Nautilus – It’s time to retire the hierarchical classification of living things. By Peter Wohlleben July 21, 2021: “n 2018, a German newspaper asked me if I would be interested in having a conversation with the philosopher Emanuele Coccia, who had just written a book about plants, (published in English as ). I was happy to say yes. The German title of Coccia’s book translates as “The Roots of the World,” and the book really does cover this. It upends our view of the living world, putting plants at the top of the hierarchy with humans down at the bottom.
Iris Humm JULY 30 2021 46 Life & Arts
Simon Schama DEEP HISTORY IN HAWAII
“In my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers perished twenty years ago” wrote Mark Twain, in unexpectedly fragrant tone, of the four months he spent in Hawaii in 1866 writing for The Sacramento Union. Same. In 1990 you exited from the plane at the little Kailua-Kona airport, stood on the top step and got hit by the blowsy scent of plumeria blossom. Which is just as well, since what you had been looking at as the plane made its approach was not paradise but an apocalyptic hellscape, mile after mile of utter blackness from mountain slope to the ocean, as if this whole side of the Big Island had been detonated. Which, of course it had.
Hualalai last erupted in 1800 and 1801, its lava burying the fishing village of Kaupulehu. When I first got it into my head that the only place to escape yet another merciless Boston winter was Hawaii, what I feared was a tidal wave of aloha kitsch: the fake lei garlands, the merciless ukulele, the undulating midriffs. What I hadn’t expected was the blackness, or rather how I almost immediately came to love the dark side; becoming a lava pedant. “Don’t try walking on the ’a’a [the spiky lava] as it’ll go right through your sneaker soles; keep to the ropey, bulbous pahoehoe”, both types of crust re-enacting the epic drama of the hot flow. Even the swans on the lagoon fishponds where we stayed once in our eight visits were black; none of your trashy common whiteness.
The beaches too. Someone had imported a bit of white and gold sand, to satisfy the LA business folk, but where you wanted to be was way out on the pulverised lava bordering the cobalt Pacific. Not least because when you stuck your head under the water, you were in a streaming world of blinding colour: scarlet coral, tangs that had invented yellow, parrot fish actually in dude combo of jade green and rose pink. Green turtles paddled past with the same faintly exasperated expression I’d seen on the faces of my older colleagues in the Harvard history department.
But this wasn’t Nantucket; no chance of bumping into them. Or anyone we knew. Or hearing from anyone, either, because in the miraculously gorgeous place we’d ended up in, there were not only no televisions in the hale cabins but no phones! This being decades before the arrival of mobiles, calls received or made had to be done from the reception, which, of course, was an incentive never to make them, which again, of course, was the whole idea.
Simon Schama in Hawaii with his daughter Chloe, then 7 Which left me with history; not the kind I was teaching and writing but a kind that was deeper, more elemental and, I often felt, more profound: in the first place a connection with the planet’s formation amid primordial eruptions. You walked across a smoking crater floor, trying not to gag on the sulphur, and you were very close to First Things. Then medieval images, some of them 12th century, pictographs incised into the lava: figures surfing the billows; sailed catamarans; dances and slaughters. Then in Kona, the six-room Hulihe’e palace of the 19th-century kings, including David Kalakaua, who was the first to have hula set down in writing — no, not the pelvic shimmy but a fierce, formal, bardic chant of the Hawaiian epics. Directly opposite the palace was its nemesis:
Moku’aikua Church, built by the first American missionaries to come to the Big Island, walls of lava and coral, pews inside of gleaming koa wood, but casting a baleful shadow over the destiny of the native culture. Inevitably I made a pilgrimage to Kealakekua Bay. Coming from Kona, you drive south past the hamlet of Captain Cook, take a right steeply down through coffee plantations and end up where the captain sailed in on a day in January 1779 and was greeted and garlanded, for it was Makahiki, when the god Lono inaugurated the new year. The history in Hawaii was deeper, more elemental: a connection with the planet’s formation Depending on which historian you find persuasive, Cook was treated as the incarnation of Lono or (more likely) a visiting chief.
Two weeks later, a mast of the Resolution broken, Cook made the mistake of returning, out of sync with the mythic calendar. The guest turned on his hosts; an attempt was made to take a chief hostage in return for what was said to be a stolen longboat. Cook was stabbed to death on the shore of the cove with a dagger. Never return, then? Our family did, over and again to the Big Island (also to all the other Hawaiian islands, except Maui). The place of black swans and phoneless huts was destroyed by the wash of the Japanese tsunami 10 years ago. A few years ago, my wife and I swam across to it from a luxuriously dull neighbouring resort, the kind ruined by golf and marble, and executives booming at each other between slurps of margaritas in the pool.
All that was left were two guards on deckchairs watching over the ruins. Behind them were staved-in huts, plumeria trees strangled in weedy vines, the odd rat scuttling in the undergrowth. But on the black sand lay a few green turtles drying out in the sun, their faintly reproachful expressions saying: “You again?” Sorry. Yes. Pretty much always, somewhere in my head.
Enuma Okoro AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK, KENYA “Come out and visit, and we’ll collect elephant dung together.” It wasn’t your usual holiday invitation. It was the early 2000s, and my friend Tom was spending a year in Amboseli National Park in Kenya, doing research on migratory patterns of wildebeests and something to do with elephants that required sampling their dung. He was the only scientist, working with two Kenyan assistants based with him right in the middle of the park. The invitation was for me to join him there and hole up in one of the canvas-flapped tents, the only thing protecting me and him from the animals. I had never been to Kenya and it sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime.
So I booked a ticket for two weeks. I flew into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and met Tom. We spent the day and night in Nairobi picking up supplies, before taking a small chartered plane south to Amboseli airport in Kaijado County, right on the border of Tanzania. That hot afternoon, driving through the streets of Nairobi, I couldn’t take my eyes off the canopy of blooming purple trees that appeared like something out of a Dr Seuss book. I had never encountered jacaranda trees before, and I was mesmerised.
But that was only the beginning of the awe. The next day we flew into Amboseli and drove an old cream-coloured Jeep to the base camp, bumping along unpaved roads in sections of the journey. There wasn’t much to the camp. A small stone kitchen that could fit maybe two or three people. An open-aired dining space where we’d have our meals, an outdoor shower concealed with thatching, and three or four large tents where people slept. My tent was a few steps away from the dining area, and was the size of a very small bedroom, the canvas walls sturdy and brown. The bed took up most of the space, with a little worn writing desk to the side. Elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Mount Kilimanjaro is in the background
When we arrived, Tom sat me down for a cup of chai and told me the rules. The most important of which were the instructions to clap my hands loudly or make noise whenever I was going to the shower and toilet area, and never to leave my tent after dark, not even to go to the bathroom. There were no fences or walls between our camp and the wildlife that roamed freely. In the mornings,
I would unzip my tent to see the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro directly in front of me. During the day I accompanied my friend on his research. We waited and watched for the elephants to poop and then for them to wander off before we scooped up samples. One afternoon we set out from camp only to have to stop within a few minutes because a male lion was lounging in the afternoon sun in the middle of the road leading out from the camp. We turned off the engine and waited. I was speechless. I had never seen anything as majestic as this large, muscular cat, reclining on the road as though he owned the entire park.
And I had never felt so insignificant as I did in that moment, an awe-filled reminder that I was simply one small part of a larger beautiful ecosystem of living things. But I was also terrified and at night I lay awake for hours freezing up at the sound of every rustling I heard outside. I had never seen anything as majestic as this lion, reclining on the road as though he owned the park It’s been years and years since that trip, but I still think about it all the time.
I think about how at peace I felt in the middle of the wild, even with the dangers and the reality of being so vulnerable and out of my element. I was a visitor to the animal kingdom, and watching elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, cheetahs and wildebeests roam in their natural habitat, I felt humbly put in place. I think about how there was so little in the way of material luxury and yet every day for the time I was there, it felt like enough simply to wake up, bathe, eat, do a little fieldwork, gaze at the environment, eat, bathe, sleep and then repeat. I realise the limited timeframe had an effect on my experience. But I think what made it the best holiday I’ve had so far was the way it reminded me of how the world is beautiful and rich in ways that have nothing to do with human effort and striving.
It showed me that no matter where I may find myself, and in whatever emotional state or life stage, somewhere there is always another breathtaking reality existing alongside my own. And it reminds me that life, with all its tragedies and challenges, is still indeed miraculously beautiful.
Lucy Kellaway NORFOLK IN THE 1960S July 1966.
The white Ford Cortina is packed to the roof. It contains my mum, my dad, my brother, my sister and me. It also contains three brand-new folding camp beds, three new sleeping bags, a set of cutlery, some plates and a Belling bed warmer. We drive for ages and finally the car stops in a lane with steep banks. Right on the lane, almost on top of the car, is a white thatched cottage that mum has just bought for £3,000.
This was an odd choice of holiday home for a young family. It was the least fashionable bit of Norfolk, where the land is flat and full of sugar beet. There was nowhere to swim — the sea was over an hour’s drive away. There was nowhere to walk as there were no footpaths, and the lane led straight to a main road whose roar you could hear from the cottage. That summer we couldn’t even run around outside in the garden as it was an acre of wilderness, filled with prickly thistles and nettles taller than my head.
It was for the future promise of this garden that mum had bought the place — in the 40 years to come, she would turn it into a thing of great beauty. But for us, then, we didn’t care about the garden and were mildly regretful to have lost our mother — who would spend eight hours a day bottom-up in the putative herbaceous border. Lucy and Kate Kellaway in the Norfolk garden, Easter 1968; Bill, Kate, Lucy, Roland and Eileen Kellaway having a rare lunch outside, summer 1968 Yet that holiday and the hundred or so identical ones that followed (all six school holidays every year and alternate weekends in summer) have defined my sense of what the ideal holiday should be. It should be filled with elongated periods of empty time — the pleasure lies in finding ways of filling them. That first summer we watched cows being milked and climbed on hay bales. We explored the ditch by the house and I planted sunflower seeds. Later on we rubbed brasses in the churches that dad loved to visit and learnt italic handwriting, which was fashionable then.
We saved up Green Shield stamps and bought an inflatable dinghy that we tried to sail in the reed-infested river. We had endless family meals and we squabbled and read. In the winter we sat around a fire and read. In the summer we lay on the grass and read. This seemed like the best holiday on Earth until I hit adolescence.
Then the place was hateful: cold, damp and profoundly boring. I longed for foreign travel and holidays in the sun and, once I was grown up with my own money, that was what I did. But then one year, with young children of my own, we went on the world’s worst holiday in a villa in Italy rented with friends. The journey was exhausting and stressful, the weather too hot, the children didn’t sleep, and we took against our friends and their whining children. Endless sweating, biting of tongues and waiting for other people to be ready for sightseeing trips I didn’t want to go on made me long for one thing: home.
I write this from another white cottage in Cornwall, bought 21 years ago, where my children have spent every school holiday since then. That July day 55 years ago, I started to learn what a holiday would mean to me. It is about endlessly returning to a place so familiar that it is there in your mind even when you’re not on holiday.
Fani Papageorgiou ESCAPE TO NEW YORK CITY
In Greek, the word for “holiday” (diakopes) comes from the verb “to interrupt”. The summer I turned 24, I needed to disrupt not only my routine but also my life, to gain distance and perspective. I declined invitations from friends to go to the Cycladic islands; the blue of the Aegean was too soothing and familiar.
Having just decided not to take the bar exam, I went for a giddy non-holiday that would force me to consider what I would do for the rest of my life. That July I moved to New York to a brownstone on Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, to water houseplants in lieu of rent while the owner, a Greek banker, was travelling the world. The air-conditioning was broken but the ceilings were high as in a cathedral and there was a patio outside the bedroom.
There was always the smell of lemons and fresh coffee in the kitchen. I spent hours meandering from room to room carrying volumes from the shelves by the bay windows, squares of sunlight holding me in place. Whole days were filled with silence, the kind that comes after something has shattered. I kept reading books I found in the banker’s house to see how other people do life. I started with Patrick Leigh Fermor staying with Trappist monks, then moved to memoirs, leaving the solemn volumes on financial institutions for last. Halfway through, I took a break and read the coffee table book, My Love Affair with Jewelry by Elizabeth Taylor.
I found dealing with other people exhausting but I hardly knew anyone in the city. And yet, somewhere in my state of somnambulism, I got a call from an American poet looking for a Modern Greek tutor. I thought she was insane for wanting to learn my language but we arranged lessons at Starbucks for $20 an hour. Fani Papageorgiou with friends in New York, 1999 On scorching days in August, when everything slowed down, there was a particular abandon in Greenwich Village but also a loveliness not to be undone by the muffling heat. Police sirens went off at all times. A Jehovah’s Witness rang the bell and gave me a leaflet. If the world was held together with rubber bands and paper clips, the future was still somehow reparable, even if it contained battles I would never win.
The mornings, hot and slow, made me listless but I pushed myself to clean the windows and pick up clothes from the floor. There is always comfort in tidying up, even if it takes up half of life. In the afternoons, I walked the few blocks to Washington Square and sat for hours watching the men playing chess. At a wall on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Houston, someone had scribbled in chalk, Due to lack of interest, tomorrow has been cancelled. At sunset, I leaned against the French patio doors — pretzels and Marlboro Lights for dinner — reading books on economic history and the Federal Reserve. According to an old Chinese saying, after two or three days without study, life loses its savour. My past life chloroformed, there were hardly any messages on the answering machine. But something happens while you’re waiting.
Can you tell us about a holiday that changed your life? What are your memories of it and why has it stayed with you?
Tell us in the comments at the bottom of the story and we may publish a selection of the best responses My only student told me one day about an opening at a publishing house. I applied and went for an interview. Soon I would have a job that required me to read books and obtain a special visa, and I would stay in New York for years. One evening, at a party near what was then “Ground Zero”, a man would tell me that Edward Said had just died and I would end up marrying that man. But I didn’t know any of that yet. On my last day in Greenwich Village, I watered the ficus in the morning, sat on the brownstone’s steps in the blue hour to register the vanished summer. That night, I meandered to the East River, yellow taxis, traffic lights turning green. Go, go.
Then back to Ninth Street, at the time when garbage trucks were cruising the block. Back in the 19th century, wild hogs let loose in New York City ate up all the rubbish. Into the hallway, across the green-and-white marble tiles, I turned the key into the dark foyer and it felt cool and welcoming like the Trappist monastery of Notre-Dame des Neiges. During that holiday, an interruption from everything I knew, I would learn that there’s nothing coherent in upheaval, but throughout those smashed days of summer, I never wanted anything but this.
Rebecca Rose CRICKETER PACKAGE HOLIDAYS It was 1986, I was nine, and it was my first package holiday. Friends had recommended Cricketer Holidays, a small travel company that scouted out reasonable hotels in little-known resorts in Greece. My mother, who had spent six months in 1960s Athens with a Greek boyfriend, and had longed to go back ever since, booked us two weeks on the Ionian island of Lefkada. Summer holidays before my first Greek odyssey had consisted of trips to the east coast of Scotland, hikes up glens under glowering skies and sandy cheese baps on the beach in Carnoustie.
When the pre-travel pack arrived in the post, containing a bulging leather documents wallet, luggage straps and four small green holdalls embossed with “Cricketer Holidays”, one for each of us, I realised I was on the threshold of something life-changing. (Nothing is quite as exotic as merchandise to a nine-year-old.) At the dusty airport arrivals, a gaggle of other Brits, all with green holdalls, gathered around a pretty rep holding a Cricketer Holidays banner. My brother and I surveyed our fellow holidaymakers — they were a disappointingly superannuated lot, although we did spot a few other children. Nydri, a resort on the east coast of Lefkada, was not exactly unspoilt, even then, with its small buzzy marina dotted with tavernas blasting out “Zorba the Greek” and a mini-market selling lilos and “No problem” T-shirts.
But our hotel, separated from the main drag by a small stream of sewage, and slap-bang on the sea, was the real deal: whitewashed, bougainvillea-clad, with a scruffy terrace under the eucalyptus trees where meals were served on long trestle tables. Top: Harold, Alexander, Rebecca and Diana Rose in Turkey in 2011; bottom: Rebecca Rose (right) with friends on their first Cricketer holiday in 1986 © Nick Coates Cricketer Holiday hotels, we came to accept over the years, were resolutely unluxurious. Rather in the way that the identikit layout of a Travelodge can be reassuring, the rooms were always the same: two small single wooden beds, a ceiling fan, an airless bathroom with a faulty lock, and a little balcony with the odd basking lizard. At night, we lay with the windows open, the scent of a gently smoking Autan mosquito coil, the cricket chorus and the braying hotel donkey lulling us to sleep. Days began with an early rap at the door from our father, summoning us for a 7am swim in the gloriously silky sea before breakfast: unctuous Greek yoghurt with mountain honey, hunks of watermelon and as much slightly dry, saltless bread you could eat with your mini pat of butter. Then, equipped for the beach as only Brits can be — inflatables, snorkels, sun umbrella, rattan mats, Ambre Solaire factor 6 and 4, buckets and spades, books, magazines — we would bag our sun loungers for the day.
My parents would immediately get out yesterday’s Times and make short work of the crossword while the Greek coffee was still in effect. My brother and I would spend hours snorkelling around in the shallows, until my mother noticed we were already sunburnt and instructed us to put on a T-shirt. The package included several day trips on the hotel boat — a small Greek fishing boat we coined the “leaky caïque” — to deserted beaches nearby. These were the best days, drinking Fanta Lemon from a coolbox, listening to Now 8 on my Walkman, and shyly making friends with the other kids, as we lay like sardines on the prow of the boat, looking out for dolphins.
After a boozy beach barbecue, afternoons on these secluded coves were indolent and slow. While the adults snoozed off their lunch in the shade, we children realised there was only one place to be, and that was in the water. It is the sea that I feel most nostalgic about now. I swear it was bluer, clearer, warmer then. I tried several other package holidays in my teens and twenties, from a week in tourist hellhole Magaluf in Mallorca aged 17, bought for £119 on Teletext (destination allocated on arrival), to a week supposedly in the Turkish resort of Oludeniz, which involved a hot 45-minute walk down the motorway to reach the beach. Each had their merchandise, smiling rep and excruciating welcome drinks, but none had the magic of that first package to Lefkada.
I often think how wonderful it would be today to pop in to the local travel agent, pick up a brochure and book an all-inclusive trip for my own family. But good luck finding a travel agent or, indeed, a hotel that isn’t 20 storeys high, with an eye-wateringly expensive kids club, international buffet and — horror of horrors — nightly entertainment. Our nightly entertainment in 1986 was lying on sun loungers on the pebble beach, counting shooting stars overhead. We remained faithful to Cricketer Holidays for 25 years. Those annual odysseys were a stronger glue for our family than anything else. The last time was in 2011. By then, the clientele was entirely superannuated, and the hotels a little more chi-chi — a little. There was air-conditioning, and my brother and I didn’t have to share a room, but the routine, perfected over so many summers, remained exactly the same.
Nilanjana Roy A TRANS-HIMALAYAN RALLY In 1998,
I was a lowly reporter at the Business Standard when my boss came by with an offer I could not refuse: would I like to join an Indian army team on a trans-Himalayan rally? “No luxury hotels,” Tony Joseph warned me. “You’ll be staying at army messes or roughing it. For three weeks.” His words fell like soft music on my ears. The Himalayas stretches as a supple spine of snow-covered peaks, separating the Indian subcontinent from the great Tibetan plateau.
The region, home to some of the world’s highest mountains, carries the glow of divinity — in Nepal and Tibet, the Himalayas are as richly populated with spirits, ghosts, shamans and dakinis as with humans. I grew up hearing legends of Lord Shiva wooing the goddess Sati with promises of a home in “the Himalaya, the king of mountains where there is spring forever”, lustrous with lakes of bright lotuses, home to gods and sages and the daughters of the king of serpents, shining with ramparts of crystal, gold and silver.
“The mountains call to some of us, whether you are born in the plains or come from river people,” one of the young army captains told me. “When the Himalaya calls you, one way or another you will go to them.” The army officers, two women and five men, were superb drivers, warmly hospitable to a young civilian who’d driven a fair amount but never done a Himalayan rally. I talked my way into driving after a few days in the navigator’s seat, wrestling with the folding origami of old-school paper maps.
We sped up from the plains in a caravan of Gypsy Kings, bare-bones 4x4s with basic interiors but spectacular off-road capabilities, led by a dashing colonel who spoke of the Himalayas with the kind of yearning that Sanskrit poets in an earlier century used for their beloveds. That first evening, the officers were puzzled — there had been unusually brisk exchanges of fire between Indian and Pakistani soldiers up in a small hill town called Kargil near Srinagar. Nilanjana Roy stuck in a truck traffic jam at the India-Nepal border Our small band spent nine to 11 hours a day on the road. We negotiated crowded towns where the shops edged into the roads and cows and pedestrians had the right of way, forded sparkling rivers over slender suspension bridges that glimmered like steel cobwebs in the dawn light.
I had the International Radio Telephony Spelling Alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta . . .) off by heart because we used it to communicate over walkie-talkies, and we spent two days stuck in an epic traffic jam alongside 600 truckers at the Nepal border. I lived in jeans during those exhilarating days, rotating two saris for the more formal dinners at various army messes where we admired the regimental silver and listened to tall tales. How I loved those Gypsy Kings! They were the opposite of today’s luxury SUVs, but they were like high-perch phaetons — built for speed and grace, sturdy and superbly responsive. The next best thing to trekking in these ancient ranges is to drive for long days, and sometimes nights, into the frozen but strangely alive heart of the Himalayas. The play of light on the mountains in Nepal (and on a later long drive into Ladakh) is bewitching: at sunset, the ranges seem to be on fire, alive with flickering flames of gold and ruby, and at dawn when we set out, a cold emerald light made them seem austere, otherworldly.
We heard tales of earthquakes and of forest caves inhabited by thousand-year-old spirits. Through the long hours of driving, negotiating sudden plunges, the occasional rockfall, bumping over boulders in streambeds, I surrendered and handed my heart over to the keeping of the Himalayas, where it remains to this day. That love for long highway drives, for mountains and gentle hikes, for roads less travelled, forests rarely explored by tourists, has lasted. The skirmishes that had so surprised the army team would rumble on; in 1999, the Kargil war would take India and Pakistan to the brink. But that summer when we forged friendships in the heart of the Himalayas, stopping at roadside stalls for a quick tumbler of steaming masala chai, a wash under a handpump, the icy mountains silently calling, the dark forests and the moonlight on fresh, untouched snow, and the road stretching endlessly before us — that was one of the most perfect ways to spend your time on Earth.