Edgy Stuff: May 2016 Recommendations
The Edge Effects editorial board brings you a handful of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.
Helen J. Bullard
As spring tumbles quickly into summer, perhaps you are as eager as I am to get outside and re-discover nature. The red admirals are re-taking their sunning stations. A white-throated sparrow is singing in the mulberry tree. Warblers are twiddling through the birch. The first butterflies and excited tussling birds of spring and summer always make me fondly remember the late artists David Measures and John Busby, veterans of observing nature, even “the wind and the sound, and the invisible things”. As Carolina Anne Fraser recently discovered (youth winner of the 2016 Audubon photography competition, announced this month), taking the slow time to really watch can yield some humbling rewards. I recommend following in Carolina’s footsteps this month! Close your screens, silence your phones, pick up your cameras, and take the time to really notice the rhythms of nature.
Thought industrial slaughterhouses were inaccessible to outsiders? Think again. Professor of Animal Science and long-time slaughterhouse reformer Temple Grandin offers a series of narrated tours of different kinds of slaughterhouses (including pig, lamb, and beef processing plants) on the Meat News Network’s Glass Walls YouTube channel. These short videos are an uncomfortable must-watch for anyone who’s eaten industrially-produced meat, or who’s interested in the experiences of animals in our modern world. Be warned—these videos show live animals being slaughtered, and they may cause you to think differently about your lunch.
In the arid San Luis Valley of Colorado, the multi-year drought over the past decade might have had the troubling effect of forcing farmers and ranchers to withdraw too much water, thus lowering water tables and draining aquifers and streams. But when water users and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District realized that they could prevent these damages to the water supply, they collaborated and devised a water user-led water-saving plan that would charge users for pumping groundwater, and use those funds to incentivize farmers to fallow parts of their fields. Although a constellation of motivated water users, state mandates, and urgent circumstances made the San Luis Valley a particularly promising place to enact this plan, it can also be seen as a kind of model for other communities in the arid West who are looking to save water. Paige Blankenbuehler reports this story for High Country News.
Do you speak to animals? Walking a Driftless creek winding through a farmer’s pasture, I inevitably call back to bellowing cows (“Hello, girls!”). My cat chatters incessantly, and I respond in kind. (Incidentally, cats are big figures in some of the foundational philosophy of animal studies.) But what do we know about animal vocalizations, really? To what extent do they constitute language, that resilient arbiter of what counts as “culture” for so many scholars? How about emotions, intention, or meaning? In a recent Aeon article, Syracuse University postdoc Holly Root-Gutteridge suggests that the howls of wolves and other canid species may in fact convey many of these qualities, and may reflect cultural influences over time. The article is quite rich, but if you find yourself hungry for more, also check out Robert Sapolsky’s brilliant, poignant book, A Primate’s Memoir, about this research on Kenyan baboons. You’ll never think of the human/animal “division” the same again.
Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer traveling season. The road trip—and the freedom it suggests—is ingrained in the American imagination, but these days it’s hard not to think also of the cost to climate that comes from fossil fuel use. Some governments and businesses are investing heavily in biofuels like ethanol for a fix, but CHE graduate student Charlie Carlin tells a different story in a post for Minding Nature. With equal parts levity and technical detail, he recounts the adventure and community he discovered in converting his truck, dubbed Elford, to run on used vegetable oil rather than (bio)diesel fuel. Carlin doesn’t mean to suggest that we need follow in his footsteps; Americans in fact don’t eat enough french fries for that. Instead, he points to a different way of responding to climate change, one that’s less about technical fixes and more focused on values.
Have you ever walked down a city street and wondered what it looked like 20 years ago? 100 years ago? 400 years ago? The Greene Street Project: A Long History of a Short Block allows visitors to its public website to virtually explore four centuries of economic development on one short block in Manhattan, NYC. Using a mix of audio, video, still images, interactive maps, newspaper clippings, and other digitized primary sources, the project takes visitors through nine chapters of Green Street’s life, from its pre-colonial forested landscape to its present-day incarnation as a luxury shopping destination. Visitors to the website can follow a chronological journey through this place’s past, or they can joyfully get lost in exploration (as I did!) of architectural details, immigration patterns, real estate development, or grassroots activism, to name just a few themes. The Greene Street Project, a project of the NYC Development Research Institute is a model for digital, multimedia, and interactive public history.