Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

Reassessing the Cost of Curiosity

“The more you understand a system, or a set of interlocking systems, the more curious you are about how they respond and behave to change.” ~ Seeta Sistla

When I read Seeta Sistla’s confrontation to the environmental costs of curiosity – a list that is as thought-provoking as it is long – I sent myself on a journey through challenged assumptions and weighted values.

This was, I imagine, exactly the effect she was hoping for.

What I Learned: A new word! Or, perhaps more likely, a word that finally penetrated and embedded itself in a profound way: anthropogenic: of, relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature  /ˌanTHrəpōˈjenik/ A word that is at the heart of Seeta’s thinking — and ought to be for the rest of us.

What I Loved: She rattled my cage, shook up my complacent self, and got me questioning my own “experiments” and their unintended costs and consequences.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #87: The Cost of Curiosity, with Seeta Sistla. 

Seeta is the third in my series of interviews with the contributing authors to the forthcoming anthology Curiosity Studies: A New Ecology of Knowledge (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).  Stay tuned for future episodes!

Photo by Chris Linder, used with permission

More about Seeta Sistla’s fascinating work here.

Check out the Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Washington DC.

Theme music by Sean Balick.  Check out Sean’s new album “From the Pines” .

You can subscribe to Choose to be Curious on Apple Podcasts/ iTunes and Stitcher.

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“My own curiosity to understand the mechanisms that drive the natural world has been inevitably shaped by the anthropogenic forces that ripple through every aspect of the Earth system.”

Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

A Capital Naturalist

“You’d be amazed at what is out there.” ~ Alonso Abugattas

When my children were young and I was busy cultivating their youthful curiosity, bugs seemed like a good idea. Then a park ranger, Alonso Abugattas spent his days turning over rocks and poking into corners with my sons, delighting in their discoveries, in awe of the (natural) world around them. Happily, not much has changed in the years since…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #69: A Capital Naturalist, with Alonso Abugattas

If you have ever listened to one of my shows, you know I’m a big fan of that “get up and out” approach to life, but one of my guests took it a whole new level. When I first arrived at Arlington Independent Media, Laine Coates was the Membership Coordinator, but then she and her husband decided to pick up stakes and explore the country in their new-to-them RV…

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 42: Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It. (5 min)

Check out the Capital Naturalist.

Follow Laine & Mike’s adventures here

Here’s a great contribution to the research on curiosity and well-being.

Theme music by Sean Balick; Gullwing Sailor by Migration, from Blue Dot Sessions.

You can subscribe to Choose to be Curious on iTunes and Stitcher.

Check out the Choose to be Curious shop!

*Any purchase from the Choose to be Curious shop also supports AIM. Looking for the perfect gift? Why not help loved ones put curiosity front and center?!

Where has wildlife surprised you lately?

Curiosity Journal, Making a List


I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. It was a noisy-quiet morning, with a low racket of avian chatter and the gentle hush of a breeze in the taller tree’s branches.

I looked for movement in the stillness.IMG_4204

Birds escorted me along the path, dusting up the litter of the forest floor. Squirrels did the same, just a little further removed. A butterfly’s lemon-yellow wings caught in the dappled sunlight. A single sassafras leaf, angled and perfectly attuned to the soft wind’s frequency, vibrated wildly.

Immobilized by my approach to the tidal edge, tiny crabs rewarded my stillness with renewed activity. A charismatic doe, disarmingly large in comparison to all the other wildlife, lifted first her head and then her white tail before bounding off across the wetlands. In the sunny distance, heat waves shimmered above the slightly roughed bay as the water lapped at the distant shore.

IMG_4203Up, beyond the doe or the soaring osprey and playing gulls, a few stray clouds floated lazily by. A jet stream bore witness to mechanical movement now past. I thought about the earth’s rotation and our fierce hurdle through the vastness of space. All there, in the deceptive calm of the late morning’s blue sky.

Back under the canopy of soft new green, I marveled at the movement of growth, the barely discernible but still obvious changes, day by day, as the woods around me return to life.

Back Story

Black and White and Green All Over

Re-entry was rough.

I’m glad it took me several hours to resort to the radio. It delayed the onslaught, extended my blissful ignorance, postponed the moment I learned of what an awful week had transpired in “civilization” while I was away.

As I drove through the mountains of Pennsylvania, making my way south and toward home, I felt overwhelmed by our collective and stunning inability to get past color. The irony of a week spent snapping what I thought were beautiful images in black and white — where the rich spectrum of variations between the two, their interplay and utter co-dependence, is the whole point — hung heavy around me.

These images feel like balm on a weary wound. I find myself all the more grateful for the opportunity to have been in place where black and white was green all over, not red with blood and fury.

Life Lessons

I’m Glad She Asked

I was walking on Rehoboth Beach this weekend when I saw something I had never seen before: a seal on the sand. A small crowd had gathered outside the cordoned area of beach. The scene was somehow both respectful and not, as if the yellow plastic ribbon signaled an honorific that the animal almost certainly wouldn’t want. If the animal was hurt, it felt unseemly to gawk.Seal2

A woman turned to the one person who looked like he might actually know something and said, “Poor guy. What happened?” assuming, as  I think we all were, that the seal was dead or dying or had no happy reason for lying there in the spring sun.

I’m glad she asked. Here’s what I heard:

  • Because he’s a wild animal, the seal can’t be moved unless or until he moves himself, or NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) says so.
  • A seal can spit up to 20′ so, just in case, he and we were being kept apart, for “everyone’s safety – yours and his.”
  • As of that moment, the ranger knew only that the seal had conjunctivitis in one eye.
  • A harbor seal, measuring about 40 inches, this seal was one of many that swim up and down the east coast between February and May. Seals! In the mid Atlantic! I didn’t know!
  • He doesn’t need to eat for a week, doesn’t need a drink, doesn’t need to be kept wet. He’s maybe just resting.
  • Every year 4-5 end up on the beach in Rehoboth, for a variety of reasons. Some are fine, just resting; some are not…

I hope he’s fine. I hope he’s fine, well rested, now well on his way.Seal

Life Lesson #40: Just ask.


Same Week, Different Perspective

Last week I had a date with Nature, but my gaze wandered, attracted elsewhere.

Was I unfaithful, or simply unfocused? Wasn’t this actually a chance for yes/and? That capricious, complicated embrace of natural and human forces – wasn’t there beauty there, too?

Behold, Human/Nature.

Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception.  ~ Stan Brakhage

Fellow blogger Sky Blue Daze recently shared a way of looking — and seeing — that has been tickling my brain ever since. She wrote, “I had a photo instructor who taught me to see everything and make the background something that you want in the photo so the eye looks at the focus but boings back & forth to something unforgettable also in the frame.” 

It’s all the same pursuit — an adventure of perception, a journey to seeing everything. An odyssey across the ordinary, discovering within it the unforgettable.

What a gift life is, this unrelenting opportunity for fresh perspective.


Seven Days: So Many Things to See

I could almost hear D.’s eyes rolling around in her head — enough with the rules! — but I liked identifying the boundaries, feeling my way around the edges of what I considered “nature.”

Another week, another Facebook challenge. Seven #photographsofnature in seven days. But what is “nature” — and what can you shoot in February, in a sorta (sub)urban neighborhood, in a week dominated by flat light and grey skies?

Nature, I decided, was going to be something I saw, firsthand, on the day in question, captured as best I could with the ol’ iPod camera.

Nature wouldn’t be man-made, but might be cultivated by human hands. Did birds on a wire count? Winter cabbage?

Nature could be animal, vegetable, mineral, within limits. Birds, bamboo and sand would do — but not human babies, navel oranges or stone steps.

I thought: we’re inclined to go big or go home, but nature appreciates its own intimacy. What can you find that you don’t expect to see?

I started out, as I so often do, by looking up. And then I looked down, way down. Way small. To the surprising bursts of vitality that might otherwise be invisible in February, in my sorta (sub)urban neighborhood, in a week dominated by flat light and grey skies.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Curiosity Journal

Curiosity Journal #4 – Transformative Power

Gradually I’m moving toward that possible radio show. This week I’ll submit my application; next week I’ll start my on-air broadcast training.

One feature I’m particularly excited about in my proposal is inviting others to submit their own “curiosity journals” for broadcast on the show. I love the idea of getting others to put their toes into these waters, to come explore alongside me.

Keep your fingers crossed – approval and getting on air are still a long way off…

Listen to Curiosity Journal #4 – Transformative Power. [2 minutes]

Transcript: When I was researching curiosity last year, the most entertaining thing I came across was the Boring Conference. No question. A whole conference dedicated to things like studying teaspoons and tie collections. What a riot!

The basic idea is the more you look at something, the more interesting it gets. It’s called the transformative power of attention. 

I have to say: I buy it.

And I want to bring more of it into my day…So I’m trying to train myself to think more about whatever  I’m looking at –say, a pine cone I’ve just picked up. 

Some things I need an expert source for, like the tree name…but there’s an awful lot that I can figure out if I’m just CURIOUS about it.

Is my little pine cone open or shut (I’ve learned that’s the result of how wet things are — ever notice that??)? 

Are the scales smooth? Are they spiky? Are there other pine cones around — do they all look the same or different? How does it smell? How does it taste?  Well, maybe I won’t do that.

Where’s the source tree? Are there a lot of them? How do they grow? 

Are they big and tall?  Fat and squat? 

Does it look like squirrels or something else has been munching away? If not, why not?

How does the bark feel? What do the needles smell like? Is this the kind of tree that oozes sap all over everything?

Suddenly, without knowing much about my pine cone, I know a lot about my pine cone. I’m starting to like my pine cone.  

Let’s hear it for that transformative power….


Ode to Milkweed

milkweed2The weary travelers savor a break at the humble road-side stop and take their fill of the house specialty before continuing on their long journeys home. Later, the whole splits, spilling its stock, and seeds like silken parachutes take to the air as the monarch butterflies did before them.

[Word Count: 50; another belated post to a Writing101 challenge]


Shooting Stars and Other Marvels of the Universe

I sat out one night to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Perhaps my timing was bad, or the ambient light too strong, but I didn’t manage to spot any falling stars.

At first I was disheartened. Then I was simply entranced with the sky in all its twinkling stillness.

Sometimes we go looking for exotic zebras and find “only” horses. We ought not be disappointed.

I heard an unfamiliar bird call and stepped on the deck to listen more closely.

I could not place the insistent sharp whistle, but above the trees two hawks circled. Do hawks whistle? They played on the currents, banking, gliding, gently twirling. Luxuriating in what was available.

In the mid-August late afternoon, the dappled shade is lovely, soothing; the sunnier side of the deck, parched and smelling of hot rubber door mats. A cold beer blurs the edges of what seem like endless possibilities. I ponder the art of living large by living small.