Title: Pandas Release Date: April 6, 2018 Director: David Douglas and Drew Fellman Production Company: IMAX Summary/Review:
The world’s cutest animals get the IMAX 3D treatment so audiences can enjoy seeing the big balls of fluff from China larger than life and right there in front of you. The documentary is narrated by Kristen Bell, herself and icon of cuteness, and has cheerful soundtrack composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. That is when there aren’t pop songs playing, such as the musical cue when a trio of panda cubs toddle around to ZZ Top’s “Sharped Dressed Man” (I guess because their black & white patterns resemble a tuxedo?).
But beneath all of this cuteness there is a more serious story here. The habitat of the giant panda is shrinking and the species is endangered. At the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding we meet the scientist Rong Hou, known as the Panda Mother, who has lead efforts to successfully breed giant pandas with over 200 cubs born. The next step is reintroducing pandas to the wild so Rong Hou visits New Hampshire where Ben Kilham takes in orphaned black bears and cares for them until they can survive in the wild on their own.
Adapting Kilham’s methods to the panda cubs at Chengdu involves bringing in another American, Jacob Owens, and Chinese scientist Wen Lei Bi to work with the cubs. One cub named Qian Qian is determined to be a good candidate for introduction the wild, and Owens forms a close bond with her over a year spend in a 50-acre, protected reserve. Finally, Qian Qian is ready, and a small gate is opened to allow her into the true wilderness.
A dramatic moment occurs when Owens is visiting family in America and the signal from Qian Qian’s collar shows that she hasn’t moved in 24 hours. Wen Lei Bi leads a team that hikes deep into the forest where they find Qian Qian trapped in a tree, and they have to spend several days giving her food and water until she’s healthy enough to return to the reserve for care. The film ends on a moment of uncertainty as a lot of effort went into introducing Qian Qian into the wild but it’s unclear if she will ever be able to survive there or if this approach will work with other great panda cubs. But it’s good to know that there are people trying.
Last week we celebrated the end of the school year with our somewhat annual stay at Wolfe’s Neck Oceanfront Camping in Freeport, Maine. We tented in the woods by Casco Bay, roasted marshmallows, biked nearly everywhere, shopped in Freeport, visited the Wolfe’s Neck Center farm, and most significantly, we went hiking with goats!
On Father’s Day, my kids celebrated a whale of a dad by taking me on a New England Aquarium Whale Watch. We were lucky enough to see majestic humpback whales, a mama and a baby, trying to catch a snooze on a clear and calm day. When we returned to Boston, the kids hadn’t reached their fill of nautical adventures, so we took the MBTA Ferry from Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard. There we saw lots of Big Dogs, steel sculptures by Dale Rogers, and played on the playground.
Around the World for a Good Book selection for Finland Author: Arto Paasilinna Title: Year of the Hare Narrator: Simon Vance Translator: Herbert Lomas Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010), originally published in 1975, translated to English in 1995 Summary/Review:
This delightful novel tells the story of Kaarlo Vatanen, a journalist from Helsinki traveling in the northern countryside of Finlan, whose car hits and injures a young hare. Vatanen finds the hare, nurses it back to health, and adopts it. This prompts him to leave his job, his wife, and sell his boat to fund his life as he and the hare travel farther north in the Finnish wilderness where they have various madcap adventures. It’s clear that it’s full of satire of Finnish people and culture albeit I don’t know enough about Finland to get the references. More broadly it has the very 1970s themes of self-discovery, counterculture vs. the emerging globalization of business, and the absurdities of the Cold War. There is another story from the 1970s, possibly a British one, that this reminds me of but I can’t recall what it is.
Things I learned about Boston’s own Donna Summer: 1. she got her start in the Munich production of Hair where she became fluent in German, 2. she wrote or co-wrote most of her songs, 3. she and her producers basically invented electronic dance music, and 4. she continued to have club hits into the 2010s.
My daughter and I took advantage of the chilly holiday Friday to visit the New England Aquarium. The Giant Ocean Tank is always awe-inspiring and we got to see divers film the animals up close and listen to them answer questions. We also spent considerable time at the shark & ray touch pool, the tidepool touch tank, and with the penguins. As a novice photographer, I found that adjusting for white balance and shutter speed in the Aquarium was challenging, so there’s not so many great photographs, but still a record of our fun visit.
Author: Merlin Tuttle Title: The Secret Lives of Bats Publication Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015 Summary/Review:
I remember one time as a child playing lawn darts at dusk in my neighbors’ yard. I lost sight of the dart and then noticed that it seemed to be flying up, only to realize that it was actually a bat. My friend and I ran screaming indoors, not realizing that game we were playing was probably more dangerous than our neighborhood bats. Over time, I grew to admire bats partly for their contributions to a healthy ecosystem, but mostly for being marvelous creatures. In this wonderful memoir, Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International, details his lifelong love of the flying mammals and constantly running up against the fear and hatred of bats in his fellow humans. As a child, Tuttle crawled through local caves to tag migrating bats, his descriptions giving me vicarious claustrophobia. All through the book Tuttle extols the virtues of bats, from consuming tons of pestilent insects to spreading the seeds of plants, and even affecting the mating rituals of frogs. In addition to traveling the world to study bats, Tuttle taught himself how to photograph the animals, inventing tricks of the trade to create compelling photographs published in National Geographic, or elsewhere. If you love bats, you’ll love this book, and if you fear bats, well this book may change your mind.
Author: James Howe Title: The Celery Stalks at Midnight Narrator: Victor Garber Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2004 Summary/Review:
A more direct sequel to the first novel as Bunnicula escapes from the house leaving a trail of dead, blanched vegetables in his wake. Chester’s suspicions are again aroused and he draws in Harold and the new dimwitted puppy Howie into his investigation, leading to mayhem. It’s very silly and funny. Rating: ***
Author: James Howe Title: Howliday Inn Narrator: Victor Garber Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2004 Summary/Review: To build on my belief that this series should be called “The Harold and Chester Mysteries,” Bunnicula doesn’t even appear in this story. Instead, the Monroe’s go on vacation and Harold and Chester are sent to a kennel called Chateau Bow-Bow. There, Chester immediately begins to share his suspicions of the other dogs and cats and their human caretakers. It turns out that there is something suspicious going on even if Chester’s earliest assumptions were way off base, but it does lead up to a wonderful Holmes and Watson moment for Chester and Harold. Another fun book with a bit of mystery.
Author: Deborah and James Howe Title: Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery Narrator: Victor Garber Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2004 Summary/Review:
My family enjoyed listening to this book on a long Thanksgiving road trip. The premise of this series is that the Monroe family discovers and adopts a young rabbit with fangs who apparently can escape his cage and drain the vegetables in the kitchen of their juice and color. But in all honesty, Bunnicula is a minor character in his eponymous book and this series could be called “The Harold and Chester Mysteries.” Harold is the good-natured family dog who narrates the book and Chester is the egoistic and conspiracy-minded cat who stirs the pot with his suspicions of Bunniculas’ vampiric powers. All in all, it’s a funny and entertaining family tale. Recommended books: Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, Stuart Little by E. B. White, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg Rating: ***
Watched this at the Mugar Omnimax Theater at the Boston Museum of Science. It kind of falls into every cliche you’d expect of an animal-themed IMAX film, but who can complain about seeing larger than life dolphins leaping and diving? Pierce Brosnan provides the narration but often yields to the featured scientists who share their knowledge and passion regarding these aquatic mammals. On the odd side, the soundtrack is by Sting which makes me wonder what dolphins did to deserve this (especially since most of the music is reggae-tinged instrumental arrangements of Sting’s hit songs which have nothing to do with dolphins). Rating: ***1/2
Since my mother’s recent move back to New York, we’ve become Bronx Zoo members and now will be visiting one of our favorite places frequently. On a crowded Memorial Day weekend, I went to the zoo with my mother, my kids, and for the first time ever, my wife. We visited the World of Birds, Tiger Mountain, the Bengali Express, Jungle World, and the new Children’s Zoo. We also waited a long time for the Zoo Shuttle to ride from one side of the zoo to the other. It was a good day.
Franklin Park Zoo is part of the large Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park on the border between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. It’s a popular destination for local families. Although it’s not a particularly great zoo compared to others I visited, it does have some strong points. One is the African Lion exhibit, once home to the late & lamented Christopher whose roars echoed through the city, and now home to the brothers Dinari and Kamaia. The premier exhibit is the Tropical Forest which is home to a troop of gorillas including the baby Azize born last May. The Franklin Farm contains a petting zoo, and we’re eagerly awaiting the opening of the new children’s zoo Nature’s Neighborhoods.
Dinari and Kamaia on their birthday.
Baby Nigerian Dwarf Goat Chewbacca rests on her mom.
Condor takes flight.
Post for “Z” in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.
Our first day in Jamaica Plain for JP A to Z brings us to the Arnold Arboretum. A link in the chain of green spaces that make up Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the “Ahbs” is part Harvard University tree museum. Whether you’re studying trees (or the animals that inhabit them) or just going for a walk or bike ride, Arnold Arboretum is a place enjoyed by JP residents in all four seasons.