Shifting Baselines in the Outback

Daniel Pauley, a fisheries scientist, coined the term “shifting baselines” in 1995 to describe how depleted fish populations came to be considered “normal” by generations that had never experienced the teeming abundance their grandparents had known. The concept is now a fundamental one in conservation. As ecosystems change and as human memory dims, former states […]

Redux: The Lady and Le Guin

I’ve been thinking a lot about Ursula Le Guin since her death on January 22. Here in the Pacific Northwest, she was not only a beloved author but a beloved public figure, active in the Portland community until the very end of her long life. I’ll miss hearing her voice, and I’ll miss her sharp […]

Juli Berwald on the Art of Growing a Backbone

The lovely and absorbing new book Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, began when author Juli Berwald, a marine scientist turned technical writer, was factchecking an article about ocean acidification for National Geographic. She was asked to confirm a seemingly simple claim, made in a graphic, that jellyfish would be among […]

The Philosophy of Weather

Last Friday night the Boston runway looked like an Arctic landing, bits of tarmac barely visible through sheets of blowing snow. I had a good view of the runway with the plane tipping like a seesaw, coming in on the tail of an explosive cyclogenesis, or bombogenesis, media-shortened to a bomb cyclone. This unusual storm […]

A Ghost Story From the Desert

There are certain places in our country that are known for storytelling, the cowboy poet said to us. From New Orleans Cajun country to Lake Wobegon, a few small, distinctive regions — not New York, and definitely not Washington — have become known for their storytelling styles, and for their stories. “Western stories are the […]

It All Depends Where You Look

Last month, while on assignment in Cozumel for a story on sponges, I went diving on a beautiful reef. It was stunning – a world of color, dreamlike shapes, and life everywhere I looked. Normally, I would have just swam about, marveled at the pretty nature, and come back to my hotel with a fat […]

Redux: Antevernals in the Anthropocene

When Robert Macfarlane recently chose “antevernals” as one of his words of the day, I remembered this post, which I wrote in February 2016. Now we need a word to describe our continent’s increasingly split-screen winters. How about twinter? Or splinter? And climate change isn’t the only phenomenon demanding new vocabulary: I sometimes hear others […]

A Winter’s Tale

Last night I went out with my kids to see the new Star Wars movie, followed by an hour and a half drive home along rivers and over a Colorado pass late at night. A car or two came by every twenty minutes or so. As my two boys slept in their pillows of jackets, […]