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In the Weeds
51 minutes | Oct 31, 2022
William Bryant Logan on the Ancient History of Managed Woodlands
William Bryant Logan’s book Sproutlands: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees opens the door to a little known history, in which people all over the world, from Norway to Japan to pre-colonial California, managed trees in a way that was beneficial to trees and humans alike. Logan stumbled upon this history after taking on a job for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for which he was given the task of pollarding trees. Pollarding is an ancient technique for pruning trees that, along with coppicing, was used for millennia to cull woodlands without having to destroy the forest. These techniques were an integral part of managed woodlands, in which people kept livestock, harvested different kind of food and cut wood that was used for everything from energy to building ships and houses to creating floating walkways. This managed cultivation was not only productive for humans; it also allowed trees to live longer and created more biodiversity than existed in unmanaged woods. All of this, as Logan explains to us, was possible because of the remarkable regenerative property of trees, which allows many species of trees to resprout in the most unlikely situations and in the most unlikely ways. In theory, at least, Logan tell us, trees can live indefinitely and, in some unusual cases, they seem to do just that. William Bryant Logan is the author of Sproutlands, Oak, Air and Dirt, the last of which was made into an award-winning documentary. He is a long-time faculty member of the New York Botanical Garden where he teaches pruning. He is a certified arborist and the founder and president of Urban Arborists, Inc., a Brooklyn-based tree company. He has also been a regular garden writer for the New York Times and was a contributing editor to House Beautiful, House and Garden and Garden Design magazines.
33 minutes | Sep 21, 2022
John Roulac on Agroforestry
Picking up where we left off in the spring, we return to the topic of farming through a conversation with John Roulac, entrepreneur and executive producer of the movie Kiss the Ground. Roulac’s latest project, Agroforestry Regeneration Communities, supports initiatives in Central America and East Africa that teach farmers how to grow what are sometimes called food forests. Food forests mimic the structure and diversity of natural forests; they have the ability to restore ecosystems and bring diversified nutrition and economic development to rural communities. This approach to farming – new by contrast with post-World War II industrial-style farming but based on techniques that are thousands of years old – is a relatively inexpensive way to make farming sustainable and, in fact, beneficial with respect to carbon capture, climate resilience and biodiversity, among other impacts. Ironically, Roulac notes, there is little investment in this low-hanging fruit among the solutions to our environmental problems.
30 minutes | Jul 1, 2022
Nate Looney on Urban Farming, Jewish Ethics and Diversity Equity and Inclusion
For the second of three episodes on farming, I talk to Nate Looney about Jewish ethics, Diversity Equity and Inclusion and, yes, farming, specifically, his experience as an urban farmer using hydroponics and aquaponics to produce gourmet leafy greens and microgreens for restaurants and farmers markets in his hometown of L.A. Nate Looney has followed an unusual career path, from the U.S. National Guard to service in New Orleans and Iraq as a military police soldier to CEO and Owner of Westside Urban Gardens, an urban agricultural start-up based in L.A., to his current job as JEDI (“Jewish Equity Diversity and Inclusion”) Director of Community Safety and Belonging for the Jewish Federations of North America. As such, his thinking often moves across disciplines, linking practical matters to questions of ethics, combining his experience of farming with his knowledge of Jewish thought.
34 minutes | Jun 14, 2022
Filmmaker Jim Becket on The Seeds of Vandana Shiva
“When you control seed, you control life on earth,” says Indian environmental activist and scholar Vandana Shiva in the new documentary film The Seeds of Vandana Shiva. Known as “Monsanto’s worst nightmare,” Vandana Shiva has been a champion of small, organic farms, since she established seed banks, in a subversive act she likens to Gandhi’s championing of the spinning wheel, to counter the efforts of large corporations to control agriculture in India through the selling of pesticides and trademarked GMO seeds. In this episode - the first of three on farming - I talk to filmmaker Jim Becket about making the film and about the story of Vandana Shiva’s life and mission.
51 minutes | May 6, 2022
Lydia Millet's Mermaids in Paradise
Mermaids are the fly in the ointment in Lydia Millet’s very funny satirical novel Mermaids in Paradise, “an absurdist entry into the mundane,” as she puts it. And, yet, her mermaids, who have bad teeth and the particular features of individuals, also draw us into the wonders of the ocean itself. Mermaid lore, Millet reminds us, recalls manatees and the order of the Sirenia, and it speaks to “the way we imprint our imaginations onto the wild.” One of the most interesting writers working at the intersection of fiction and environmentalism, Lydia Millet has written over a dozen novels and story collections, many about ties between humans and animals and the crisis of extinction. Her story collection Fight No More received an Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2019 and her collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. In this episode, we discuss her 2015 novel Mermaids in Paradise and the ways in which she uses these hybrid, mythical creatures to address our environmental crises. We also talk at length about story telling, the kinds of stories we tell and how they both help and hinder our relationship with the natural world.
59 minutes | Apr 8, 2022
So You Think You Know What a Mermaid Is...
As co-editors of The Penguin Book of Mermaids, a compendium of stories from all over the world, Marie Alohalani Brown and Cristina Bacchilega show us that mermaids are not always white, not always beautiful and don’t even always have a fish tail (sometimes mer creatures have the tail of a whale or an anaconda). What they also teach us is that legends of merfolk and other kinds of water spirits exist pretty much everywhere that people do.What is so fundamental about these myths of hybrid creatures that bridge the human world and the water world? Why are they so often female and alluring? How to the myths change across cultures? And what do they have to tell us today about our relationship to the natural world and to oceans and water in particular? Thanks to my guests, this episode will leave you with a new understanding of what a mermaid is or, rather, can be. Cristina Bacchilega coedits Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies and is Professor Emerita of English at the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa where she taught fairy tales and their adaptations, folklore and literature, and cultural studies. An Anglo-Indian Italian who is non-white settler in Hawaiʻi, Cristina approaches wonder tales and other traditional narratives from a transcultural perspective that privileges the juxtaposition of different cultural narratives to highlight their distinctive worldviews and ways of knowing. Her most recent book with Jennifer Orme (2021), Inviting Interruptions: Wonder Tales in the 21st Century, features Maya Kern’s comic How To Be a Mermaid. Marie Alohalani Brown is an Associate Professor of Religion, specialist in Hawaiian religion, culture, and oral/literary traditions at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is a trained translator and works primarily with Hawaiian-language resources. She is the author of Ka Poʻe Moʻo Akua: Hawaiian Reptilian Water Deities (University of Hawaiʻi Press, January 31, 2022). Her first book, Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ʻĪʻī (University of Hawaʻi Press, May 2016), won the biennial Ka Palapala Poʻokela award for the categories of Hawaiian language, culture, and history (2016 and 2017). She is the co-editor with Cristina Bacchilega of A Penguin Book of Mermaids (Penguin Classics, 2019).
54 minutes | Mar 18, 2022
More Real Than Real: VR and the Metaverse with Lisa Messeri
According to Mark Zuckerberg and others, the metaverse - a would-be digital double of the real world - is good for the environment, because it will make us drive less, fly less. We won’t have to visit the barrier reef in person; we can experience it from our own living rooms. But will this descent into technology make us more alienated than we already are from the natural world? And do we really want to recreate an idea out of dystopian science fiction anyway? These are some the the issues I discuss with Lisa Messeri, Assistant Professor at Yale University in the Anthropology Department who studies science and technology and whose upcoming book, In the Land of the Unreal, explores arguments that VR - virtual reality - can be a force for good.https://www.in-the-weeds.net
42 minutes | Feb 10, 2022
Air Travel, Climate Change and Don’t Look Up with Chris Schaberg
Chris Schaberg, whom you might remember from my episode on SUV commercials, has written a number of books on air travel. I wanted to talk to him about the impact of air travel on climate change but also about what air travel - and, increasingly, the fantasy that we can be tourists in space as well - reveals about the relationship between us human animals and the sophisticated technology that drives globalization (and, as a fall out, climate change). I was also itching to talk about Adam McKay’s film Don’t Look Up, in which a comet hurtling towards the earth serves as an analogy for climate change, and Chris was kind enough to indulge me.in-the-weeds.netto contact the host - email@example.comV3yfxuYWqRsI5hgXHPDU
44 minutes | Jan 21, 2022
Art as Climate Action with Susannah Sayler and Ed Morris
Susannah Sayler and Ed Morris have been working at the intersection of art and climate activism for the last fifteen years. They are co-founders of the Canary Project, started in 2006 and inspired by a series of articles that Elizabeth Kolbert published in The New Yorker that eventually became her book Field Notes from a Catastrophe. Adapting Kolbert’s investigative strategy, Ed and Susannah initially set out to photograph places around the world being impacted by climate change - in order to call out a warning, as the name Canary Project suggests. (Though the photographs themselves or the installations that ensued were subsequently renamed History of the Future.) Since then, Susannah and Ed have worked on numerous projects, from Green Patriot Posters to the more recent Toolshed, and helped coordinate works of fellow artists tackling climate change. They also both teach in the Dept. of Film and Media Arts at Syracuse University. As a former student of the arts (more the literary kind than the visual kind, but who’s quibbling), I was curious about the ability of art to engage in climate activism. What can the artist achieve that the scientist and the journalist cannot, I wondered? And, conversely, what are art’s limitations? To see the photos and other images we discuss, go to in-the-weeds.net To check out Susannah and Ed’s latests project go to https://tool-shed.org
30 minutes | Dec 16, 2021
On the Origins of Christmas Trees with Judith Flanders
In time for the winter solstice, we revisit our episode on the history of Christmas trees with historian Judith Flanders, author of Christmas: A Biography (2017) as well as numerous books on the Victorian period, including The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime and The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London. Flanders helps us to parse history from myth, as we discuss the origins of Christmas and the practice of bringing evergreen trees into our homes to decorate them for the holidays. Guitar rendition of “O Tannenbaum” by Dave Larzelere.
48 minutes | Dec 3, 2021
Exploring the Forest Canopy with Meg Lowman
In our continuing series on climate change, I talk to Meg Lowman who knows more about trees than most people on this planet. She invented canopy ecology - the practice of studying trees in the treetops - and has worked across 46 countries and 7 continents, designing hot air balloons and walkways and other ways to explore and study this diverse biosphere. We discuss her recent book, The Arbonaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us. This riveting memoir takes us from her small-town roots in New England to her work in Australia, where she first climbed trees to study leaves and also, along the way, married an Australian sheep rancher and had her two sons, to her exploration of forests in California, India, Malaysia, Ethiopia and beyond. Lowman’s prognosis for the future of our forests is grim but her message is clear: “It's not good enough to plant trees. We have to save the big trees!” One way we can do that is by supporting treefoundation.org, which is working to build ten canopy walkways in the ten most endangered forests of the world - an innovation which not only allows visitors to experience the dynamic life and biodiversity of the canopy but also brings economic and social benefits to the people living near these forests, thus helping the local communities and helping to save their forests. For more see https://in-the-weeds.net
36 minutes | Nov 19, 2021
Studying Climate Change at Black Rock Forest with Andy Reinmann
To find out what we know about how a warming planet will affect the forests in my home state of New York, I visit Black Rock Forest, a research station in the Hudson Highlands, and talk to Andy Reinmann, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Sciences Initiative at the Advanced Science Research Center of the Graduate Center, CUNY and in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at Hunter College. We talk Phenocams, melting snow packs in New England, which tree species are likely to survive a warmer climate and how trees can help mitigate the impact of erratic weather in cities and suburbs. And glory in the beauty of a New York autumn! in-the-weeds.net to check out the Phenocam network via The University of New Hampshire: https://phenocam.sr.unh.edu/webcam/ Black Rock Forest website: https://www.blackrockforest.org
47 minutes | Nov 5, 2021
The Unnatural World with David Biello
In the second installment of our series on climate change, I talk to environmental journalist and science curator for TED Talks David Biello about his book, The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age. Biello argues that, culturally, we’re still prey to the false notion that there’s a divide between the human and the natural, when, in fact, we humans are dependent on the natural world for our survival and are, furthermore, affecting every corner of the world, no matter how remote. We explore this notion of the Anthropocene - the geologic term meant to define an era in which humans are having such a dramatic effect on the earth that we will leave our mark in the geologic record. Biello argues we need to take ownership of our oversized role and become better, more deliberate and thoughtful stewards of our home. Along the way, he also has lots of interesting stories to tell, from the effort to bring back the wooly mammoth to the use of garbage to generate energy in Rizhao, China.
59 minutes | Oct 18, 2021
Reckoning with our Emotions About the Climate Crisis with Daniel Sherrell
In his new book, Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World, Daniel Sherrell reflects on his career as a climate activist and tries to process the emotional fallout, for himself and his generation - Millennials -, of growing up in the age of climate change. Written as a letter to his imagined future child, the book is a kind of Dantean descent into the pit of emotions - from frustration, grief, rage and despair to hope - that all of us who are engaged with what is happening to our planet must grapple with. This episode inaugurates our new season on climate change and seems like a good point of departure: coming to terms with how we feel about what Dan Sherrell, referencing philosopher Timothy Morton, calls a hyperobject: a problem too big, spatially and temporally, for us to really wrap our heads around. in-the-weeds.netTo lobby Congress to include meaningful climate legislation in the Build-Back-Better bill, I encourage you to check out the Sunrise Movement - sunrisemovement.org
3 minutes | Oct 2, 2021
We’re Back! Intro to A New Season on the Climate Crisis
This past summer, the UN Secretary General, in connection with the UN report on climate change, spoke of a “code red for humanity,” a warning that was underscored by the fires, floods and searing temperatures we saw worldwide. Now, the Democrats in Congress (most of them, anyway) are fighting to pass the most ambitious climate bill to date and, a month from now, the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, will convene in Glasgow. So, do we really have any choice but to tackle the #climatecrisis head on? That said, with all the podcasts on climate change, I’m leaving most of the discussions of the science and technology to others. Our concern, as always, is the intersection of culture and nature - in this case, a nature gone awry as a result of our cultural practices. The connection is almost too obvious, and yet, if industrial technologies and capitalist excess led us into this crisis, what can we say about our culture’s ability to respond to the challenges we face? You can contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
35 minutes | Jun 18, 2021
Mountains and Desire with Margret Grebowicz
In 1923, when British mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to summit Mount Everest, he famously answered “Because it’s there.” These days, there are still many who want to climb Mount Everest, but the conditions of mountaineering have altered significantly: people are outraged by the trash on Mount Everest; concerned about the risks incurred by the Sherpa; worried about environmental degradation and indigenous rights, as in the case of Uluru in Australia, which is now closed to climbers; and, last year, the Himalaya were closed to climbers due to Covid 19. All of this complicates the age-old question, “Why do it?” My guest, the environmental philosopher Margret Grebowicz, argues in her latest book, Mountains and Desire, that mountaineering is a kind of test case for the challenge of knowing what desire really is in our late-capitalist era when the things we love to do are so often appropriated by everything from advertising to popular culture and social media.For a list of suggested documentaries on climbing see in-the-weeds.netTo contact us with suggestions, questions, etc. write to email@example.com
42 minutes | Jun 1, 2021
The Rich Ecology of Oak Trees with Doug Tallamy
Entomologist Doug Tallamy and I discuss his new book, The Nature of Oaks, in which he pulls back the curtain on the fascinating world of living creatures that inhabit oak trees. From acorn weevils to spun glass caterpillars, the book introduces us to a cast of unusual characters, many of them insects. Tallamy and I discuss these characters, how to best plant oaks (pssst! plant acorns) as well as other engaging and useful oak facts. To listen to my earlier interviews with Doug Tallamy, you can click here for my interview on Bringing Nature Home and here for my episode on Nature’s Best Hope. For images and links that supplement this episode see https://in-the-weeds.net/podcast/oaks-with-doug-tallamy/To reach out to me with ideas, suggestions, pitches, etc. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
61 minutes | May 13, 2021
The Forests of Toni Morrison’s Beloved with Philip Weinstein
In our fourth episode on the forest in fiction, I speak to Philip Weinstein, Professor Emeritus of Swarthmore College and author of numerous books on fiction, including What Else But Love? The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison, about the forest and the natural world in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. In this gripping story by the Nobel-prize winning author, the forest plays numerous roles, including that of a place of refuge - notably during Sethe’s escape from slavery -, a place exempt from institutional pressures, and a place that remembers a pre-European past and connects former slaves to an America future.To learn more about the history of American slavery, listen to Slate's podcast with Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion.For more about In the Weeds, go to our website in-the-weeds.net.
73 minutes | Apr 14, 2021
The Forest of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Randall Martin
In our third episode on the forests of the Western imagination, I discuss A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Randall Martin, Professor of English at the University of New Brunswick and author of Shakespeare & Ecology. Associated with the night, with dreams, the imagination, madness, and the theater itself, the forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream - inhabited by fairies who delight in playing pranks on the Athenians who enter it - is not merely a passive backdrop but, rather, a potent realm that challenges many of the traditional categories of Western culture, including the distinction between humans and other living beings. Randall Martin tells us about the actual forests of Shakespeare’s time and the emerging ecological problems of Early Modern England, which sound surprisingly familiar. Shakespeare, he tells us, has a “fantastic ability to mirror back to us our most recent ideas and concerns and emotions,” and, indeed, A Midsummer Night’s Dream turns up a whole host of environmental concerns that haunt us today, from climate change to worries about genetic engineering to invasive species.For links and further information see https://in-the-weeds.net/podcast/the-forest-of-shakespeares-a-midsummer-nights-dream-with-randall-martin/
58 minutes | Mar 23, 2021
The Tangled Woods of the Psyche: Ellen Handler Spitz on Sondheim and Lapine’s Into the Woods
In the second episode of our series on the forest in fiction, Ellen Handler Spitz - a renowned specialist of psychology and the arts and senior lecturer in the Humaninties program at Yale - and I discuss Sondheim and Lapine’s musical, Into the Woods. Into the Woods brings together characters and story lines from several well-known fairy tales, drawing particularly on the Brothers Grimm’s versions, and explores the moral repercussions of the characters’ actions in a second act that begins “Once upon a time… later.” In his 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment, psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim likens the woods of fairy tales to the unconscious. Spitz gives us a new version of this analogy, arguing that in Into the Woods, the woods function as “the province of and” where the choices we have to make in real life are suspended; where you “can meet a wolf, or a witch, a giant, a spell or a prince,” which may cause you to change or to learn something new. But there is no easy resolution in Sondheim and Lapine’s musical. As Red Riding Hood reflects, after having survived her encounter with the wolf, “isn’t it nice to know a lot!…. and a little bit not.” If you’ve never seen Into the Woods, I encourage you to watch the stage production before you listen to this episode. A big thank you to Stephanie Kovacs Cohen and Adam David Cohen from Arc Stages who allowed me to use audio excerpts from their wonderful 2104 production of Into the Woods in this episode. You can watch their production in its entirety here. For more information on the In the Weeds podcast, go to in-the-weeds.netFollow us on Twitter @intheweedspod
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