The chemistry of turning raw ingredients into something delicious is only one of the joys of cooking.

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Nom. Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

When I was maybe nine or ten, I got a cookbook for Christmas or my birthday. It was a volume designed with what I think of now as a cheery, 70s’-style enthusiasm for children’s psyches. Composed of menus for meals from cultures around the world, it brimmed with colorful illustrations and typography, inviting to look at and read, whether or not you made any of its recipes. If I could look at it now, I would probably see that its representation of various cultures relied on stereotypes that I now find reductive, just as I can now see that so much of white, middle-class “multiculturalism” has had problematic blinders of privilege circumscribing it. Still, the cookbook invited its child-readers to consider a world of flavors and textures beyond the one-meat, one-veg, one-potato-dish meal that made up the standard American dinner then (and probably still). It was my introduction to a literal wide world of cuisines, and although its menus and versions of foods were adapted to both kid and American tastes and pantries, it awoke an awareness in me of there being more, much more, available than I could see around me in my everyday life. …


Someone stop T***p before he clear-cuts Alaska

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View of the Tongass National Forest, Alaska. Photo by Riley on Unsplash

The day our cruise ship docked in Ketchikan, Alaska, it was raining. We were well prepared, with full-body lightweight rain gear at the ready, so that we didn’t have to let the weather get in the way of our explorations. The time allotted to spend in this small town in southeastern Alaska was brief, but we were eager to get out on foot and get a feel for a state we’d never visited before.


How our acceptance of one simple binary opposition is lethal.

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Where does the physical start and end? Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

“No pain, no gain.” “Mind over matter.” “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. Materialism. Carpe diem. Spiritualism. Metaphysics. Ars longa, vita brevis. Reincarnation. Psychosomatic illness. Willpower. Mens sana in corpore sano. Hysteria. “Women are emotional, men are rational.”

For a very, very long time, humans have asserted a distinction between an aspect of ourselves that is tangible — the body — and an aspect that we believe we can identify but can’t sense — the soul, spirit, mind, reason, consciousness (sometimes we distinguish those intangibles from each other, and sometimes we collapse some or all of them into one imagined portion). This partitioning derives from the experience of being human, to be sure, the dual mystery of embodiment and of consciousness. …


The world is always an elaborate feast for a writer, but sometimes it helps to be ravenous enough to devour it.

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Nourishment! Actual and metaphorical. Photo by Alexandra Kikot on Unsplash

Scene One: Pennsylvania in August

I get off the Pennsylvania Turnpike as the GPS directs, and within five minutes, I’m driving among massive old trees, into the campus of Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat center that’s open to anyone needing a place to stay. Make no mistake: outside Philly in August it’s every bit as sultry as you’d imagine a Southern or Gulf Coast town would be. The graceful old trees do what they can to shelter and cool the creatures below, but by late afternoon, the steam-heat has penetrated everything. Porting my luggage from the car to my room, I’m dripping.

The place turns out to be homey, scaled to the human. My room is in a building resembling an old dormitory or motel. It is not at all luxurious, but it has a desk, two chairs, a single bed, a sink, and — thank goodness — a window-unit air conditioner. The bathrooms are shared but private, not dorm-style. The price of the room includes breakfast served in a humble dining room — homemade bread, yogurt, and granola. It’s simple and good. They serve both lunch and dinner for a reasonable extra cost. Everything seems arranged to allow a resident’s focus to remain on whatever they’ve come here to do. Some are here for spiritual reasons; some treat this like a B & B on their way to another destination. I’m somewhere in between. …


On beautiful summer days in Juneau and Glacier Bay, there’s much to admire and food for thought.

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Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska. Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

On the one hand, it’s tempting to say, “better go see Alaska now, before the glaciers are all gone!” In fact, that’s exactly what my family recently did. All of us love to travel, crave the peace and sublimity of the natural world, and are fascinated by animals and plants of all sorts. We tote our binoculars and field-guides and almost no trip is too short or urban not to warrant our taking sturdy shoes and hiking-appropriate clothing. So a trip to Alaska, part-cruise, part-overland, was a no-brainer. In one sense.

On the other hand, all signs point to human mechanisms accelerating the shrinking of the glaciers and countless other ecological changes, such as the loss of high-arctic sea-ice, that have been documented in the last fifty years or so. Undoubtedly, travel is part of the problem. But I think it’s only a small part, and perhaps not the part that warrants the most attention and effort at this point. …


We can and should talk about tourism’s negative impacts. But travel, by chance or design, can raise awareness, too.

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Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

I’ve been writing about my recent trip to Alaska in bits and pieces, as I’ve reflected on what I saw and experienced. So often, the significance of travel only becomes knowable after we’ve returned to daily life, with its regularity and predictability, its comforting array of known quantities. Against the backdrop of the ordinary, the strangeness of new knowledge stands out, illuminated.

My family took a cruise and land tour in June from Vancouver, along the coast of Alaska, and into the interior from Anchorage to Denali to Fairbanks. We heard about the summer’s wildfires and saw the smoky haze while we were there; through July, the fires continued to rage as the area we’d passed through experienced the driest and hottest July on record. …


From now on, I don’t want to put myself in a box.

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The Introvert. Photo by Danka & Peter on Unsplash

From the time I was a teenager, I liked taking personality tests. I was an avid reader of astrology, and not just the silly, generic newspaper variety: I read in-depth analyses of things like ascendants and houses and moon signs, trines and oppositions and retrogrades. I read about numerology and palmistry, too, scrutinizing my hands alongside a grainy, mass-market paperback’s diagrams of head-, heart-, and life-lines. As an adult, I moved on to seemingly more sophisticated divination, supposedly based in science. …


Finding an unexpected celebration in Talkeetna, Alaska.

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Photo by Toni Reed on Unsplash

I know: Talkeetna, Alaska, is still far south of the Arctic Circle. It technically doesn’t have “midnight sun.” What it has during the month of June is “civil twilight,” which means that the sun only dips six degrees below the horizon. To the uninitiated, meaning those of us who’ve spent our lives in lower latitudes, “civil twilight” is not the sort of nighttime we’re used to. The 20-hour days feel expansive, generous, dimming only after midnight, nodding to nighttime.

On a cruise-to-land tour in June, I was lucky enough to disembark and land in Talkeetna on June 22, the day after the summer solstice. On paper, the points on the itinerary had run together: get off ship, get on train, get off train, get on motorcoach, and so forth. It was impossible to envision the stops, what would await us between modes of transport. As is true of all travel, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen or guidebooks you’ve read, nothing prepares you for the richness and specificity of what you encounter in person. …


It’s time the news media and all of us on Twitter used the power of the silent treatment to take back civic speech.

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How to put out a fire? Don’t give it any air (time). Image by Szilárd Szabó from Pixabay

[ . . .] There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A few months ago, I was reading and writing about the people throwing their hats into the ring for nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, and I happened upon Michael Tauberg’s analysis of news coverage of the candidates as of mid-April, 2019. The results of his analysis were useful, if not very surprising, with regard to which of the Democratic hopefuls were dominating news-cycles. …


The word “science” as used in popular media doesn’t always mean what we think it should.

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I believe in the value of scientific study. But maybe we shouldn’t reduce science to a slogan. Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

It’s gotten to be so commonplace in headlines that a search for the terms “science says” and “according to science” yields more results than you can shake a stick at. But what do these phrases promise readers, and what do the articles they attract us to deliver?

I’ve limited myself to looking at articles published in 2019 in publications that have relatively wide visibility and name-recognition. So let’s start with this article, published in Time Magazine online, February 27: “This Is the Best Time of Day to Work Out, According to Science.” The article interviews a professor of exercise and sport science at UNC-CH, as well as citing a few studies. …

About

Jenn Brown

Former teacher. Poet, essayist. Sometime gadfly. Doodler. Wild-yeast baker. Dog-companion. She/her. Social media: oneofthejenns. Blog at Howeverthink.com

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