A Supercontinent Led Me to this Ancient Greek Myth

Pangea—you’ve heard of it. The ancient supercontinent of the Late Triassic that slowly broke apart into the continents we have today. Geologists have successfully matched so many rock formations at the edges of so many modern continents that they’ve reverse-engineered the rock patchwork puzzle all the way back to Pangea, or “All Earth.”

A few hundred million years of continents drifting an inch a year.

While looking at reconstruction maps of these long-lost continents, I noticed that scientists had named the ancient oceans around them with names like the Rheic Ocean, the Iapetus Ocean and the Tethys Ocean.

Rhea. Iapetus. Tethys. These were names I’d not heard.

A little googling revealed that they were Titans from ancient Greek mythology, first named by a poet, Hesiod, around 700 B.C. in a work called Theogony, or “Birth of the Gods.”

A little unclear about who the Titans were exactly (other than evil giants in Hollywood movies) and what if anything they had to do with the Greek gods, I found a translation of Theogony and lo, realized I’d come upon the Greek genesis story, like Adam and Eve in the Bible.

The story of Gaia and her Titan children, the builders of the earth. At least in the Greek imagination.

Here, ten years later, Fall of the Titans is one of my favorite epic tales to perform. The character voices are wild. The scenes of origins are exciting and revelatory and fun to enact. And as always with my tales, I’ve composed a score for it on 12-string guitar.

Since it usually takes me ten years of telling such a story to be ready to record it, I’m ripe for the plucking now, and so will be recording Fall of the Titans live at Grendel’s Den on Harvard Square this coming Sunday, March 24th at 5 pm.

If you’d like to be part of this live recording event, grab a ticket and I’ll see you there!

TICKETS $15

 

AMBITION, JEALOUSY AND HIGH IRONY: Cronus the Titan

He’s Gaia’s last-born Titan child and talentless, his mother observes. All the other Titans build things—seas, mountains, river systems—but not Cronus. He simply wants to control everything others build.

By the time he’s grown, he’s insanely jealous of Ouranos, his father and Gaia’s husband.

Ouranos rules the universe well until he makes the mistake of angering Gaia by imprisoning a few of her monstrous offspring. Cyclopses and others. In her fury she promises Cronus he can become king if he topples his father from power.

He does it, becomes king and marries his sister Rhea, also, it seems, a talentless Titan. That is until she becomes pregnant and a prophecy is whispered: one of Cronus’s children will overthrow him.

In a rage of fear, he swallows down each of Rhea’s babies after they are born. Demeter. Hades. Hera. Poseidon.

The irony of the overthrower living in fear of being overthrown is not lost on Gaia, but she’s busy creating plants and animals, watching life thrive on her surface, and so let’s things stay as they are. At least for now…

———————–

Come listen to Fall of the Titans, my last show at Grendel’s Den on Harvard Square for this winter. Told with a full score on 12-string guitar, character voices and vocal effects, it’s a full evening of adult storytelling. Introduction on Celtic harp. No children please.

Fall of the Titans

March 24, 2019 at 5 pm

Grendel’s Den in Cambridge MA

Tickets are $15.

Beginning of the World: The Ancient Greek Version–Tomorrow Night!

Beginning of the World: The Ancient Greek Version–Tomorrow Night!

Master Storyteller and Musician Odds Bodkin performs FALL OF THE TITANS tomorrow night, Sunday Sept. 23, 2018, at the Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar in Nashua, NH. Showtime: 7 p.m. Ancient cosmological lore and Gaia Theory explored on Celtic harp with commentary, and then an epic tale for adults with a full score on 12-string guitar.

An evening’s spoken-word immersion into how Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Hades and the Gods of Olympus came to be, and how they deceived their parents–the Titans–and took over the world.

Tickets: $13

 

We Should Learn to Grow Coffee in America

We Should Learn to Grow Coffee in America

We’ve learned to grow wine grapes in the U.S., so why not coffee? Only two states, Hawaii and California, grow coffee currently, but surely there are slopes in the Smokies where coffee bushes would thrive. And at moist Pacific Northwest elevations. After all, the tropics are moving north at a great clip and coffee-friendly biomes should be opening up fairly soon in the U.S.

With a little directed science, could new coffee growing regions could be established across North America? In areas distant enough from coffee leaf rust, a leaf-killing fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, to remain uninfected? The rust turns the leaves yellow and photosynthesis stops. Of course, the coffee “cherries” can’t grow, or the seeds inside. Especially those seeds dried and roasted to produce Arabica beans.

So how would soon-to-be American coffee growers explore that business? Well, they’d need some directed science. What temperatures and atmospheric pressures do coffee bushes and Robusta trees like? What sorts of mountain slope soils? Preferred PH? How much rain, and when? Do they like morning light from the east, or afternoon light from the west, or does it matter much to them as long as they get enough sun? And the big question: is there enough sun in the first place, so far north of the equator?

What about greenhouses?

If were a wealthy coffee drinker, I’d invest in that research, just to find out.

 

–Odds Bodkin

16 TITANS: Reflections on Presenting at the Boulder Climate Symposium

A Fusion of Climate Science and Storytelling

 

Although I’m an artist, I’ve been an amateur student of environmental disruption since 1985.

Witness the two Virginia tulip poplars thriving in my New Hampshire back yard for a decade now, where I planted them as tiny saplings in hopes they’d survive our harsh winters. They’re now eight feet tall, growing in a place they shouldn’t be. When they mature, long after I’m gone, they’ll be seventy feet, taller than the red oaks and maples living there now. Thirty years ago, the first winter would have killed those little saplings, but the winters are no longer so harsh.

Why did I plant them? Call it worry. Call it knowing that in another thirty years my back yard may be too hot a world for the sugar maples I love so much. Call it knowing that if there’s a die-off of maples and oaks, at least these tulip trees from a southern biome will survive to help build a new forest for New Hampshire. Our state is 80% woods.

Curious why the seasons where I live have been shoved back a month, I set about studying climate dynamics and Gaia Theory in earnest about eight years ago. My early background studying science at Duke helped a lot. Biology. Statistics. Geology. Calculus. The sorts of intellectual tools that allow science to make sense, even to a non-scientist like me. Gaia Theory is a bundle of sciences that looks at earth as a vast, self-regulating organism. It combines every science, from chemistry and physics to botany, biology and geology. And all the disciplines in between. It’s not a religion.

Since for thirty years climatologists have been warning of what’s upon us now–– despite members of Congress holding snowballs in Washington, D.C. and asking, “What global warming? Hell, it just snowed.”––the message hasn’t gotten through to the American people. With hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in our recent past, however, it may be sinking in. Our local Caribbean paradise has been destroyed this fall. And there’s no guarantee that next year, more superstorms won’t come and scour off the last untouched islands. Not to mention more of the Gulf Coast.

Snowballs have never been the point in all this anyway. It’s not that it doesn’t still get cold. It’s simply the changing patterns of cold. And heat. And the same old things humans have known for millennia. Storms. Droughts. Thaws. Downpours. Heat waves. Forests. Deserts. Beaches. No, it’s the trend lines that the people who pay attention to climate are most worried about.

Ever boiled an egg? On medium heat, thin streams of bubbles begin to drift upward from the bottom past the egg. Keep the heat on and it will take a while, but eventually your egg will cook.

That consistent stream of bubbles reminds me of the Holocene Epoch, the last ten thousand years of climate history. A time during which a consistent rate of boil on earth provided monsoons and seasons, snowpacks and standard sea levels for our coastal cities. A time when rain fell and ancient glaciers melted, providing reliable river flows down to the coasts. A period that allowed human populations to grow from a few hundred thousand hunter/gatherers wandering around following game to the billions of us living in mega-cities today. Most of our greatest cities sit at the edge of the sea.

Now, put a lid on the pot and watch closely. Without the steam escaping the open top, the same amount of incoming heat is trapped and the bubbles become larger and less uniform. Your egg cooks much more quickly, too.

Of course, the metaphor is this: the pot is the earth and the lid is greenhouse gases. The bigger bubbles? More extreme weather events, since that’s all weather really is. Bubbles. Just big ones, drifting around under our thin skin of atmosphere, which, even though it seems so immense, is a closed system. A pot with a lid we ourselves have put on it.

With all this in my mind I went to Boulder this past mid-September with an idea I developed over the summer along with David Takahashi, a producer out there, and a committee of climate scientists who helped jury the concept. Called 16 TITANS, it’s a grassroots effort to turn climate scientists and activists into good storytellers. Good enough to explain to congressmen about snowballs in winter. Not by using graphs and data, but instead by turning that hard-to-grasp truth into stories anybody can understand.

A young woman scientist from NCAR in Boulder (National Center for Atmospheric Research) in one of my workshops described her work. She studies cloud cover and mentioned how water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas in and of itself. It traps heat close to earth’s surface, too. The problem is not just CO2 and methane. “How do I tell a story about that?” she asked.

As I was thinking, she mentioned an interesting theory about the planet Venus. Planetary scientists theorize that at some point in solar system history, Venus entrapped so much heat that its water seas boiled off, releasing even more vapor and leaving Venus in a permanent state of super-heating with a surface temperature of 864 degrees, hot enough to melt lead. This could potentially happen to earth, she worried, if we don’t get a handle on the heat feedback loop. The clouds she studied would play an increasing part in such an awful scenario.

“Begin your story on ancient Venus,” I said. “Place your listeners’ POV (point of view) at a beach, only the sea before you is boiling. The air is noxious and the heat is unbearable, and you’re a human. In the few seconds you have before you lose consciousness, the pain is horrific and you can smell ammonia everywhere. This is the end result you worry about. It’s scary and sad. So once you’ve described this atmospheric end game, then move to earth today, and tell your listeners that no planet is exempt from change like this. Not if you know physics and chemistry and how matter behaves in the presence of energy. It all depends upon heat feedback loops. Point to the trends. That gives you an opening to describe your research more fully.”

Other Coloradans in my workshop were worried about fracking, the first extractive industry ever to dot people’s back yards. They are wildly and desperately against it, mostly due to the fouling of groundwater. They presented another case in point.

“Do you know how amazingly creative a technology fracking is?” I asked. “Do you know everything about the process?” I’ve researched it quite a bit for books, and frankly marvel at the engineering involved. That’s wholly different from wanting to keep it out of my back yard, or my neighbor’s back yard (since that means it’s essentially under my back yard, too), poisoning my well water.

Even if you hate its effects, you can’t escape the elegance of the technology. And if you’re trying to keep it out of your own town, don’t demonize the people who invented and survive on it (wouldn’t it be nice, geopolitically, to no longer need oil from the Saudis?), but instead praise their ingenuity and be honest about it. That might do far more to convince them to sit down and compromise here and there than to scream in some intersectional crowd, holding up an obscene placard. In other words, honor thine enemy. Better than getting everybody’s backs up in a fury of competing economic visions. At least among Americans. Despite our warts, we’re still the greatest republic on earth.

And so the workshops went. People told stories and came to the conclusion that “climate deniers” have just been better storytellers than we Cassandras. Climate activists see the future and fear the long term. Deniers want to survive in the short term and live in luxury. Both groups see the short term. It’s in the news every day. But to imagine the long one, well, that takes a solidly skilled imagination.

Somewhere between those two perspectives, in a democracy, there has to be common ground.

More on the 16 TITANS project to come.

 

 

 

 

WHEN MOTHER NATURE DECLARES WAR: Houston and Hurricane Harvey

It’s simple. As the planet’s air warms it holds more water vapor. That means that when it rains, it pours. For three decades, climate scientists have tried to get their message out and much of the world has ignored them. They predicted storms just like Harvey, and here it is, along with Sandy in New York. But giving storms human names diminishes what they are. In truth, they’re weather monsters. They should be named Godzilla, or Hurricane Frankenstein.

Science can be hard to understand, but stories aren’t. If you want to help those climate scientists convince the public and learn to tell science-based stories about climate disruption yourself, come to Boulder, Colorado this September.

Living Beyond Hope and Fear: Warrior Principle, Climate Action, Boulder’s climate symposium, takes place Sept. 15-17 at Shambhala Center. This year there’s a new emphasis: climate storytelling. Join us.

Science Storytellers in Boulder

How do we reach the many Americans who, despite abundant facts everywhere, deny that man-made climate disruption is real and increasingly dangerous to humankind and earth’s creatures? Some believe it is God’s plan and there’s nothing to be done, nor should anything be done. Others are paid to call the science into question by business interests, despite the fact that the CIA and American military have been sounding the alarm for years. Our current president either believes that it’s not real or that adapting to the tipping-point nightmares in our near future can be done with sea walls and immigration walls.

The national conversation about climate we’re having today may well be the most important one we Americans have this decade, and to help with that, I’ll be journeying to Boulder, Colorado to join others this coming mid-September to lend storytelling skills to climate scientists and activists.

Composed of measurements and numbers as much of science is, it can be lost in the noise of entertainments we Americans so love. Climate stories, however, written and spoken by growing numbers of informed citizens, have a chance to break through to an inattentive public.

Living Beyond Hope and Fear: Warrior Principle, Climate Action Symposium takes place Sept. 15-17 2017 at the Shambhala Center in Boulder.

Saturday night I’ll be performing Gaia: Fall of the Titans, the Greek creation myth, followed up with a StoryScience presentation.

Saturday morning and afternoon I’ll be offering a special DOOR TO IMAGINATION: HOW TO AWAKEN YOUR INNER STORYTELLER workshop for climate scientists and activists.

Join us for this important conversation. You can register and purchase tickets for the Symposium here.

Please join us!

 

Odds Bodkin

 

iPhone Heat Alert from Odds Bodkin/For Folks Under the Heat Dome

Just outside in New Hampshire. In the 70’s. Left iPhone on the picnic table in the direct sun. Worked a while, picked up the phone and the screen read “Emergency” in red with a thermometer’s red line three quarters of the way up. Never saw this before. Took it inside and stuck in the fridge. It survived and is playing “On Point” on NPR at the moment. Host Tom Ashbrook is reporting on today’s heat dome in the Southwest and climate change in general.

Maybe everybody in the Southwest has learned this long ago, but if you haven’t, keep your iPhone in your pocket. Unless, of course, even your pocket gets too hot.

https://www.wbur.org/

 

Kids in the Treetops

I was about eighty feet in the sky. Up here, the tulip tree’s two giant trunks, which split off from each other about twelve feet from the ground from a single bole, were only a couple of inches thick, still growing. Around me were big, mitten-shaped leaves and bursting tulips, orange and green. Not really tulips as you might know them, but flowers anyway, the amazing blooms of liriodendron tulipifera, a term I didn’t learn until much later. At the moment I was nine years old, having climbed my favorite tree with Andy McKemie, a kid my age. This was Virginia in 1962.

 
We both knew not to climb any higher. This was the perfect place to rock the two treetops, flexible as they were this high up. The tulip tree towered above all others in the woods by the creek. We could see the old house on the hilltop in its abandoned, dilapidated glory. The meadows, too. At least today, the feral horses that lived in the untended barn and grazed the grass around the collapsed chicken coops weren’t chasing us off. In the old house we’d found blue ribbons from horse races long ago. Somebody had left the property in a sad hurry. I’ve never looked into who the family was.

 
My parents had no idea I’d learned to do this. All we kids had. There were no limbs close to the ground around the trunk in the clearing. To get up there, we tossed a rope tied around a thick stick over the lowest bough, sat on it and hauled ourselves up. From there, once we’d pulled up the rope so no kids from Jefferson Manor could follow us, it was an easy climb along the dusty, evenly distributed limbs to the top of the tulip tree.

 
Andy’s perch on the twin crown was about ten feet from mine. “You ready?” I probably said, since we both knew what we were about to do. He probably said, “Sure,” and we both pulled back, bending our treetops away from each other, then, like kids do on swings, we rocked forward, working our swings to eventually pass each other, getting those green twin treetops to bend back and forth.

 
By the time we were done with this game, the exhilaration was always worth the climb. I guess if someone had had a drone with a camera, hovering above us, it would have captured two little boys, laughing and swinging two treetops past each other in deep arcs, better than a ride at the carnival. Wind. Light. Trust in the tree and in our hands.

 
The reason I bring up this true story is that here in Bradford, New Hampshire, far north of their normal range, I’ve planted two tulip trees my sister Lindsay gave me as tiny saplings four years ago in my back yard. She lives in Maryland. They’re budding again, one of them now a head taller than me.

 
Hopefully, long after I’m gone, they’ll be eighty feet tall, too, helping to replace the forest of red and white oaks, pines and sugar maples that currently surround my home. The poplars have survived thus far. The climate’s changing. Remember the chestnuts. Things come and go.