The image at left is the box I used to hold my notes that became my first book, American Metallic Fabric Company: 100 years of Wire Weaving on Cape Cod. It's not the full pile of materials I used - I had at least one box of original journals from the late 1800's and another of unrelated patents. And that doesn't count the separate box of family photos that I scanned and used. Nor does it count the countless bits and bytes that I created in my "cloud" account as I pulled together first a presentation and then, later, the manuscript. To the right is my pile of materials that are the background for my next book - something I started a while ago that will chronicle my experiences in the world of Ice Hockey. A much more formidable pile. A much more intimidating (to me) project. And a lot more primary source material - it is my life after all and I was a pack rat for pictures and rosters and team knick-knacks that will, I hope, help me re-capture those moments.
I mention this because I've been thinking a lot about primary sources and how writers have to gather, and research, and write, and re-evalute, and then repeat (endlessly) until the publication is really "born." Over the past few weeks Polar Bears International and Ed Struzik released important work that represent, in PBI"s case, years of research. Struzik's article about a different research station included the uncomfortable datapoint, "There are an estimated 1,400 gigatons of carbon frozen in permafrost, making the Arctic one of the largest carbon sinks in the world." I remember reading, a few years back, that melting permafrost could release more carbon - rapidly accelerating the warming already occurring, and, potentially, releasing harmful pathogens long held dormant. I'm really not looking forward to the Melting Mammoth Virus (or whatever it gets called)!
PBI released Hoarding Behavior in Polar Bears, documenting the food storing behaviors of 19 polar bears out of 100's observed over 45 years. Though not a widely reported behavior it was a triumph that the behavior could be written about at all and a testament to the life work of Dr. Ian Stirling. His colleague, Dr. Andrew Derocher (@AEDerocher), also tweeted about a new Baffin Bay #polarbear paper where the key findings included: that bears spend 30 days more on land in the 2000's compared to 1990's; body condition declined for all bears; and twin litters are disappearing. Observing arctic animals and ecosystems in what is one of the most challenging environments on earth makes for slow knowledge publication. Add to that the cacophony of multiple countries and independent organizations doing the original research and then trying to cooperate and share data across the decades and you get complex primary material for *any* publication.
Yet it's this type of research that we need the most. If not to help in the current #climatechange debate or even to help my beloved #polarbears, then at the very least to serve as a record upon which future study can be based. That's my optimism talking. And probably my long career in libraries. A much bleaker version is that it documents that someone(s) during this time in human history saw, identified and recorded the problems that so many others are choosing to ignore. That's what drives me nuts....if we collectively ignore, we can't collectively solve. Anything.
I've taken some solace in Charlie Mackesy's best selling book, The Boy, the Mole, The Fox and The Horse. It's an amazing work of illustrations enhancing thoughtful insights into our relationship with others and the world. One of the great quotes from the book is, "Sometimes, all you hear about is the hate, but there is more love in this world that you can possibly imagine."
"The Horse asks the boy, " What do you want to be when you grow up?"
To which the boy responds, "Kind."
Let's keep doing good research. Let's keep supporting it. Let's keep writing and publishing to make sure that somehow, someday our ancestors (I remain hopefully that there will be some) will know we cared and we tried.
And to each other as long as we are here? Let's be sure we are kind.