Happy 100th to the homely, historic Hotel Harrington. These days I pass by the edifice on my walk from the subway.
Nesting season for Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser has started at Huntley Meadows Park. From my report to the team and staff for Sunday:
As we have come to expect, the birds are out there nesting before us! We have three Hooded Merganser eggs in box #3, and one in box #67. We did fresh chips in the 16 boxes. Box #6 is in need of a repair to its door/hinges….
Water gauge: 1.74 (are we still monitoring that gauge)?
Birds of interest: Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Scaup sp., Red-headed Woodpecker
For the past 24 months, Matt Johnson has logged the car number for every Metro ride he’s taken.
Since I started logging car numbers, I’ve ridden 74.1% of the WMATA rail fleet. I’ve ridden 91.3% of the 6000 series cars, 82% of the 4000 series, 78.7% of the 3000 series, 74.5% of the 5000 series, 69.7% of the 2000 series, and 56.1% of the 1000 series.
Theresa Rebeck’s waspish comedy is a nerdish treat for the New Yorker set. Four desperately young, aspiring writers hire industry veteran Leonard for a series of private coaching lessons in the art of fiction. Leonard (here played by Marty Lodge [and we are so glad to see him again on Round House's stage], in full command of the rainbow of timbres that he can summon from his baritone) offers his students equal measures of tough-love criticism (more accurately, verbal abuse), access to insider connections, hard-nosed advice (“[fellow] writers are as civilized as feral cats”), and ridiculous ramblings about his various Hemingwayesque adventures. Martin (Alexander Strain sporting eyewear from Jonathan Franzen’s optician) is both the most talented and the most self-censoring of the four, each of them unique in the bundle of self-delusions they carry around.
We forgive the exigencies of theater that call for someone to assess a short story after skimming four or five paragraphs; to spend more time than this would derail the play’s momentum. If the work doesn’t achieve greatness, it does accomplish what it sets out to do, and it’s “good, even,” in Leonard’s hyperjudgmental words.
- Seminar, by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Jerry Whiddon, Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md.
While there’s a lot to enjoy and appreciate in this post-modern piece, a play about the making of a play about a particular genocide in specific and enormous inhumanity in general, it overstays its welcome. Actors improvise props with found objects (snapping a letter-box shut to simulate a gunshot is especially effective); improvise scenes and break character to argue the authenticity of a theatrical moment; find the humor in an admittedly glum topic; and like good Brechtians, chant the preposterously long, tautological complete name of the work, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Afrika, from the German Südwestafrika, between the Years 1884-1915.
It’s in the play’s constant second-guessing of its genuineness, its refusal of its own rights and abilities to portray, that it falters. A young black man, who has never been to Africa, challenges any white person’s legitimacy to present something other than he is not. And he is contradicted in a powerful turn by Peter Howard, a middle-aged white actor, as a wizened black African woman, crossing race and gender lines at a stroke.
When the work’s closing sequence finally arrives, a harrowing scene of violence in all its universality, we’ve already been distanced from this skilled ensemble of six by too many presentational gimmicks. It’s like a Lum and Abner play-acting bit that spins out of control.
This is not meant to dismiss the calamity that befell the Herero (perhaps more accurately known as the Ovaherero), who were nearly decimated by their German colonial rulers, years before Armenians died, decades before Hutu and Tutsi slaughtered one another in Rwanda.
Jackie Sibblies Drury’s work is most effective when it is quiet and specific: a simple, lethal scene with one herdsman, one border guard, one imaginary fence, and one pantomime gun.
- We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Afrika, from the German Südwestafrika, between the Years 1884-1915, by Jackie Sibblies Drury, directed by John Michael Garcés, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
Amanda Rodewald, director of the Conservation Science program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, gives a 10-minute preso on bird-friendly coffee, in a video introduced by Gustave Axelson.
A likely upside to this winter’s unpleasant cold snaps: Thomas Kuhar of Virginia Tech reports that 95% of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (Halyomorpha halys) have been unable to survive the icy temperatures. Kevin Ambrose has the report.
Much of the snow has melted and packed down, but much remains. The blacktop trail and stream are clear, but much of Lake Audubon is iced over. Hence my most numerous bird was not the $100 Jeopardy! answer, Canada Goose, but rather Red-winged Blackbird. I had reached the footbridge and was ready to turn around when one of the rather reliable Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) of these woods made an appearance.
Best bird of the day was a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) watering in a puddle of meltwater. A respectable 22+ species count. Bonus mammal: a Red Fox trotting across the frozen surface of the lake.
Posted in In the Field
Another post to clear out the inbox:
Steven Portugal et al. equipped 14 Bald Ibises (Geronticus eremita) with miniaturized GPS units to study the energetics and aerodynamics of flying in V formation. As the leader summarizes, each bird does indeed time its wingbeats to maximize the drafting effect of following another bird–abstract and heatmaps on the article page.
W. R. Grace & Co. has emerged from bankruptcy protection, as Catherine Ho reports.
I interned for Grace in its New York headquarters in the late 1970s, and then somehow convinced someone at one of its newly-acquired retail businesses, Bermans, the Leather Experts to hire me full-time. (I lasted a year, and the lit out for Washington.) Bermans is long gone, merged into Wilsons and later Georgetown Leather Design, then gradually declining into liquidation in 2008. Back in the 1970s, Grace described its organization as a three-legged stool—specialty chemicals, energy, and consumer retail and restaurants. The energy game was no kinder to the portfolio than brands like Channel home centers and Houlihan’s restaurants. And, as Ho reports, personal-injury lawsuits stemming from asbestos contamination of the company’s vermiculite products sent the company into bankruptcy court.
My workplace, the soaring building on 42nd Street (with a plaza that extended close enough to Sixth Avenue to give it an Avenue of the Americas address) still stands, but what’s left of the chemicals-only firm is now headquartered in Columbia, Maryland.
Brian Hayes uses a rhododendron shrub as a thermometer and wonders at the curled leaves’ apparent piecewise linear response to ambient temperature. Is the curling response a means to curtailing water loss, or a way to minimize UV damage to this understory shrub? Erik Tallak Nilsen likes the latter explanation.
Sam Droege and Jessica Zelt talk to Dan Rodricks of WYPR about Wells Cooke and the Bird Phenology Project and inferences about climate change to be drawn from its 90-year data set.
Congratulations to the Bird Phenology Project and its volunteer digital transcribers. Over the weekend, the project’s one-millionth migration record was transcribed to digital format. An observation of a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) (AOU code 721a) by Vernon Bailey in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico Territory in September, 1904 was the card that did it.
(Bailey was the husband of Florence Merriam Bailey, in whom I am currently interested.)
Shirley Temple, child star of the 1930s and inspiration to my mother and many others, has died at 85.
A bit alarming, but nothing much to worry about. The county is starting work on a restoration project for the small stream valley that separates the high school campus from our townhouse cluster. They’ll be commandeering some of our parking lot as a staging area for the work. Hence, the ominous orange signs warning us that trucks will be in the neighborhood. I guess the sundry fire engines, garbage trucks, UPS vans, and various movers’ lorries that visit us from time to time don’t count.
The word “highway” on the sign, positioned as it is, right next to a speed bump, is perhaps the most incongruous bit.
But I will say this: I don’t envy the guys that had to dig post holes for these signs into the frozen ground.