Saturday, August 29, 2009

Take a Look, It's in a Book

You might have heard that after 26 years on PBS, Reading Rainbow aired its last episode this week. As an overly nostalgic, progressively educated 26-year-old, I am saddened by this news. Reading Rainbow didn't teach children to read; rather it taught children to love to read. This got me thinking about some of my favorite children's books, and among them is the Shel Silverstein classic, The Giving Tree. Just like the title character, this book offers me different things as I grow older and learn new things. When I was little, it was a simple story of a tree who loved and supported a boy as he grew into a man. When I was a teenager, it irked me as a disturbing allegory of a woman who gave all of herself to a man and received little in return. Lately, I see it as a commentary on shifting priorities in life and, with more recent study, as a testament to humankind's dependence on nature to preserve our way of life.

For those of you who don't own a copy of The Giving Tree, you can find the 1973 animated version narrated by the author here. Enjoy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book 'em, Danno -- Arborcide!

Always a lover of trees, I have become increasingly sensitive to the way people take them for granted. Many of you may have heard about the extraordinary tree loss in Central Park last week due to the violent storms. A sudden destruction of so many trees in a landmark park makes people stop and think about the significance of such a loss. But most of the time, many people think of trees as hindrance -- some object in the way of a view, or, in the case of my parents' neighbor in Philly, a post to be used as a fence anchor (see photo -- this iron necklace will strangle this tree) or something in need of ridiculous decoration (again, see photo -- I hate this tasteless tree art, and note it is affixed with long screws). Never mind the fact that a single mature tree can produce 1/4 of the amount of oxygen breathed by an adult human per day, that a tree can noticeably reduce the temperature on the sidewalk and remove harmful pollutants from the air! I am, therefore, extremely grateful that in 1996 NYC made it illegal and punishable by law (up to $15,000 in fines or jail time up to one year) to remove, murder or damage any street or park tree. Next time you see someone disrespect a tree, please remind them of all the wonderful things that tree is selflessly doing for them.

Photo by Alex Hills

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Secret Garden

Today, while doing laundry, I spent about an hour in the backyard of my building. It was too hot to focus on my book, so I spent nearly the entire time admiring the plants that my neighbor so carefully cultivates. (He even waters my little rosemary plant.) The variety and abundance of these plants in our shady little yard is amazing, so I wanted to share some photos of them here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bonus Post (To Make Up for the Week I Missed)

Little bit off topic, since this video was taken in upstate NY, but I like how this vine is slowly making its way onto the deck and spiraling up the leg of this chair.

Untitled from Alicia West on Vimeo.

A New Perspective

I'm about 30 pages into the seminal text The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design by Anne Whiston Spirn. Spirn argues that, contrary to prevailing notions, the city is part of nature. She writes, "The city is neither wholly natural nor wholly contrived. It is not 'unnatural' but, rather, a transformation of 'wild' nature by humankind to serve its own needs." To Spirn, nature is a continuum, and its influence on how cities are designed is undeniable. One of her most striking examples of this so far is the Manhattan skyline. I have always thought it was strange how Manhattan's financial districts and their skyscrapers were located so far apart -- one at the tip of the island and the other in midtown. It seemed arbitrary, and I assumed money and influence gave rise to these two forests of steel 60 blocks apart. Not so! According to Spirn, these locations are particularly suited for building high because of the proximity of the underlying bedrock to the surface. There's something comforting about nature's power and endurance. As Spirn puts it, "Civilizations and governments rise and fall; traditions, values, and policies change; but the natural environment of each city remains an enduring framework within which the human community builds." Wise words.