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Living and Writing in the Natural World

The mood of the universe these days

Today we got in the mail an envelope postmarked simply “Buckingham Palace” with an enclosed card from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Will and Kate. On my walk through Bidwell Park the grey, leafless oaks were accented by scores of bright cream and pink flowers of intervening Prunus wild cherry saplings. And on my way to the grocery I listened to Jon Miller and David Fleming on the radio calling the plays of the San Francisco Giants first game of spring training. What do all these things have in common?  Read More 
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Lazarus species 2: "Dawn" Redwood

A swarm of redwood species blanketed the Northern Hemisphere from 100 to 20 million years ago. In 1948, most were known and studied only as fossils, the leading authority being Professor Ralph Chaney of Berkeley. He was particularly interested in extinct members of the genus Metasequoia, the last of which had disappeared 30 million years ago. The San Francisco Chronicle’s science writer, Milton Silverman, was in Chaney’s office in January of 1948 when Chaney opened a bulky package covered with Chinese stamps from the day’s mail. Out tumbled a recently-living branch with green needle-leaves, the opposite arrangement of needles identifying it as—Metasequoia! Chaney promptly fainted onto his desk.  Read More 
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Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin

Today is Charles Darwin’s birthday, and hardly anyone has done more for the true understanding of us humans and our world than this good Victorian gentleman. He completed the revolution begun by Copernicus centuries earlier, by establishing clearly that in addition to our planet not being the center of the cosmos, we humans are merely one species of many on the planet, formed by the same processes that form the other species, and in no way exceptional. He established this not by any stroke of genius, but “the old fashioned way,” as the old Smith Barney ad goes. Consider:  Read More 
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A New Year, by China and the Moon

Day after tomorrow is the Chinese Lunar New Year, which means tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and it’s time to be putting up the lanterns and thinking about the menu. The Chinese way of celebrating the new year is very different than our western one, and because of the differences their celebration has survived thousands of years and precipitates the greatest annual human migration on the planet. There’s a good reason for that.  Read More 
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Rhythms of a Human Life

A roaring bonfire in the middle of an almond orchard, talk about the stages of life, lots of wine and crystalline stars in the night sky—we must be in California! And so we were this past weekend, as we helped a friend of my wife observe her 60th birthday. A human life, like forests and planets and dreams, has a certain rhythm and track to it, and we were celebrating.  Read More 
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