natural history center


The Brain Scoop:
How to Protect the Rainforest

Wherein I interviewed expedition leader and rockstar Corine Vriesendorp about what it means to conserve and protect the Amazon rainforest, in light of the overwhelming global demands for natural resources. 

This is the final installment in our Amazon Adventures series. We set out with the goal to share some of the fantastic conservation work of The Field Museum’s Action Center, and I hope we came even remotely close to spreading their complex and dynamic mission. If I never get to visit the rainforest again, this trip and all of the untold opportunities it held for me – as a communicator, passionate science enthusiast, and lover of the natural world – will forever be a highlight of my life. 


Photographer Tony Gleaton died last Friday after struggling with a particularly aggressive cancer for 18 months. He was working, signing prints, talking to museums (several have his work in their collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem) and checking in with his friends right up to the last day.

There is still stigma to acknowledging blackness in many parts of Mexico, and Tony’s work raised the profile of Latinos with what is sometimes called “the Third Root” — Spanish, Indian, African — in Latino culture. His work eventually expanded across the Americas to form an exhibit called Tengo Casi 500 Anos (I Have Almost 500 Years) — Africa’s Legacy in Mexico that explores the African presence in the Americas. He’s also chronicled black, Indian and Mexican cowboy culture, as well as life in American Samoa and the Mississippi Delta.

When Tony returned to Los Angeles, he enrolled at UCLA under the GI bill, but left soon after, determined to work as a fashion photographer. He lived a hand-to-mouth existence in New York as a photographer’s assistant, then as a photographer. But he eventually tired of that life and worked his way back across the country, in an oil field and on ranches, and at rodeos where the cowboys were black and Mexican and Native American. The Mexican cowboys told him about the hidden villages of the Costa Chica, and photographing the residents there became his best-known work.

But it was physically grueling and after about 15 years, Tony stopped. (“60 ain’t 35, kid.”) Instead, he began a series of landscapes. He took beautiful images of striking, isolated parts of the country that have historical significance to people of color in the U.S.: western trails that black pioneers had blazed, views of coasts first walked by native peoples, and wide-open fields that had once been settlements established by freed slaves.

(top to bottom)

Tres hermanas- “Three Sisters”, Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero, Mexico, 1986.

Sin titulo- “Untitled”, Mango Creek, Belize, 1992.

Cazadores del mar- “Hunters From The Sea”, Corrallero, Oaxaca, Mexico, 1991.

El amado de Afrodita- “The Beloved of Aphrodite”, El Ciruello, Oaxaca, Mexico, 1990.

Madre Africa- “Mother Africa”, Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero, Mexico, 1987.


The Brain Scoop:
The Bird Calls of Amazonia

Ernesto speaks bird. At least, he’s got an incredibly strong association with who’s talking to him, flying overhead or sitting in the treetops. Where I can’t differentiate crickets from ant birds, Ernesto has a comparative library of sounds logged in his own memory bank, as well as in his iPod.

In our latest episode, we traveled out into the jungle to accompany him on a leisurely afternoon stroll (read: I about passed out of dehydration), to record what we might hear, and hope to see something, too. 

Check out our other posts from the Rapid Inventory 27: Tapiche-Blanco Peruvian Expedition! 


this is Petra
she works the night shift at a natural history museum/science center, oblivious to the fact there is an Evil Lab under it. of course Plot Happens as it always does and security is getting weirdly heightened and she’s not sure what’s going on but it’s probably not good. she didn’t sign up for this craziness she just wanted to sit around with the dinosaur bones and old rocks at night

(not my character, she belongs to Mark, a friend o mine)


The Brain Scoop:
Jungle Atop a Desert

We found a desert in the middle of the jungle.

I’ve got taller trees in my backyard than the ones we discovered in this region of the Peruvian forest, and the secret to their stumpiness was found in the nutrient poor sand where geologists would typically expect to find soil. 

Not only do these Rapid Inventory programs require a variety of biological scientists to get a comprehensive understanding of the region, but geological researchers as well! The observations made by Bob Stallard and Trey Crouch are invaluable to our understanding of this environment, and their discoveries are like a beautiful contextual glue that holds everything together. 



How to Cut a Trail in Amazonia

Before our biologists can survey an area of previously undocumented forest, they need a few things - a place to put supplies and equipment, a kitchen, an area to wash clothes, and trails on which to walk and map out the biodiversity. Alvaro del Campo, the logistics guru for the Peruvian Rapid Inventories, taught me how they identify where the trail in question ought to be cleared in order to get a comprehensive understanding of the landscape.

The map below does a great job of illustrating the land that has been protected so far because of these surveys, as well as the proposed areas. We were on RI:27, Tapiche-Blanco!