March 2015 Features


Looking for springtime
A glimpse of a daffodil
Hope in a flower


Tulips salute us
Floral soldiers on parade
Just wishing us peace


Crocus daffodil
Tulip azalea iris
Parade of posies


The latest book by naturalist Diane Ackerman is titled, The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us. In it, she notes that some scientists have proposed that the current age we are living in could be called the Anthropocene—the Human Age. Such labeling recognizes “our unparalleled dominion over the whole planet.” Ackerman cites a number of surprising statistics. For example, she writes, “We and our domestic animals now make up 90 percent of all the mammal biomass on Earth; in the year 1000, we and our animals were only 2 percent.”

As might be expected in such a book, Ackerman discusses issues related to human-caused climate change. The most intriguing part of the book is her discussion of a variety of alternative energy sources that most of us have probably never heard of before. She tells of a train station in Stockholm, Sweden, whose ventilation system is able to capture surplus body heat from commuters—this captured heat warms water that is then used to heat a nearby office building. She also describes bladeless wind turbines that are being developed in the Netherlands (a country that knows a thing or two about deriving energy from wind).

The next most fascinating section of the book is about robots. Ackerman writes about scientists working to develop robots that are conscious and self-aware: “Engineers are designing robots with the ability to attach basic feelings to sensory experience, just as we do, by interacting with the world, filing the memory, and using it later to predict the safety of a situation or the actions of others.”

There is one part of the book, near the end, that is weaker than the rest. Ackerman talks about a young woman’s DNA in this part, and at first the young woman seems to be a real person, and then later on she appears to be an invention of the author. This lack of clarity is confusing and distracting. A reader might wonder if this section was written in haste to meet a deadline.

But the disappointing discussion of DNA is an aberration. Most of the book makes for satisfying, informative reading. All in all, in The Human Age, Ackerman does a fine job of presenting some of the concerns and hopes of our times. 


March 14th is referred to as Pi Day, in recognition of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter (which is approximately 3.14159). This year, the date of Pi Day can be expressed as 3.14.15, which makes it extra special, since 2 more digits of pi show up in the date. In honor of this occasion, here are some points about pie (the kind you eat):


1) National Pie Day is on January 23rd each year.

2) According to a Nielsen survey conducted in 2014, apple is still number one among pie flavors. (Pumpkin and chocolate are tied for second, followed by cherry.)

3) Pies originally had meat fillings and baking a pie was a method of food preservation.

4) There are at least 3 types of “pie” that aren’t really pie: Boston cream pie (a type of cake), whoopie pie (a cross between a cookie and a cake) and sweetie pie (a term of endearment).

5) For some people, their favorite pie is pizza pie! For many of us, every month is pizza month, but it turns out that October is actually National Pizza Month.


Simply put, when we’re curious, we want to learn something. We realize that we don’t know everything about the topic at hand. Small children are naturally curious—they realize that they have a lot to learn. Sometimes as adults, we may be reluctant to reveal our curiosity, because we would also be revealing that there is some particular knowledge that we lack.

Curiosity is at times viewed as dangerous. Certainly we can get in over our heads in some situations if we don’t balance curiosity with a degree of caution. And while we can have a healthy and compassionate curiosity about the lives of friends, relatives and neighbors, there can be a fine line between that type of curiosity and intrusive nosiness.

That said, curiosity is essential to human life. It spurs exploration, research, invention, travel, trying new things and much more. Albert Einstein was quite an advocate of curiosity. He observed, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”


Delicate blossoms quietly let us know that spring is finally arriving.

  Bishop’s Garden Gate, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC, March 2006  .     (Photograph by Michael Riddle.  )

Bishop’s Garden Gate, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC, March 2006. (Photograph by Michael Riddle.)