Friday, October 11, 2019

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Summary: (From John Mertz)
The Sand County Almanac is widely considered to be a classic among conservation and natural history writings. It is a collection of essays published in the year after Aldo Leopold’s untimely death in 1948. The essays are grouped three sections:
(1)   A series of essays based on experiences Leopold acquired on his worn-out farm in Wisconsin’s sand counties. Leopold had purchased the farm in 1935 as a weekend retreat.
(2)   The second part, “Sketches from Here and There,” relates experiences Leopold had acquired elsewhere during his life, mostly earlier in his life and service as an agent of the U.S. Forestry Service.
(3)   The final set of essays is more philosophical. Here Leopold tackles the relationships between man and the environment. He discusses the importance of wilderness and of wildlife. He raises many of the issues conservationists face today, though in 1948 he could not have foreseen how badly that relationship has deteriorated.

I read this book at least once a year, mostly in the autumn when, if I am lucky and keep my ears cocked for their calls, I can see the flocks of geese flying overhead, traveling from their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic to their wintering grounds in the coastal marshes of Delaware, Maryland, and points south. To me, their passage marks the true end of summer and the beginning of Nature’s transition to winter.

Free edition of the book to read

Author's Foundation Site

Yes Magazine:
NY Times:

"This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the flora of the world."

1. With his daughter, Estella:
2. NPR: Revisiting Leopold:
3. With Curt Meine:

1. A Prophet for all Seasons
2. Green Fire:
3. Learning from the Land


Discussion Questions created by John Mertz - Unfortunately, he can not join us for the discussion.

(1)   Leopold was, by profession, a scientist, one who asks questions of Nature in order to learn more about how Nature is structured and how it works. Where in these writings does Leopold exhibit that training?
(2)   Leopold was also a consummate teller of stories, one who could tell a tale in a way that would really hold your interest. Where does he show that to best effect?
(3)   Leopold could also be described as a philosopher, one who thinks deeply about the human condition and of the relationships between man and his/her surroundings. Where does he display this side of him most clearly? Is he still entertaining? Are his philosophical musings still relevant? Did he go far enough in his discussions of the man/environment dynamic? Given his time, could he have gone further?
(4)   Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why should he/she read it?
(5)   Leopold is often described as the “Father of Wildlife Management,” a distinct practical science. What did Leopold see as the purpose (or purposes) of Wildlife Management? Did he go far enough in his viewpoint to make this practical science truly sustainable? Do you agree with his assertion that the value of wilderness experiences diminishes in proportion to the gadgetry we employ in our pursuit of them? How has our employment of “gadgets” impacted on the sustainability of wild resources? Why is it that our pursuit of wild resources always seems to lead to their extinction?


Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

Summary (Amazon): 
In this captivating narrative (enlivened with more than seventy original illustrations and photographs), Steve Brusatte, a young American paleontologist who has emerged as one of the foremost stars of the field—naming fifteen new species and leading groundbreaking scientific studies and fieldwork—masterfully tells the complete, surprising, and new history of the dinosaurs, drawing on cutting-edge science to dramatically bring to life their lost world and illuminate their enigmatic origins, spectacular flourishing, astonishing diversity, cataclysmic extinction, and startling living legacy. Captivating and revelatory, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a book for the ages.
Brusatte traces the evolution of dinosaurs from their inauspicious start as small shadow dwellers—themselves the beneficiaries of a mass extinction caused by volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Triassic period—into the dominant array of species every wide-eyed child memorizes today, T. rex, TriceratopsBrontosaurus, and more. This gifted scientist and writer re-creates the dinosaurs’ peak during the Jurassic and Cretaceous, when thousands of species thrived, and winged and feathered dinosaurs, the prehistoric ancestors of modern birds, emerged. The story continues to the end of the Cretaceous period, when a giant asteroid or comet struck the planet and nearly every dinosaur species (but not all) died out, in the most extraordinary extinction event in earth’s history, one full of lessons for today as we confront a “sixth extinction.”
Brusatte also recalls compelling stories from his globe-trotting expeditions during one of the most exciting eras in dinosaur research—which he calls “a new golden age of discovery”—and offers thrilling accounts of some of the remarkable findings he and his colleagues have made, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs; monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex; and paradigm-shifting feathered raptors from China.
Shows, Videos, Articles, Interviews and Events:
1. Discovery Channel: Dinosaur Revolution: Four Part Documentary:

2. Grzegorz's TED talk (in Polish):

4. Author Interview on Live Science:

5. Event at the The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia: Dinosaurs around the World through January 20, 2020 -

Summary and Review

Where Dinosaurs are found:

5. Colorado and Utah: Morrison Formation:

Discussion Questions: (Please check back: John will be leading the discussion); 

EXCITING NOTE: Jason C. Poole, adjunct professor at Drexel University and the Dinosaur Hall Coordinator at the Academy of Natural Science of Drexel, artist and Stacy's husband, will be joining us to discuss his research and participate in our discussion. 

1. What is a "mass extinction"? What causes them and what are its long tern effects? Can it happen again? Will some life always survive them?

2. How are fossils made and how do they (including footprint fossils) inform us about ancient life? 

3. Discuss the timeline and creatures of life. When did it first emerge? What were these lifeforms? What were the evolutionary stages from the first to present species? What do they all have in common?

4. What were the early, or proto-dinosaurs, like that emerged in the early Triassic? How were they different from Permian animals? What were some of their features that eventually enabled their domination?

5. How have our perceptions and understanding of dinosaurs changed over our lives? What were some of the key findings that led to the revision of our knowledge?

6. How did the earth physically change over these geologic epochs? How did this affect dinosaur evolution and diversity, as evidenced by the fossil record of different world regions?

7. What were some of the features and behaviors of the basic dinosaur types, e.g. theropods (meat-eaters), sauropods(long-necked) and others?

8. What made T. Rex the ultimate predator that we know? What made it better at killing than other related predators such as the Allosaurs and Velociraptors, etc.?

9. What are some of the key features and behaviors that some dinosaurs (theropods) share with birds that led to the conclusion that birds are modern dinosaurs?

10. Describe what happened during the mass extinction that killed all dinosaurs (except bird ancestors) How has geology, astronomy and the fossil record contributed to our understanding of it?