Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Memorial Day Message That is Missing

This weekend, social media is filled with messages asking us to remember the Americans who have died defending our country and our freedom. Memorial Day, first established in 1866 to honor Union soldiers of the Civil War, is now a day set aside to remember all of the American soldiers who have died in war in the subsequent 15 decades - about 1.2 million in all. This number, while representing a tremendous loss, pales in comparison to the number of war-related deaths globally for the same time period. Estimates run from 60 to 85 million for the number of lives lost during World War II alone. 

Coincidentally, this past week, I finally had the chance to watch the movie The Imitation Game and finished reading Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. The film portrays a number of issues, but one in particular still troubles me. [Spoiler alert:] After the German Enigma code was decrypted, the British made "strategic" life and death decisions about their own troops in order to avoid tipping off the Germans that their code had been cracked. In this way, the British could continue gathering key intelligence. While this intelligence is credited with shortening World War II by as much as two years, I find it difficult to understand how those in charge would intentionally ignore information that could have saved the lives of many of their own troops.

Fountain's book is also about war - the one in Iraq, post 9/11. Without going into the details of the plot, the story vividly portrays the sharply divergent worlds of those who glorify war and those who are actually sent into combat. A particularly poignant passage comes when Billy Lynn's sister is trying to convince him not to return to Iraq after completing a somewhat farcical nationwide tour that both celebrated and exploited the heroes of his squad. She gives a long list of leaders and pundits who were promoting the war (including the President and Vice-president) and noted that all of them had somehow managed to avoid serving in Vietnam.

Admittedly, I am a pacifist and don't understand the reasons for our involvement in most conflicts since World War II. But this Memorial Day weekend, I wonder why instead of just remembering those lost in war, that we don't also start finding ways to avoid further deadly conflict in the future.

In his book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, author Christian Parenti refers to the "catastrophic convergence" of poverty, violence, and climate change. The Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) completed a study in 2007 on climate change and national security, and a year ago this month, the CNA published a follow-up report entitled National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change. The Pentagon and State Department have also published detailed strategic reports regarding the impact of climate change on national security. Headlines from the past year include "Climate change threatens national security, Pentagon says", "Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers", and "Obama: Climate Change a Growing National Security Threat" (a claim that the President reiterated this past week). After Obama's comments in February this year, The New Republic followed with a piece entitled "Obama is Right: Climate Change Kills More People than Terrorism." In this, Rebecca Leber makes a case that around 5 million died due to climate-related factors or carbon pollution in 2010 and that this number will increase to close to 6 million by 2030. But I suppose this is irrelevant to military strategists since reports about war casualty numbers don't include the loss of life due to things like environmental pollution or natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, or other types of extreme storms.

The significance seems clear to me, however, when we overlay the impacts of climate change on top of a widening gap between the have's and have-not's, especially with respect to food and water security, and consider the disparate impacts of climate change on certain regions of the world that have a long history of conflict. To decode: we are looking at a rapidly growing risk for more global conflict. Ironically, the U.S. military is a huge consumer of fossil fuels - one of the major sources of greenhouse gases that are destabilizing the climate. And following up on a 2001 report on Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic, the military is preparing for a joint training exercise (the "Northern Edge 2015") in June of this year in the Gulf of Alaska. Why do I get the sense that our national leadership, like the British in WWII, is choosing to deliberately disregard certain critical intelligence, risking some lives, in order to "succeed" in some larger goal?

During a commencement address at Rutgers University last weekend, Bill Nye said that the "oncoming trouble" of climate change will affect the graduates in "the same way the Second World War consumed people of [his] parent's generation." As we await the release of the Pope's Encyclical on climate change, Cardinal Peter Turkson recently spoke at an international conference on climate change hosted at the Vatican, calling on the wealthiest countries who have long benefited from fossil fuels, to be the ones to find solutions to deal with climate change:
[Wealthy nations] are obliged both to reduce their own carbon emissions and to help protect poorer countries from the disasters caused or exacerbated by the excesses of industrialization. Cardinal Peter Turkson
Last week, I was left troubled by both a movie and book about war. I remain disillusioned by war in general. Perhaps if the U.S. started exerting leadership in addressing climate change, and thus, working to lessen the chances for additional future conflict in the world, I would feel better listening to the all the messages - especially from politicians - honoring the dead over this holiday weekend.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Let’s Bridge the Two Cultures

Following a recent campus email sharing a blog post by Jack Miles entitled Why Are We Losing in the Middle East? Too Much STEM, Not Enough Humanities,[1] there were two semi-defensive email responses, but no genuine debate or face-to-face conversation.  The author of the opinion piece, speaking about America's response to Islamist terrorism since 9/11, noted that
American leaders might have avoided a series of horrific mistakes if they had relied a bit more on the humanities and a bit less on the STEM.
I must admit that this post offended me.  But mostly, I was disappointed that there wasn’t time for dialog.

I have sensed a growing tension between the humanities and the sciences on campus for some time.  I suspect that this is due, at least in part, to all the attention and money directed at the sciences (renovations to Collier Hall of Science, the new Health Science programs, the launch of planning for a new Health Science academic building, perceived inequities in the SOAR* endowment distribution of research support, etc.).  Couple this with Congressional attacks on funding for the Arts and the dropping of these disciplines in K-12 public schools, I can understand the growing sense of frustration.  It is part of the reason that we are having the CAT-LinC* workshop entitled Reshaping the LinC Curriculum-Revitalizing the Liberal Arts; one of the discussion questions in the workshop announcement makes this clear:
How might the current LinC curriculum help to alleviate concerns regarding the current push to add profession-oriented programs to our curriculum?  If the current LinC curriculum cannot achieve this goal, how might that curriculum need to be re-shaped to alleviate those concerns? 
Implicit in this question (to me, at least) is a concern that profession-oriented programs cannot embody a liberal education.  Furthermore, since most of these new academic programs have direct ties to the natural and physical sciences, it seems that some on campus view the liberal arts as separate from the sciences, rather than the liberal arts being inclusive of them, as was the case historically for the Artes Liberales.

Personally, I like the definition of a liberal education in the 21st century provided by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)
Liberal Education: An approach to college learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. This approach emphasizes broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g., science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth achievement in a specific field of interest. It helps students develop a sense of social responsibility; strong intellectual and practical skills that span all major fields of study, such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills; and the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.[2]
Note the inclusion of science and an expectation that the broad knowledge and skills gained during a student’s education actually get applied.  The essential learning outcomes of AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) project includes “Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World through [the] study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts.”[3]  In other words, it isn’t liberal arts and the sciences, but rather a true integration that characterizes liberal education today.

A few years ago, Joyce Hinnefeld (a colleague from the English Department) and I proposed and organized the first Arts and Lectures series on the Intersections between Art, Science, and Nature for which we brought in speakers whose work exemplified the bridging of disciplines.  We concluded another such successful series this year.  Along the way, I have been exploring such bridges in my own teaching and scholarship and have found that historically, there were many connections between the arts and sciences, especially in the “fields” of natural history and medicine.  But over time, the collaborations faded and once symbiotic disciplines have, for the most part, gone their separate ways. 

The Romantic period of the first half of the 19th century has been characterized as an intellectual movement that integrated the arts and humanities and that was heavily influenced by science and nature.  The period also coincided with the Industrial Revolution, and thus, this has been described as an era of discovery of both the beauty and the terror of science.  Mary Shelley wrote of her concerns of human manipulation of nature in Frankenstein (1818).  In his 1829 Sonnet - To Science, Edgar Allen Poe says that science is the enemy of the poet because it takes away the mysteries of the world. He was concerned about the influx of modern science and social science of the times and how it potentially undermined spiritual beliefs.  The world had entered a period where science was no longer simply trying to understand and describe nature, but was now aiming to improve upon it.  And with 21st century technological advances in genetic engineering, biomedicine, and even conservation (for instance, the new efforts in de-extinction and re-wilding), the attempts to improve upon nature continue.

Towards the late 1800’s and through the turn of the century, scientists were discovering things at a record pace, unraveling nature’s secrets at the both the scale of the atom and the universe.  As they solved these mysteries, some of the world’ most prominent of scientists of all time remained ever cognizant of the beauty of what they were studying.  Albert Einstein once said
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science. 
Another nuclear physicist, Marie Curie, noted that
“I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.
Perhaps ironically, both of these individuals were uncovering the fundamental mysteries of atoms and energy that would be used to create the most destructive weapon of mass destruction that has ever been used by humans.  But it was also scientists like Linus Pauling (a Nobel Laureate winner of both the Chemistry and Peace prizes) who in 1958, presented to the United Nations a petition signed by 9,235 scientists from around the world protesting further nuclear testing and published the book entitled No More War!  And today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has a major initiative and journal on Science Diplomacy aimed at building bridges for peace.[4]

There have been several points in history where scientists have realized the social and ethical implications of their research, and consequently brought their concerns to the attention of the public as well as worked to establish ethical boundaries for the applications of the new knowledge.  The Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA in 1975 is an important example.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, heralded as a great literary piece, was also a critical social commentary and strong warning about the use of synthetic pesticides (a product of science during World War II).  Not surprisingly, some in the scientific community did not welcome the book’s publication, but it led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and some of the first pieces of environmental legislation.  The former director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies and a renown climate scientist on the faculty of Columbia University, James Hansen, has become a leading climate change activist and authored a book entitled Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.  There are many more examples.

Yet the fears expressed by Shelley and Poe around two centuries ago have magnified with each technological advance.  In 1959, Charles Percy Snow (or CP Snow) – a scientist and author -- delivered a lecture in the UK Senate House entitled The Two Cultures and subsequently published a book elaborating on his ideas entitled The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.  The thesis of both was that “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” was split into two cultures – namely the sciences and the humanities – and that this division was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems. In 2008, The Times Literary Supplement included the book in its list of the 100 books that most influenced Western public discourse since the Second World War.  One particular excerpt, despite being written about 56 years ago, seems so relevant to the discussions and divisiveness on campus now:
The separation between the two cultures has been getting deeper under our eyes; there is now precious little communication between them, little but different kinds of incomprehension and dislike. 
Neither culture knows the virtues of the other; often it seems they deliberately do not want to know. The resentment, which the traditional culture feels for the scientific, is shaded with fear; from the other side, the resentment is not shaded so much as brimming with irritation.
Stefan Collini writing in The Guardian in August in 2013[5] observed that
Snow had presented the contrast between the scientific and literary cultures as being in part about different responses to the industrial and technological revolutions.
This contrast was also described by Peter Dizikes writing in the New York Times in 2009[6] on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Snow’s lecture:
Scientists, he asserts, have “the future in their bones,” while “the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.”
I hear this idea reflected often: scientists have a tendency to think that science and technology can fix all of the world’s problems.  In contrast, many in the humanities believe that technology has caused many of those problems.

In one additional 2009 essay written by Lawrence Krauss,[7] it was noted that
Snow argued that practitioners in both areas [the humanities or "cultures" and the sciences] should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.
Krauss goes on to say that Snow did not rail against religion, or any of the humanities, but rather against ignorance.
Until we are willing to accept the world the way it is, without miracles that all empirical evidence argues against, without myths that distort our comprehension of nature, we are unlikely to bridge the divide between science and culture and, more important, we are unlikely to be fully ready to address the urgent technical challenges facing humanity.
Reading the reflections of others about C.P. Snow and the “two cultures” has only strengthened my belief that we need to find ways to reconnect these disciplines, to find ways to cross the vocabulary differences and ideological divides, to have dialog in order to better understand each other and address the critical issues of our time.  The STEM disciplines are integral to a liberal education and facets of the humanities must be woven into how we teach in STEM disciplines. Given the role that science and technology must play in addressing the global challenges of the 21st century (climate change, food and water security, emerging diseases, and biosecurity are just a few examples) and the growing public distrust or denial of science (think climate change, GMOs, and vaccines), it is critically important for all students to be cognizant of the role that they may play – individually and collectively – in these future debates and solutions.  How do we get students to not only think across disciplinary boundaries, but to also gain experience in debating and developing policy, translating technical information to policymakers and the public, and to think about science, not just as something hard or scary, but perhaps as a means of diplomacy?  And how do ensure that future scientists continue to be aware of the moral and societal implications of their discoveries?  These are the curricular discussions about liberal education at Moravian College that I think we should be having.[8]
~~~

I leave you with two other random thoughts on why we need to once again integrate the disciplines in a liberal education:

In a study published last year from Michigan State University, researchers found a positive link between childhood participation in arts – especially music – to patents generated and businesses launched as adults. They studied a group of college graduates who majored in science, technology, engineering or mathematics – theSTEM disciplines – and found that exposure to the arts as children increased the chances of ownership of patents or new businesses by over eight times compared to the general public. Furthermore, in their surveys, “80% of STEM professionals report that arts and crafts deliver skills necessary for innovative work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
“Science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science.”
  Edward O. Wilson
from Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge [1999]
What science-bashers fail to appreciate is that scientists, in their unflagging attraction to the unknown, love what they don't know. It guides and motivates their work; it keeps them up late at night; and it makes that work poetic.
—  Alison Hawthorne Deming  Writing the Sacred into the Real
In much of the poet Alison Hawthorne Deming’s work, she argues that the farther we remove ourselves from wild settings, the farther we are removed from our spiritual center. She believes the arts allow us to fall again “into harmony with place and each other.” We live in a world that is out of balance (environmentally, and socio-economically).  Artists sense this emotionally.  Scientists know this through data, but need to find ways to express this that doesn’t turn the public off through fear or distrust.  Working together, humanists and scientists can find those words and the rebalancing that we need in our personal and collective lives.


*SOAR = Student Opportunities for Academic Research (an endowment for undergraduate research)
CAT = Center for the Advancement of Teaching
LinC = Learning in Common, the general education program at Moravian College


[4] See http://www.sciencediplomacy.org; accessed May 15, 2015.
[5] Collini, S.,  “Leavis v Snow: the two-cultures bust-up 50 years on”, The Guardian (8/16/13); available at; http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/aug/16/leavis-snow-two-cultures-bust; accessed May 15, 2015.
[6] Dizikes, P. Our Two Cultures, The New York Times (3/19/09); available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/books/review/Dizikes-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0; accessed May 15, 2015.
[7] Krauss, L.M. “An Update on C. P. Snow's ‘Two Cultures’ " Scientific American (8/17/09); available at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/an-update-on-cp-snows-two-cultures/; accessed on May 15, 2015.
[8] I have written on these ideas before in a 2004 blog post (http://anewprosperity.blogspot.com/2014/03/what-fires-should-educators-light.html) and excerpt of which was published by AAC&U in their magazine Liberal Education: http://aacu.org/liberaleducation/2014/winter/husic.
[9]Michigan State University ArtSmarts Among Innovatorsin Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) March, 2001; available at http://ippsr.msu.edu/publications/ARArtSmarts.pdf; accessed on May 15, 2015.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Weeping for Kenya

Today, I weep not only for Kenya, but all of humanity.  A senseless attack has left 147 – maybe more – young adults dead, and the innocence of countless others shattered.  I interact with college age students every day, and sometimes even wonder if a school shooting could happen on our campus.  But who could envision the magnitude of the barbaric act carried out today at Garissa University.  As I watched my students in lab this afternoon, I wanted to weep for them.  They innocently carried out the experiment, oblivious to the fact that some of their peers half-way around the world are no longer able to fret about tests or grades.  Sadly, my students will soon leave campus to enter a world where hatred and intolerance lead people to slaughter bright young people, students who might just have been the ones to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.  But my students will get to graduate and celebrate with their families.  In Kenya, families will be burying their children.

My fascination with the continent of Africa began at an early age.  This made no sense for a relatively sheltered blonde Finnish kid from a region where the population was 99+% white and few people left their home county, much less dreamed of going to another continent.  But when I was in second grade, I declared to my mother that I was going to join the Peace Corps, go to Africa, and find a cure for cancer.  I didn’t join the Peace Corps; I did cancer research for awhile, but didn’t find a cure.  But I have had the good fortunate to travel to Africa three times.  My brother is really the lucky one. He lived in Ghana for a full year, toured much of Western Africa, and even got married in Timbuktu. 

I don’t know what triggered my early interest in Africa, but I think it might have been cheetahs. And I can still hum the music of Born Free. But the allure for me has become the stories of the continent and the people.  Oh to have the experiences of Elspeth Huxley as told in The Flame Trees of Thika, which is quite a different portrayal of life on the continent than that of Karen von Blixen-Finecke in Out of Africa. Many girls my age daydreamed about following in the footsteps of Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall.  But I am equally captivated by the tragic stories.  Oh how I cried watching Hotel Rwanda, Out of Africa, and Blood Diamond.  Or while reading Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness – about the truth and reconciliation trials – and Lisa Shannon’s A Thousand Sisters – about the atrocities women suffer in the Congo.  I have seen the quarry at Robben Island, and stood at the door of cell #4, prison B, peered down the Rift Valley, and explored the Great Pyramids.  Those are experiences that connect you to all of humanity in ways that are difficult to put into words.  Perhaps that is why I feel such loss, even though I did not know today’s victims.

I have friends from Kenya:  Ray Ray who is studying at the School of Forestry at Yale, Samwel, a Maasai I met through the U.N. climate meetings, and dear Christine – one of my students when I was a new faculty member.  I still remember her arriving in northeastern PA with no prior experience with cold and snow.  We have remained close for two decades.  Today, I weep with them, for them, for their homeland.

In one of my classes, I have students read Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. The author, Christian Parenti, argues that we are witnessing the first of the climate wars.  He overlays the impacts of climate change in regions that have a long history of conflict and the result is banditry, violence, and state failure.  The book begins with the question of “Who killed Ekaru Loruman?”  Ekaru was a pastoralist from northwestern Kenya brutally murdered as he tried to defend his few head of cattle.  Samwel has told me that cattle are not only a measure of wealth, but also of how much of a man one is. 
When you think of all the conflicts we have - whether those conflicts are local, whether they are regional or global - these conflicts are often over the management, the distribution of resources. If these resources are very valuable, if these resources are scarce, if these resources are degraded, there is going to be competition. Wangari Maathai
Does any of this explain the violence of the day?  Can there be any explanation?

I dislike the overuse of the term “hero”, but one woman from Kenya is a hero and inspiration to me – Wangari Maathai.  If you don’t know the story of this Nobel Peace Prize winner, you should.  I had the good fortune to get to know her a little in 2009; but cancer took her too soon after.  So many of her words seem relevant at this moment: 

I don't really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it. I think that is what I would call the God in me.

All of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet.
If that last statement is true, how can we take the lives of others?  How can we harbor so much hatred and violence?  If Wangari was still with us, a woman whose life was transformed by the chance for a college education in the U.S., she too would be crying today.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A winter visit to the enchanted forest and magical greenhouses

On a whim yesterday, the first day of 2015, we decided to go to Longwood Gardens.  Spontaneity isn’t a typical characteristic of the Husic family, but after several days of catching up on movies and eating too much holiday bakery, getting out seemed like the thing to do on a day filled with brilliant blue skies and sunshine.  It had been over a decade since I had last visited this mecca for gardeners and horticulture enthusiasts.  And that trip was in midsummer – a scorching humid day in the 90’s.  I have always gone to admire the landscaping, the magnificent trees, and the wonderful tropical plants, especially the orchids.  But the history of this place also includes a real world Lorax, wood nymphs and perhaps a few garden fairies.
 

Liriodendron tulipifera - Tulip trees, often the tallest, straightest trees in the forests

The 1070+ acres that is now Longwood Gardens once belonged to William Penn (and Lenape Indians before that).  According to historical information that you find on the Longwood Gardens website and via Wikipedia, the land was purchased from Billy Penn in 1700 by a fellow Quaker, George Peirce, to serve as a working farm.  At the end of that century, twin brothers of the Peirce family began planting arboretum specimens to create Peirce’s Park.  This land has been open to the public since that time – a magnificent landscape within the charming Brandywine Valley that is filled with rich U.S. history, but also excessive urban sprawl.  Thus, the property is quite an oasis in the greater Philadelphia region.
 
By 1850, Peirce’s Park contained one of the finest collections of tree specimens in the country, many of which remain today.  What I didn’t know before yesterday is that Pierre S. du Pont purchased this property from the Peirce family in 1906 in order to save the trees from being cut and sold for lumber. The du Pont family is well known for its connection to the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (and sadly now, also the wretched story of one of the heirs being told in the currently playing film Foxcatcher).  But I had never realized this aspect of conservation in the Longwood Garden story.  I am grateful that this MIT-trained chemist (and former president of the du Pont Company and General Motors) was willing to speak for the trees.

Can you imagine the lost of this magnificent Sugar Maple?
 
Acer saccharum - This tree is so large, I didn't even recognize it as a maple!
I can’t even imagine how old this tree is; the lower limbs alone where the size of mature trees, but growing horizontally.  I don’t know how a trunk can support these.  And we can only wonder at all that this giant has witnessed through time. I know that my friend Julie Zickefoose would be smitten with this beauty of a specimen.



But alas, I diverge.  Follow me now through a bit of our visit yesterday.


One of the reasons gardeners like to visit a place like Longwood is to gather new ideas for their own gardens – real or imagined.  One example from yesterday is this new-to-me Golden-twig Dogwood.
 
Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea' (the flav prefix means yellow)
Look at what this plant adds to a winter landscape:
 
 
These gardens at Longwood include tree houses and forest cathedrals.  I would love to have one of these for reading, bird watching, or simply escaping the busyness of life.

Can you imagine going to church in this sanctuary?
 
The view from this tree house is quite lovely, even in winter.
 
You aren’t truly alone in these tree houses, as they come with carved friends of the forest.  I wonder who thought to keep them warm with a scarf.
 
I wonder if you meet creatures like this if you go Into the Woods (a film I haven't yet seen)?
New since my last visit was the expansion of the gardens into the surrounding meadows filled with meandering paths and bridges.


As someone involved in native plant gardening and a restoration project that involves a grassland, these types of informal gardens that attract wildlife and serve all sorts of ecosystem functions are of great interest to me.  This meadow may look un-kept, but much thought and design and work went into this project.
 
I am thrilled with the conservation focus (perhaps in remembrance of why du Pont purchased this land in the first place) and important notes to the public on simple signage.

Julie Z.: if you read this, you must find out how to have your book featured and sold here.
Along the paths, there are areas to sit and reflect and perhaps paint.  I loved the corn-crib inspired sitting area dedicated to the birds.

Wouldn't you just love to have one of these at home?


Raptors!
There is another sitting area dedicated to pollinators.

Along one of the paths, you pass the old dairy farm:



...on the way to the restored Webb farmhouse.

One of my favorite things about Pennsylvania - old stone farmhouses!
 
Inside is an interesting gallery of information related to seasonal changes in nature, birds, and habitats.

We wound our way back along other meadow paths to the much more formal home of the du Pont family – with the dream conservatory connecting two parts of the home nicely decorated for the holidays. 
This amazing conservatory connects the original home to an addition.
I can only dream of having a greenhouse or sunroom like this!
 
There is something about old staircases and banisters that I love.
The lovely home is filled with historical information about not only the du Pont family, but also early botanists...

…including the Bartrams who also saved trees like the Franklinia.

If you don't know about the Bartram's, you should read up on their work.
I have never been to Bartram’s Gardens (about 30 miles east of Longwood), but am fascinated with the ways the father/son duo combined science, art, and horticulture.  I really must go sometime.

I hadn’t mentioned it yet, but a theme for this year’s holiday display at Longwood was birds; they show up in creative ways across the landscape and in the conservatories.  We saw a number of real species too, including White-crowned Sparrows and Carolina Chickadees which aren't commonly found on our farm. 
I like this holiday decoration!

Egg-laden wreath in the tree sanctuary
On a cold day and during the holidays, most people flock to the grand conservatory for the indoor gardens or floral sun parlors, the whimsical holiday displays, phenomenal plant specimens, and warmth.  I can’t imagine the cost of heating 20 indoor gardens within the 4.5 acres or 18,200 m2 of heated greenhouse space!

The crowds grew inside, but despite my tendency towards claustrophobia, it was worth it.
Fountains and poinsettias
 
Topiaries, giant palms, and Christmas trees!  
The last time I went to Longwood Gardens during the holidays was over two decades ago, but I still remember seeing more poinsettias than ever before – a breathtaking swash of red interspersed with deep tropical greens.  The look of the first main “room” this year was more subdued – a surreal winter scene, a study in white – filled with the heady scents of lilies and narcissus.
 
Here is where the enchantment comes in!
 


And of course, some birds

Paper whites
But the red poinsettias were there too....


…along with some that were the loveliest of shades of pink.  I only wish the pictures did these flowers justice.
Poinsettia with Kalanchoe

 
I didn’t take pictures of everything, nor can I share the entire experience, but will give some highlights below – beginning perhaps, with a most unexpected part of the conservatory:  the living walls in what is perhaps the most amazing restroom area anywhere!

The restroom corridor and living wall

 
 
A close-up of the wall
 
Behind the stainless doors
 
A water closet complete with skylight
 
and bird-themed holiday decorations
I love tropical plants.  One of my favorites is Heliconia (Bird of Paradise) – this one looking lovely against the burgundy colored foliage of another tropical beauty.
 

Bromeliads don’t typically come to mind when you say Christmas, but this one was decked out quite appropriately:

This one was not in Christmas hues, but incredibly striking nonetheless (again, the picture doesn't do the colors justice; they were almost neon).


One of my favorite garden rooms at Longwood is filled with orchids.  It was crowded yesterday, so I didn’t get too many pictures, but I dream of a room like this at home!  Not to mention the time and green thumb it would take to grow these plants like this.

Such a soft pleasant yellow
 
A wall of orchids!
 
More lovely shades of pink
 
A bearded wonder
 
A strange specimen
The birds were never far away:




Where did they get all those bird ornaments?



There was a peacock-themed formal dinner setting:
 
Doesn't your holiday table look like this?


If there are peacocks, then there must also be orchids

I love the color palette!
And decorative bird cages in hidden corners:
With poinsettias too!
Who would place penguins amongst cacti and succulents besides garden fairies?
 
 
There are even penguin ornaments on the tree - made from pine cones!
 
Was this a subliminal climate change message?  Or do the dancing nymphs, so favored by Pierre, return in the holiday season to do some decorating?  I have to wonder given the wreath made of spleenwort ferns (really?)...
 
Spleenwort and Kolanchoe wreath
... or one with succulents:
 
 
And there were many other whimsical garlands around the grounds.
Who has a tree house with such lovely holiday decorations?
Who else besides nymphs or fairies would create an entire Bonsai forest?

These are typically decades old
Or an incredible Bonsai Bald Cyprus?  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of this, but we saw  full size specimens outdoors – huge trees without their summer clothes, but with gnomes at their base.
 
Emerging from the various rooms was a final grand indoor display:



And then, it was time to head out to the light show in the outdoor gardens.  After this visual virtual tour of Longwood Gardens, if you don’t believe wood nymphs and garden fairies – living amongst the trees that Pierre du Pont saved – well then, I guess nothing can convince you.  Unless perhaps you visit this magical and enchanting place yourself.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Happy 2015!