I mentioned last time that I’d just read Jenny Offill’s Weather — a great read, recommended — but I wanted today to bring up another pointer from the book.
In one passage she borrows a few lines from “Where You At? A Bioregional Quiz.”I wasn’t familiar with this, so I looked into it, and it’s pretty cool.
In short, it’s a set of 20 questions to test how well you know your region — the land, the deep history, its natural characteristics. Some of the questions are great all-purpose observational prompts. A few examples:
What was the total rainfall in your area last year (July-June)?
Name five edible plants in your region and their season(s) of availability.
From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?
On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?
Name five grasses in your area. Are any of them native?
Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.
What species have become extinct in your area?
What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?
You get the idea. The whole list is here. I admit that I fared very poorly on this quiz; nature is not my strong point.
But it gave me an idea:
Pick one of the questions you don’t know the answer to — and make it a point to learn what that answer is. After you’ve mastered that, move on to a new question.
A couple of notes. First: another one of the questions on the list jumped out at me:
How many days til the moon is full?
“Track the Moon” is a prompt in the book, and often when I give talks I ask if anybody knows what phase the moon is in. (Most, of course, don’t.) This is an idea I got from Douglas Rushkoff, but to me the deeper point is just to add some recurring connection to nature to your life. (As I’ve mentioned, my main one is keeping an eye on the elevation of the Mississippi — quite low for a while now, if you’re curious — and how many ducks are hanging out at one particular spot.)
Second, Jenny Odell writes some about “bioregionalism” in her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, endorsing the practice of “observation and recognition of what grows where, as well as an appreciation for the complex web of relationships among those actors.” She essentially argues that this connection to the physical world, especially nature, should shape our attention and perception. (Or at least that’s my understanding of what she wrote.)
Third and finally, I wanted to highlight my favorite item on the “Where You At?” list:
From where you're reading this, point north.
The whole quiz, again, is here.
—> Note: Icebreaker of the Week will return next time
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I wrote for Fast Company about a new headache for streaming companies: “mercenery streamer” customers (like me) who sign up for one thing and promptly quit. Read it here.
As a follow-up to last week’s post: Here’s a nice NYT essay on “thin places,” defined by writer Eric Weiner as “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.” (Thx Alysha!)
Interesting video about “rainscreen cladding,” a building feature I now notice often. Via.
“Harriet Mena Hill paints elements of stairwells, housing estates & tower blocks onto concrete remnants.” Nice! Via.
In this Morning Brew interview, Michael Lewis explains how he fends off “superstitions” around his writing practice, like needing to be in a certain place or some such: “I try to break it up, so that I don't allow myself to ever fall into such a routine that the routine becomes a crutch.”
Object News: “The Super Soaker was Invented by a NASA Nuclear Engineer Working on His Hobby in the Bathroom.”
David Zinn (below) is, among other talents, a Hero of Noticing. (More in Thursday’s issue for paid subscribers.)
Okay that’s it!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: email@example.com. Or use the comments
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And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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Developed by Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman, and Victoria Stockley, and I gather originally published in Coevolution Quarterly 32, from winter 1981
Way back in 2003 I did an updated version of the Bioregion quiz. I called it the Big Here. https://kk.org/helpwanted/archives/cat_the_big_here.php
I love the nature quiz! I did better than I expected on it, but there's still much I need to learn about my region.
I also realize that I need to thank you - yours was one of the first Substack newsletters I subscribed to, and it's your soothing, interesting observations and prompts about Noticing that led me to starting my own newsletter about my observations about nature. I basically write a newsletter about your prompt - I tune into my questions, spend a week researching it and taking photos, then do my best to write it up for other curious people. Why don't woodpeckers get headaches? Why do cypress trees have knees? Is mistletoe damaging to trees? Those are some future questions I'll be trying to answer.
Anyway, I'd love it if you gave it a look: https://naturalwonders.substack.com/
And thanks for the inspiration!