What I’ve been reading: December, 2023

  • A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

    Dragged on at the end but a good read overall. Quote:

    "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea."

    (tags: ecology nature environment wildlife wilderness conservation )

  • Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments

    Fun Christmas present read, had some good stories I had never heard.

    (tags: history sports baseball americas-pastime )

  • Arctic Dreams

    Enjoyed this book, lots of quotes:

    • "… the defining quality of a wild place is that it make us somehow ‘stumble.’ It removes a step from our stairs, and thereby draws attention to the ‘narrow impetuosity’ of human schedules. ‘It is precisely because the regimes of light and time in the Arctic are so different,’ he writes, ‘that it is able to expose in startling ways the complacency of our thoughts about land in general.’"
    • "… And confronted by an unknown landscape, what happens to our sense of wealth? What does it mean to grow rich? Is it to have red-blooded adventures and to make a fortune, which is what brought the whalers and other entrepreneurs north? Or is it, rather, to have a good family life and to be imbued with a far-reaching and intimate knowledge of one’s homeland?… Is it to retain a capacity for awe and astonishment in our lives, to continue to hunger after what is genuine and worthy? Is it to live at moral peace with the universe?"
    • "Because mankind can circumvent evolutionary law, it is incumbent upon him, say evolutionary biologists, to develop another law to abide by if he wishes to survive, to not outstrip his food base. He must learn restraint. He must derive some other, wiser way of behaving toward the land. He must be more attentive to the biological imperatives of the system of sun-driven protoplasm upon which he, too, is still dependent."
    • "Suddenly in the middle of winter and without warning a huge piece of sea ice surges hundreds of feet inland, like something alive. The Eskimo call it ivu. The silent arrival of caribou in an otherwise empty landscape is another example. The long wait at a seal hole for prey to surface. Waiting for a lead to close. The Eskimo have a word for this kind of long waiting, prepared for a sudden event: quinnuituq. Deep patience."
    • "I settle myself in a crease in the tundra, out of the wind, arrange my clothing so nothing binds, and begin to study the far shore with the binoculars. After ten or fifteen minutes I hae found two caribou. Stefansson was once asked by an Eskimo to whom he was showing a pair of binoculars for the first time whether he could ‘see into tomorrow’, with them…. What the inuk probably meant was, Are those things powerful enough to see something that will not reach you for another day, like migrating caribou? Or a part of the landscape suitable for a campsite, which you yourself will not reach for another day?"
    • "In the 1930s a man named Benjamin Lee Whorf began to clarify an insight he had had into the structure of the Hopi language. Hopi has only limited tenses, noted Whorf, makes no reference to time as an entity distinct from space, and, though relatively poor in nouns, is rich in verbs. It is a language that projects a world of movement and changing relationships, a continuous fabric of time and space. It is better suited than the English language to descibing quantum mechanics. English divides time into linear segments by making use of many tenses. It is a noun-rich verb-poor tongue that contrasts fixed space with a flow of time. It is a language of static space, more suited, say, to architectural description. All else being equal, a Hopi child would have little difficulty comprehending the theory of relativity in his own language, while an American child could more easily master history. A Hope would be confounded by the idea that time flowed from the past into the present…. He made people see that there were no primitive languages; and that there was no pool of thought from which cultures drew their metaphysics. ‘All observers,’ he cautioned, ‘are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe.’"
    • "The literature of arctic exploration is frequently offered as a record of resolute will before the menacing fortifications of the landscape. It is more profitable I think to disregard this notion – that the land is an adversary bent on human defeat, that the people who came and went were heroes or failures in this. It is better to contemplate the record of human longing to achieve something significant, to be free of some of the grim weight of life. That weight was ignorance, poverty of spirit, indolence, and the threat of anonymity and destitution. This harsh landscape become the focus of a desire to separate oneself from those things and to overcome them. In these arctic narratives, then, are the threads of dreams that serve us all…. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a companion of Robert Scott, said that exploration was the physical expression of an intellectual passion." Emphasis mine.
    • "…. Our difficulty lies in part, I think, with our insistence on defining completely the terms of our encounter with new-found wealth. We do no like to be countermanded in our categories by having something define itself. We seem vaguely uneasy, too, with the notion that a flock of snow geese rising like a snowstorm over Baffin Island is as valuable or more to mankind than the silver, tin, and copper being dug out of the Bolivian Andres and Potosi. These are not modern misgivings; they date in North America from the time of Columbus and John Cabot. What every culture must decide, actively debate and decide, is what of all that surrounds it, tangible, and intangible, it will dismantle and turn into material wealth. And what of its culture wealth, from the tradition of finding peace in the vision of an undisturbed hillside to a knowledge of how to finance a corporate mere, it will fight to preserve.… It seemed clear to me that we need tolerance in our lives for the worth of different sorts of perception, of which the contrasting Umwelten of the animals on the island are a reminder."
    • "The European culture… .has yet to understand the wisdom, preserved in North America, that lies in the richness and sanctity of a wild landscape, what it can mean in the unfolding of human life, the staying of a troubled human spirit. The other phrase that comes to mind is more obscure. It is the Latin motto from the title banner of The North Georgia Gazette: per freta hactenus negata, meaning to have negotiated a strait the very existence of which has been denied. But it also suggests a continuing movement through unknown waters. It is, simultaneously, an expression of fear and of accomplishment, the cusp on which human life finds its richest expression."
    • Very end of the book had a picture of a map of the Arctic that I hadn’t seen previously, fascinating perspective if you like maps.

    (tags: ecology nature environment exploration adventure wilderness environmentalism arctic climate-change indigenous-cultures )

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