Archive for April, 2012

Full of Food

April 29th, 2012 | Meera

Alaska, wrote John Muir, is full of food for man and beast, body and soul, though few are seeking it as yet. Were one-tenth part of the attractions this country has to offer made known to the world, thousands would come every year, and not a few of them would stay and make homes.

He wrote: How truly wild it is, and how joyously one’s heart responds to the welcome it gives.

Friends, I found myself hungry in body and soul last year, so I went north. And this year I am still hungry, so I am going north again.

Between tomorrow and mid-July, I’ll be working in the wilderness of far western Alaska, serving as a field volunteer on a Fish and Wildlife Service project. There will be four of us, two scientists and two volunteers, camping out on the vast montane tundra, studying the breeding habits of the rare, secretive, and by all accounts beguiling shorebird known—charmingly—as the Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis).

I wish I could post updates from the field like I did last summer, but unfortunately we’ll be entirely offline and out of cellphone access, so I’ll do my best to take notes and tell you a little bit when I get back about whether John Muir was right. (Spoiler: I’m pretty sure he was.)

BTCU with EJ leg flag

Photo: The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region.

In the meantime, all my love, all my thanks for being so supportive of these excursions, and if we haven’t already talked about all this hunger business, my book Mountainfit will tell you everything you need to know. If you are new to The Science Essayist and aren’t quite sure whether you like my writing enough to spend five dollars on it, this review from doctoral candidate Sienna Latham—who studies the history of science and is one of the wonderful people who backed my Kickstarter project to get the book written—might give you a sense of what it’s like.

Be safe, friends. I’ll talk to you soon.


April 9th, 2012 | Meera

Hello there. It’s been a little while since I’ve talked with you, but part of that is because of the news I’d like to share today.

Some of you may remember that last year I started a Kickstarter project to help me publish a little book about my time as a volunteer in Sweden at Lake Ånnsjön Bird Observatory. That book is finally finished. It ended up being called Mountainfit, and it bears an unbelievably lovely Diana Sudyka-designed cover.

I created a very limited print run for Kickstarter backers and the observatory; otherwise the book only exists in digital form.

I’ve made the ebook available for purchase directly through this website. $5 will let you download a copy in three formats: ePUB, MOBI, and PDF. And it will present you with a collection of short essays—some as brief as a page and some as long as sixteen—about birds, science, myth, and the mountains of Sweden.

Female Great Snipe

This is Raymond Klaassen with a Great Snipe, a bird about which I say quite a lot in the book.

I am a poor saleswoman, but if you’re a Science Essayist reader or you follow my Tumblr project 366 Days of Words in Science,* you probably already have a pretty good sense of whether you’ll like this book or not.

I did decide that while I was telling you about it here, I’d also include the table of contents from Mountainfit, because I know that when I pick up a strange book in the library or a bookstore, chapter titles are often a good way of getting a little peek into its style and content.

Here is the Mountainfit TOC:

the trapeze artist, the cuckoo, and me
claim your area
field notes from a lost lek
the idea of joy
the language of the birds
where the kría swarm
the werewolf possibility
to see a hooded crow with its cowl thrown over its head
the world’s sweetest double-cross
things often heard
different ways of agreeing and disagreeing
seasonal plumage
a good lemming year
being king solomon
the gyr is a gyr
the vagrant in sweden
appendix: an incomplete list of birds that have appeared in this book, along with ways of naming them
about, etc.
selected references

I think that’s it! You can buy a copy of Mountainfit here. And as is always, always true, I thank you so much for reading.

*Since January 1, 2012, I’ve been keeping a daily word-diary at 366 Days of Words in Science. Each post contains the definition of a scientific word, a photograph I took that day, and a tiny piece of something else: something personal, usually. So far it’s been incredibly fun for me to work on, although it’s true that every night after dinner I groan theatrically and say to Ross, “AGH, I haven’t found a word yet.” So far, there are 99 words in the series. I’ll stop when I get to 366—which will probably be in the middle of March, 2013, because I’m taking a break from electricity this summer to volunteer with the Fish and Wildlife Service in western Alaska.