Month: May 2012

Larson Hair in Dirt Far Side Wordle

Journey to the Far Side: There’s a Hair in my Dirt!

My first exposure to Gary Larson’s work came at the impressionable age of five; my uncle had left behind The Far Side Gallery at my grandmother’s place. Reading very little English at the time, I flipped through the collection of cartoons full of animals and people in strange situations and enjoyed them as silly drawings. As I came to understand the captions of those comics, I saw and appreciated Larson’s work in a new light. In hindsight, the Far Side comics probably did a number on me growing up, shaping and twisting my sense of humour in all sorts of strange, quirky, and unhealthy ways. Two decades later, I continue to find Larson’s work hilarious and bizarre. Imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered that he had published another book after his retirement from the comic business. I immediately ran out to the local library (an unabashed plug for this gem of a public resource) and checked out There’s a Hair in my Dirt! A Worm’s Story. Like in many of his Far Side comics, …

Children and Environmental Tragedies

My last entry touched briefly on the appropriateness of exposing children to environmental tragedies and injustices. Today, I came across a gem of a passage in an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin. Titled The Child and the Shadow, it explored the importance of myths, fairy-tales, and coming of age stories in confronting the shadow in all of us, represented by the other side of the psyche and is the dark brother of the conscious mind. The particular passage that caught my eye came as Le Guin ruminates on ways to effectively convey difficult and mature subjects to children. She focuses on the notion of evil, which she describes as “all the pain and suffering and waste and loss and injustice we will meet all our lives long, and must face and cope with over and over and over, and admit, and live with, in order to live human lives at all.” The following are her thoughts; I bolded the parts I found most interesting: “But what, then, is the naturalistic writer for children to …

Jim Henson's Dinosaurs Word Cloud

A 90’s Flashback: Dinosaurs’ Changing Nature

Television sitcoms are unlikely sources for meaningful stories about the environment. But there are exceptions. I found one of them in Jim Henson’s Dinosaurs, a puppet show that ran for four seasons from 1991 to 1994. Dinosaurs takes place in 60 million years BC and follows the lives of a typical dinosaur family: Earl Sinclair, father; Fran Sinclair, mother (voiced by Jessica Walters, for all you Arrested Development fans out there); Robbie Sinclair, son; Charlene Sinclair, daughter; Junior Sinclair, aka The Baby; and Grandmother Phillips. The show is a satirized portrayal of the American household; each episode typically features the family dealing with topical issues of the day. The LA Times described the show as a “consistently funny comedy to chew on, the only spot on television where the Mesozoic Era intersects with witty social commentary.” Many regarded the show as a unique blend of The Honeymooners, The Flintstones, and All in the Family. The series finale titled “Changing Nature” revolves around Earl’s irresponsible actions towards the environment, and provided an emotional and lasting experience …

Changing Planes Nna Mmoy Language Word Cloud

Changing Planes: The Nna Mmoy Language

I downloaded the audiobook version of Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin before a trip so I had something to listen to on a flight. I couldn’t resist the purchase upon reading the premise of the short story collection: The airport serves not only as a space to wait for connecting flights, but also as a place where savvy and knowledgeable travelers can explore other planes of existence.  “Changing planes” thus takes on a whole different meaning. Changing Planes is written in the style of a travelogue, providing brief ethnographic vignettes of different fictional civilizations and cultures. The narration deserves a special mention: Gabrielle de Cuir’s dreamy ethereal voice lends itself perfectly to the fantastical voyages found in Changing Planes. Each of the short tales showcases the power and breadth of imagination that is inherent to the speculative fiction genre; Le Guin asks “What if…” and allows the narrative to take shape around the question. What if there was an island of people who never die? What are the consequences of having random people …

An Integrated Landscape: Yongsan National Park

Humans evolved to love nature. So city-dwellers, too, can and are rediscovering this natural connection, finding that it enhances our health, learning, and fun. As we reconnect with nature, it’s likely that support for public action to heal the natural world will grow too. (Frances Moore Lappé, EcoMind: Changing the way we think, to create the world we want, p.197) That quote was in my mind when I came across an interesting link, courtesy of Knowledge Ecology, on a new proposed national park in Korea. Winning proposal for Yongsan National Park in Seoul, Korea: Rotterdam-based urban design and landscape architecture practice west 8 and korean firm IROJE have collaboratively designed ‘Yongsan park’, the winning proposal for the International Competition for Master plan of Yongsan park in Seoul, Korea. The master plan transforms a 243 hectare site within the center of the urban fabric which has been isolated with a secure wall into a park. Previously used as a military base during both Japanese and American occupation, the green space will provide residents with a sublime …

Michael Pollan Second Nature: A Gardener's Education Word Cloud 2

Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Part 2

Welcome to part two of the analysis on Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: a Gardener’s Education. In this entry, I’ll focus on my two favourite chapters of the book: Planting a Tree and The Idea of a Garden. The Meaning of a Tree In Planting a Tree, Pollan explores the fascinating and ever-changing cultural significance of a tree. Once again, his reflections come out of his horticultural adventures; the chapter chronicles his thoughts as he decides on the right tree for his yard. The act of tree planting prompts Pollan to delve deep into American history to explore the meanings people have come to attach to the tree: The Divine Tree: Native Americans saw and treated trees as divine spirits, only to be cut down in need. The Tree of Evil: Puritans despised them as symbols for pantheism, danger, and darkness. The Tree as a Weed: New England subsistence farmers regarded them as obstacles to settlement. To them, the clear-cut landscape was viewed as a sign of progress and civilization. The Tree as a Commodity: The …

A Landscape’s Story: The Nitobe Memorial Garden

With the focus on nature-culture relationships within the confines of the garden, I would like to share my experience at the Nitobe Memorial Garden at the University of British Columbia last week. A Japanese Zen garden can itself be interpreted as a narrative of change, revolving around the natural and human cycles of birth, maturation, growth, and death. (At least that’s what the pamphlet says!) Here are some photos and descriptions of my journey through the beautiful and meticulously designed landscape: “Each tree, stone and shrub has been deliberately placed and is carefully maintained to reflect an idealized conception and symbolic representation of nature. There is harmony among natural forms – waterfalls, rivers, forests, islands and seas – and a balance of masculine and feminine forces traditionally attributed to natural elements.” (Nitobe Memorial Garden website)  “Water crossings reflect different life stages such as marriage, spiritual growth, etc.” (Nitobe Memorial Garden guide pamphlet) “…the 7-storey pagoda adds an exotic beauty to aid peaceful meditation. The buddha carving suggests a teenager’s search for life’s meaning.” (Nitobe Memorial …