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10 Great Naturalists and Scientists at The Notebook
Since 2009 we have been interviewing, spending time with and collaborating with top scientists and naturalists. We visit some at their homes, labs or offices; others come to The Naturalist's Notebook to give talks, do book signings, lead outings or help create installations. Here are several of them. We thank them all for their work and for their generosity.
Bernd Heinrich is one of the world's greatest living naturalists and nature writers (a winner of the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for natural-history writing, among other honors) and a wonderful friend of The Naturalist's Notebook's. He is also an artist. In both our Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor spaces we have shown some of the many paintings and illustrations that he has done for his nearly 20 books (including bestsellers such as Mind of the Raven and Winter World). We have set up interactions in which visitors learn to draw birds based on some of his paintings. Bernd has done multiple talks and book-signings with the Notebook, welcomed the two of us to his cabin in western Maine (where he conducts much of his field research), patiently—make that enthusiastically—answered constant questions from us about every aspect of nature, shared with our blog and Facebook page some of his latest photos and discoveries, and helped us and Connecticut naturalist/artist Dorie Petrochko create a vernal pool diorama for the Seal Harbor Notebook. Bernd, a professor emeritus at the University of Vermont, is one of the most remarkable people we've ever met—an amazingly astute observer of the natural world, an endlessly curious field biologist, a clear and insightful writer, a record-setting ultra-distance runner, the best tree-climber we know (how else to check a nest for eggs?) and a terrific person.
Acclaimed astrophysicist Alex Filippenko was part of two teams that in 1998 discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe, for which the team leaders received the 2011 Nobel Prize. He has been voted the best professor at the University of California at Berkeley a record nine times, was honored in 2006 as the National Professor of the Year, received the 2004 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization and has regularly appeared on television in science and astronomy shows and documentaries, including 40 episodes of "The Universe." Alex has hiked with us in Acadia National Park, given a Naturalist's Notebook-organized talk at the Schoodic Institute, taken part in a Naturalist's Notebook retreat and contributed his insights for day and night sky-watching installations at The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor, which he visited in 2013 and 2014. The two of us also have visited Alex in Berkeley, where his many projects include working to protect and endow the famed Lick Observatory in the face of steep California budget cuts. For all the serious science he does, Alex has a great sense of fun. Thanks to him and his science-promoting wife, Noelle, I'm able walk around wearing a T-shirt that reads: DARK ENERGY IS THE NEW BLACK. How cool is that?
MacArthur Fellow David M. Carroll is also one of the world's greatest living naturalists and is a sublime writer and artist (a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston). He has been a National Book Award finalist in nonfiction and won the 2001 John Burroughs Medal for natural-history writing. David has spent decades studying wetland life, particularly turtles. His books include Swampwalker's Journal: A Wetlands Year (which is often used as a text in college environmental courses), The Year of the Turtle: A Natural History and Self-Portrait with Turtles: A Memoir. He and his wife, Laurette, also a gifted artist, have welcomed us several times to their New Hampshire home, and we highlight their work, sell David's books and paintings, and display some of David's turtle-shell specimens and share his wetlands knowledge in our Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor spaces. David is a man of many passions, from studying and protecting nature to painting in his studio to learning to speak Russian just because he wants to know how to speak Russian. We agree with author Annie Dillard's assessment: David M. Carroll is "a national treasure."
Katie Stack Morgan is a research scientist and member of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover team at the NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif. She began working there while earning her Ph.D. in geology at Caltech. Katie earned a B.A. in geosciences and astronomy at Williams College, displaying a combination of interests that suited her perfectly for the JPL and especially for the geology-focused Mars Rover project. We met Katie a few years ago when she was visiting The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor with her family She was buying one of our Mars Passport notebooks when we first saw her and started chatting. She's a delightful person and we hit it off instantly. Since then we have hosted a Mars talk by her on The Naturalist's Notebook deck (it was particularly inspiring to the young, science-minded girls in the crowd) and visited her in Pasadena, where she generously took the time to give us a private tour of the Jet Propulsion Lab. (What a day that was.) We look forward to tapping her expertise in the future when we transform a room at the Seal Harbor Naturalist's Notebook into our own version of Mars, one with more, well, atmosphere.
We were working at The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor several years ago when a man approached us and said with a smile. "You have a very interesting ape installation." He meant that in a good way. He turned out to be Lilian Pintea, a conservation biologist for the Jane Goodall Institute, and he appreciated the attention we we giving to chimpanzees and to Jane Goodall's lifelong efforts to protect them. Each year we welcome Lilian and his fun family back to The Naturalist's Notebook, and when we created a Jane Goodall Day, Lilian capped it off by giving a lecture and slide show at the nearby College of the Atlantic on the Jane Goodall Institute's latest chimp conservation work. Having spent so much time in Africa for the JGI, and having grown up in Moldova when it was part of the Soviet bloc (he was studying ecology in Moscow when the USSR collapsed in 1991), Lilian has a unique and insightful global perspective as well as a deep well of knowledge in multiple fields of science, including technology. He earned his Ph.D. in conservation biology at the University of Minnesota after coming to the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship. We're already looking forward to his next visit to Maine and The Naturalist's Notebook.
Jeff Wells has been a conservation ornithologist for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the national director of bird conservation for the Audubon Society and now the science and policy director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative, which seeks to protect the vast northern forests in which billions of migratory songbirds breed. He is also a Mainer, and after he moved back to his home state several years ago we were fortunate enough to meet him. Jeff has led a birding walk for at The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor and helped inform our avian installations. We are working to get Maine's Favorite Birds, a guidebook that he and his wife, Allison (also a top ornithologist), wrote, into the hands of as many Mainers as we can, especially schoolchildren. If kids everywhere could go out on a walk with Jeff to look and listen for birds, they would be hooked on nature for life.
Our day is brightened whenever we get a visit from plant ecologist Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, a Harvard graduate who is completing her Ph.D. at Boston University. Caitlin travels from Boston to coastal Maine each spring and summer to do climate-change-related field research on plants at Acadia National Park. She works in conjunction with Acadia science coordinator Abe Miller-Rushing, a national leader in citizen science, and her BU advisor, Richard Primack, winner of a prestigious international Humboldt award for scientific research and the author of Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods. Caitlin has selflessly volunteered to help up set up our Naturalist's Notebook spaces nearly every year and in 2014 created an installation with us at The Naturalist's Notebook Annex in Northeast Harbor on the history of botanizing on Mount Desert Island—a story that included connections to Thoreau and the ways in which plant research helped inspire the founding of Acadia National Park. On top of her science work, Caitlin is a mom and a marathoner who logs untold trail miles walking between and among her Cadillac Mountain research sites.
Whenever we trade messages with our friend James Prosek, he's seemingly always about to leave for (or just back from) a National Geographic writing assignment; a stint at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or the Smithsonian painting a huge public-space bird mural; an art fellowship or museum-show opening; a screening of a PBS documentary he has written and narrated based on one of his books (such as Eels); a trip to someplace like the Sargasso Sea; or, well, you get the picture. He's an extraordinary artist, writer, naturalist and conservationist, and he pursues all of those callings with an energy that belies his gentle, easy manner. You may first have heard of James when he was an undergraduate at Yale and published the acclaimed book Trout: An Illustrated History, which contained his vibrant watercolor paintings of 70 varieties of North American trout. Sports Illustrated called it "a remarkable achievement" and both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times compared James to one of his figures who inspired him, John James Audubon. Paintings from James's 2012 book Ocean Fishes inspired us to create an installation in the Ocean Room in The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor in collaboration with a science class from Mount Desert (Maine) Elementary School. So it is that James's fish now swim in that room, dangling beautifully from the night-sky ceiling.
Karen James, staff scientist at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, bridges two centuries of cutting-edge biology with her deep knowledge of both the life of Charles Darwin and the workings of genetics. While doing post-doctoral research at the Museum of Natural History in London, Karen helped coordinate events for the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, and she co-founded the HMS Beagle Project, whose goal is to build a 21st-century version of Darwin's famous ship as a working science vessel and an educational vehicle. We have been working with her on an installation linked to her Biotrails research project at Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute. It is a citizen-science initiative that is engaging Acadia visitors in the process of DNA "fingerprinting" species in the park. Karen's passion for her work and her skill at connecting with the public (she is one of America's most-followed scientists on Twitter) are a dynamic combination. In addition to her other interests, she is a lifelong space buff and attempted a few years ago to become an astronaut. She made it impressively far in the process and, true to her character, hasn't ruled out trying again.
Joe Snider is allegedly retired, but the Naturalist's Notebook has benefitted repeatedly from his inventive mind and endless enthusiasm for learning and teaching. Joe earned his Ph.D. in experimental physics at Princeton and taught at Harvard for eight years before a long and distinguished career at Oberlin College, where he is a professor emeritus. Since we met him a few years ago (he now lives in Maine, not far from The Naturalist's Notebooks), Joe has helped us create a Sun Room, let us display some of his astronomy-focused educational inventions as interactions, taught us about our Sun and solar system and built us a window-installed camera obscura, which allows light from outside The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor to fly through a pinhole and project an image of the outdoor scene onto a wall of a darkened room. The camera obscura is set up in our Brain Room, which is fitting for one of Joe's brainstorms. He's no doubt thinking up his next invention at this very moment.