Having recently been exclusively, blissfully in the wilderness for a full two weeks, upon return I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically unimpressed by the natural world. My heavy-metal heart’s been pumping a little weakly, as well. This could be regarded as a big bummer, or instead considered an irresistible opportunity to read books and mess around on the Internet unemcumbered by the urge to explore the outdoors or rock out. For the sake of sanity of the spirit, I’m chosing the latter. Here are three of the best offerings I’ve encountered lately from the “cultured” world:
Natural History Network Charles Darwin’s voyages around the world with sketchbook in hand seem almost unfathomably romantic. These days, interdisciplinary, senses-based approaches to discovering things about the world around us have been pushed to the fringes of education, replaced by standardized testing in prison-like classrooms, infinite specialization within the sciences, and a befuddling reconception of what it means to be secure, financially or otherwise. And yet, there are still people devoted to the in-the-field, observational, and poetic science of natural history. Exploring one’s non people-centric surroundings is essential to connecting with a place, and this relationship is fundamental to engendering the care that in turn promotes conservation.
In an attempt to alleviate this vast cultural deprivation, a group of naturalists, writers, and teachers started the Natural History Network and launched the Natural History Project, a series of short, filmed conversations about the revitalization of the discipline. Though I’ve yet to watch them all, one of my favorites compares natural history to
and another (by my former “Environmental Action through Writing” UCSC professor), called
tells a multispecies, international tale of ecological interdependency.
Sex at Dawn How many people do you know who’ve been cheated on? Or who’ve done the cheating? Perhaps you’ve been involved, in one way or the other? What about divorced people? Almost everyone, at least once, yeah? Do you know married couples who don’t really seem to like each
other anymore, or maybe even sleep in separate beds? Can you open a magazine without reading of some sex scandal in Hollywood or on Capitol Hill? Any girls or guys out there who just can’t seem to keep their pants on, relationship or no?
In their book Sex at Dawn (HarperCollins, 2010), authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá (who are also partners) tease apart the dominant paradigm that sexual monogamy and marriage are human nature and culturally universal. As one of the most die-hard arguements goes: If a couple loves each other enough, they’ll never have feelings for another, right? But Sex at Dawn, which came out in paperback this past summer, examines everything from the cooperative promiscuity of our foraging, pre-agricultural ancestors to why most women come so loudly to the testicular volume of various apes. It is nothing short of awesome.
If you’ve ever looked around at modern relationships or family units and just thought, “Really?! Am I totally missing something?” this book provides rare validation. Though by the end, the authors incite more questions than provide a clear roadmap of answers, it’s refreshing that someone is finally pointing them out, intelligently and with a joyfully readable sense of humor.
Plus, they quote one of my favorite nature writers, Edward Abbey:
Modern men and women are obsessed with the sexual; it is the only realm of primordial adventure still left to most of us. Like apes in a zoo, we spend our energies on the one field of play remaining; human lives otherwise are pretty well caged in by the walls, bars, chains, and locked gates of our industrial culture.
(Is Abbey saying naturalists are less horny, since we aren’t so confined by the freedom-stifling shackles of our capitalist, near-dead system? I doubt it, considering he did have five wives in his day….)
“Nancy Wilson: Fire in the Heart” (I can’t find it online, sorry!) Though Nancy Wilson wasn’t my very first rock idol, she was the first one that didn’t just sing and lead a band but played guitar, too. As the co-founder of Heart in 1974 with her sister, Ann, Wilson helped pioneer a mighty path for women in rock. The band’s still putting out albums, including its 13th studio release, 2010′s Red Velvet Car (Sony Legacy), which debuted at #10 on the Billboard Top 200 and reportedly recalls the straight-up, fun feeling and sound of their songs from the ’70s (can anyone corroborate this?).
Considering I’ve fantasized about Wilson being my guitar teacher since I was seven (years before I ever seriously tried to play), I was stoked when my dad tossed me this month’s issue of Vintage Guitar magazine with her on the cover playing a G minor barre chord on her cherry sunburst Les Paul. In addition to the interview being thorough and complemented by photos of her guitar collection, I loved how Wilson’s smart personality and sincerity was captured so well. I own a “How to Play Heart Songs” DVD featuring her, and then I also have a “How to Play Sabbath” DVD
led by some tool of a guy. The contrast between the two teachers always makes me laugh: She is incredibly warm, humble, and encouraging, e.g. ”This part’s kinda tricky — it took me a while to get good at — but with practice you’ll be able to do it,” versus the serious, super slay-y egotism of the Sabbath dude, e.g. [shred shred shred] “Got it?” Wilson’s genuine spirit is always a bright spot in the midst of a lot of testosterone-fueled bravado (though not to suggest that doesn’t have its place, too…).
Two things she said stood out for me, one being the many paragraphs about how she and Ann loved the Beatles and started a band because of them (“We were too young to think, ‘We should be the girlfriends of the Beatles.’ We just wanted to be the Beatles, you know?”). And another about how a guitar is one of the best friends you’ll ever have (“The guitar is a reflection of what you put in to it, giving back what you give it, just like life. Put the love in, you get the love out.”). Thanks for the minor and major reminder, Nancy Wilson – I’m running for my dust cloth and tuning fork right now!
Naturalist, sluts, and girls on guitar. Okay, now the inspiration’s kicking in a little.
Here’s footage from backstage before performing “Crazy on You,” courtesy of YouTube. The guitar playing starts around 2:30, with breezy and heartfelt commentary by Nancy Wilson about her playing. But the beginning’s worth it for a backstage rendition of “I Will Follow Him” and the sisters’ putting-on-makeup banter. Later, if you make it to the last “I was a willow last night in a dream” verse, can you deny that Ann is the female counterpart to Robert Plant?