All posts by peaadmin

Getting Ready For School? We’re Ready to Help! (Part 1)

First and foremost, our apologies for the deafening silence on this blog in the past few days.  We were getting over a bit of summer sickness, and appreciate your patience with us a great deal.

We’re back, and, no doubt like many of you, getting ready for the all the back-to-school fun.  There’s no joy quite like a new box of crayons for the first day of school–but there’s also a lot of stress and anxiety around heading back to school, too.  That’s true no matter how old you are, how long you have been a student, or where you go to class.

The good news is that, as with nearly all things, the Library is here to help!

We’ve already mentioned the Library’s subscription to, which provides on-demand, one-to-one tutoring in an online classroom for students in kindergarten through college in over 60 academic subjects and test preparation areas, including the ACT and SAT.  It’s a phenomenal resource that can help students in any grade.  Today, we’re eager to feature a class that might very well prove helpful to those who may be writing research papers in the coming school year, and would like to learn more about the process and the resources available to you as Library patrons.  Here’s the course description:

Intro to Research and Writing

Writing a research paper can feel feel scary and overwhelming, but having the right tools and skills at your disposal can help make the process clear, and aid you in making the grade with confidence.  

This 2-week class is for students of all ages who are looking to acquire or enhance their research and academic writing skills for any class or academic program.

We will begin by looking at the physical and digital resources available through the library to help you assemble the facts, data, and sources necessary to write a strong paper.  We will then discuss how to construct a research paper, including building a strong thesis statement, crafting a persuasive argument, and citing your sources correctly. We will also brainstorm some effective writing strategies and support methods for students to help make the research and writing process as easy and low-stress as possible.

This course will be held at the Main Library on Monday, September 17 & 24, from 6:00 – 7:30pm.  As mentioned in the description, students of all ages and from any academic discipline are welcome–as are patrons looking to brush up on the research and writing skills.  Registration is now open on our website, or you can call us are (978) 531-0100 to register by phone.

We hope this class, and the other resources that we’ll be featuring in the coming weeks will prove useful to those of you heading back to school, supporting a student, or looking to learn more for yourself alone.  Please let us know what else we can do to make your academic life more easy, too!, or Yes! You can do that with your Library Card!

It’s That Time of year, dear readers, when the back-to-school-scramble begins.  The rush to finish summer reading or assignments, find school supplies, and mentally prepare for the coming school year.  For some, it’s exciting–and rightfully so!  But it can also be a very stressful time of year–which is also completely valid.  Trying to anticipate all the coming school year might have in store isn’t easy.

Fortunately, as in so many other matters, the Library is here to help.

We’ve recently added to our collection of digital resources. provides on-demand, one-to-one tutoring in an online classroom for students in kindergarten through college in over 60 academic subjects and test preparation areas, including the ACT and SAT.  The Learning Suite also includes practice quizzes, skills drills, video lessons and The Princeton Review Essentials test preparation. Tutors are available Monday-Friday 2-10 pm and Saturday & Sunday 9 am – 10 pm.

This resource is available to Peabody residents with Peabody library cards.  For those of you lovely people who aren’t Peabody residents, please check with your home library for further information and resources.

In order to access from our website, please use the following steps (you can click on the pictures to enlarge them, too).

Go to and hover over the “eLibrary” tab.  Click on “Articles/Databases”

Scroll down through our list of databases until you see (this list is in alphabetical order):

This will open a screen that will prompt you to enter your Peabody Library Card number:

You will be brought to the homepage.  From here, you can chose a number of options, from submitting a paper for review to asking for help with a math problem, to preparing for the SAT and ACT tests.  

We hope that this resource helps make your school year a stress-free and successful one.  Please let us know how we can better help you, or if we can answer any questions you might have about!

Living (Not) Fossils: Part II

Welcome again to the land of Living (Not) Fossils, dear readers! Last week we stopped in our brief survey of things labeled “living fossils” with trees; this week I’m happy to introduce you to more mobile organisms. Let’s start with:

Tachyglossus aculeatus, the short-beaked echidna. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens,

MONOTREMES (Platypuses & Echidnas)

Everyone’s favorite mashed-together looking creatures! There is currently a single extant species of platypus and four species of echidnas (also known as “spiny anteaters”). They come by their “living fossil” status because they’re the survivors of a larger group(s) that used to include many other living members that have since become extinct.

Famously, when presented with a preserved platypus, 19th century European naturalists believed they were victims of a hoax, given the creature has the bill of duck, the tail of a beaver, the legs of an otter, lays eggs like a bird or reptile, but also nurse their young with milk (though not from teats, but specialized skin patches). They then proceeded to argue about its taxonomic placement for over 80 years.

Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).
A platypus swims or maybe lounges. Photo credit: Hans and Judy Besage—Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd/age fotostock.

Speaking of platypus milk, it has certain antibacterial properties that may figure in the future development of developing antibiotic drugs that are useful against superbugs.

Platypus are one of the few venomous mammals – the males have venom-inflicting spurs on the back of their hind legs that are used for defense. Echidnas also have these non-venomous spurs on their legs, but they lose them as they mature.

DEFINITION CHECK: “Venomous” vs. “poisonous”

Hydrophis belcheri, also known as Belcher’s sea snake or the faint-banded sea snake, is extremely venomous. Photo Credit: Ocean Treasures Memorial Library,

While often used interchangeably, these words do not mean the same thing. If something is venomous, it can inflict venom on other things, generally as a defense mechanism. In contrast, poisonous things are only poisonous if you ingest them. A good example that I’ve seen given are rattlesnakes: they are venomous (if they bite you), but they are not poisonous, e.g. you will not be poisoned if you eat the non-venomous parts of a rattlesnake.

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The hooded pitohui’s flesh and feathers are poisonous, a trait it acquires due to its diet of particular frogs. Photo credit: Jack Dumbacher,

While platypuses get the most attention of the monotremes (and I’ll admit, they’re adorable), I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about echidnas a bit. Thanks to Sega and the mid-1990s, probably the most famous echidna in popular culture is Knuckles the Echidna, who originated in 1994’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles.

Sega’s Knuckles the Echidna, who aside from having hair spines, does not look/behave much like an echidna at all. Photo credit:

Before echidnas (the creature) became known to European naturalists and/or the founding of Sega, there was their namesake – the Greek half-maiden/half-snake Echidna, consort of Typhon and Mother of Monsters: offspring attributed to her include the two-headed dog Orthrus, multi-headed dog Cerberus, many-headed serpent Hydra, lion-bodied/woman-headed Sphinx, the Chimera and other creatures who figure in Greek mythology (answers depend on sources consulted).

Statue of Echidna in the Park of the Monsters at the Gardens of Bomarzo in Lazio, Italy. Monstrous though she may be, she doesn’t look much like the monotremes named after her. Photo Credit: Pinterest

Echidna is many things, but she doesn’t really look like our fine spiny friends. The Online Etymyology Dictionary posits that Europeans may have chosen the name “echidna” for it because it’s a creature of mixed attributes, similar to the mythological figure.

Let’s see echidnas (or echidnae for the Grecophilic pedants in the back) in action, slouching spikefully towards Bethlehem:


While perhaps not as visually spectacular or as weird as some of the other creatures on this list, there are a number of birds that have been categorized as “living fossils” due to assorted reasons, which I detailed in the first entry in this series. The bird that I’m profiling today may surprise you: pelicans.

Brown pelican eating a fish. Photo credit:

The official bird of my home state, (as well as being symbols of Romania, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Sint Maarten) pelicans are large waterfowl that are visually distinct due to their size and their large expandable throat (gular) pouches. This trait has occasionally been used as a device in film or children’s books. Their “living fossil” status is due to them closely resembling (especially in terms of their specialized bills) their early relatives who lived 30 million years ago in the Oligocene epoch.

Here’s what their fabulous gular pouch looks like in action:

Pelicans have historically figured into Christian and heraldry iconography as models of self-sacrifice and resurrection, due to beliefs about mother pelicans piercing their own breasts to feed their blood to the children (“the pelican in her piety”) for nourishment or alternatively, using blood from their self-inflicted wounds to resurrect their dead offspring. This can be seen in the posture of the pelican and her young on the seal of the state of Louisiana, which is also depicted on the state flag.

Being seabirds, pelicans’ diet is typically fish-heavy, but they have  been known to eat birds and other creatures at times. Also due to being seabirds, pelicans are highly vulnerable to water-specific environmental disturbances, such as oil spills.

Pelicans who became covered in oil due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Photo credit: Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune

Curious about how seabirds that have been covered in oil are rescued and rehabilitated? The Audubon Society has you covered. NOAA also provides instructions for a hands-on experiment for kids to see how cooking oil affects feathers and how the cleaning process works.

I’d also like to take this time to mention that the pelican’s closest relatives are the hamerkop and the glorious photogenic shoebill.

A shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) moving a duck at an animal park in San Diego. Photo credit: Mark Kay Solent.

BONUS LINKS: Have you ever wondered what pretty much any bird sounds like? The Internet Bird Collection is here to provide those sounds for you (may I recommend the Great Potoo?). Have you ever wanted your ringtone to sound like the vocalizations of an endangered creature? The Center for Biological Diversity’s RareEarthTones ring tone collection can make your phone sound like a loon like mine.

With that, let’s conclude today’s entry. Future entries will introduce reptiles, fish and invertebrates that have been categorized as living fossils. As always, remember that my entries are not exhaustive – there are other animals that I have not mentioned (the hoatzin! Magpie geese!). But before then I’ll leave you with some topical reading recommendations:

Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World, by Ann Moyal

This is the enigmatic story of a biological riddle that confounded scientists for nearly ninety years, challenging theories of creationism, evolution, and classification of species along the way. Secretive, elusive, and beguiling, the platypus has continued to captivate public and scientific attention to the present day.

When the first platypus specimen reached England from Australia in 1799, the scientific community claimed that it was a hoax. On closer investigation, dubious European naturalists eventually declared it to be real, though in an age obsessed with classification, the category-defying platypus sparked heated debates across Europe for a century. In Platypus, Ann Moyal provides a unique biography of one of the world’s most famously strange creatures and tells the incredible story of how it became the focus of the great scientific debates of the nineteenth century. Eloquent and concise, Platypus uncovers the earliest theories and latest discoveries about this delightfully odd member of the animal kingdom.

The Echidna: Australia’s Enigma, by Peggy Rismiller

The oldest surviving mammal on the planet is also one of the most intriguing. Peggy Rismiller, the world’s foremost echidna expert, traces the history of this fascinating animal that is native to Australia and New Guinea. A combination of mammal, reptile, and marsupial, echidnas produce milk, but unlike mammals, they are egg-laying creatures and, like marsupials, they have a modified pouch for nurturing their young. This odd animal has two backward-facing appendages and two forward-facing ones. These and other bizarre biological traits are discussed in detail in this thorough guide.

Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, by Ted Floyd

Do you need a book about all the birds of North America, including our pelicans? Enjoy birding like never before. A complete guide to birds with superb color photography, up-to-date and detailed range maps, clear and concise text, and a DVD of birdsongs. 528 pages and 2.2 lbs of birdbook!

The Bestiary: A Book of Beasts, Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century, made and edited by T.H. White

NOTE: I own a copy of this and it’s one of the most entertaining re-readable things in my collection. If you’ve never experienced the wording and illustrations of medieval bestiaries and have an interest in antiquarian texts, you must check this out.
If a serpent swallows the spittle of a fasting man, it dies. Trees felled in the wrong season breed termites. If eels are drowned in wine, those who drink it get a loathing for liquor.
These and similar flights of fancy were articles of faith in the twelfth century — the era of the fascinating Latin prose bestiary translated in this volume. The translator is T. H. White, author of The Once and Future King and outstanding medievalist. Of The Book of Beasts, White writes: “No Latin prose bestiary has ever before been printed, even in Latin. This is the first and only English translation in print.”
The bestiary was a bestseller in the Middle Ages, a kind of natural history cum-zoological survey that presumed to describe the animals of the world and to point out the human traits they exemplified. Combining the surprisingly accurate with the endearingly phantasmagorical, the bestiarists came up with a bewildering array of real and exotic creatures. The behavior or attributes of the animals often functioned as a metaphor for teaching religious, moral, and political precepts.
In addition to a multitude of real mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish, described here with varying degrees of zoological accuracy, the bestiarist introduces a swarm of fanciful denizens thought to haunt the Dark Ages: manticore, a creature with a man’s face, a lion’s body, and a ravenous appetite for human flesh; dragon or draco, the biggest serpent and the embodiment of the Devil; amphivia, a fish that could walk on land and swim in the sea; jaculus, a flying serpent; the familiar phoenix; the griffin; and other exotic fauna.
Much of the charm of this edition lies in the copious footnotes compiled by T. H. White. With immense erudition, wit, grace, and a singular lack of condescension, the author illuminates literary, scientific, historical, linguistic, and other aspects of the bestiarist’s catalog. He further enhances the volume with informative discussions of the history of the bestiary from its origins in remote oral traditions; through Herodotus, Pliny and Aristotle; during the medieval period and the Renaissance; and up to Sir Thomas Browne’s Vulgar Errors (1646). Both amusing and amazing, The Book of Beasts is not only a rich survey of the proto-zoology on which much of our later science is based, but also a revealing, illustrated examination of how pre-scientific man perceived the earth’s creatures.
Until then, dear readers!

The Romance Garden!

Did you know that August is “Read A Romance Month”?  Neither did we!  But it is, so we are more than happy to celebrate anything and everything book related.

RARM 2016 square

Read A Romance Month” was conceived and launched in 2013 by freelance writer and romance advocate Bobbi Dumas, after she realized there was no one place where the community celebrated romance all together, at one time, in a concentrated way.  So why not enjoy these sweltering, sizzling summer days with a few good, steamy romance?  Check out the display in the Main Library for some titles, and be sure to check out our genre experts monthly selections below!

Bridget: The Bride Who Got Lucky by Janna McGregor

This is one of those rare books that are almost betrayed by their descriptions, because, while the plot of this book is interesting, the real joy comes from the interactions between the protagonists between the action.  Their chemistry is tangible, and I adored the way their connection helped them evolve and redeem themselves, and each other.

Lady Emma Cavensham is on a mission, determined to prove that her beloved friend’s death came at the hands of her ruthless husband.  Naturally, because this is a romance, her quest is foiled by a compromising moment with a long-time acquaintance…who may just be the perfect partner for all her live’s adventures.  Nicholas St. Mauer learned the hard way not to put faith in any relationship.  Having been raised by a genuinely unloving and unlovable father, Nick doesn’t know how to be lovable, or how to properly show love to others, even though Emma once tried.  Now that their names and reputations have been linked inextricably together, Nick realizes that he has no choice but to make Emma his bride.  But can he ever make her happy?  And how on earth can he keep her safe in the bargain?

As I mentioned, McGregor is a master of the little details, and this book is proof.  Emma’s relationship with Nick grows through small shared moments of laughter and honest that make the bond between them something unique and wonderfully powerful.  I loved how she and Nick found healing and acceptance together, and gave each other hope that their future together would be better than their pasts alone.  I was also generally impressed with the way Emma’s quest turned out.  This isn’t a simple comparison where the hero and villain are identical foils to each other, and the result is a thought-provoking plot line that adds, rather than distracts from the romance between Emma and Nick.  While this is the second book in the Cavensham Heiress series, new readers won’t have any trouble jumping into this series from here.

Gladiolus is one of August’s birthday flower. Image Credit: Eden Brothers

Kelley: Born to be Wilde by Eloisa James

When I’m looking for a romance that I know without question will be a good one, Eloisa James is one of my go-to authors. Her story lines are unique, her characters both main and secondary are people worth getting to know, and she always manages to slip in some Shakespeare references for good measure. Born to be Wilde is the third in James’ “The WIldes of Lindow Castle” series, and it’s every bit as good as the first two books.

The eccentric Wilde family is as much a force of nature as the bog that abuts their castle. Alaric is a world adventurer and writer who inspired the prints that made the family into reluctant celebrities; North is a former dandy turned rakish war veteran; and Parth Sterling, the hero of this book, is the honorary Wilde, the brother adopted when his parents died in India and the one who is now the most successful and wealthy bachelor in England. The brothers are lovingly guided by their stubborn and big-hearted Aunt Knowe who helped their father raise them after their mother died, and Lindow Castle is also full of energetic younger Wildes from the dukes second marriage.

As a cousin to North’s fiance, Diana, and close friend of Alaric’s wife, WIlla, Lavinia Gray finds herself a part of the boisterous Wilde clan frequently. Lavinia is smart, fashionable, and gets along well with everyone. With the exception of Parth. When Parth and Lavinia come together, every conversation turns to needling and ends in an argument, but when Lavinia finds that her mother has entirely lost her dowry and their fortune, she is forced to propose marriage to the man she has called “Appalling Parth” for years. More mortifying still, he says no. Protective by nature and a top-notch problem solver, although Parth refuses to marry Lavinia, he does agree to help her find a husband. But once he does, can he live with the idea of Lavinia marrying another man? It could just turn out that the sparks that fly between them might be something more.

Lavinia’s character is one of the greatest strengths of this book. Watching her come to respect and love the things that she once condemned about herself, and then to settle for no less than a man who will do the same, will have readers cheering for her. Eloisa James has done it again. Happy reading, romance lovers!


Until next month, beloved patrons–we hope you find plenty of romances to enjoy for “Read a Romance Month”!

Living (Not) Fossils: Part I

Good day dear readers! I hope you enjoyed our last foray into the world of sharks, rays, skates, guitarfish and kin! Today we’re aiming a bit more broadly – an introduction to some examples of what are popularly called “living fossils”.

.95" Gerastos Trilobite Fossil - Morocco
A non-living fossil of a trilobite. Photo Credit:,

As with any category, the first questions to be answered include: “What is it? What belongs? What doesn’t belong? Why?” Unfortunately, these answers vary depending on who is answering the question. In their 1984 book Living Fossils, Niles Eldredge and S.M. Stanley defined living fossils as:

  1. Members of taxa (the plural of taxon, meaning a taxonomic group of any rank, such as a species, family, or class) that exhibit notable longevity in the sense that they have remained recognisable in the fossil record over unusually long periods;
  2. Show little morphological divergence, whether from early members of the lineage, or among extant species, and
  3. tend to have little taxonomic diversity
Dawn Redwood Tree Picture (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Metasequoia glyptostroboides, also known as the dawn redwood, is often referred to as a living fossil. Photo credit: Rainer Lippert,,_2.jpg

However, the term “living fossil” is now being questioned: is it time for the term  coined by Darwin in his On the Origin of Species to be retired?

One of my favorite popular science writers, Ed Yong (author of 2016’s acclaimed I Contain Multitudes), argues that it should be abandoned on the basis that it implies that these organisms are in fact unchanged, when in actuality they show diversity and change over time apace with species not considered “living fossils”. That is, much of their living fossilness is based more on them having conservative body plans (looking “ancient”) rather than them actually lacking diversity or not exhibiting change over time.

Triops longicaudatus
Triops longicaudatus, also known as notostracans or tadpole shrimp, are small crustaceans that are not shrimp. Photo: ©2008 John White, Want Triops in your house? Arizona Fairy Shrimp can help.

In that case, what to call them? For purposes of this series of entries, I’m going to use the term “ancient organisms/creatures”. Whereas my previous entries dealt more with narrower classes of things, this one is a non-comprehensive tour of some organisms that have been described as members of this group.

Ancient organisms span the full gamut of organisms: bacteria, plants, animals, insects, fish, even creatures that perhaps aren’t always thought of as animals, like sponges.

Crinoids, also known as feather stars or sea lilies, are actually mobile (albeit slow) animals. Photo credit: erikschlogl

While my space here is limited, I’ll do my best to give you a whirlwind introduction to these fascinating critters by type. First up:

BACTERIA: Stromatolites

Normally one thinks of bacteria more in terms of things you attempt to remove from your hands with soap at a sink, but our representative of bacteria, stromatolites, are incredibly cool. Here is why:

The stromatolites at Shark Bay are some of the best living examples of microbialites. A tourist boardwalk at Hamelin Bay allows visitors to walk among these fascinating structures.
A macroview of the stromatolites at the Hamelin Pool at Shark Bay (Gascoyne region, Western Australia).

Stromatolites themselves are structures created by cyanobacteria (called blue-green bacteria or blue-green algae) accreting layers and layers of oxygen-producing microbial laminae (they’re photosynthetic) that then trap sediments, resulting in lithification over time; that is, they turn into stone. This may not sound especially scintillating until you realize how old these structures are – stromatolite fossils date back to the Archean eon. Here’s a geologic time chart for reference:

Geological time scale
Earth’s geologic time scale. Image credit: Jonathan R. Hendricks,

If you’re interested in a more complex chart, the Geological Society of America supplies this one as a PDF, also available as a poster.

Excluding the Ediacaran fauna (who really deserve your attention because ancient stuff is wonderful), stromatolite fossils are the oldest evidence of life on Earth that we have. The fact that some of these organisms are still alive and metaphorically kicking is astounding. Their range (like that of so many things) was much wider in the past, to the point that many of their fossils are no longer accessible to humans due to plate subduction, a process that moves at a geologic pace.

This site has diagrams about where in the United States you can observe stromatolite fossils, which implies very old areas of exposed rock (which means FOSSILS! Bring your tools!). Even if they’re just sitting there eating light + air and defecating rock, stromatolites are venerable communities indeed. Here’s what they look like in fossil form, vertically sliced:

Lower Proterozoic Stromatolite fossil from Bolivia, showing its complex laminae (layers). Photo credit: Fossilmall,

PLANTS: Cycads (Cycadales)

Moving on to plants, I am pleased to present to you these representatives: the cycads (depicted above), dawn redwoods/sequoias, the ginkgos, and welwitschia, which is a fun word to say.

This looks like a palm tree and might even be referred to as a “sago palm”, but this is not a palm tree – it’s a cycad. Photo:

Cycads are stout, squat, cone-bearing (but they’re not conifers) woody tree-like plants – however, unlike trees, they contain very little wood in their bark. Actually, they differ from most “modern” plants in most regards. Cycads look like many things, but their fossil evidence demonstrates their existence back to the Permian period (check the chart!), predating the dinosaurs.

Because of their striking appearance and appeal to collectors, many species of cycad are endangered or threatened. However, if you want to see cycads in person, may I suggest the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables, Florida? Currently, there are ~300 extant species of cycad; if you want to know the nitty-gritty about their taxonomy, The Cycad Pages and The Cycad Society are happy to oblige.

HOT GEOLOGICALLY-RECENT CYCAD NEWS: This study published in Science in 2011 (here’s a link to a more reader-friendly interpretation) provides another example of why the term “living fossil” may lead to incorrect assumptions – today’s cycads are not the exact same as cycads that lived during the age of the dinosaurs. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not an ancient lineage.

The Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

The dawn redwood (native to Hubei Province in China) is the shortest of the trees that we refer to as redwoods (also known as sequoias), the most spectacular being the giant redwoods of California. Dawn redwoods are well-represented at various locations in the fossil record; however, their status as living fossils echoes that of the coelacanth: it is an organism that was thought to be extinct until it was discovered to still be living in the mid-20th century.

It now enjoys (?) its status as a popular tree to use in bonsai. Three  dawn redwoods  grow in Strawberry Fields, an area of New York City’s Central Park that serves as a tribute to John Lennon.

Redwood Bonsai
(Meta?)sequoia bonsai. Photo credit: Ray Coulombe,

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Next, we have the distinctive ginkgo (also known as the maidenhair tree), known for its exquisite colors (they turn brilliant golden in the autumn), unique (sometimes) bifurcated-fan-shaped leaves, perceived value as a nutritional supplement, use in traditional medicine, and as a food source (the seeds). They are also apparently famous for the foul smell of their fallen leaves and berries.

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A Ginkgo biloba tree in its autumnal glory. Photo credit:

Fossils related to the modern Ginkgo appeared during the Permian period; fossils that clearly belong to the genus Ginkgo appeared during the Jurassic period.

Autumnal ginkgo leaves, showing both their color and shape. Photo credit: Joe Schneid.

Unlike the other plants I’ve described here, Ginkgo are pleasantly unendangered – they’re popular ornamental plants, particularly due to their extreme hardiness in urban environments. Some ginkgo trees even managed to survive the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 . Here is a New York Times op-ed from 2017 about conservation and the Hiroshima ginkgos.  For further ginkgo edification, have a listen to this episode of the Generation Anthropocene podcast, talking about the tree and how humans have had a hand in its evolution and propagation.

Welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis)

The final ancient organism that I’ll talk about today is the weird-looking and appropriately-named Welwitschia mirabilis. In the image below, you’re looking at a healthy welwitschia – yes, this is how they’re supposed to look.

Welwitschia mirabilis in the wild! Photo credit:

Welwitschia are odd plants native to Angola and Namibia in Africa, alone in their taxonomy. I’d write and describe them, but many other people have done so more completely and accurately than I am able to at length. In addition to having the longest-lived leaves in the plant kingdom, welwitschia appear in the fossil record in the Jurassic. Individual specimens are extremely long-lived, with reports of variable veracity aging them at 1,000-2,000 years.

While I haven’t mentioned it yet, welwitschia are a type of plant called a gymnosperm, distinguished by their unencased seeds. The only other currently-living gymnosperms include the conifers (pines, cypresses & others – this includes the dawn redwoods), cycads and ginkgos – doesn’t that wrap up neatly now?

While it is native to areas that are now arid, welwitschia is also grown and sought-after by botanical gardens. It’s a protected species, but most trade involves its seeds, rather than wholesale moving of the plant itself.

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As you can see, welwitschia are not small plants. Photo credit: Thomas Schoch.

While I don’t have a close-up image of it offhand, a bit of trivia is that along with 52 other plants, welwitschia was embroidered into Meghan Markle’s 5-meter long wedding veil. Her veil featured the distinctive flora from each of the 53 Commonwealth countries, with welwitschia representing Namibia.

If you’re interested in making the acquaintance of welwitschia and don’t feel like going to Namibia or Angola, they can be seen at various botanical gardens, including the Chicago Botanic Gardens and The Domes in Milwaukee.

As seems to be my custom, I’ve spoken for too long and this is going to end up as multiple entries. I hope you look forward them, dear readers! In the meantime, have some reading recommendations so you can dive deeper into these august organisms and their stories:

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Living at the limits of our ordinary perception, mosses are a common but largely unnoticed element of the natural world. Gathering Moss is a beautifully written mix of science and personal reflection that invites readers to explore and learn from the elegantly simple lives of mosses.

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book is not an identification guide, nor is it a scientific treatise. Rather, it is a series of linked personal essays that will lead general readers and scientists alike to an understanding of how mosses live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings, from salmon and hummingbirds to redwoods and rednecks. Kimmerer clearly and artfully explains the biology of mosses, while at the same time reflecting on what these fascinating organisms have to teach us.

Drawing on her diverse experiences as a scientist, mother, teacher, and writer of Native American heritage, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.

The Oldest Living Things in the World, by Rachel Sussman

The Oldest Living Things in the World is an epic journey through time and space. Over the past decade, artist Rachel Sussman has researched, worked with biologists, and traveled the world to photograph continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. Spanning from Antarctica to Greenland, the Mojave Desert to the Australian Outback, the result is a stunning and unique visual collection of ancient organisms unlike anything that has been created in the arts or sciences before, insightfully and accessibly narrated by Sussman along the way.

Her work is both timeless and timely, and spans disciplines, continents, and millennia. It is underscored by an innate environmentalism and driven by Sussman’s relentless curiosity. She begins at “year zero,” and looks back from there, photographing the past in the present.  These ancient individuals live on every continent and range from Greenlandic lichens that grow only one centimeter a century, to unique desert shrubs in Africa and South America, a predatory fungus in Oregon, Caribbean brain coral, to an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen in Utah. Sussman journeyed to Antarctica to photograph 5,500-year-old moss; Australia for stromatolites, primeval organisms tied to the oxygenation of the planet and the beginnings of life on Earth; and to Tasmania to capture a 43,600-year-old self-propagating shrub that’s the last individual of its kind. Her portraits reveal the living history of our planet—and what we stand to lose in the future. These ancient survivors have weathered millennia in some of the world’s most extreme environments, yet climate change and human encroachment have put many of them in danger. Two of her subjects have already met with untimely deaths by human hands.

Alongside the photographs, Sussman relays fascinating – and sometimes harrowing – tales of her global adventures tracking down her subjects and shares insights from the scientists who research them. The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of the past, a call to action in the present, and a barometer of our future.

Ginkgo : The Tree That Time Forgot

Ginkgo, by Peter Crane

Perhaps the world’s most distinctive tree, ginkgo has remained stubbornly unchanged for more than two hundred million years. A living link to the age of dinosaurs, it survived the great ice ages as a relic in China, but it earned its reprieve when people first found it useful about a thousand years ago. Today ginkgo is beloved for the elegance of its leaves, prized for its edible nuts, and revered for its longevity. This engaging book tells the rich and engaging story of a tree that people saved from extinction–a story that offers hope for other botanical biographies that are still being written.   Inspired by the historic ginkgo that has thrived in London’s Kew Gardens since the 1760s, renowned botanist Peter Crane explores the history of the ginkgo from its mysterious origin through its proliferation, drastic decline, and ultimate resurgence. Crane also highlights the cultural and social significance of the ginkgo: its medicinal and nutritional uses, its power as a source of artistic and religious inspiration, and its importance as one of the world’s most popular street trees. Readers of this book will be drawn to the nearest ginkgo, where they can experience firsthand the timeless beauty of the oldest tree on Earth.

The Wollemi Pine: The Incredible Discovery of a Living Fossil from the Age of the Dinosaurs, by James Woodford

An enthralling detective story about evolution and natural history, and the botanical find of the century: the freak survival of a species that offers a window on to an ecosystem one hundred million years old. The discovery has been described as “the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth.”

Cycads of the world : ancient plants in today's landscape

Cycads of the World:  Ancient Plants in Today’s Landscape, Second Edition, by David L. Jones

Cycads superficially resemble palms and are often misidentified as such. However, cycads are actually a unique assemblage of primitive plants that have been around for at least 250 million years. They have become highly sought after for gardens, both private and public, and their present status as endangered plants has engendered an upsurge of interest in their conservation. With Cycads of the World, David Jones has achieved that difficult task of writing a scientifically accurate text, which is both easy to read and to understand.

For this second edition David Jones has added information covering over 100 new species and subspecies of cycads, and updated his material on the 200 species from the first edition. Each entry includes a full description, distribution and habitat information, and a detailed cultivation and propagation guide. Over 360 color photographs plus many other illustrations and maps facilitate easy identification for all living species. This second edition of Cycads of the World makes a fine addition to the library of anyone interested in exotic plants, including gardeners, landscape architects, horticulturalists, botanists, and the curious reader alike.

The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks: Tales of Important Geological Puzzles and the People Who Solved Them, by Donald R. Prothero

Every rock is a tangible trace of the earth’s past. The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks tells the fascinating stories behind the discoveries that shook the foundations of geology. In twenty-five chapters―each about a particular rock, outcrop, or geologic phenomenon―Donald R. Prothero recounts the scientific detective work that shaped our understanding of geology, from the unearthing of exemplary specimens to tectonic shifts in how we view the inner workings of our planet.

Prothero follows in the footsteps of the scientists who asked―and answered―geology’s biggest questions: How do we know how old the earth is? What happened to the supercontinent Pangea? How did ocean rocks end up at the top of Mount Everest? What can we learn about our planet from meteorites and moon rocks? He answers these questions through expertly chosen case studies, such as Pliny the Younger’s firsthand account of the eruption of Vesuvius; the granite outcrops that led a Scottish scientist to theorize that the landscapes he witnessed were far older than Noah’s Flood; the salt and gypsum deposits under the Mediterranean Sea that indicate that it was once a desert; and how trying to date the age of meteorites revealed the dangers of lead poisoning. Each of these breakthroughs filled in a piece of the greater puzzle that is the earth, with scientific discoveries dovetailing with each other to offer an increasingly coherent image of the geologic past. Summarizing a wealth of information in an entertaining, approachable style, The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks is essential reading for the armchair geologist, the rock hound, and all who are curious about the earth beneath their feet.

Stromatolites, by Ken McNamara.

Lastly, if you have access to online materials via Endicott College, Gordon College, Salem State University or Phillips Academy, then you have electronic access to Ken McNamara’s Stromatolites! 

David Attenborough began his extraordinary TV series, The Living Planet at Shark Bay in Australia’s northwest, because crossing the low dunes and descending to the beach is like slipping billions of years back in time. Where the waves gently break on the shore are stromatolites, rising like rows of concrete cauliflowers from the ocean. While they may look like inanimate rocks, examining a piece from the surface under a powerful microscope shows that it is teeming with life. Stromatolites are complex domes or columns of sediment formed by microbiological communities.

Unbeknownst to many Australians,  Shark Bay is home to one of the most excellent records of ancient life on earth, a stromatolite, which is literally a living fossil. Stromatolites exist in only a few places on earth, and are formed by the trapping, binding, and cementing of sedimentary grains by microscopic bacteria (or microbes). These “living rocks”, as they are sometimes called, teem with the very oldest life forms on earth, having remained virtually unchanged during the comings and goings of animals and plants. In his new book Stromatolites, Ken McNamara shows readers how these ancient formations are a window to the past.

Five Book Friday!

And for any of you night-owls out there, be sure to check out the brilliant full moon!

For those of our readers across the Atlantic (hello there!) tonight’s sky will feature the second blood moon of 2018, in the longest totality of the 21st century, according to NASA.  The moon will be obscured completely for an hour and 43 minutes, during which time the earth’s shadow will fall across it, causing the moon to appear red.    Sadly, however, by the time night falls in North America, the eclipse will already have ended. We’ll apparently have to wait until January 21, 2019, when the next full lunar eclipse will be viewable here.

So while some predict this means the end of days, we have every intention of being open at 9am tomorrow, so by all means, be sure to come by, and check out the wonderful selection of new books, dvds, cds, and more on our shelves this week!  Here are just a few to whet your appetite.

The Wrong Heaven In Amy Bonnaffons utterly wild collection of short stories, anything is possible: bodies can transform, inanimate objects come to life, angels appear and disappear. Bonnaffons draws us into a delightfully strange universe, in which her conflicted characters seek to solve their sexual and spiritual dilemmas in all the wrong places. The title story’s heroine reckons with grief while arguing with loquacious Jesus and Mary lawn ornaments that come to life when she plugs them in. In “Horse,” we enter a world in which women transform themselves into animals through a series of medical injections. In “Alternate,” a young woman convinces herself that all she needs to revive a stagnant relationship is the perfect poster of the Dalai Lama.  These stories delve into the mysteries that surround our everyday lives, relationships, and locations, making for a set of stories that manage somehow to be profound, funny, thought-provoking, and wonderfully engrossing.  This book has been getting starred and glowing reviews from outlets across the country, including from Library Journal, who said (in its starred review) “At once goofy, poignant, and edged with the fantastic, the stories in Bonnaffons’s debut collection initially surprise, then turn into one long, delicious rush.”

The Map of Salt and Stars: Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s debut novel has drawn comparisons to The Kite Runner in the way it captures a nation (in this case, Syria), and the deep bonds of two people who forge a life there.  In the summer of 2011, just after Nour loses her father to cancer, her mother moves Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. In order to keep her father’s spirit as she adjusts to her new home, Nour tells herself their favorite story—the tale of Rawiya, a twelfth-century girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to apprentice herself to a famous mapmaker.  But the Syria Nour’s parents knew is changing, and it isn’t long before the war reaches their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a stray shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety—along the very route Rawiya and her mapmaker took eight hundred years before in their quest to chart the world. As Nour’s family decides to take the risk, their journey becomes more and more dangerous, until they face a choice that could mean the family will be separated forever.  This is an ambitious novel that spans time and space, and brings the devastation of the war in Syria home in a way news reports simply cannot.  Booklist recognized the beautiful balancing act that Joukhadar manages here, describing in its starred review how “Nour’s family constantly endures hardship. . . but her young, honest voice adds a softer, coming-of-age perspective to this story of loss, hope, and survival. . . This imaginative yet very real look into war-torn Syria is a must.”


Ocean Light:  Fans of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series will delight in returning to the world of this series, this time to explore the changeling group of BlackSea, which is full of ocean-dwelling changelings.  Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there’s a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment–taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he’s at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling.  Kaia Luna, a BlackSea changeling may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won’t hide the facts of Bo’s condition from him or herself. She’s suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. But when Kaia is taken by those who mean her deadly harm, all bets are off. Bo will do anything to get her back, even if it means giving up his mind to the enemy.  This is probably not a book for series’ newcomers, as there are a number of long-running plots threads (including a few answers for those who have been kept in eager anticipation!), but for those in the know, Kirkus Reviews promises “Another intricately plotted, vividly sensual love story from a romance favorite.”

Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition from Self-Loathing to Self-LoveThis is the story of Transgender blogger Mia Violet, told in her witty, deeply insightful and wonderfully energetic style, which reflects on her life and how at 26 she came to finally realize she was ‘trans enough’ to be transgender, after years of knowing she was different but without the language to understand why.  From bullying, heartache and a botched coming out attempt, through to counselling, Gender Identity Clinics and acceptance, Mia confronts the ins and outs of transitioning, using her charged personal narrative to explore the most pressing questions in the transgender debate and confront what the media has gotten wrong.  This is a book for those looking for advice, as well as those looking to become a better ally by learning about the real experiences of transfolx.  Author and activist Christine Burns wrote a stunning blurb for this book, calling it “Honest, raw, moving: This intimate blow by blow account of a young trans woman’s odyssey to personal acceptance and authenticity really ought to be compulsory reading for anyone who ever thought in ignorance that a change of gender was a whimsical adventure.”


The Widower’s Notebook: A Memoir: On a summer day in New York Jonathan Santlofer discovers his wife, Joy, gasping for breath on their living room couch. After a frenzied 911 call, an ambulance race across Manhattan, and hours pacing in a hospital waiting room, a doctor finally delivers the fateful news. Consumed by grief, Jonathan desperately tries to pursue life as he always had–writing, social engagements, and working on his art–but finds it nearly impossible to admit his deep feelings of loss to anyone, not even his to beloved daughter, Doria, or to himself.  This is the story of Santlofer’s two-year journey of grief, acceptance, and healing, as well as his recollections of his loving marriage and memories of his beloved wife.   Though not easy to read, this is a powerfully necessary work that offers insight for those who are grieving themselves, or helping others to grieve, reminding us all that the journey is not a simple one, but that it can be done–and done with grace, honesty, and even a little humor, too.  Author Lee Child contributed a wonderful blurb for this book, praising it as a”Wrenching, heartbreaking, intense and emotional – but valuable, too: we’re all approaching the age where this will happen to us – or to others because of us – and understanding that it can be dealt with is consoling.  I don’t know how Santlofer found the fortitude to write this, but I’m deeply grateful he did. I think the world is a better place with this book in it.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Peabody Library Summer Staff Selections! (Part 7)

Every year, we at the Free For All ask the Peabody Library staff about the books, films, and music recordings that they would like to recommend to you for your summer reading/viewing/listening pleasure, and every year, we are delighted with the variety, the diversity, and the genuinely excellent recommendations that we receive.  We will be offering suggestions over the course of the summer, beloved patrons, in the hopes of helping you find a new favorite story to savor over the coming summer months.  Feel free to share your favorites with us, as well!  As our public services desk model has changed, you’ll note the headings on our recommendations has changed, as well.  Please feel free to speak with any Library staff member about finding a book to brighten your summer.

From the Public Service Desk:

Wylding Hall: Elizabeth Hand’s short novel won last year’s Shirley Jackson award in that category, and for good reason–this is a weird, haunting, and unsettling story about memory, loss, and a disappearance that can’t be explained.  When the young members of a British acid-folk band are compelled by their manager to record their unique music, they hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with dark secrets. There they create the album that will make their reputation, but at a terrifying cost: Julian Blake, the group’s lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen or heard from again.  Now, years later, the surviving musicians, along with their friends and lovers—including a psychic, a photographer, and the band’s manager—meet with a young documentary filmmaker to tell their own versions of what happened that summer. But whose story is true? And what really happened to Julian Blake?
From Our Staff:  This book defied all my expectations from the first page in the most beautiful way.   It’s weird, yes, but it’s a wonderfully human story that I find myself remembering months after I returned it to the library!

Flat Broke With Two Goats: A Memoir: Jennifer McGaha never expected to own a goat named Merle. Or to be setting Merle up on dates and naming his doeling Merlene. She didn’t expect to be buying organic yogurt for her chickens. She never thought she would be pulling camouflage carpet off her ceiling or rescuing opossums from her barn and calling it “date night.” Most importantly, Jennifer never thought she would only have $4.57 in her bank account. When Jennifer discovered that she and her husband owed back taxes—a lot of back taxes—her world changed. Now desperate to save money, they foreclosed on their beloved suburban home and moved their family to a one-hundred-year-old cabin in a North Carolina holler. Soon enough, Jennifer’s life began to more closely resemble her Appalachian ancestors than her upper-middle-class upbringing. But what started as a last-ditch effort to settle debts became a journey that revealed both the joys and challenges of living close to the land.  This is a hilarious, touching novel, not only about the homesteading movement, but about discovering the true meaning of home.

From the Upstairs Offices:

The Lacuna: Barbara Kingsolver’s books are always ambitious in their scope and depth, and this book is no exception.  Spanning the the North American continent and its history, this is a moving insightful study of one man and the history of the world around him. Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd has never known a real sense of home. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.  Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America’s hopeful image and claim a voice of his own.  But as he journey back and forth from North to South, Harrison finds the layers of his life torn apart, rather than mended, making for a book that is both heart-wrenching and historically insightful.

Lady Bird: One of the best-reviewed films of 2017, this look into one young woman’s senior year at a Catholic high school in Northern California, and her quest for her own identity was also among the highest-rated films on the site Rotten Tomatoes.  Christine ”Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Roman) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letters) loses his job. The result is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.

The Apartment: A classic comedy, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray are superb in this tale of love and ambition in the world of big business that went on to garner a Best Picture Oscar.  C.C. ”Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a lowly Manhattan office drone with a lucrative sideline in renting out his apartment to adulterous company bosses and their mistresses. When Bud enters into a similar arrangement the firm’s personnel director, J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), his career prospects begin to look up… and up. But when he discovers that Sheldrake’s mistress is Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the girl of his dreams, he finds himself forced to choose between his career and the woman he loves.  Here’s another multi-Academy-Award-winning film, sure to keep your summer full of laughs!

Until next week, beloved patrons, happy summer!