Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Cocaine, Schizophrenia, and Nuclear Reactors: Life as an RCC Editor

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By Brenda Black

Our work as editors at the RCC requires us to be generalists (because of the wide variety of topics encountered), but also capable of interpreting highly specialized texts (because it is impossible to edit what one does not understand).

For one issue of Perspectives, my google search history included: cocaine, schizophrenia, bottlenecking, sermons, Hitler, synapses, placebo effects, Hume, slave rebellions, and peacocks. For other articles, I have found myself researching topics such as: How does a nuclear reactor work, or, more mundanely, how do automobile engines work. Another time I desperately wished I had taken a course in organic chemistry so that I could understand a discussion of industrial chemicals, and yet another article had me researching different agricultural methods such as no-till farming.

One of the most interesting and challenging articles I have edited was concerned with palynology, the study of pollen, something I hadn’t known even existed. This scientific field can provide intriguing insights into environments of the past through analysis of the pollen contained in the sediments of bogs and other natural archives. Used in combination with archaeological records and geochemical analysis of metals in the environment, palynology can help us reconstruct the history of human activities such as agriculture and mining. Continue reading

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“Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw”: Jiang Rong’s “Wolf Totem”

Post by Brenda Black

Jiang Rong’s autobiographical novel Wolf Totem was one of the group reads for the Global Environment Summer Academy held at the Rachel Carson Center last August. It recounts the experiences of a Chinese college student, Chen Zhen (the author’s alter ego), sent to live among the nomadic herders of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. The young man is fascinated by the grasslands and the customs and culture of the people he is living among. The sheepherders live in constant conflict with the wolves as they try to protect their herds from attacks by the hungry animals, but also honor and revere them, returning their dead to the heavens (“sky burial”) through the agency of the wolves. This world is in danger, however, from the Chinese government, which is sending immigrants to settle and plow the grasslands in order to help feed China’s growing population.

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