Tag Archives: Chattanooga

Adventures in Native Gardening

The humidity of summer is slowly pushing spring out of Chattanooga these days. But before the seasons change, I wanted to share our recent adventures in gardening and landscaping (published in OnEarth).

As recent New Yorkers and Tennessee transplants, we really didn’t know that much about plants when we started to think about our yard, the blank slate. As a graduate student in Indiana and later on our front porch in Brooklyn, I had tried my hand at growing herbs and tomatoes. And while I made plenty of batches of basil pesto over the years, my tomatoes weren’t always very productive. And other than marigolds or a few other potted outdoor plants, I never really invested the time and effort in making green things grow.

But now that we have a permanent home, we’re making the effort. I spent a lot of time reading up on plants, particularly native species. I spent a day at a native plant symposium in March, and we’ve put a couple of weekends of blood, sweat, sore muscles, and blisters into our new yard.

I still hope to put in a raised bed with vegetables and herbs, but right now I have those in pots on our back deck. This year we’re all about the wildflowers, and I can’t wait to see if the bees and birds show up this summer.

More photos in my story for OnEarth.


Strings of Collaboration

Before I became a scientist, I was a musician. I started piano lessons when I was six, despite some warnings to my parents that I was too young. My mother was sick of hearing me ask to learn, so she caved in and signed me up for weekly lessons. That I loved. Sadly, I rarely play today, but Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms are old friends whom I love to visit.

Last year, we discovered Chattanooga’s String Theory chamber music series at the Hunter Museum of Art. My science geek self can’t help but love the name, and the schedule is top notch. World class musicians who I rarely could have afforded to hear in New York City come to my local art museum and play chamber music for sold out audiences. (I worry about the age of those audiences– mostly men and women a generation older than I am. I’d like to hope the classical music lovers my age are busy raising a new generation, but most of the data out there suggests that interest in classical music has waned dramatically.)

In addition to the sounds that weave together seamlessly, I’m fascinated by the relationships in chamber groups. There are subtle signals, cues, movements, the way that individuals play off of each other. Musicians learn and even intuit each other’s ticks. And it’s hardly surprising that chamber music groups often include people with close personal as well as professional relationships. In December, the String Theory concert featured sisters Ani and Ida Kavafian, and Ida’s husband Steven Tenenbom.

I experienced this subtlety when I played chamber music in my teens. Though I loved to play the piano, I disliked performing solo. Nerves got the better of me at recitals, and though working toward that performance goal was satisfying in certain ways, I rarely came out of a recital or performance feeling happy with the outcome. Then I began taking lessons from Bernice Maskin, a piano teacher who had made it her mission to create opportunities for kids to play chamber music. She knew all the local string teachers in my hometown, and she’d pull together trios, quartets and quintets, based on ages, playing level, and even existing friendships if she knew of them.

Chamber music is the essence of teamwork, where every member of the group contributes a critical component of the tapestry. Unlike an orchestra or concert band, where a weak link can sometimes go unnoticed, every member in a chamber group is vital, essential, a lifeline of the fabric as a whole. Playing in a group wasn’t easier, but it taught me to collaborate. Following a great musical plan, I learned when to charge forward and show off my part and when to dial back and let the cello, violin, or clarinet take the lead. If I faltered, I had to adjust, and my fellow players would adjust along with me. When they had problems, I covered as best I could. The music is both simple and delightfully complex as is the lesson. Keep going, don’t stop, be flexible, and enjoy the ride.

Those lessons have extended far beyond the piano bench, to the chemistry lab and the writing desk. Great relationships and collaboration make good work much sweeter.

Image Credit: Phil Ortenau via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)


Georgia’s quest for a sip of the Tennessee river

State lines bring out natural rivalries. New Yorkers like to pick on New Jersey, and when I lived in Indiana, Kentucky seemed to be the butt of most regional jokes. But here in Tennessee the foe is Georgia, and the scuffle may go to court. Over water.

Not just any water, mind you. We’re talking about the mighty Tennessee river, the waterway that writhes its way through the center of Chattanooga, my fair city. The state of Georgia is prepared to sue Tennessee for a chance to tap the river for Atlanta just 100 miles southeast.

It’s not a new idea, and Georgia is already in a longstanding legal feud with Alabama and Florida  for related reasons.

Creeks and streams in North Georgia feed in to the Tennessee river watershed, but the river itself skirts the boundaries of the Peach State, barely missing its northwest corner before dipping south into Alabama and even a tiny corner of Mississippi before turning north toward the Ohio River. (Eastern water rights mean that they can’t tap it because it doesn’t flow through the state.) I can see why Georgia lawmakers might think that the river is taunting them. Continue reading Georgia’s quest for a sip of the Tennessee river