Manassas National Battlefield Park

To break in a new pair of boots, I took an easy loop hike on the blue blazes around the battlefield of First Bull Run. The breezes were strong, and it was midday, but there were a few butterflies flying. I turned up something I didn’t remember from last year—Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)—as well as something that turned out to be, upon checking my photos later, an animal I’ve never put on my list before, Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor). I think I’ve probably seen this guy before, but I’ve been put off by one of the photos of the dorsal side in Glassberg’s book. The ID key, it seems, is actually the single row of orange spots on the ventral side of the hindwing.

once worth fighting overThe bridge over Bull Run was once a prized strategic objective. Now, not even the nesting swallows are interested in it; they prefer the U.S. 29 bridge just downstream.

The trail gets a lot of noise from the roads and a winery just across the run, but it crosses through a lot of woods and can be quite pleasant.

CartersThe Carter family cemetery is completely enclosed by a stone wall built from the ruins of Pittsylvania, the manor house. The graves within are not individually marked. The last interment was done in 1903.

Posted in In the Field
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Liberal memories

Adam Gopnik considers the making of memorials (paywalled article):

Those who lack faith in fixed order and stable places have a harder time building monuments that must, in their nature, be monolithically stable and certain. Happiness writes write, and pluralism builds poorly. An obelisk can never be an irony. A pyramid can never symbolize a parenthetical aside. An eighty-foot-tall monument to fair procedure would not be a fair sight.

Posted in In Memoriam, Quotable
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Out with the goldeneye, in with the Canvasback

2014-2015 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation StampMy 2014-2015 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps) arrived in the mail today. Have you bought yours?

Posted in Biodiversity and Species Preservation, Habitat Conservation
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An editorial from Scientific American points out that executions by lethal injection are putting innocent patients at risk. The supply of tranquillizers like propofol (used in routine procedures like colonoscopies), all or in part, comes from Europe, and the E.U. prohibits export of drugs that are to be used to kill people.

Perhaps the root problem is here:

…executions are not medical procedures. Indeed, the idea of testing how to most effectively kill a healthy person runs contrary to the spirit and practice of medicine. Doctors and nurses are taught to first “do no harm”; physicians are banned by professional ethics codes from participating in executions. Scientific protocols for executions cannot be established, because killing animal subjects for no reason other than to see what kills them best would clearly be unethical. Although lethal injections appear to be medical procedures, the similarities are just so much theater.

Posted in Health and Medicine, Public Policy and Politics
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At the park: 69

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

New York FernWe wrapped up the nesting season two weekends ago. The Wood Ducks bounced back after a couple of slower years. I’ve noticed a pattern recently: not only do the Hooded Mergansers get started earlier, but overall they tend to fledge a greater percentage of the eggs they lay—85% or better, seven of the last nine years. The Wood Ducks, on the other hand, are subject to dump/drop nests that don’t fledge anything. (One such nest a year is typical for us, out of 15 to 20 boxes being monitored.) In six of the same past nine years, our fledging rate for woodies has been 67% or lower.

White OakThe sanity-checker script at NestWatch is skeptical that we have mergs laying 14 eggs in a clutch, and laying as early as the last days of February. I invite the Lab scientists to come check the boxes for themselves.

fritI took a new camera with me to the park: it’s still a happy snap, but the optical zoom is better suited for quick shots of butterflies. The spangles on the underside of the hindwing of a Speyeria cybele are not usually the first thing you see, but they are diagnostic for ID.

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Silver Line progress report: 37

Metro announces that the first day of passenger service for phase 1 of the Silver Line will be Saturday, 26 July.

(Alas, there was no groundbreaking ceremony to attend when construction started, and it looks like I will miss opening day, too.)

Posted in Transit in D.C.
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Beautiful little gravestones

Tony Award-winning sound designer Robert Kaplowitz has a few things to say about awards, for theater, winning the bowling league, whatever. The nut of the piece, for me, is his eloquent rationale for recognizing good work:

Theater awards matter because theater vanishes. Paintings, sculptures, novels, and poems can last for centuries, or millennia. And, while scripts live on, productions themselves last only as long as that magical assemblage of actors, stagehands, musicians, stage managers, craftspeople and front-of-house staff are together. They enact the staging of one particular director, the movement of one specific choreographer, those particular words said or sung in that exact environment created by those exact designers, and (in musicals) conducted by that specific conductor. It exists only as long as that group gives it life.

What’s special about Kaplowitz’s post is how inclusive it is, recognizing almost everyone who contributes to the theatrical experience. And again,

…[my Tony award] was an honor that resonated throughout my team, and reflected back on the entire company of Fela!


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Lifehacking 10.0

…he was as highly evolved as any successful young Charter could be, the elements of his existence rigorously tuned, as were those of all his peers, with “best practices” in mind, those ever-optimizing metrics that we in B-Mor know as well as anybody, though ours are, of course, designed ultimately to smooth our unitary workings. Charters, on the contrary, are always striving to be exquisite microcosms, testing and honing and curating every texture and thread of their lives, from what they eat and watch and wear to whom they befriend and make love to, being lifelong and thus expert Connoisseurs of Me.

—Chang-Rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (2014), p. 256
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Experimental Lakes Area

I submitted my class report on the Experimental Lakes Area of western Ontario for grading. This was the last paper that I needed to write for my certificate!

Posted in Water Resources and Wetlands
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Back to nature

Joshua J. Tewksbury et al. make the case for restoring natural history’s importance to answering questions of public health, food security, and biology as a whole. They see citizen science projects as an important means of working with big data that can’t be developed in the lab or in silico.

As evidence of natural history’s contribution to public health, they relate the anecdote of a simple means of blunting cholera epidemics: filtering drinking water through the cloth of human garments.

The discovery that Vibrio cholerae has free-living populations associated with copepods and other zooplankton (Colwell and Huq 1994) forms the foundation of model predictions of temporal and spatial changes in human cholera outbreaks, because these models are based on the dynamics of the zooplankton and phytoplankton on which they feed. With this natural history in hand, public health experts now use satellite sensors to monitor phytoplankton chlorophyll as an early-warning system for cholera outbreaks. The same discovery also explains why filtering polluted water through cloth is surprisingly effective in reducing exposure to cholera: although the cloth does not capture V. cholerae individually, it filters out the zooplankton to which most V. cholerae are attached (Huq et al. 1996).

And, in the area of natural history and recreation and conservation, the Federal Duck Stamp program gets a shout-out:

It is often the collective focus on natural history by hunters, fishers, wildlife watchers, and conservationists that allows consensus-based management of fish and game species. The waterfowl conservation movement in the United States serves as an example. This partnership was set in motion in the early twentieth century by observations of large-scale duck mortality caused by botulism brought on by invertebrate die-offs in wetlands and by lead poisoning in high-intensity hunting locations. In both cases, observations by hunters and bird watchers alerted managers to the issue. The initial focus on disease was fortunate, because it provided a common enemy, and, at least for botulism, the most effective management centered on the designation of federal and state bird refuge areas in wetlands (Bolen 2000). More generally, the many groups that came together to change state and federal policies around these issues led to the creation of powerful hunting and conservation groups. These collaborations also led to a hunting license fee structure that supports the more-than-500-unit federal wildlife refuge system in the United States. The success of waterfowl conservation efforts, and the hundreds of other species that they support, comes in large part from the diverse interest groups that recognized the importance of basic natural history in setting management and policy objectives and that created a stable funding stream to support the collection of that information.

Posted in Citizen Science, Habitat Conservation, Natural Sciences
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Perfectly peachy poem

Rita Dove’s “Ode to My Right Knee,” verse with a slightly concealed structural constraint.

Posted in Poetry
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New York snaps

the viewEvery once in a while, I get a look at New York that turns me into a happy-snapping, cornfed tourist. This view of SoHo, Tribeca, and the Financial District, with 1 World Trade Center in the background, taken from the sky level of the New Museum, is one such.

can't resistCan’t resist stopping for building-mounted street name signs. Bleecker Street, just down from the intersection with Carmine Street.

retrofit?I saw dispensers in two buildings encouraging the BYO water bottle idea: at New York Law School (filling stations from Filtrine), and here at the American Museum of Natural History.

Posted in Like Life
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Sutton Foster has chosen her next project well, the Broadway premiere of Tesori and Crawley’s Violet, which played off-Broadway in 1997. Violet (Foster), a young woman of the North Carolina mountains, travels by Greyhound bus across the South in 1964 seeking physical redemption. Her face disfigured by a scar (thankfully, left to our imagination) from a childhood accident, she is certain that a faith healer in Tulsa can restore her body. Indeed, this Preacher might grant her an entire suite of feminine attractions, as Violet sings in the entertaining “All to Pieces.” On her trip, she meets two servicemen, one white (charming Monty), one black (Flick, a bit hot-headed), and the trio bond quickly.

It will come as little surprise that the Preacher (energetically performed by Ben Davis) can do no such thing for Violet, although he puts on a much better show than the Wizard of Oz, with the second-half gospel barnburner “Raise Me Up.”

The story of Violet’s childhood and the accident that ended it is told in flashback, interleaved with the narrative of her Tulsa journey. Emerson Steele as Young Violet brings a twangy, innocent exuberance to her role. The details of the mishap are left ambiguous, whether to smooth out some of its creepier implications from the source material (Doris Betts’ short story, which I have not read), or just so that we can draw our own conclusions about how life’s misfortunes happen.

The score is an assemblage of various influences, as Anthony Tommasini has noted. It’s laudable that most of the song structures follow life’s sharp twists and turns, rather than falling into an intro-verse-chorus simplicity.

But the end of Violet’s journey (the one that doesn’t go from east to west but from heart to heart) is somewhat unsatisfying. The connection between the strictures against Violet’s scar and Flick’s skin color wasn’t earned, at least for OTC and me.

Nevertheless, the show it a great showcase for Foster’s clear, sweet voice and Broadway charisma.

  • Violet, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” by Doris Betts, directed by Leigh Silverman, Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre, New York
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Too Much Sun

Nicky Silver’s new comedy recapitulates many of his favorite themes: dealing with an overly controlling parent, self-medicating with food, discovering one’s true sexual orientation—whether this be “discovering” in the sense of finding or revealing. Audience favorite Linda Lavin appears in the role of Audrey Langham, a long-in-the-tooth veteran of the regional theater circuit who perhaps is ready to hang up her traveling shoes. Audrey’s retirement is at the expense of her daughter Kitty (Jennifer Westfeldt) and son-in-law Dennis (Ken Barnett), who are working through their own life crises during their annual getaway to their Long Island summer home. There’s a nice whiff of Blanche Dubois and Mitch in the relationship between the serially-married Audrey and the bemused neighbor Winston (the resourceful Richard Bekins). Of the relationships between the six characters of the play that unfurl, the one between Audrey and Winston is the most interesting, and sweet, and well played—and yet its resolution is the most unconventional.

Lavin has a deep toolbox of microexpressions that she puts to comic use during a fraught technical rehearsal of Medea that has her at wit’s end. And she shows us a lovely singing voice in a run-through of Weill and Brecht’s “Surabaya Johnny” that she alternately plays straight and for laughs.

  • Too Much Sun, by Nicky Silver, directed by Mark Brokaw, Vineyard Theater, New York
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Act One

A rose-colored scrim drapes the stage before each act of Act One, a dramatized version of Moss Hart’s memoir of becoming a playwright. The play, written and directed by James Lapine, is a big wet kiss to American theater of the 1910s and 20s. The Algonquin denizens make quick, funny cameo appearances; the first act closes with an uplifting view of Broadway marquees. Indeed, the narrative of the entire second act (and perhaps it’s not the strongest one) is whether and how Hart can find a way to write and rewrite his first well-supported production, Once in a Lifetime, into a successful New York show. Well, to paraphrase Hart, often life doesn’t follow the most dramatically urgent pattern.

Beowulf Borritt’s set, three levels on a revolve, is a stunner, with details that give the multiple locations of the story extra character: a stairway with a step down before you can go up; the framework of a New York rooftop water tank.

The story unfolds linearly, but it is framed as the reminiscences of an older Hart, played by Tony Shalhoub. Matthew Schecter plays Hart as a boy, but most of the work goes to the adorable Santino Fontana, who plays Hart as a young man. Fontana’s Hart never walks down the stairs when he can run; he is eager to volunteer for a job that he’s not ready for; sometimes his mouth runs away with his thoughts. Over the course of the play, his dialect shows Hart’s voice modulating from the rough working class English that his parents and playmates speak to the urbane tones of the mature Hart.

Shalhoub doubles as Hart’s abusive father Barnett, but he comes into his own as Hart’s collaborator, George S. Kaufman, all his tics and quirks on parade. Kaufman, pathologically concerned with hygiene, would go to any lengths to avoid shaking hands with someone; Shalhoub’s balletic avoidance maneuvers are a delight.

Andrea Martin does nicely with the three roles of Hart’s poor-relation aunt Kate (early encourager, nay enabler, of Hart’s budding interest in theater); Frieda Fishbein (Hart’s agent with a good dash of Edith Prickley); and Kaufman’s wife Beatrice, the quiet power behind the throne.

  • Act One, written and directed by James Lapine, from the autobiography by Moss Hart, Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont, New York
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