He speaks for the trees

From the Star Tribune:

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 4.44.50 PM

Dennis Robertson was visiting his wife’s hometown of Medicine Hat, in Alberta, Canada, when he picked up a brochure for the local “Heritage Tree Trail.” There were seven trees on the trail. They drove around the city tracking them down, one by one. There was giant white pine planted by a famous horticulturalist. There was the first cottonwood planted in the city (in 1888). There was a dragon spruce, native to China, that grew well in Medicine Hat’s environment. There were other trees of note.

 

When Robertson got home, it occurred to the retired ophthalmologist that Lake City had some pretty good trees, too, and that those trees had some history. For starters, it had a park filled with unusual species from the Jewell Nursery, which was founded in 1868 and became the largest landscape nursery in the country, if not the world. A heritage tree trail, he thought, would be a great way not only to help people learn about those trees but serve as a bridge to the past. As far as he knew, such a trail also would be a first in Minnesota.

The idea of heritage trees has been gaining in popularity around the world, even if what constitutes “heritage” is open to debate.

Read the rest here.

Advertisements

Festival Season: Upcoming Appearances

It’s festival season again, and over the next few weeks I’ll be speaking at two. First, on Sunday October 29th I’ll be talking about the power of belief at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The following weekend on Saturday, November 4, I’ll be in Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival. If you’re near either one, please stop by! Details below:

CHF_Logo-No_Tagline_RedThe Geography of Madness
Sunday, October 29, 4 – 5 PM
Chicago Athletic Association, Stagg Court
12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Is there a connection between mental health, disease, and belief? In Geography of Madness, journalist Frank Bures offers a resounding yes. In tracking the delusion that one’s genitals can be stolen—a relatively common complaint in countries ranging from Nigeria to Singapore—Bures sought to uncover the roots of a whole range of “culture–bound syndromes,” and how people’s beliefs about their health shape their physical experiences of health. Join Bures for a conversation about penis theft, placebos, and the intersection of Western and Chinese medicine.

main_logoThe Geography of Madness
11/04/2017, 4:00pm
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, DeLuca Forum

The Geography of Madness is an investigation of “culture-bound” syndromes, which are far stranger than they sound. Why is it, for example, that some men believe, against all reason, that vandals stole their penises, even though they’re in good physical shape? In The Geography of Madness, acclaimed magazine writer Frank Bures travels around the world to trace culture-bound syndromes to their sources–and in the process, tells a remarkable story about the strange things all of us believe.

Presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Science Festival.

Teaching a Stone to Fly: The World Rock Skipping Championship

From Minnesota Monthly:

Late one afternoon last summer, our family arrived at a campsite on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had been driving all day, across Wisconsin on our way further east. The four of us—my wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 10—set up our tent, made dinner, then went down to the water. Two-foot waves were rolling across the lake, a taste of what lay ahead: We were going to the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition—the oldest, most prestigious rock-skipping tournament in the United States, if not the world. Every Fourth of July, elite skippers (many former and current world-record holders) take turns throwing their stones into the waters where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, also known for having rolling, two-foot waves crashing on the beach.

I looked down, saw a decent skipping stone, and picked it up. My daughters were watching. The older one spoke up.

“Are you prepared for the fact that you probably won’t win?” she asked.

I threw the stone.

“Four,” she said. “But it caught a wave.”

My shoulders sagged.

“Don’t doubt yourself, Daddy!”

Her younger sister looked at her. “But you doubted him,” she said.

“That’s different.”

Prepared or not, I knew I had a knack for skipping. Some years earlier, I’d been driving through the mountains when I stopped at a roadside lake. The water was smooth as glass. I bent down, picked up a wide, flat stone, and sent it skimming across the water. It went on for what felt like forever, until it finally hit the rocky shore on the other side.

Behind me, a young boy spoke up.

“Wow,” he said. “You must be the world-champion rock skipper.”

I wasn’t. At least not yet. But I’d been skipping stones my whole life, ever since I was around my daughters’ ages, always getting better and better. There was almost nothing I loved better than the feeling of knowing—even before it hit the water—that you had a perfect throw, one that defies nature by making a stone both fly and float.

Mackinac, I had learned, was the place where such things were decided. These were my people—the ones who could spend hours on a beach looking for just the right stone, who would fill bags and boxes with skippers from secret locations, who would throw until their arm gave way, lost in the simple sorcery of stone skipping.

Read the rest here.

Eating Alone Together

the-rotarian-column-dinnerFrom The Rotarian:

There is a new ritual in American life. It goes like this: Whenever you invite someone to dinner, you must inquire about any special dietary needs. Because today, it seems that nearly everyone has drawn a line around foods that cannot pass their lips.

This could be because of allergies, moral qualms, lifestyle choices, health issues, or simple preference. The person might be a vegetarian who eats fish, a carnivore who hates carbs, a glutton who avoids gluten, or a time bomb waiting to be set off by a nut. (Asking ahead makes for a more pleasant evening than calling an ambulance.)

Hospitalization aside, one reason for this shift has been the moralization of food. Our dining choices have become identity choices, a way of saying, “This is the kind of person I am,” or “This is the kind of world I want to live in.”

This is a luxury of our age. The hunters, villagers, and small bands of Homo sapiens in times past would have thought it extremely strange, and possibly hostile, to assert one’s preferences in this manner.

Read the rest here.

The Lobster Coffin of Ghana

MIA LobsterRecently I was asked to write a short piece about something in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Africa collection. Most of the pieces are old, carved wood artifacts that border on archeological. Then there is the lobster coffin:

The first dead person I ever saw in daylight was a young boy lying next to a road in Tanzania. It was early morning and we were driving south on the country’s main highway when I saw the crows fly up out of a ditch. I craned my neck to see what they’d been eating. He was lying face down, arm stretched over his head, shirt pulled up under his armpits. The driver saw it and hit the brakes.

“Was it a dog?” someone asked.

“It was a person!” the driver said. He turned to me. “Did you see it?”

I nodded.

Stopped in the middle of the road, we decided to tell the next policeman we saw and drove on. But by the time we saw a policeman we were hundreds of miles away from the boy and there was no point. We passed him by and never spoke of it again.

Read the rest here.

On Rimbaud’s Trail

From Longitude Books:

One of the places I remember most clearly (and fondly) is Obock, Djibouti, a town on the edge of the Red Sea where I traveled several years ago for a story for Nowhere Magazine. Obock is hot and miserable and there is nothing to do. At night thousands of migrants stream through the area on their way from Ethiopia and Somalia to the Middle East where they hope to find work. When I got there I found that the hotel the tourism office in the capital recommended had closed long ago. On my first day I was harassed by the local police for being there.

What I remember best, though, was how refreshing it was to be so uncatered to, so far from everything. It didn’t matter to anyone (except a few curious folks) whether I was there or not. This must have been something like was the French poet Arthur Rimbaud felt when he first arrived there in the mid-1880s to escape his former life and become an arms dealer: It was like the whole world could slip away.

Read the rest hereIMGP3480.JPG.

Travel and Insanity

the-rotarian-column-travelFrom the of The Rotarian

In the 1970s and ’80s, an Italian psychiatrist named Graziella Magherini began to make note of tourists who came to Florence and, while viewing great works of art, experienced a mental breakdown. Often, they had to be put on a stretcher and taken to a psychiatric hospital. Magherini looked at 106 such cases and labeled the condition “Stendhal syndrome,” after the French novelist who described having such an experience in a Florence basilica. Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky may have had a similar affliction.

According to Magherini, such a breakdown is caused by the power of art over people who are psychologically vulnerable or by “coming into contact with great works of art without the mediation of a professional guide,” as one paper on the syndrome described it. That may be the case. But such experiences are not unique to Italy, regardless of the power of its art. Rather, I suspect there was a greater power at work, one the victims brought with them: the power of their own expectations.

A similar condition has affected some Japanese tourists in Paris. Researchers observed that in Japan, “Paris has, and holds, a quasi-magical power of attraction because the city is considered a symbol of European culture.” Besides the normal stresses of travel and the vast cultural differences, the authors noted that “disappointment linked to contact with the everyday reality [of Paris] is a factor of incomprehension and anxiety, but also of disenchantment and depression.” This was dubbed “Paris syndrome” by the media.

Read the rest here.