Welcome to Love of Place. Most of my work celebrates our connection to the natural world.

To order Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World, go to http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/diary-of-citizen-scientist Think of this as a nice dinner out? And as a dinner date, the two of us, talking about citizen science.

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through my author Facebook page, Sharman Apt Russell.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Teresa of the New World is a fabulist novel for Young Adults, set in the deep magic of the American Southwest in the sixteenth century. I have worked on this book for most of my life. Seemingly, this is about the fictional daughter of the real-life Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and a Capoque mother, about a father’s love and a father’s betrayal, about plague and apocalypse and were-jaguars and a deep connection with the trickster earth. But, really, I think it is about me.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I am pleased that The Guardian listed Diary of a Citizen Scientist as a top nature book in 2014.

Click here! And I have also been speaking about citizen science lately on various radio shows, including Inquiring Minds.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Colder months, fewer butterflies. I always feel I didn’t appreciate them enough. A bag of goo--a painted clown--become a monarch, its wet wings still unfolding. Metamorphosis! The enactment of myth. And we who live by myth, who live in fear of change and death, are privileged to see this transformation over and over, a common thing, an everyday thing. A living myth.

It doesn’t surprise me, really, that when the Hindu god Brahma watched caterpillars change into pupae and then butterflies in his garden, he conceived of the idea of reincarnation; that the Greeks use the word psyche for both soul and butterfly; that ancient images on Egyptian sarcophagi show butterflies surrounding the dead; that in Ireland, in 1680, a law forbade the killing of white butterflies because they were the souls of children; that during World War II, Jewish inmates in concentration camps carved butterflies into their prison walls; that in China in the 1990s single white butterflies were found in the cells of executed convicts recently converted to Buddhism; that butterflies are said to be the tears of the Virgin Mary, that migrating sulfurs are pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

Cold nights, and I always think: I should have paid more attention to butterflies.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Toothpick grasshopper.

Thirty years ago, my midwife was seven months pregnant when I was nine months pregnant, and not that long ago I was talking to her son, who has just gotten his PhD in molecular biology at New Mexico State University. He is working on a microbial vaccine for chili plants, trying to induce an immune reaction for a better defense against blight disease. He asked what I was writing about these days, and I said citizen science, and he asked what I had learned, and I said, “Well, I now know why I didn’t become a scientist,” and he burst out laughing.

“Yes!” he agreed. “Everyone thinks it’s so glamorous and romantic.” I was laughing, too, “But there’s so much detail work!” I complained. “You have to quantify everything. You have to measure everything!” We bad-mouthed the tedious aspects of science, gathering data, inputting data, and the caution required—trying to say something simple about a complex world--but it was just family talking about family: you can make fun of your grandmother because she’s your grandmother.

I told my midwife’s son about tiger beetles, the little I’ve learned, and he told me about the microbe Phytophthora capsici and related species. He had heard about some of my favorite citizen science projects, and he personally logs on to InnoCentive, the online site where “creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million.” Those problems range from new ways to get energy from algae to better material for surgical gloves. I’m intrigued anew by this mixing up of science and citizen science and the entrepreneurial spirit. I’m reminded again: the power of citizen science is not going to be kept in a tidy box. The potential of citizen science will still surprise us.

Today, the typical citizen scientist in America is white, well-educated, and middle-class. More outreach needs to be done. Even so, the field of citizen science is inherently democratic, offering opportunities for almost everyone in almost every scientific discipline. You can be an auto mechanic designing medical equipment or a third grader in Deming, New Mexico filling out her observation of a robin. You can be the first to transcribe a papyrus from the City of Sharp-nosed Fish or find a new species of fly in your backyard. You can transform yourself in a variety of ways. Become an expert in bryophytes. Experience Zen-like moments in the office and in the field. You can do public good—add to scientific knowledge, monitor changes in the environment, promote better social policy—even as you roam your private paradise, whatever and wherever that is, collecting treasure and bringing it home: crumbling seed pods, feathers in your hair, clouds in your pocket.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Traditionally I support writers and writing by having guest writers come on this site. Mary Black has written a wonderful place-based novel which she talks about below. I am a great fan of  Paleolithic fiction! That world is our home, our heritage, who we are...

Guest Blogger: Mary S. Black

            I fell in love with the Lower Pecos region of Texas more than 20 years ago. It is dry and rugged, and can seem lonely and little travelled. The region is centered on the mouth of the Pecos River, where it enters the Rio Grande, about 50 miles west of Del Rio, Texas. There is one two-lane highway where semi-trailer trucks drive 80 mph from San Antonio to San Diego day and night. The Southern Pacific Railroad runs parallel to the highway, mostly, and long freight trains snake across the desert. Hardly anyone stops to spend time here on purpose.
            Yet for those who do, new worlds await. This land that looks so forbidding, with parched, rocky uplands, and steep stone canyons that pass in the blink of an eye when youre on the highway, has nurtured animals and people for thousands of years. The region is famous for its archaeological sites and abundance of complex, abstract rock art made by ancient human beings so long ago. Who made those paintings? What were they trying to tell us?
            Those questions spurred me to write Peyote Fire, Shaman of the Canyons, to bring those ancient people to life. In it, Deer Cloud, a young man who lived 4,000 years ago, is painting the stories of the gods on the wall of a rock shelter when the death of his grandfather changes his life. I did extensive research to portray the life ways of these people accurately, and to understand, perhaps a little, their world view. In their legends, human beings and animals were once one. Their knowledge of animals and plants was subtle and huge (especially compared to someone like me), and their respect for the living world knew no bounds. They knew how to survive in ways modern people can barely comprehend, and through that illustrate the ingenuity of all human beings.
            Today the area is popular for deer hunting and fishing on Lake Amistad, which was formed about 40 years ago by damming a section of the Rio Grande. Trophy hunters come for white-tailed deer and bass. But ranchers have given up raising cattle anymore, its just too dry. Long ago there used to be buffalo, especially in wet years, as old bones attest. The bones of more than 800 bison at the bottom of a cliff in a small box canyon are evidence of a huge buffalo jump several thousand years ago. Further under the cliff are bones of saber-toothed tiger and mammoth. The land supported these animals and many others along with the people who stalked them, and painted stories for future generations to remember, if only they would stop to listen. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Here in the Gila Valley, the end of August continues to be green and spectacular. As part of celebrating Walt Whitman Month (something entirely made up), I’d like to quote his prescription for a good life. From the preface to Leaves of Grass:
            This is what you shall do. Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches,   give alms to everyone who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your             income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men—go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever             insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.
            It is essential Whitman that we move in a long sentence from the earth and sun to the skin between eyelashes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August is Walt Whitman Month. Okay, maybe not. But the glorious rainy season here in the Gila Valley should be Walt Whitman month and so it is in my house, Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman, the poet I blame the most for who I am. In college, I read his long poem “Song of Myself” like the Book of Psalms. We were all meant to be Walt Whitman, children of the cosmos, male and female, young and old, plantation owner and slave. Like him, our bodies are made of earth and sidewalk. We spread sideways into nature. We burrow into people. Animals adorn us. Plants grow in our ears. We have lived a trillion summers and will live a trillion more. Unlock the doors, unscrew the door jambs, take down the walls! We experience everything. We are everyone. (We are the orange skipperling.) We go naked and undisguised to the river bank, mad to be in contact with the air which is for our mouth forever. Logic will never convince. Sermons do not convince. The damp of the night drives deeper.

In the nineteenth century, Whitman proposed to write an “indigenous” or uniquely American poetry that reflected the country’s abundance of resources, energy, ambition, and political idealism. He brought together mysticism and scientific theory and fused them in a fiery circle. He would allow for no separation, certainly not the separation of humanity from the natural world. He infected me when I was young and impressionable with his dreams of democracy and his cries of celebration. His “barbaric yawp” proclaimed that this was our job--to celebrate and be joyous.