Doom and the dogmometer

One way to understand a really big problem is to break it down into more manageable parts. That’s why scientists use specific, smaller systems to help them grasp the overall health of the planet. The Arctic, for example, is regarded as a bellwether for the catastrophes of climate change that will soon afflict us all, […]

Redux: The Unknown Grizzly

This post originally appeared March 7, 2013. In the mail yesterday I received a grizzly bear skull from an acquaintance and taxidermist in Soldotna, Alaska. Expertly cleaned down to chalk-white bone and glistening, thumb-sized canines, it was the size and general shape of a football, and as smooth as sanded wood. My friend had apologized […]

Redux: Coming of Age in a Trash Forest

My friend Taya and I were out at her parents’ country place, about twelve acres in the western foothills of the Cascades. I was maybe eight, visiting for the first time. Taya was taking me on a tour. We were struggling along, as short-legged people do through dense, early successional Northwest forest. She stopped and […]

The Cicadas Come, on Little Hook Feet

  One evening this month I was coming back from the library. The pollen was at its worst, but I was sick of being indoors and thought I’d sit down on the grass in front of my building for a few minutes. I opened up one of my books, then felt guilty about choosing the […]

On Taphonomy

Taphonomy is the study of what happens to bodies, especially bones, after death on their way to fossilization. Few remains make it that far, but when they do, taphonomy is the journey through which the biological becomes geological. In life, bones are tissues, despite their rigidity. Calcium flows in and out of the bone bank as […]

Urban Wilderness and the “High Line Problem”

In October of 2013, I toured three miles of disused railroad line in Philadelphia. Some of it was underground, some on ground level, and some elevated. All of it was covered in spontaneous vegetation—garden plants, common weeds, and native species, a wild, diverse hodgepodge of over 50 species alive with fungi and butterflies and ladybugs. […]

Tropical Science

A few months ago I found myself south of the border working on a story for Scientific American about the glories of really small brains. When I say south of the border, I mean south of the Mexican border and when I say small brains I mean really really small brains. Like those of a […]

“Bug” on My Floor

It was a standoff in my own living room. The stranger and I faced each other, both completely still. I could almost hear that eerie whistle from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  The stranger was dressed in black. I was dressed in black yoga pants. I towered over my challenger, who was only […]