Editors: Colin Meldrum, Michael James Wilson, Amanda DiSanto, Micah Unice
The hardcopy of A cappella Zoo Issue 5 for today’s review was provided by the editors at A cappella Zoo.
Read selections from A cappella Zoo 5 here.
(And for more fun, read an interview with Editor Colin Meldrum by Jim Harrington at the Six Questions For… blog.)
If I had to describe a theme or a common thread for A cappella Zoo (AZ) issue 5, it would be this: voids, and that which fills them. AZ5 reads like a volume of the Never-Never Encyclopedia of the Esoteric: pages of places both peopled and unpeopled, people without places, people displaced. The contributors for this issue ponder voids of unknown, and speculate on the voices heard within. The result is a collection of literature which ultimately places the sketchbook and pencils in my hand this week – these works are adequately vivid and tangible to fuel your own creative engine through those long, dark nights.
The curtain opens with Showtime by Nancy Gold, winner of the Apospecimen Award for Fiction. Gold’s piece sets the tone for subsequent selections by deftly weaving emotion and imagination with a spindle of belief – the belief that we can be more than the sum of our parts; that our hearts are vessels meant to be filled. This is the first of many pieces which playfully create images that are both impossible and perfectly conceivable. (Read Showtime and just try not to look at your ankles and ponder a few tiny wings about their knobbly bones.)
I never read journals front to back, which is why I next bounce forward to Movie Man by Melissa Ross, telling of “a boy born in the projection booth of a tower in the sky away from the Earth as we know it;” first we are cast into the sky, and next drawn into the intimacy of Earth’s shadows.
In Borges’ Bookstore by David Misialowski smacks of one of my favorite Burgess Meredith Twilight Zones: “Time Enough at Last” (see also Jorge Luis Borges). This maze, void of reason and physical law, wraps upon itself into a complete, neat package. Speaking of neat packages, poetry lovers might like to begin with : sign language : by Joseph A. W. Quintela (whose work I seem to find everywhere these days). The unique composition of this poem is a perfect complement to austere images of solitude, plains, and big, wide sky, cleft open by shared experience.
This completeness is a quality I appreciate throughout AZ5: stories which, while wildly catalyzed, still anchor themselves in some clearly-formed thought. No matter how outrageous our surroundings, each author still affords us a compass with which to navigate the realm. Pestilence by Jason Jordan is such an excellent example: a form of tethered madness.
Many of the AZ5 contributors counterbalance the darker shades of humanity with artful prose and poetry, or a bit of wicked humor. Perhaps the most disturbing yet effective piece is The Crushing by Phillip Neel, which I may have otherwise stopped reading because of the nastiness of the descriptions, had it not been for the clever and poignant entrance to this particular void: that dirty of dirties, the DMV. I’m glad I kept reading – the payoff of this piece is what ranks it among my favorites for this issue.
Similarly The Snake Charmer’s Teeth by Mike Meginnis still haunts me weeks after reading, wherein a cruel story is sculpted with both elegance and requisite gentleness. What the Calf Daughter Knows by Rob Cook is both brutal and beautiful. This persistent poem stands out bone white against the void: completely unignorable.
It’s tough to pick a favorite, especially when I find a journal like A cappella Zoo which is good enough to reread many times. However, the sentimentalist (or perhaps the Japanese lit lover) in me found the deepest connection in A Tale of a Snowy Night by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei. In this story, space is not a function of distance or time, but of empathy. Naoko grounds us in crisp imagery which is as familiar as it is fantastical. Aren’t we all, in some small way, a crate of hopeful apples?
Einstein Plays Guitar by Tania Hershman is also a rewarding read: a well-developed snapshot of those graceful and fleeting whispers of true knowledge. Birds Every Child Should Know by Kate Riedel is another of my favorites from AZ5. I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first; but the more I read Birds, the more I feel the weight of each angelic, warmly feathered lump. In this piece we glimpse the unknown aflutter with spirit, the glittering moments we share with others that spark us on an entirely new path.
Thank you, Theodore Carter, for the tears I cried upon reading the final lines of The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob. With much of speculative fiction favoring the apocalyptic, it’s always helpful to recall with specificity that which we might lose in the aftermath.
If you wish to truly be suspended in the void, begin your journey through AZ5 with Sleepmaps by Barry Napier tucked firmly in your back pocket. Personally, I love dream-inspired art; this poem spares no effort in reaching for the most tangible sensations of the dreaming world, such that I too “never want to wake.”
I want to thank the editors of A cappella Zoo for preparing such an effective cross-section of mind-opening literature for issue 5. Each piece is clearly selected for its creation of both precipice and foothold. What I like most about reading specfic – especially GOOD specfic – is that constant feeling of discovery in each page. I love experiments in literature which keep me guessing and thinking and unraveling, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in A cappella Zoo: a bit of the unknown, made knowable.
Greetings and Welcome to Berry Go Round #30, the blog carnival which celebrates all things botanical!
Kind thanks to the coordinators from Seeds Aside and A Neotropical Savanna for inviting me to host BGR. This month’s submissions hail from many blogs that I do not normally frequent, which has made this issue a delight to compose.
Fortunately for all of us, there are many smart people online writing about what they know, and today we get to hear from people who know plants. This issue represents scientists, hobbyists, artists, educators, botanists, writers, gardeners, forest dwellers, outdoor enthusiasts, and the rainbow of curious among us.
I sense that these bloggers share a common hope, will, desire, impetus perhaps, to help all us homo sapiens reconnect ourselves with the earth’s systems in a very basic way: through dirt, and wind, and green things, and things that go raaaawwwrrrr.
I invite you to spend the month exploring these articles, and to give yourself a chance to read every one.
Note: Whereas some botanists, paleobotanists, and geeks of their ilk seem to share a general nerdy love of intellectual discussion occasionally punctuated with expletives and sexual innuendo, I’ll offer a blanket PG-13 rating to this month’s carnival.
Our first peek is for the orchid lovers out there (of which I am but one of countless hopeful amateurs). Mr_Subjunctive of Plants are the Strangest People shares Geneticist (Phalaenopsis cvv.), Part I, a fun and insightful discussion about why there aren’t many yellow- and red-flowering Phalaenopsis varieties. Mr_Subjunctive gives us enough background and peripheral knowledge to make the discussion relevant and understandable, while keeping us entertained with the facts of life, and a smattering of speculative footnotes ranging from tetraploid humans to bananapocalypse. There’s plenty more at this blog to whet any cultivator’s appetite, so be sure to poke around the pages.
Elaine Medline of Memorizing Nature waxes whimsical with wildflowers including Daisy (Asteraceae), Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), buttercups (Ranunculus), blackberries (Rubus), strawberries (Fragaria), and thistles (Cirsium) in Beauty in the Ditch. Her prose reminds us to keep our minds and senses open to the unexpected – good advice for scientists and artists alike. Wander around and read her other recent musings on turtles (Testudines), honey bees (Apis), bulrushes (sedges, Typha I believe), and Canadian geese (Branta canadensis).
Speaking of sedges, from the New York Flora Association Blog I was delighted to get a look at numerous rare plants shared by Steve Young of the NY Natural Heritage Program, including white-edge sedge (Carex debilis var. debilis), and sticky sundew (Drosera filiformis) which I heretofore have known only from fairy tales.
This seems like the perfect time to share a little about the Sustainable Prisons Project, a partnership of the Washington State Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College. The Sustainable Prisons Project found its roots when my friend/mentor Dr. Nalini Nadkarni got it in her head to work with prisoners to experiment with cultivating mosses for use in the floral industry (wild harvesting of mosses takes a heavy toll on Northwest forests). Take a look at their mission statement:
Our mission is to reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices. Equally important, we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners.
Talk about positive intersections of plants and people! Read the stories, take a look at their accomplishments, and if you need a starting point I suggest that you visit the blog to hear journal entries from Graduate Student Carl Ellot in Growing Plants and Potential: Stafford Creek Nursery Project. [Note: If you’re a scientist looking for similar opportunities to make meaningful connections with the public, I recommend another one of Nalini’s branch projects, the Research Ambassador Program.]
Now let us wander to the foothills of the Ozark Highlands where research entomologist Ted C. MacRae of Beetles in the Bush shares the Friday Flower – Dwarf Spiderwort, also known as a wild crocus. Ted offers exquisite images of the shy Tradescantia longipes, including details on where and how it grows and the tricks it seems to use to attract insect pollinators in the absence of nectar. Needless to add, Ted has a wealth of information available on beetles to satisfy your every inquiry.
This month I enjoyed one of the many benefits of plant blogging: plant bloggers who are smarter than me. I blogged about the wild cones growing on a Christmas tree planted ten years ago, only to learn that the tree had been mislabeled, and I had never thought to double check its identity. Thanks to the keen eye and swift detective work of The Phytophactor, the tree has been correctly identified as a Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) and not a Blue spruce (Picea pungens). I invite you to visit The Phytophactor for the glorious Friday Fabulous Flower – Sacred Lotus, among other thought-provoking blog posts.
Sarcozona of Gravity’s Rainbow gives us a unique glimpse at a pretty sanded cross-section of pinyon pine bark and core. Also recommended by Sarcozona: from the DISCOVER Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, an article describing how Mosses use explosive cannons and mushroom clouds to spread their spores. This is a fascinating article revealing how peat moss (Sphagnum), apparently one of the more common plants on earth, employs spore cannons to propel precious genetic material high enough into the ether (a whopping 10 centimeters) in a sort of ‘vortex ring’ so as to be caught and carried by air currents for the furtherance of the species.
Take a break from reading and visit Greg Laden’s blog on ScienceBlogs for the eye candy tour of Plants = Love at Coon Rapids Dam East. Shown here are wildflowers from a prairie ecological restoration project just downstream from Coon Rapids Dam on the east side of the Mississippi River. As reflected in the comments, it’s easy to spot one or two invasives which have wiggled their way among the many gorgeous intentional plantings, but speaking as a gardener, I’ve learned that one must forge a sort of ruthless persistence balanced by an acquiescent peace with the invasives. Face it – a lot of invasive plants are really pretty, really fragrant, and really easy to grow, (*cough* Buddleia davidii *cough*).
Also from Greg Laden, Nature Stinks, a discussion about the notorious corpse plant (Amorphophallus titanium), aka “Big Giant Formless Penis,” which as he aptly describes is a popular yet stinky specimen found in many botanical gardens, (not excluding the University of Washington’s “Waldo,” recently on view at Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory on Capitol Hill).
Greg next submitted “How to Become a Yucca Moth”: An interview with researcher Jeremy Yoder by Chris Clarke of Coyote Crossing. I’m including this piece because of how nicely it shows the interrelationships between people, biota, and landscape and connects each of us to these peculiar trees. Before the interview, Chris gives us a quick synopsis of Joshua trees’ mutualism with two species of moths:
“Tegeticula synthetica (which works with the western population of trees, these days dubbed subspecies Yucca brevifolia brevifolia) and Tegeticula antithetica (the partner of the eastern subspecies, Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana). The tree can’t reproduce without the moth, and the moth can’t reproduce without the tree.”
Stepping out of the wilderness and into agribusiness, Jeremy Cherfas submits posts from the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog written with compadre Luigi Guarino. These articles discuss agricultural trends, plant domestication, and the tricky business of reconstructing the evolutionary past of important staple crops. First, we explore some arguments (and counterarguments) on discussions which pitch organic agriculture against industrial agriculture.
Next, we hear about the challenges in peasant agriculture with Detoxifying Cassava. I like the way Jeremy and Luigi tend to discuss issues from several different perspectives – take some time to read through this article and ponder what it means to say, “This crop needs peace.”
In Looking for leimotifs in the early history of wheat and rice, we are all welcomed to the rich archaeobotanical table heaped with mystery, complexity, and more than a modicum of wonder. As in, I wonder how many of us think regularly about the long-reaching relationships between homo sapiens and so many species of plants? I really appreciate how these two bloggers manage to distill big ideas into meaningful discussions for all us lay-folk.
JSK from Anybody Seen My Focus? shares the lovely Pale Beardtongue or Eastern White Beardtongue (Penstemon pallidus) wildflowers, complete with photos captured at Fort Yargo State Park. Meanwhile TGIQ of Fall To Climb gives us an up-close-and-personal glimpse at the deceptively humble carnivore, common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris).
And Sandy Steinman at Natural History Wanderings gives us a lovely slide show revealing Very Tiny Wildflowers of White Mt. and Mono Lake Areas.
This month from Seeds Aside we get a good look at lasagna garden beds – a gardening method which builds beds with many thin layers organic matter. We see healthy cucurbits, tomatoes, and… potatoes sprouting in this soil experiment (hop over and play “Name that strain”). After picking up a copy of The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, I too have learned to adopt a similarly practical gardening approach and can speak to its success. Seeds Aside also suggests Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza.
At A Neotropical Savanna Mary Farmer brings us Cissus the Scrambler, documenting the careful plant identification process one step at a time. First, the vine is distinguished by the leaves (alternate and compound), and is determined as a member of the Vitaceae family with the aid of the tendrils. For anyone new to botany and plant identification, I’d like to point out Mary Farmer’s Plant Article resources from Learn Plants Now, including 19 Basic Botanical Terms.
I see clouds moving in, which means it’s time to visit fellow Pacific Northwest resident Mike of The Slugyard. This month I wrote The Makings of Good Tree Forts, in which I mention the use of creeping plants or long grasses to lash and bind sticks. And as serendipity would have it, Mike blogged about the plant I knew from my youth by the neighborhood-kid-appellation “stickyweed” (we had a few similarly unscientific names which basically referred to its all-purpose function as a playtime binding agent). In Cleavers sticks to you, Mike gives a name and references one of my personal favorite identification books for these parts, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, to tell us more about this clingy little creeper. Thanks, Mike, for matching a name to a fond plant memory.
Head over for a visit with Watcher at Watching the World Wake Up for Idaho Vacation Part 2: The Weird Flowers of the Lochsa Valley. If you stopped by Watcher’s place while reading BGR 29, you may have already read Idaho Vacation Part 1: Trampy Flowers, Running Bears and Glacial Moraines. Look for follow-ups in Fat, Low & Orange: Catch-Up, Corrections and Filler.
Feel the thick, restive humidity of summer at Rock Paper Lizard, starting with Bee’s Work whereupon the magic of photographer and pollinator reveals the globe thistle (Echinops). Or sit back and regard The State of Things with Santolina, blue elderberry (Sambucus), and creeping Crassulaceae.
Naturally, there is a lot to see over at A Plant A Day, so I’ll conclude our issue with yet another pretty (albeit, poisonous) flower: Mountain Deathcamas-Zigadenus elegans of the lily family. I’m landing you here to drift off and peruse the pages for plenty more plant fun.
I want to thank everyone who submitted links, to nature bloggers everywhere, to the coordinators who keep this green blog carnival alive, and to all our readers. And with that, I’m off to play outside…
But wait — the fun doesn’t end here!
Everyone is invited to keep the celebration kicking this August 1st with issue 50 of The Festival of the Trees, themed especially to examine trees from from a kid’s-eye-view with host Roberta Gibson of the Growing With Science Blog. (Can you name her mystery seed of the week?)
Berry Go Round is always looking for volunteers to host future carnivals. To learn how to submit or volunteer to host, visit the coordinating blog.