Sunday, December 11, 2011

We Dream of the Arctic in December 2011

As our globe warms, the Arctic as we once knew it is fast becoming a dream of time past. This month I'm thrilled to announce that we delve into Arctic Dreams as delivered by the prolific and much honored author Barry Lopez. Arctic Dreams won the 1986 National Book Award and is considered his masterpiece.

From the publisher: "Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores. But what turns this marvelous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profound originality is his unique meditation on how the landscape can shape our imagination, desires, and dreams. Its prose as hauntingly pure as the land it describes, Arctic Dreams is nothing less than an indelible classic of modern literature."

Bill Moyer's Interview with Barry Lopez:

Review excerpts : "Jubilant....Barry Lopez lavishes his discoveries into a portfolio of delights." The New York Times Book Review "Wonderfully informed and evocative....Keen observation given shape with language that is deft and vivid." Chicago Tribune "Rich, abundant, vigorously composed." The Boston Globe "[It is the earth's] synchronous wealth of life — of all life — that Barry Lopez is celebrating in his jubilant new book. Among contemporary nature writers Mr. Lopez is especially a rhapsodist, and what he has done in this passionate paean to the Arctic and its cycles of light and darkness, its species of ice, its creatures and waters, is to present a whole series of raptures and riffs on the subject of musk oxen, ivory gulls, white foxes, polar bears, icebergs and sea currents..." New York Times Book Review

Author website:
NOAA Arctic site:
We meet in January to share our impressions. Stay tuned for time and place.

Member Review: Reason For Hope

Member Joy Pardue contributed a report on our discussion in October 2011. Thank you Joy!:

PVNWG members thoroughly enjoyed Jane Goodall’s autobiographical Reason for Hope , our selection for the October, 2011 meeting. After a slow start the story quickly came to life when Ms Good all began portraying the chimpanzees of Gumbo. Here her writing became engaging, her mission more intriguing, and her multifaceted interests more evident.
Dr. Good all is no ordinary scientist. Indeed, she had little formal education when she began her groundbreaking research in Africa - Louis Leaky chose her, in part, for this very reason and this unconventional approach probably paid off better than he dreamed. Goodall’s efforts have not only advanced scientific knowledge, but have provided substantial benefits directly to chimpanzees and other animals worldwide.
During her 20 years at Gombe, Jane focused her keen powers of observation onto these chimps and discovered totally unexpected characteristics and behaviors. Her shocking account that these wild beings were making and properly using tools promptly elicited harsh criticism from fellow scientists who had been more formally trained. Furthermore, without ‘proper’ training – and, thus, not knowing better - Jane ‘named’ her subjects and ascribed to them ‘personalities’ and ‘emotions’. This brought additional censure but she was neither perturbed nor deterred. Jane knew what she had witnessed and stood resolute as critics tried to discredit her. Today, the validity of her reports endure.
Throughout her story, Jane weaves her musings, feelings, mystical experiences and questions about religion which includes some of her poetry along with a generous sprinkling of scripture. “Solitude” was one of the many gifts of those years in the forest and she treasured this as an “unparalleled period when aloneness was a way of life”. An entire chapter is devoted to this phase which lead to a deeper appreciation of the beauty and magic of nature. One comment, in particular, caught our attention: “In particular I became intensely aware of the being-ness of trees.”
Jane is one of those rare scientists who retains compassion for her subjects and looks beyond the project at hand. Seeing the threats the chimps were facing as their world changed, she eventually expanded her mission from researcher to spokesperson.
Despite being far from home for extended periods, Jane remained devoted to her family. All of us were surprised to learn that her Mother came to Africa to be with Jane during those early years at Gombe mainly because it wasn’t proper for a young woman to be alone in that era. This arrangement worked well for them and the surrounding community as Vanne took on responsibilities that were helpful to the locals. Other family members appear in the story at appropriate times and Jane highlights them with love and admiration.
Who could have imagined where Jubilee – a large stuffed chimpanzee – that her father gave her when she was one year old would ultimately lead her. Encouraged by her mother and grandmother, Jane dreamed big and became ‘one of the fortunate few’ who realized those dreams. That Jane, who will soon to be an octogenarian, continues working on behalf of Planet Earth and all inhabitants is heartening and uplifting. Members in attendance agreed with Cheryl’s suggestion that we ought to consider more autobiographies in the future.

We Grok Goodall

The Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as "to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with" and "to empathise or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment." (Author Robert A. Heinlein coined the term in his best-selling 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land. )

In A Reason for Hope Jane Goodall describes her early enchantment with nature and the interwining of science and spirit that has driven her life work. Seeking a disciple with an unprejudiced eye, Louis Leakey chose Jane because of her lack of credentials, driving curiosity, and chutzpah that had brought her from England to Africa hoping to "work with animals." Jane's approach to the task he set for her was an anomaly in the world of ethology fieldwork at that time. Instead of assigning numbers to her chimpanzee subjects she gave them names that suited their personalities and behaviors. She used her (dare I say womanly?) powers of empathy as a tool to unravel the mysteries of primate social psychology. In retrospect, her approach seems supremely logical--the relational world of human primates is remarkably similar to that of our chimp cousins (our DNA varies only a few percentage points). But at the time of her first foray into research, Goodall was a quiet maverick, considered a laughable amateur by the scientific hierarchy. As her book makes clear, Jane "groks" nature in all its forms, including the experience of being human. Retired from field work, she now tirelessly campaigns for mistreated chimpanzees worldwide who suffer as discarded or neglected zoo and research animals. Her Roots and Shoots program promotes appreciation for nature among children. Everywhere she goes, audiences are electrified by her insight, kindness, and sense of humor.
Jane's intimate connection with nature and concern for our singular planet resonated in different ways with our members, but certainly produced a harmonious chord. Jane's Reason for Hope is the evidence she sees that our "better angels" exist within and will eventually lead us to live in harmony with creation. If Jane Goodall is any indication of human potential, there is indeed Reason for Hope. May we all be inspired by her example.