been delaying the tribe’s petition.”

There’s more at the New York Times, where Sabrina Imbler notes, “The Muwekma can trace their ancestry through several missions in the Bay Area and resided on small settlements called rancherias until the early 1900s, Leventhal said.

“The tribe had once been federally recognized under a different name, the Verona Band of Alameda County. But it lost recognition after 1927, when a superintendent from Sacramento determined that the Muwekma and more than 100 other tribal bands did not need land, effectively terminating the tribe’s formal federal recognition, Mr. Leventhal said. ‘The tribe was never terminated by any act of Congress,’ he added. …

” ‘The cost of living is pushing us out,’ Ms. Nijmeh, the tribe’s chairwoman, said. ‘Recognition means that we will be able to have a land base and have a community village and have our people stay on our lands in their rightful place.’ “

More at the Smithsonian, here, and at the Times, here.

Photo: Anupan Nath/AP.
Actors in Awahan mobile theater group perform in a village near Guwahati, India, after a two-year hiatus because of Covid.

So many activities got suspended during Covid, and many workers wondered if they would still have a job when the world reopened. That was true for everyone from servers in struggling US restaurants to actors in rural India.

In April, Al-Jazeera posted about a traveling theater in India that, to everyone’s relief, is reemerging after two years.

“Traveling theater groups in India’s northeastern state of Assam are reviving the local art and culture scene after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in their performances for nearly two years.

“Seven roving theater companies are back on stage playing before crowds in villages, towns and cities across the state. These mobile theaters are among the most popular forms of local entertainment.

“ ‘The public response has been very good. They love live performances. We have no competition from television and the digital boom,’ said Prastuti Parashar, a top Assamese actress who owns the Awahan Theatre group.

“Before the coronavirus hit the region, about 50 theater groups, each involving 120 to 150 people, performed throughout the state. They would start in September, coinciding with major Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja and Diwali, and continue until April. …

“Drama is an integral part of Indian culture and the mobile theater groups do not restrict themselves to mythological and social themes. They have in the past covered classic Greek tragedies, Shakespearean tales and historical subjects like the sinking of the Titanic, Lady Diana and the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“The groups travel with directors, actors, dancers, singers, technicians, drivers and cooks, in addition to all the stage infrastructure to perform three shows in one place before moving on to the next makeshift venue.”

For a bit more background, let’s turn to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which states that “Indian theater is often considered the oldest in Asia, having developed its dance and drama by the 8th century BCE [Before Common Era]. According to Hindu holy books, the gods fought the demons before the world was created, and the god Brahmā asked the gods to reenact the battle among themselves for their own entertainment. Once again the demons were defeated, this time by being beaten with a flagstaff by one of the gods. To protect theater from demons in the future, a pavilion was built, and in many places in India today a flagstaff next to the stage marks the location of performances.

“According to myth, Brahmā ordered that dance and drama be combined; certainly the words for ‘dance’ and ‘drama’ are the same in all Indian dialects. Early in Indian drama, however, dance began to dominate the theater. By the beginning of the 20th century there were few performances of plays, though there were myriad dance recitals. It was not until political independence in 1947 that India started to redevelop the dramatic theater. …

“Classical Indian drama had as its elements poetry, music, and dance, with the sound of the words assuming more importance than the action or the narrative; therefore, staging was basically the enactment of poetry.

“The reason that the productions, in which scenes apparently follow an arbitrary order, seem formless to Westerners is that playwrights use much simile and metaphor. Because of the importance of the poetic line, a significant character is the storyteller or narrator, who is still found in most Asian drama. In Sanskrit drama the narrator was the sūtra-dhāra, ‘the string holder,’ who set the scene and interpreted the actors’ moods. Another function was performed by the narrator in regions in which the aristocratic vocabulary and syntax used by the main characters, the gods and the nobles, was not understood by the majority of the audience. The narrator operated first through the use of pantomime and later through comedy.

“A new Indian theater that began about 1800 was a direct result of British colonization. With the addition of dance interludes and other Indian aesthetic features, modern India has developed a national drama.

“Two examples of ‘new’ theater staging are the Prithvi Theatre and the Indian National Theatre. The Prithvi Theatre, a Hindi touring company founded in 1943, utilizes dance sequences, incidental music, frequent set changes, and extravagant movement and color. The Indian National Theatre, founded in Bombay in the 1950s, performs for audiences throughout India, in factories and on farms. Its themes usually involve a national problem, such as the lack of food, and the troupe’s style is a mixture of pantomime and simple dialogue. It uses a truck to haul properties, costumes, and actors; there is no scenery.”

Great traveling-theater pictures at Al-Jazeera, here. More detailed information at Britannica, here. No firewalls.

Photo: Cycling Without Age.

Thinking a lot about ageing these days. For one thing, hiding from Covid all the time makes me feel old, and then there are the inevitable health issues.

How does anyone make a plan? There is no way to predict exactly what will happen next. So far my husband and I do everything we always did, but I have felt a need to start looking at “Places,” to use the word of humorist Roz Chast.

Some Places boast activities that look interesting. Today’s story is about an activity that would make a good addition.

Jessica Coulon reports at Bicycling magazine on a clever nonprofit initiative. “Ole Kassow, of Copenhagen, Denmark, was riding his bike to work one morning in 2012 when he noticed an old, disabled man sitting on a bench outside a local nursing home. The man reminded him of his father, who uses a wheelchair.

“Knowing the challenges that come with limited mobility in old age, and thinking about how deeply ingrained bicycling is in Copenhagen culture, a thought occurred to him: The man likely hadn’t ridden a bike in a long time and, Kassow thought, he probably missed it.

‘I couldn’t get that thought out of my head, that I needed to get this man back on a bike,’ Kassow told Bicycling.

“Kassow acted on his idea the very next day by renting a rickshaw and offering rides to seniors at the retirement home. He ended up piloting a woman, who began telling him stories about living in Copenhagen as they rode around. When they returned, the facility’s staff were amazed at the woman’s energizing reaction to the ride.

“These volunteer rides grew into what is now the nonprofit Cycling Without Age. The organization partners with nursing homes and senior care facilities around the world to offer bike rides to the people who live there. Volunteers who sign up can pilot rickshaws, also known as trishaws, which can carry up to two passengers. There are also bikes that can accommodate wheelchairs.

“The primary goal of the program is to improve the lives of seniors by getting them outside and back into the community and bringing them joy through riding a bike. According to Kassow, the program gives its participants a greater ‘sense of belonging.’ It’s also a way for the younger generations who volunteer to connect with and learn from older generations.

“ ‘It quickly became something that the other care homes wanted to do in Copenhagen,’ Pernille Bussone, the global community captain for Cycling Without Age, told Bicycling. From there the program began to spread into neighboring countries, like Sweden and Norway. Now, the organization boasts chapters in more than 45 countries. …

“Their evidence of this was anecdotal at first. But after conducting an impact study in their Singapore chapter, they discovered that these rides have the potential to improve participants’ reported mood and outlook on life by up to 80 percent.

“While the shorter, one-day outings are perhaps the most common type of ride that volunteers offer, some of their volunteers have gotten creative. One chapter in Sweden, for example, began offering ice-fishing trips using the trishaws. …

“They’ve also introduced bike touring in certain chapters, which consist of three or four day outings in large groups, that include family members of the elderly passengers and staff from their nursing homes. They stay at hotels and often have picnics outside. Some of the bike tours have had more than 100 people take part. …

“The organization is now gaining ground in the U.S. where there are currently 418 chapters. ‘I’ve personally witnessed the joy and effects getting seniors back outside brings to their quality of life,’ Shelly Sabourin told Bicycling. Sabourin was the director of nursing at a care facility in Madison, Wisconsin, when she found out about the program in 2016.”

Andrea Morris at CBN News has more.

” ‘I see CWA as a catalyst for better lives by helping socially isolated elders and people with limited mobility gain access to their local communities,’ Kassow told CBN News. ‘We all know that exercise and fresh air is good for us, but not many people know that happiness and longevity are mainly the result of both a few close relationships and access to interact with several people in our daily lives. I see Cycling Without Age play(ing) a key role in making relationships a human right for all elders in all societies.’ “

More at Bicycling, here, and at CBN News, here. No firewalls. And be sure to check out the organization’s website, here.

%d bloggers like this: