This Week’s Reads: Peering into the Future

Museum Reads header image

Innovation is a buzzword, but the actual act of envisioning a new future and acting on it remains exciting, however overused the word might be. Here are a few cool reads to make your brain stretch, including a few ideas to make you feel good about the potential futures of humanity:

“A Peek inside the Moonshot Factory Operating Manual” about the offshoot of Google that’s focused on developing ‘moonshot’ ideas into tangible futuristic reality.

MISC Magazine’s “The Future According to Women” asks numerous influential women about the visions of the future they see and organizes their responses thematically. (I’m still reading this one, but so far it’s an interesting compilation.)

And in a cross-over from my creative-writing world to my museums/educational/advocacy one, “The New Utopians” and, “The Political Dimensions of Solarpunk.” (This latter one is long and not entirely positive, but has some interesting points to make.)

rowling quote

 

Ideabox: Seeds

"Tangle" by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps.  Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

“Tangle” by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps. Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

We’re down to the last days of seed-pods before winter settles in and gets comfortable in our neighborhood, but if you’ve got a pocket full of acorns from your last nature walk, this post is for you.  Since we’re on quite a tree-kick here at the Art & Nature Center, I’m focusing on tree-seeds for this Ideabox:.  However, if you have great seed-based activities for other kinds of plants, please do share them in the comments below!

ideabox seeds

Visual Art

Seeds in homemade paper, seeds glued to burlap for a plant-able ‘mosaic,’ seeds preserved like jewels in resin (See more of Beth Galston’s works)–there are a lot of cool options for making art with seeds!  My favorite is below:

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it's in Dutch!)

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it’s in Dutch!)

Science

Take a sock-walk!  Collect seeds from trees (and other plants) by putting an old fuzzy pair of socks on *over* your walking/hiking shoes.  Head to the nearest green space/meadow/park/forest preserve/backyard/hiking trail and see what you pick up from the sides of the trail.  Pair this with a seed identification book and see how many species you collected.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch.  Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch. Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Plant a tree!  Fruit trees are a great option for trying some sprouting experiments, because it’s easy for kids to relate to them.  Here are a few sets of recommendations for sprouting trees from your lunchtime leftovers:
Apples
Peaches
Lemons
Cherries

Math

Combine some hands-on, soil-on botany with math by measuring, tracking, and graphing your seed-germination experiments!  What percent of seeds planted sprouted?  What is the average sprout height after two weeks’ growth?  If you give each plant pot a half-cup of water (or considerably less, depending on the size of your pot!) how much water is that in milliliters?

Literature & Dramatic Arts

There are lots of good stories out there about famous tree-planters (Wangari Maathai, Johnny Appleseed, etc.) but here are a few other ideas for talking about tree seeds through literature and dramatic interpretations:

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme!  This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum.  Click for source.

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme! This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum. Click for source.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Click for Powell's link.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book by Jerry Pallotta about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Very fun for drawing those animal/plant connections or as an intro to taking a seed-walk.  Click for Powell’s link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring.  Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler.  Click for Powell's link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring. Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler, could be fun as a kick-off to a seed-collecting expedition. Click for Powell’s link.

seeds - up close

Beautiful photography of tree elements, including amazing seed images of sorts familiar to a New England audience in several stages of development. By Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. Click for Powell’s link.

What did I miss?  Share your favorite seed activities, stories, and more in the comments below, or explore other tree-related posts.

You may also like:

Ideabox: Bark
Ideabox: Leaves
Ideabox: Twigs
Trees in the News

Ideabox: Bark

ideabox bark

It’s time for more tree-inspired fun from the Ideabox!  This week we’re looking at bark (and by extension, some logs, because it is occasionally hard to get one of these without the other).  As always, the Ideabox features suggestions on how to explore an everyday material in an interdisciplinary way.  Suggestions are always welcome!

 

Book of bark drawings by Sallie Lowenstein, featured artist in Branching Out, Trees as Art

Clothed in Bark, book of bark drawings by Sallie Lowenstein, featured artist in Branching Out, Trees as Art

Science: Close-Looking and Identification of Bark

There are still beautiful leaves on the trees to help you tell your white oak from your black oak and your sugar maple from your Norway maple, but soon enough a nature walker will need to be paying attention to bark patterns to identify winter’s sleeping trees.  Enter Michael Wojtech‘s book, Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast.  Wojtech is a fascinating person to talk to, and very passionate about encouraging people to simply *notice* more about their environment (especially trees).  He ran a great session at our Branching Out opening day involving making tree and leaf rubbings, and also using sharpies on acetate to trace the patterns of bark from close-up photographs.  People described the experience as inspirational, meditative, relaxing, and addictive, which seems like a pretty good spectrum to me!

My favorite fact I learned from Michael’s book: tree bark patterns can change as a tree ages.  It makes sense, of course–our skin changes, why wouldn’t a tree’s?  But it makes me look at the trees I walk by every day in a whole new way.

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Literature

Pear tree journal by Tanja Sova. Click for source

Pear tree journal by Tanja Sova. Click for source

I’m not advocating we all carry trees in our pockets, but the journal above was too adorable not to include.

I’ve already linked to cool books about bark elsewhere in this post, so I won’t belabor the point.  Bark is, however, a great source for writing prompts.  Wordlists about texture, color, scars, age marks, fire damage, insect damage, human damage, intersections between human construction and tree life (growing through a fence, perhaps?)–all of those can lead to powerful and imaginative writings for your students or museum visitors.

Culinary

Are you teaching a unit on trees and passing up a chance to make edible bark?  If so, you’re missing a grand opportunity for punning and classic snacks (“ants on a log,” anyone? I always preferred my logs ant-less.  Raisins and I have a very off-again-on-again relationship.)

Here are a few tasty-looking variations on the ‘bark’ candy idea, all featuring chocolate, my favorite tree-based food:

Music

Were you the kind of kid that picked up a stick and ran it along fences or trees on your walk through the neighborhood?  Are you a percussionist at heart?  You may be looking for  The Raw Log Amadinda from Elemental Designs, like the one we have in the Art & Nature Center.  There are a lot of fun ways to make rhythm with sticks and downed logs and tree stumps, but the extra resonance and tuning provided by the folks at Elemental Designs make this particular interactive extremely popular!

The Log Amadinda installed in the Art & Nature Center, just before opening

The Log Amadinda installed in the Art & Nature Center, just before opening

Visual Arts

Cedric Pollet's paperback maple photograph

Cedric Pollet’s paperback maple photograph

Bark is a great option for art-making.  Flakes of bark picked up off the ground (never off a living tree, please!) work fantastically as collage material to give texture.  Bark rubbing or tracing (as seen in the Michael Wojtech pictures above) or drawing (as in Sallie Lowenstein‘s work also above) are classic options for the budding naturalist and the artistic sketcher. For sheer visual impact, not to mention color exploration, it’s worth checking out Cedric Pollet‘s Bark book as well.

I’ve never tried printing with bark, but I’m willing to bet that with the right kind of bark, decent paint, and patience, you could come up with some beautiful textures.

And, of course, there is birchbark etching.  This works best if you know exactly what you’re doing when collecting supplies, and if you’re collecting (or purchasing from someone who collects) responsibly so as not to hurt the tree.  Birchbark, when peeled in winter, has a dark innermost layer that peels off with the outer bark, that when scraped away, reveals the lighter bark of summer.  Artist David Moses Bridges is particularly well known around New England for his work with this material.  He uses both traditional implements, such as horseshoe crab tails, and dental tools to achieve the etching effects he wants on his baskets, plaques, and other works.

Moose on birchbark, etching by David Moses Bridges, featured artist in Branching Out

Moose on birchbark, etching by David Moses Bridges, featured artist in Branching Out

And if you’re in a photographic turn of mind, PEM’s “Trees as Art” Instagram contest is running for one more week.  Tag your photos with #TreesAsArt and enter to win a very fun prize pack from the PEM shop.  Details here.

 instagram trees challenge

Find more tree-related Ideabox fun here:
Ideabox: Twigs
Ideabox: Leaves

Or you might want to check out:
Weird and Wonderful Watercolors
Nature in the Neighborhood

Do you have an inspiring way to explore tree bark?  Share it in the comments below!

 

Trees in the News

Allison Elizabeth Taylor's marquetry piece, Brooklyn Navy Yard, currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum

Allison Elizabeth Taylor’s marquetry piece, Brooklyn Navy Yard, currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum

I spend a lot of time noticing trees these days.  It’s not just that we’re having a beautiful foliage season, or that I’ve been looking forward to Branching Out for over a year–suddenly it seems that there are stories about trees all over the airwaves, be it TV, radio, or wi-fi.  Here are a few of the arboreal articles that caught my eye in the last week or two:

Norway pays Liberia to halt deforestation – apparently there’s a link between deforestation and the current ebola outbreak, in addition to all the other nastiness that comes from clearcutting.  Kind of makes you love Norway, though, doesn’t it?

Trees and climate change – It turns out that trees are as individual as people when it comes to tolerance for heat, drought, and other forms of extreme weather.

NPR celebrates fall colors (still time to submit your photos!)

And one tangentially related, though not limited to trees:

 If We Cared about the Environment like We Care about Football – An incident or two of bad language, but still funny in that sort of painful way.

Do you have any cool news stories (or opinion videos) about trees?  Share them in the comments below!

Branching Out Opens Tomorrow

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014.  Photo by Meg Winikates

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014. Photo by Meg Winikates

The Art & Nature Center’s new show, Branching Out: Trees as Art opens tomorrow, and it’s going to be a fun day of tagua nut scrimshaw, bonsai demonstration, maple syrup and chocolate tasting, storytelling and musical performances, and more.  Learn how to engage in active meditation with a tree, hear participating artists discuss their work, or create your own visual art with data taken from the bioelectric energy of a potted plant in the Maker Lounge!  Programs run 10:30-4.  If you’re in the eastern MA/near NH area tomorrow, come say hi!

Ideabox: Leaves

ideabox leaves

The August blog vacation is over, September is here, and with it comes the opening day for Branching Out, Trees as Art.  So I’ve been compiling cool tree-related links and activities for you for months now, and have a set of companion activities to my earlier post, Ideabox: Twigs.

Leaves are awesome, when you stop to think about them, and this is, quite frankly, the best time of year to think about them if you are lucky enough to live in New England.  Foliage season is as exciting as flowering tree season if you’re me.

Fall Foliage by Dori, Creative Commons license.  Click image for source.

“Fall Foliage” by Dori, Creative Commons license. Click image for source.

We have a number of cool leaf-based artworks going into Branching Out, including work by Joan Backes, Steve Hollinger, and Adrianne Evans, among others, and here are some fun interdisciplinary ways of exploring leaves this fall (and beyond!).

Science: The Chemistry of Leaves

Leaf pigment chromatography is a staple in science classrooms this time of year, but in case you’ve never tried it, here’s a great breakdown of the experimental process from Scientific American, and a fun explanation of the phenomenon from Chemical of the Week.

Adrianne Evans does some very cool works with leaf pigments as well, using the leaves like photographic paper and allowing the sunlight to essentially make a print.

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Try this yourself with cyanotypes, always fun on a sunny fall day!  Sun print or other sun-sensitive paper is available from a variety of sources including Dick Blick, Teacher Source, Steve Spangler and others.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons.  Click for source.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons. Click for source.

Health

There are always new trends in health recommendations, but I can’t argue with the idea that walking in the forest can help with stress levels.  I traded a forest preserve for a coastline when I switched jobs from Acton to Salem, but this is still a good suggestion for oneself, one’s class, or one’s family: Go “Forest Bathing!”

Need more information on how hanging out with trees improves your health?  Check out “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.”

Literature & Drama

Lois Ehlert’s Leaf Man and Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf are early childhood classics when it comes to leaves, but what about combining your ‘forest bathing’ with a reflective writing activity, as in the haiku below?

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

And how about a few classic poems to go with the (many) cool children’s books that are out there about trees?

Fall, leaves, fall

By Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

 

On First Seeing a U.S. Forest Service Aerial Photo of Where I Live

By James Galvin

All those poems I wrote
About living in the sky
Were wrong. I live on a leaf
Of   a fern of   frost growing
Up your bedroom window
In forty below.
I live on a needle of   a branch
Of   a cedar tree, hard-bitten,
Striving in six directions,
Rooted in rock, a cedar
Tree made of other trees,
Not cedar but fir,
Lodgepole, and blue spruce,
Metastasizing like
Bacteria to the fan-
Lip of a draw to draw
Water as soon as it slips
From the snowdrift’s grip
And flows downward from
Branch to root — a tree
Running in reverse.
Or I live on a thorn on a trellis —
Trained, restrained, maybe
Cut back, to hold up
Those flowers I’ve only heard of
To whatever there is and isn’t
Above.

 

Art

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

If you’re not up to acid-washing your leaves like Steve Hollinger (though you can get small leaves pre-treated through Dick Blick), how about some pressing, painting, punching and patterning?

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan.  Click for source.

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan. Click for source.

 

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons.  Click for source.

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons. Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique.  Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique. Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning.  Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning. Click for source.

Looking for more? Check out some previous Ideabox posts:

Ideabox: Sand
Ideabox: Altoid Tins
Ideabox: Dough

A Smattering of Science Poetry

Collage by Serena Epstein, click for source

“Prufrock” Collage by Serena Epstein, click for source

In high school I had a chemistry teacher who had once taught literature, and he had a tendency to quote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at inexplicable times (usually when despairing over the state of our latest test grades).  I still hear “I grow old, I grow old,  I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled and walk along the beach” in his voice, in fact, and while I learned to love poetry long before sophomore chemistry, I think he’d be pleased that science and poetry have such an unbreakable covalent bond in my brain.

If you have a hankering for the poetry of the universe, the folks over at Brain Pickings have a great assortment for you, including the first poem to be published in a scientific journal, 30 Days of Quantum Poetry, Diane Ackerman’s poems of the planets, and more.

From Quantum Poetry by Joanna Tilsley

From Quantum Poetry by Joanna Tilsley

And if you’re looking for science poetry that works in a classroom, I highly recommend the humorous stylings of Doug Florian, the thoughtful works of Joyce Sidman (who has some great teacher resources on her author page!), and the beautiful compilation The Tree That Time Built, with works from a wide variety of poets on an assortment of natural themes and CD included so you can appreciate the poems read aloud.

Do you have a favorite science poet?

From Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman

From Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, an exploration of the colors of seasons