6 Minute Reprieve From the World’s Troubles, Courtesy of Tilda Swinton, Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Five Springer Spaniels

This video of Tilda Swinton’s Springer Spaniels cavorting in pastoral Scotland to a Handel aria performed by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo won’t cure what ails you, but it is definitely good medicine.

Swinton and her partner, artist Sandro Kopp, filmed the beautiful beasts in such a way as to highlight their doggy exuberance, whether moving as a pack or taking a solo turn.

The title of the aria, "Rompo i Lacci," from the second act of Flavio, translates to “I break the laces,” and there’s no mistaking the joy Rosy, Dora, Louis, Dot, and Snowbear take in being off the leash.




Flashbacks to their rolypoly puppy selves are cute, but it’s the feathery ears and tails of the adult dogs that steal the show as they bound around beach and field.

The filmmakers get a lot of mileage from their stars’ lolling pink tongues and willingness to vigorously launch themselves toward any out of frame treat.

We’ve never seen a tennis ball achieve such beauty.

There’s also some fun to be had in special effects wherein the dogs are doubled by a mirror effect and later, when one of them turns into a canine Rorschach blot.

The video was originally screened as part of Costanzo's multi-media Glass Handel installation for Opera Philadelphia, an exploration into how opera can make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up.

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Tilda Swinton Recites Poem by Rumi While Reeking of Vetiver, Heliotrope & Musk

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library Makes 150,000 High-Res Illustrations of the Natural World Free to Download

You may have heard of "plant blindness," a condition defined about 20 years ago that has started to get more press in recent years. As its name suggests, it refers to an inability to identify or even notice the many plant species around us in our everyday lives. Some have connected it to a potentially more widespread affliction they call "nature deficit disorder," which is also just what it sounds like: a set of impairments brought on by insufficient exposure to the natural world. One might also draw a line from these concepts to our attitudes about climate change, or to our ever-less-interrupted immersion in the digital world. But if any part of that digital world can open our eyes to nature once again, it's the Biodiversity Heritage Library (present also on Flickr and Instagram.)

Previously featured here on Open Culture for its vast archive of two million illustrations of the natural world, the BHL has received more coverage this year for the more than 150,000 it's made available for copyright-free download. Hyperallergic's Hakim Bishara quotes Henry David Thoreau — "We need the tonic of wildness. We can never get enough of nature" — before writing of how thrilled Thoreau would have been by the existence of such a resource for images of nature.




These images include "animal sketches, historical diagrams, botanical studies, and scientific research collected from hundreds of thousands of journals and libraries across the world," some dating to the 15th century. He highlights "Joseph Wolf’s 19th-century book Zoological Sketches, containing about 100 lithographs depicting wild animals in London’s Regent’s Park" and "watercolors depicting flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands" as well as "an 1833 DIY Taxidermist’s Manual."

As Smithsonian.com's Theresa Machemer notes, "The practice of creating detailed illustrations of flora and fauna, whether to document an expedition or a medical practice, gained popularity well before photography was up to the task." Hence such ambitious projects as the United States government's commissioning, in 1866, of watercolor paintings depicting every fruit known to man. But even today, "an illustration can offer more clarity than a photograph," as you'll find when you zoom in on any of the BHL's high-resolution illustrations. According to the BHL, "a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries," its mission is to provide "access to the world’s collective knowledge about biodiversity," in order to help researchers "document Earth’s species and understand the complexities of swiftly-changing ecosystems in the midst of a major extinction crisis and widespread climate change." But by revealing how our predecessors saw nature, it can also help all of us see nature again. Access the illustrations here.

Related Content:

Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Ernst Haeckel’s Sublime Drawings of Flora and Fauna: The Beautiful Scientific Drawings That Influenced Europe’s Art Nouveau Movement (1889)

In 1886, the US Government Commissioned 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit in the World: Download Them in High Resolution

Watch 50 Hours of Nature Soundscapes from the BBC: Scientifically Proven to Ease Stress and Promote Happiness & Awe

A Shazam for Nature: A New Free App Helps You Identify Plants, Animals & Other Denizens of the Natural World

New Study: Immersing Yourself in Art, Music & Nature Might Reduce Inflammation & Increase Life Expectancy

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Humans Domesticated Cats (Twice)

Depending on how you feel about cats, the feline situation on the island of Cyprus is either the stuff of a delightful children’s story or a horror film to be avoided at all cost.

Despite being surrounded on all sides by water, the cat population—an estimated 1.5 million—currently outnumbers human residents. The overwhelming majority are feral, though as we learn in the above episode of PBS’ EONS, they, too, can be considered domesticated. Like the other 600,000,000-some living members of Felis Catus on planet Earth—which is to say the type of beast we associate with litterboxes, laser pointers, and Tender Vittles—they are descended from a single subspecies of African wildcat, Felis Silvestris Lybica.

While there’s no single narrative explaining how cats came to dominate Cyprus, the story of their global domestication is not an uncommon one:

An ancient efficiency expert realized that herding cats was a much better use of time than hunting them, and the idea quickly spread to neighboring communities.




Kidding. There’s no such thing as herding cats (though there is a Chicago-based cat circus, whose founder motivates her skateboard-riding, barrel-rolling, high-wire-walking stars with positive reinforcement...)

Instead, cats took a commensal path to domestication, lured by their bellies and celebrated curiosity.

Ol’ Felis (Felix!) Silvestris (Sufferin’ Succotash!Lybica couldn’t help noticing how human settlements boasted generous supplies of food, including large numbers of tasty mice and other rodents attracted by the grain stores.

Her inadvertent human hosts grew to value her pest control capabilities, and cultivated the relationship… or at the very least, refrained from devouring every cat that wandered into camp.

Eventually, things got to the point where one 5600-year-old specimen from northwestern China was revealed to have died with more millet than mouse meat in its system—a pet in both name and popular sentiment.

Chow chow chow.

Interestingly, while today’s house cats' gene pool leads back to that one sub-species of wild mackerel-tabby, it’s impossible to isolate domestication to a single time and place.

Both archeological evidence and genome analysis support the idea that cats were domesticated both 10,000 years ago in Southwest Asia... and then again in Egypt 6500 years later.

At some point, a human and cat traveled together to Cyprus and the rest is history, an Internet sensation and an if you can’t beat em, join em tourist attraction.

Such high end island hotels as Pissouri’s Columbia Beach Resort and TUI Sensatori Resort Atlantica Aphrodite Hills in Paphos have started catering to the ever-swelling numbers of uninvited, four-legged locals with a robust regimen of healthcare, shelter, and food, served in feline-specific tavernas.

An island charity known as Cat P.A.W.S. (Protecting Animals Without Shelter) appeals to visitors for donations to defray the cost of neutering the massive feral population.

Sometimes they even manage to send a furry Cyprus native off to a new home with a foreign holidaymaker.

Related Content:

An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Art & Philosophy of Bonsai

We all know what to think of when we hear the term bonsai: dwarf trees. Or so Shinobu Nozaki titled his book, the very first major publication on the subject in English. Dwarf Trees came out in the 1930s, not long after the Japanese art of bonsai started drawing serious international attention. But the art itself goes back as far as the sixth century, when Japanese embassy employees and students of Buddhism returning from sojourns in China brought back all the latest things Chinese, including plants growing in containers. By six or seven centuries later, as scrolls show us today, Japan had taken that horticultural technique and refined it into a practice based on not just miniaturization but proportion, asymmetry, poignancy, and erasure of the artist's traces, one that produces the kind of trees-in-miniature we recognize as artworks, and even masterworks, today.

It hardly needs saying that bonsai trees don't take shape by themselves. As the name, which means "tray planting" (盆栽), suggests, a work of bonsai must begin by planting a specimen in a small container. From then on, it demands daily attention in not just the provision of the proper amounts of water and sunlight but also careful trimming and adjustment with trimmers, hooks, wire, and everything else in the bonsai cultivator's surprisingly large suite of tools.




You can see a Japanese master of the art named Chiako Yamamoto in action in "Bonsai: The Endless Ritual," the BBC Earth Unplugged video at the top of the post. "Shaping nature in this way demands everlasting devotion without the prospect of completion," says its narrator, a point underscored by one bonsai under Yamamoto's care, originally planted by her grandfather over a century ago.

You'll find even older bonsai at the National Bonsai Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. In the video "Bonsai Will Make You a Better Person," curator Jack Sustic — an American first exposed to bonsai in the military, while stationed in Korea — shows off a Japanese white pine "in training" since the year 1625. That unusual terminology reflects the fact that no work of bonsai even attains a state of completeness. "They're always growing," say Sustic. "They're always changing. It's never a finished artwork." In National Geographic's "American Shokunin" just above, the titular bonsai cultivator (shokunin has a meaning similar to "craftsman" or "artisan"), Japan-trained, Oregon-based Ryan Neil, expands on what bonsai teaches: not just how to artistically grow small trees that resemble big ones, but what it takes to commune with nature and attain mastery.

"A master is somebody who, every single day, tries to pursue perfection at their chosen endeavor," says Neil. "A master doesn't retire. A master doesn't stop. They do it until they're dead." And as a work of bonsai literally outlives its creator, the pursuit continues long after they're dead. The bonsai master must be aware of the aesthetic and philosophical values held by the generations who came before them as well as the generations that will come after. Wabi sabi, as bonsai practitioner Pam Woythal defines it, is "the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death." Shibumi (or in its adjectival form shibui) is, in the words of I Am Bonsai's Jonathan Rodriguez, "the simple subtle details of the subject," manifest for example in "the apparent simple texture that balances simplicity and complexity." Looked at correctly, a bonsai tree — leaves, branches, pot, and all — reminds us of the important elements of life and the important elements of art, and of the fact that those elements aren't as far apart as we assume.

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The Philosophical Appreciation of Rocks in China & Japan: A Short Introduction to an Ancient Tradition

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Watch Japanese Woodworking Masters Create Elegant & Elaborate Geometric Patterns with Wood

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch The Insects’ Christmas from 1913: A Stop Motion Film Starring a Cast of Dead Bugs

Kind Reader,

Will you do us the honor of accepting our holiday invitation?

Carve five minutes from your holiday schedule to spend time celebrating The Insects' Christmas, above.

In addition to offering brief respite from the chaos of consumerism and modern expectations, this simple stop-motion tale from 1913 is surprisingly effective at chasing away holiday blues.

Not bad for a short with a supporting cast of dead bugs.




Animator Ladislas Starevich began his cinematic manipulations of insect carcasses early in the 20th century while serving as Director of Kaunas, Lithuania’s Museum of Natural History. He continued the experiment after moving to Moscow, where he added such titles as Insects' Aviation Week, Amusing Scenes from the Life of Insects and famously, The Cameraman’s Revenge, a racy tale of passion and infidelity in the insect world.

The Insects' Christmas is far gentler.

Think Froggy Went a Courtin’, or Miss Spider’s Wedding with an old time Christmas spin

Shades too of Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and other stories wherein toys wait for their human owners to retire, so they may spring to life—though Starewizc’s sleepy doll seems to have more in common with the Christmas tree's absent owners than the tiny Father Christmas ornament who clamors down to party al fresco with the insects.

Contemporary composer Tom Peters underscores the wholesome vintage action—skiing, skating, squabbling over a Christmas cracker—with a mix of traditional carols and original music performed on ukulele, drum, and a six-string electric bass with a 5-octave range.

And the moment when Father Christmas conjures festive decorations for a Charlie Brown-ish tree is truly magical. See if your littlest Hayao Miyazaki fan doesn't agree.

Enjoy more of Ladislas Starevich’s stopmotion ouevre on YouTube, as well some of Tom Peters’ other scores for silent films.

Related Content:

The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912): The Truly Weird Origin of Modern Stop-Motion Animation

The Tale of the Fox: Watch Ladislas Starevich’s Animation of Goethe’s Great German Folktale (1937)

The History of Stop-Motion Films: 39 Films, Spanning 116 Years, Revisited in a 3-Minute Video

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Cape-Coddities (1920) by Roger Livingston Scaife. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Find Silence in a Noisy World

“Take a walk at night,” wrote avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros in her 1974 “Sonic Meditations,” a set of instructions for what she called deep listening. “Walk so silently that the bottom of your feet become ears.” Listening to silence opens up rich new worlds of sound. It can be a life-changing experience.

"It's hard to imagine that a sound can transform someone's life, but it happened to me,” says acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton in the short 360-degree documentary above, “How to Find Silence in a Noisy World.” Hempton learned to walk silently while carrying a microphone, documenting his listening journey through remote places like the Hoh Rainforest in Washington state, considered one of the quietest places in North America.




“By holding a microphone, I became a better listener. I learned that the microphone doesn’t listen for what’s important, it doesn’t judge, it doesn’t interfere.” The microphone, that is, has no ego. Recorded and amplified, the silence of the Hoh becomes cacophony, or a symphony, depending on how we describe it. Maybe any description gets in the way of listening. “Just listen,” says Hempton. “Silence is the poetics of space. What it means to be in a place… Silence isn’t the absence of something, but the presence of everything

If silence is full of sound, why might we crave it when we're stressed? Because we are bombarded by noise pollution, “sounds that have nothing to do with the natural acoustic system.” These sounds have been encroaching on places like the Hoh Rainforest for many decades, and Hempton has documented their incursion over the past 30 years, building a collection of over 100 recordings “equipped with a 3-D microphone system that replicates human hearing,” notes Brain Pickings.

“Emanating from his collection… is the idea that ‘there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat’—a tonal quality that shapes the sense of place and quality of presence.” Hempton’s work complements the nature recordings of Bernie Krause, former musician turned renowned expert on natural sound, whose theory of biophony describes how natural sounds work together to fill in the spectrum, each one establishing its own specific bandwidth so as not to drown out the others.

Natural sounds create a kind of self-regulating harmony. In order to fully inhabit the space we’re in, we must be able to hear them. But as the recordings made by Hempton and Krause show us, humans have a unique ability to feel ourselves deeply immersed in other places, too, by listening to recordings of their silences. Hempton implies that recordings may soon be all we have left.

“Silence,” he says, “is on the verge of extinction. There is not one place left on planet Earth that is set aside and off limits to noise pollution.” It interferes with the cycles of mating animals, disrupts call and response patterns ecosystems use to coordinate themselves. Silence is part of a global biofeedback system, telling us to quiet down, slow down, and become part of all that's happening around us. We ignore it to our great detriment.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Behold the New York City Street Tree Map: An Interactive Map That Catalogues the 700,000 Trees Shading the Streets of New York City

It may sound odd, but one of the things I miss most about living in New York City is the ability to hop on a bus or train, or walk a few blocks from home, and end up lounging in a forest, the cacophony of traffic reduced to a dim hum, squirrels bounding around, birds twittering away above. Such urban respites are plentiful in NYC thanks to its 10,542 acres of forested land, “about half as much as the Congaree Swamp in South Carolina,” notes James Barron at The New York Times, in one of the most densely populated urban areas in the country.

“Most of the city’s forest is deep in parks”—in Central Park, of course, and also Prospect Park and Riverside, and dozens of smaller oases, and the lush Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. The city’s forests are subject to the usual pressures other wooded areas face: climate change, invasive species, etc.




They are also dependent on a well-funded Parks Department and nonprofits like the Natural Areas Conservancy for the preservation and upkeep not only of the large parks but of the trees that shade city streets in all five boroughs.

Luckily, the city and nonprofit groups have been working together to plan for what the conservancy’s senior ecologist, Helen Forgione, calls “future forests,” using big data to map out the best paths for urban woodland. The NYC Parks department has been busy compiling figures, and you can find all of their tree stats at the New York City Street Tree Map, which “brings New York City’s urban forest to your fingertips. For the first time,” the Parks department writes, “you have access to information about every street tree in New York City.”

Large forested parks on the interactive map appear as flat green fields—the department has not counted each individual tree in Central Park. But the map gives us fine, granular detail when it comes to street trees, allowing users to zoom in to every intersection and click on colored dots that represent each tree, for example lining Avenue D in the East Village or Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. You can search specific locations or comb through citywide statistics for the big picture. At the time of this writing, the project has mapped 694,249 trees, much of that work undertaken by volunteers in the TreesCount! 2015 initiative.

There are many more trees yet to map, and the department’s forestry team updates the site daily. Out of 234 species identified, the most common is the London Planetree, representing 12% of the trees on the map. Other popular species include the Littleleaf Linden, Norway Maple, Pin Oak, and Ginko. Some other stats show the ecological benefits of urban trees, including the amount of energy conserved (667,590,884 kWh, or $84,279,933.06) and amount of carbon dioxide reduced (612,100 tons).

Visit the New York City Street Tree Map for the full, virtual tour of the city’s trees, and marvel—if you haven’t experienced the city’s vibrant tree life firsthand—at just how green the empire city’s streets really are.

Related Content:

New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use

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The Secret Language of Trees: A Charming Animated Lesson Explains How Trees Share Information with Each Other

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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