The History of American Landscape Painting Is Not Pretty

The first panel of a graphic essay shows the artist sitting on a rock in the desert. The text written across the sky says “I went to the desert, and I had a realization. (My apologies, clichés abound, but this really did happen.)” Elements of the image are labeled “light bulb,” “desert sunset,” and “tumbleweed, skull, etc.”

Image credit: Hyperallergic

Have you given any thought this week to landscape painting? No? To be honest, neither have we. But Steven Weinberg, a New York-based artist, children’s book author, and B&B owner, is passionate about landscape painting and its importance to both history and environmentalism. He explains it all in this November 2022 graphic essay on Hyperallergic, an online magazine. (Please note: a little background in US history will be very helpful to you here. We suggest you look up the names he mentions, but we’ll give you a little head start on one important concept. “Manifest destiny” was a 19th century belief that supported and justified the westward expansion of US territories and settlement by people of European descent at the expense of the native people who already occupied and made their homes on those lands.)

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Natural Magic

A medieval-style painting of two nude figures, one facing forward and one facing backward, circled by an oval-shaped zodiac calendar.

Modern medicine is magic. Do we mean that literally or metaphorically? Well, yes and yes. For example, a key ingredient in some chemotherapy formulas for cancer—yew—was also an ingredient in the witches’ brew described in Shakespeare’s Macbeth along with “eye of newt and toe of frog.” Yew’s potent and unusual properties have been known to healers and wizards for centuries. Writing professor and author Ellen Wayland-Smith explores the medicine/magic connection more deeply while discussing her own cancer treatment in this March 2021 essay from American Scholar.

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Why Is Blue So Rare in Nature?

A blue 3D computer generation of a feline.

Why are there no blue tigers? Come to think of it, there are no blue rabbits or squirrels, either. You’ve probably never lost any sleep pondering these questions, but in case you’re just curious, we’ve got some answers for you! Molecular biologist and science writer Joe Hanson made this 2018 video as an episode in his series It’s Okay To Be Smart, a project of PBS Digital Studios.

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The Science behind Social Media’s Hold on Our Mental Health

Reaction toolbar with thumbs up, heart, laughing, surprised, sad, and angry emojis.

We’ve been hearing for a while now that social media can have damaging effects on users’ mental health and sense of well-being. If we’re being honest, we probably have noticed some effects on our own selves that are not so desirable. What’s happening to cause that? Has all of humanity, and especially young people, just gone bonkers for social media? That’s not a very satisfying possibility, is it? Brittney McNamara, Teen Vogue’s features director, offers a better explanation in this November 2021 report.

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How Do Dogs Sniff Out Diseases?

A brown dog's nose pointed upward against a yellow background.

Dogs know the world through their exquisitely sensitive noses, and humans have been relying on dogs’ sense of smell to help with many different kinds of tasks (not always benevolent) for a long time. Dogs are trained to sniff out contraband at airports and international borders; dogs are instrumental in finding black truffles and other valuable wild mushrooms; and dogs are also trained to detect an imminent epileptic seizure before it occurs . Presently, scientists are developing training programs for dogs to sniff out COVID. In this July 2021 Discover Magazine report, science journalist Leslie Nemo analyzes the procedures that trainers and researchers follow to teach the necessary skills to the dogs. 

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The Bootleg Fire, the Nation’s Biggest, Gives Scientists an Unexpected Experiment

An airplane drops a cloud of red powder over a forest.

It’s not often that we encounter good news about wildfires, but here is a report that comes close. This July 2021 Associated Press report presented by NPR recounts some of the moderate successes in wildfire mitigation efforts that scientists have been able to observe with the Bootleg Fire in Oregon.

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Manoomin: Food that Grows on the Water

The side profile of an older gentleman wearing a hat and sunglasses and trimming a bush.

In English, it’s called “wild rice”; in the languages spoken by Anishinaabe people, a culturally related group that includes the Ojibwe, Chippewa, and other indigenous peoples, the food is called “manoomin.” (If you listen carefully, you’ll be able to pick out the word “Anishinaabe” in the invocation/prayer spoken at the beginning of the video.) This manoomin has tremendous importance to the Anishinaabe people, not only for its high nutritional value, but also for its cultural significance. 21st century technology and socio-political conditions in the Anishinaabe region are encroaching on the relationship between manoomin and the people who rely on it for material and spiritual sustenance. In this video, Fred Ackley Jr. of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community describes the gathering of manoomin and explains its significance; the video was produced in February 2020 by PBS Wisconsin Education.

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Would Honey the Duck Come Back This Spring?

Two ducks floating in a body of water.

In addition to the human dramas that play out daily in our towns and cities, the wildlife that live among us have their own dramas, too. And sometimes those dramas intertwine. A university biologist in Chicago, whose office looks out on the school’s Botany Pond, has watched and looked after a particular migratory duck who has returned to the pond for each of the last five years. Mary Schmich, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune, has documented this intertwined drama of the duck and the professor several times; this March 2021 column is the latest chapter of the ongoing tale.

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