Tag Archives: badassery

Wayfinding

If you like to spend time exploring outside, chances are you’ve at some point wandered off trail or gotten disoriented enough to experience that frantic, heart-buzzing feeling of being lost. I know I have. The first time I felt that panic was on a teenage backpacking trip in the blue ridge mountains. I took Stanley, our latrine-digging spade, on a too-ambitious ramble in search of privacy, and nearly lost my group, and my mind. I can still recall the relief of hearing their voices calling my name. Damn that Stanley. Since then I’ve been disoriented in white-out blizzards, and stumbled around in high brush off trail, but I’ve never really been dangerously lost without a map and compass.

Retracing your steps, looking for landmarks, hiking to a high point, or even following the flow of water may get you out of the woods (literally), but there are lots of other options — including using birds, trees, and celestial bodies — to consider when wayfinding.

Check out Atlas Obscura’s gorgeous collaboration with expert nature navigator Tristan Gooley and illustrator Chelsea Beck and learn a thing or two about wood craft!

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Madness

I hereby interrupt the latest depressing, devastating news cycle for this sports break: Now this is my kind of March Madness . . .

Check out Skunk Bear’s 2016 tournament champ here.

One possible result in the Mighty Mini Mammals division of 2015's Mammal March Madness tournament. If the species that's seeded highest always wins its bracket, the fennec fox will beat out the rest of the division and advance to the final four.

Adam Cole/NPR

The Dream

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I urge you to at some point take a break and listen to his most famous speech. It has always given me chills, but never more than today, a time when it is unfortunately, unbelievably, still so relevant.

Credit: Getty Images

Dr. King would have been 88 this month, which is younger than my grandma was when she passed away last summer. Many of the original Freedom Riders and founders of the Civil Rights Movement are still with us. John Lewis is still fighting his ass off for the resistance — most recently protesting this nightmare of an incoming administration by boycotting the inauguration. I’m currently reading his autobiographical graphic novel trilogy March, about his life and the founding of the movement. It’s a visceral history lesson, as horrifying and inspirational as you would expect. The sacrifices these people made — their bravery and dedication — are incredible, and must never be underestimated.

But of course this “history” is current. We’re living in it right now. There is still so much work to be done. Between threats to civil rights and liberties, the dignity of women, non-Christians, and immigrants, international diplomacy, the environment, and the entire freakin’ Earth itself, I sometimes feel like my head and heart are going to explode from disbelief and outrage. But as we continue to fight against and resist this myriad of evil bullshit, let’s also take a minute to acknowledge all the good and necessary work that has come before. Let it feed us.

As King said, The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. So long as we show up.

Review of Lab Girl

Check out my latest review for Orion magazine, and then check out the book!

Lab Girl by Hope JahrenLab Girl
By Hope Jahren
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
$26.95, 304 pages.

“People are like plants: they grow toward the light. I chose science because science gave me what I needed — a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be,” writes geobiologist Hope Jahren, in Lab Girl, her luminous debut memoir.

Raised in a stoic, midwestern household where “the vast emotional distances between the individual members . . . [were] forged early and reinforced daily,” Jahren grew up living a bit of a double life. By day she helped her mother in the garden and did traditional “girl things,” but at night she’d follow her father to his teaching lab at the local community college and find her true sanctuary. Roaming after hours, rifling through drawers, contemplating equipment, and experimenting with pH strips and slide rulers, Jahren felt like a superhero in the lab, shedding her daywear as she transformed “from a girl into a scientist.” In spite of a complete lack of female scientist role models, her desire — even need — to become one herself was built upon this bone-deep instinct she doggedly pursued for decades.

Today, with a bevy of prestigious awards, professorships, and a long list of scientific publications written in a rare “language that very few people can read and that no one ever speaks,” Jahren is prolific in her field. But it turns out that she has impressive conversational chops, too. Peppered with literary references to Ganet, Beckett, Dickens, and Thoreau, Jahren’s honest prose is insightful, eloquent, and funny, and she has a gift for explaining hard science in the most bewitching way.

As chapters alternate between the personal and ecological, we learn how willows clone themselves, how trees remember their past, how seeds incubate, and why cacti form spines. But we also see how these natural phenomena parallel Jahren’s own journey. A passage on the tenacity of a vine that “becomes whatever it needs to be and does whatever it must in order to make real its fabulous pretensions” is cleverly paired with a frustrating but fascinating account of the never-ending battle to secure funding for science. It’s a common struggle in a country that “may say it values science, but sure as hell doesn’t want to pay for it.”

But the real heart of the book is the story of her touching relationship with Bill, her brilliant, disaffected lab partner. Fiercely loyal to each other, Bill and Jahren are kindred spirits, fraternal twins born of different mothers, matched in their insatiable curiosity, monster work ethic, and eccentricity. Together they build and move three different labs, often living below the poverty line in lean times, and in Bill ’s case, actually living in the lab.

Lab Girl is a book about being a woman in science as much as it is a clarion call to follow your passion. But in the end, it’s easy to see the book as a love note — not just to plants, to science, and to the sweetness of discovery, but also to friendship and loyalty, to journeys big and small, to belonging and becoming.

— Kathleen Yale