The letter from the editor kicks off each issue and helps set the tone for the magazine. Over the next few issues, members of the S&H team will be writing the letter. In this issue, our Creative Director Sandra Salamony explores the world of the birds and the bees.
You may have noticed that lately the job of writing this letter has been passed around to members of the S&H team. This lets our readers get to know the people behind the magazine—and makes my life easier. This issue’s letter is penned by our creative director Sandra Salamony. Every editorial page in this magazine benefited from her craftsmanship and artistry. —BEN NUSSBAUM
Scouting art is my favorite job at S&H, and I’m so happy to have Mary Alayne Thomas as our featured artist in this issue (interview on page 8). The women in her paintings (peppered throughout the issue) are clearly one with flora and fauna—harmonious, empathetic equals. I like to imagine the story behind each artwork; what are they saying to each other?
If only we could talk to animals!
Like the song says, first we must “learn their languages.”
Recently I completed a naturalist certificate and became captivated by birding by ear. In classes we listened to bird calls and songs, learned a vocabulary to describe them, and took early morning bird walks to listen first, look second.
First we met familiar birds, including robins (“cheer up! cheerio! cheerily!”—a perfect end-of- winter message to us!), the American Goldfinch (“po-ta-to chip!”), chickadees, cardinals, bluebirds, and discontented sounding meadowlarks.
On the walks, our new friends were everywhere: Ovenbirds hid in ground cover (“teacher, teacher, teacher!”), white-throated sparrows flew low across our trail (“pure, sweet Canada-Canada-Canada!”), and a raven escorted me from the preserve (“croak-croak- croak”). Their songs and calls, buzzes and chirps impress potential mates, warn rivals and trespassers, and establish territory. And some ornithologists speculate these cheerful noises are sometimes pure expressions of bird joy.
More challenging were the many birds that sound like robins, including “a robin on steroids” (scarlet tanager) and “a robin with singing lessons” (rose-breasted grosbeak). As usual: The more you know, the more you know how little you know! If you’re interested in eavesdropping on our flighty friends, there are many apps available to get you started. I like Larkwire and the Cornell Lab’s Merlin Bird ID.
It’s well-known that bees have many ways to communicate with their hivemates, including pheromones and the “waggle dance.” Last year, I discovered new pals the leaf-cutter bees in my garden: “genial, efficient, and tireless,” according to the Honeybee Conservancy. I was certain I could identify leafcutters, bumblebees, and honeybees by their appearance, mood, and varied pollen-collecting methods … then I discovered that there are around 4,000 species of bees in the U.S. alone. (It’s the robin song all over again!) To learn about becoming a good host for bees and other pollinators, follow the Xerces Society (xerces.org).
If we can’t yet talk to the animals, at least we can advocate for them. Animal chaplain Sarah Bowen lists ways we can become true partners to them all (24). Don’t forget that people are animals too: Artist Meera Lee Patel muses on nurturing the seeds of friendship on page 80.
The issue is also filled with some wonderful stories on healing, from beautiful ritual baths (18) to deep healing for both ourselves and our ancestors (32 and 36!). And, on creativity: If you are broken down on the road to creative growth, Dari Luna is your AAA (44).
Will we one day speak rhinoceros? Of courserous!