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This earlier post is now updated to reflect the recent release of a film, The Lost City of Z, based on Grann’s book of the same name. Both tell the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went into the Amazon in 1925 with his son looking for an ancient lost city. They both disappeared. For decades, explorers and scientists have tried to find evidence of his party and the Lost City of Z. Since then, perhaps another hundred people have died or disappeared searching for Fawcett.

I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z in 2010 and halfway through it I realized what attracted me to it. It takes me back to a book of my youth – The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – which was a novel I loved as a kid.  I probably read the Classics Illustrated Comic version before I actually read the book, as that was the case with many books from Treasure Island to Hamlet.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is much better known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Even if you have never read any of his fiction, you probably know a few of his stories and characters because, according to the Internet Movie Database (love that site) there are at least 215 films based on his writing.

I took out my old comic book version and also my paperback of the novel and rediscovered Doyle’s little introductory verse:

I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.

There was another book titled The Lost World which was Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park, but I have nothing to say about that book. To me, The Lost World is the one published in 1912 and it is the fictional story of an expedition to a place in the Amazon where prehistoric animals still survive. (Hmmm, did Mr. Crichton get inspiration for Jurassic Park from it?)  The book introduced the character Professor Challenger who appears in other books by Doyle.

Exploration and lost worlds captured the fancy of the public and authors in the early part of the 20th century. In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who is better known for his Tarzan and science-fiction stories) published The Land that Time Forgot, which was his version of a lost world story. In that  rather ridiculous tale, sailors  from a German U-Boat discover a world of dinosaurs and ape-men in Antarctica.

I read all of them. I didn’t really pay attention back then to the chronology of publication. If I had noted dates, I would have realized that another one of my childhood author heroes, Jules Verne, had introduced the whole prehistoric-animals-in-the-present-day adventure story with his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth which was published back in 1864. Those explorers find a prehistoric world of people and dinosaurs inside the Earth.

By the way, you can read The Lost World as an “e-book” free online at Project Gutenberg – if you can handle reading on a screen. I can’t.

cover

Now, to get back to where this post started, the setting for The Lost World is was probably inspired by reports about British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett’s expedition to Venezuela and Brazil, in a mountain region called Mount Roraima.

The modern-day non-fiction book, The Lost City of Z , tells the tale of Fawcett who launched his final expedition in 1925 into the Amazon.

His goal was to find the fabled lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold.” El Dorado has captured the imaginations of kids, armchair explorers and real anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for about 400 years – even though there really has never been evidence that it ever existed. That hasn’t stopped hundreds of expeditions from going out looking for it.

Fawcett was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London.  It humbles me to think that at age 57 he headed out again because he really believed in El Dorado, which he called the City of Z .

He set out with only his 21-year-old son Jack and one of Jack’s friends. He wanted to travel light and fast, eat off the land, and not harass the natives. They vanished in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil.  Subsequent attempts to find Fawcett and the city have failed.

What happened to Fawcett? David Grann thinks he knows. The author is not an adventurer, but he ended up in the jungles of the Amazon to try to find an answer.

Fawcett’s expeditions inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of a lost world. Grann wrote an earlier book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.

I’m not ready for any Amazon adventures, so I’m happy to follow Grann’s digging through Fawcett’s old diaries and logs for clues and doing my own armchair adventuring.

I liked that the book also deals with how in the past 40 years in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover. That’s an area bigger than France. Tribes are being threatened with extinction. Many animals and plants, some we never even knew existed, are also vanishing.

Much has been lost in those jungles.

More Reading
Vanished!: Explorers Forever Lost     

The Lost City

Let’s start with me freely admitting that I really like Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. They star in the new film, The Circle, that opens April 28. They are both ridiculously likeable actors and often play likeable characters. Not so in this film.

This is not a film review; it’s a preview. I have seen some trailers and clips. The actors are doing some interviews. I read the book.

Watch the first trailer that was released for the film at the start of 2017 before we continue.

The Circle is the novel by Dave Eggers that the film is based on. In the book, the main character is Mae. She interviews for the dream job at the Circle. It is the world’s most powerful internet company. It is Google + Apple + Facebook + Amazon + whatever other giants come to mind. It is more than any one of these real companies. They are located, of course, on a huge California campus. They connect everything: emails, social media, banking, your purchasing and more.

As with those companies, Circle wants to be your One Platform, your universal operating system, your online home. They appear to want to do good, not evil.

Mae is happy and feels very lucky to be there. What’s not to like? Open-plan office spaces, great dining, clubs, activities, nice dorms if you want to spend nights at work, sports, exercise, parties with famous musicians.

One of their technologies is SeeChange, a very portable camera for easy real-time video that are worn 24/7 by some people, like politicians who want to be transparent. (Think police body cams.)

Mae’s off-campus life starts to fade away, replaced by her work life which is going very well.

I’m not sure how many of the sub-plots survived adaptation. One important one is her romantic connection with a colleague who is mysterious enough that she’s not even sure he is an employee.

Another subplot is about Mae’s father who has multiple sclerosis. She gets him on her health plan which also gets their home wired with SeeChange cameras. Mae even ends up “going transparent.” That is their expression for wearing the camera. It echoes for me with the Scientology term of going “Clear” which is what they call the state of being free of subconscious memories of past trauma (engrams). I don’t know if Eggers intended that connection.

Mae drinks deeply from the company Kool-Aid and gives tours of the corporate campus praising their products and vision. She starts to preach that “secrets are lies,” “sharing is caring,” and “privacy is theft.” Remind you of any real companies?

Will Mae’s ambition and idealism be crushed by the Circle, or will she fight the “good fight” for our privacy, democracy, and maintaining our personal memories, history and knowledge? Buy a ticket. Or read the book. (No guarantee the answer will be the same.)

Yes, Internet companies are the bad guys here. How much of our lives do we still own?

I was thinking it was a contemporary Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four when I read the novel. I don’t think this novel will be a “classic” but it was an enjoyable read.

Dave Eggers is an author I discovered  at the turn of the century with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. That is a novel about a college senior who loses both of his parents to cancer and then is left to care for his eight-year-old brother.

Eggers is the author of ten books, including  A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is also the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company that produces books, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and a monthly magazine, The Believer.

I’ll give Eggers credit for doing some good: McSweeney’s publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to increase awareness of human rights crises around the world; he co-founded 826 National, a network of tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that connects students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible.

I see that Tom Hanks is doing a benefit for Scholarmatch this month, so I know some good came out of him meeting Eggers and making The Circle.

For a few weeks in February, it sure felt like spring was very near in Paradelle – or maybe it had arrived early – even if the calendar and Earth’s tilt said otherwise. I saw crocuses and daffodils up and blooming. Tree buds seemed to be starting their bud burst.

Then the thermometer reversed itself and we had our biggest snow of the winter.

The news reported that the cherry blossoms in the nation’s capital are threatened, and the ones in New Jersey, which generally peak in early April, might also be affected. [Not So Trivial Fact: New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C. – the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States. But the Branch Brook Park cherry blossom webcam in Newark just shows bare trees and snow as I write this.]

I have written before about the study of cyclic, seasonal natural phenomena which is called phenology. The National Phenology Network tracks “Nature’s Calendar” via phenological events. But can we actually predict the seasons with any accuracy?

These nature observations include the ones we all have been observing lately, such as trees and flowers, but also ones that you may not be able to observe or just don’t pay attention to. Those signs of seasonal change include male ungulates, such as elk or deer, growing antlers at the beginning of the rut and breeding season each year, mammals that hibernate seasonally to get through the winter, and bird migration during the year.

Other than the false Groundhog Day forced observations, phenological events can be incredibly sensitive to climate change. That change can be year-to-year, but the timing of many of these events is changing globally – and not always in the same direction and magnitude.

map

Spring leaf anomaly: dark red indicates areas of early bud burst, with some areas as great as 21 days early. It should be noted, that areas around Los Angeles are conversely nearly 21 days behind schedule. Image via blogs.plos.org

According to a Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog, “From 1982 to 2012, spring budburst (when the leaves first appear) has advanced by a bit over 10 days, while the onset of autumn in the northeast US has pushed back about 4.5 days. No trends were found for other regions. This lengthening of the growing season has profound implications for the ecology of these forests and potentially their ecological evolution. A longer growing season could translate to high carbon storage for increased growth, but higher rates of decomposition and changes in moisture availability. However, these changes in phenology are primarily driven by increasing temperatures. In a warmer world, some species may simply not be able to survive where they are now, creating a dramatic change in the species composition. And this is without considering changes in precipitation.”

The National Phenology Network’s project called Nature’s Notebook collects data from more than 15,000 naturalists across the nation who, using standardized methods, provide information about plant and animal phenology.

Project BudBurst is another citizen science focused project using observations of phenological events and phases through crowd-sourcing. Project like this give you the opportunity to make your observations of nature more conscious, and to contribute to the knowledge base.

This post first appeared, in slightly different form, on my Endangered New Jersey blog

For those of us in the northern U.S. or Canada or at a similar latitude, the Big Dipper is always above the horizon. That means it is described as circumpolar. The mnemonic to remember for the Big Dipper is “spring up and fall down” to describe its appearance in our northern sky.

big_dipper_thru_seasons

The Big Dipper’s location at around midnight in each season. Image via burro.astr.cwru.edu

The Big and Little Dippers are asterisms – a prominent pattern or group of stars, typically having a popular name but smaller than a constellation. The Big Dipper ascends in the northeast on spring evenings, and it descends in the northwest on fall evenings.

“Follow the Drinking Gourd” is an American folk song that used “Drinking Gourd” as another name for the Big Dipper. The lyrics, according to legend, came from a conductor of the Underground Railroad, called Peg Leg Joe, as a way to guide some fugitive slaves.

The “drinkin’ gou’d” alludes to the hollowed out gourd used by slaves (and other rural Americans) as a water dipper. Used in the song, it was a code name for the Big Dipper which points to Polaris, the Pole Star, and to the North and freedom.

Polaris is a special star because it always stays in the same spot in the northern sky. The entire northern sky appears to turn around it because Polaris is located more or less above the northern axis (pole) of the Earth, and the wheeling of the stars across the dome of night is really due to Earth’s turning, after all. Polaris is part of the harder to find star pattern known as the Little Dipper.

monk-road-pixa

I have often told my good friend Scott that we are both “seekers.” It seems we have spent most of our lives searching for… well, that’s a hard sentence to complete. In search of Truth? Enlightenment? God?

“Spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) is a phrase that gained popular usage as a way of saying that you self-identify as someone that has a hard time believing that an organized religion is the only or most valuable means of furthering your spiritual growth.

Though I was raised a Catholic, I parted ways in my late teens and explored a number of other religious seeker from Quakers to Buddhists and finally decided that there was no group that filled my needs or answered my questions.

SBNR became very “New Age” and got mixed in with “mind-body-spirit” and holistic movements such as tai chi, reiki, and yoga. They became groups to join and pay for memberships.

I was convinced that spirituality had more to do with the interior life of the individual than that of a group.

There actually was a group known as Seekers (also known as Legatine-Arians). They were an English Protestant dissenting group that emerged around the 1620s, inspired by three Legate brothers.

These Seekers considered all organized churches of their day corrupt. They were patient – waiting for God’s revelation. They were not an organized religious group in any way that would be recognized today. They were not a religious cult. It was an informal structure and localized. To be a “member” didn’t mean you couldn’t belong to another sect. Many Seekers were also Quakers.

But to me that doesn’t sound like “seeking.” To be a seeker, one needs to actively be in search of something, not waiting for revelation to come to you.

Seeking is not limited to religion and spirituality. It is a quest to know more about everything.

If you do an Internet search on just “in search of” books, you will find a very wide ranges of things being sought. From those in search of memory through the science of the mind, to those in search of Schrödinger’s cat in quantum physics.

I think I was a seeker from my earliest teen years. I definitely searched for answers to many questions in books. In novels that weren’t always considered to be about seeking (Siddhartha, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, Slaughterhouse-Five), I found Seekers. I found books that were about seeking too – The Seven Storey Mountain, Dark Night of the SoulThe Wisdom of the Sufis, Carlos Castenada’s books and others.

Yesterday, I wrote about some other books that have inspired seekers and there are lots of other books that have been spiritually influential to people.

College exposed me to many of these books, but it also brought me to other people who seemed to be on a similar path. It was a time of experimentation. We followed paths that seemed to hold new possibilities, including sexuality and drugs.

After college and as a young husband, I felt like there were other unexplored worlds contained in this one we believe we live in that I needed to first find and then examine.

During this time, In Search of… , a weekly television series appeared. It was devoted to mysterious phenomena. There had been three one-hour TV documentaries (In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries and The Outer Space Connection) that were narrated by by Rod Serling in the voice that had intrigued and frightened me in my younger years from his Twilight Zone.

Certainly, a lot of the 146 episodes of the series (hosted by Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy) were fringe science at best. Those ancient astronauts came from the book Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken and though I never believed his theory, it certainly made me consider us being alone, or not alone, in the universe. It led me to seek out more about the Mayan culture and other mysteries.

The seeking certainly wasn’t restricted to religion or spirituality. The TV program shifted from UFOs, and the Loch Ness Monster to cults, the disappearances of cities (Atlantis, Roanoke Colony), ships (Mary Celeste) and people (Amelia Earhart, D. B. Cooper). Some of this was quite real, more like history than the paranormal.

I remember the show’s opening disclaimer and was able to find it online. It is pretty close to a seeker creed.

“This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.”

In college, I had a girlfriend who was deep into the occult and “strange worlds.” Many of the topics she exposed me to, I found out more about in the years to come. I found several books by Arthur C. Clarke that were not his sci-fi novels, but non-fiction collections about mysterious worlds and strange powers. I suspect that Clarke didn’t write the books, but was attached to the project.  only the foreword but

When I started reading aloud the first Harry Potter book to my son, I was amused when we came upon a Seeker. It is a position in the wizarding sport of Quidditch. The one Seeker on a team has to find the Golden Snitch, and until the Seeker catches it, a game does not end. What is your Golden Snitch?

There is a song “The Seeker” written by Peter Townshend and performed by The Who. I hope that as a Seeker all my searching low and high won’t end as the song does – that I won’t get to get what I’m after till the day I die.

I’ve looked under chairs
I’ve looked under tables
I’ve tried to find the key
To fifty million fables

I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked The Beatles
I asked Timothy Leary
But he couldn’t help me either

They call me The Seeker
I’ve been searching low and high
I won’t get to get what I’m after
Till the day I die

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Wheatfield With Crows – 1890

Martin Scorsese and Akira Kurosawa are both film directors with distinctive visual languages and ways of moving the camera. A  director will sometimes use storyboards and paintings to visualize a script.

Kurosawa had 60-year career that includes classic films like Rashomon, The Seven Samurai and Ran. He was a painter and you can see that in his films. One of his last films was Dreams (1990). It was the first of his films for which he alone wrote the screenplay.

It has eight vignettes, based on eight recurring dreams. The fifth episode is “Crows” in which Kurosawa used Martin Scorsese in the role of Vincent Van Gogh.

The film begins in a gallery with several Van Gogh paintings. An art student is studying the paintings and he enters the French countryside of the paintings.

The film is in brilliant van Gogh colors and brush strokes. The student meets Vincent. Although Dreams is in Japanese, this episode is not – the student speaks French to a group of women, and Vincent speaks regular Scorsese New York English. (The video below also has Spanish subtitles.)  I almost wish there was no dialogue, as the visuals are what are most interesting.

“CROWS”

Trailer for DREAMS

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