Book Review: The Synesthesia Activity Book

Synesth_CoverThe Synesthesia Activity Book, by Dior-Ian Grey, Feaux•Afield Guides (www.feauxafieldguides.com), 2016, 41 pages, $11.95

As the popularity of adult coloring books continues to grow, so too has the niche market catering to increasingly smaller circles of consumers (like hipsters and neck-beard enthusiasts). The Synesthesia Activity Book – a trendy coloring book that marks Feaux•Afield Guides‘ recent foray into the boutique clinical neurology market – panders to the 1 in 2,000 people suspected of having synesthesia. For synesthetes – those that experience a neurological phenomenon in their everyday lives that involves an overlap or ‘cross-talk’ of the five senses (touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing) – the clockwork is orange, The Green Mile describes their daily commute, and oranges are the new black.

Simply put, synesthesia (also, synaesthesia) is a “union of the senses,” or deferring to a slightly more clinical definition, when “stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an automatic and involuntary experience in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” It means seeing clouds and involuntarily smelling bananas or wet dog; hearing the word ‘Kevin’ and tasting baby powder; or experiencing the calendar or days of the week in colors. Synesthesia is bath salts without the socially-awkward side effect, “user may experience flesh-eating-zombie urges.”

The list of synesthetes that have walked among us may surprise you: Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who experienced colors when speaking or reading letters and words; American composer, pianist, and bandleader Duke Ellington, who experienced colors when he made music; and former professional American road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong, who experimented with doping when faced with ordinariness. Armstrong excluded (it’s true, Lance is no more a synesthete than he is an athlete [assthlete??] – I just felt like kicking him while he’s down), the Nabokovs and Ellingtons of the world tend to share the stage with other prodigies like artist Vincent Van Gogh, physicist Richard Feynman, inventor Nikola Tesla, and singer/songwriters Tori Amos, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and Kanye West.

Knowing that genius walks among us in synesthete shoes, the normal-Normans and -Nancy’s of the world should be asking themselves, “Why should synesthetes have all the fun?” If your clockwork is as gray as your commute, why should you settle for coloring by numbers when you can number by colors? Enter The Synesthesia Activity Book, whose every page turns those fifty shades of gray into scarlet letters.

Ranging from easy to difficult, this awe-perspiring book’s activities range from the traditional draw-a-line-between-this-and-that to the more challenging complete-the-picture, all with a synesthetic twist. When you are drawing a line, you are identifying the association between a word (“chainsaw”) and it’s corresponding taste (“raw eggs”), the ‘lexical-gustatory’ (word to taste) form of synesthesia. Likewise, to complete the hidden picture, you need only read a string of numbers and apply the subsequent lines that automatically and involuntarily appear in your mind’s eye to the partial picture (a medieval wizard’s hat and sword) using the mind-boggling ‘number form’ (numbers to spatial placement) type of synesthesia. My personal favorite is the number by color page, in which a fraternity sofa magically appears out of a scribble of lines as you replace each colored dot with its corresponding number to connect the dots and reveal the hidden picture.

 

Despite a recent report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse concerning a surge in the abuse of pairing The Synesthesia Activity Book with Mr. Sketch Scented Markers™, a combination known as “sketching” that purportedly results in hallucinogenic episodes that put the fear and loathing in Las Vegas, Feaux•Afield Guides plans to begin shipping additional titles in early April the first chance they get, including Sticker Stencils, Scratch & Sniff Temporary Tattoos, and The Dyslexic’s Ulitmate Wrod Saerch Pzuzsel.

 

For a limited time, these six introductory coloring pages are available for download as .pdfs – get yours today.

{APRIL FOOLS DAY POST 2015}

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London Zoo Turtle Exhibit Explores Turtles In the Knife Kitchen

In a move meant to make manifest the real dangers turtles face in the wild today, the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) London Zoo unveiled their new Annam leaf turtle (Mauremys annamensis) exhibit last year. But to tell the raw story behind this turtle’s Critically Endangered status, ZSL bypassed the traditional bucolic exhibit depicting turtles in the lowland wetlands characteristic of Vietnam in lieu of a tell-tale tableau that reveals where they more frequently end up: in a traditional Vietnamese kitchen. The resulting still life of still-live turtles shows the stark realities of the wildlife trade, tapping into the grim fate these and other Asian turtles face from overhunting for meat, not to mention traditional medicine and the pet trade.

Photo by: Ben Tapley/ZSL

The ZSL’s all-too-real exhibit takes advantage of everything and the kitchen sink to bring this restaurant kitchen to life. The only thing more macabre than the axeman’s butchering knife, pendant woks, and bubbling soup pot are the kitchen sink itself and the butcher’s block doing double duty as aquarium and basking platform.

According to Ben Tapley, team leader of the Reptile House at ZSL London Zoo,  “We’ve gone to town on the new Annam leaf turtle exhibit here at ZSL London Zoo, as we want our visitors to really understand the threats facing these animals. Providing a great habitat for these beautiful turtles, with water for them to swim in and a secluded nesting area hidden behind a carefully positioned wok, the creative exhibit tells a serious story.”

Knowing that Asian turtles like the Annam leaf turtle and Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), the world’s rarest freshwater turtle, are close to extinction, perhaps it’s time more zoological institutions explore this morbid mode of storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rare Pond Species Survey Techniques Workshop 2016

RarePond2014This spring, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and The Wildlife Project are back at it, sponsoring the Rare Pond Species Survey Techniques Workshop, March 19-20, 2016 at the Laguna Environmental Center, Santa Rosa, CA. Workshop instructors Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez will cover aquatic survey techniques for California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), California red-legged frog (Rana draytoni), and western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata). After-hours field trips will provide hands-on experience with all three species, including dip net sampling, spotlight surveys, and visual encounter and trapping.

Dave and Jeff, whom I’ve known for years, are experienced herpetologists who have logged inestimable hours in the field between them studying these species. Their knowledge is priceless, but the workshop worth every penny.

You can learn more about the workshop by downloading the informational flyer or visiting the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation website.

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Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle: The Death of a Legend

The annals and magazine of natural history : zoology, botany, anSince January 19th, when rumors about the death of the Hoàn Kiếm Turtle first surfaced, the Turtle Survival Alliance has now confirmed that indeed the lone Swinhoe’s (or Yangtze) soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) that resided in Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hanoi, Vietnam, was found floating dead in the lake Tuesday. The passing of this individual makes the situation even more dire for the remaining three turtles, which together represent the last and only known individuals in existence of this, the world’s rarest freshwater turtle.

The Swinhoe’s softshell turtle had long been famous for it role in Vietnamese legend as the fabled Sword Lake Turtle that inhabited Hoàn Kiếm Lake. Of the handful of Swinhoe’s softshell turtles known to scientists to exist in the wild or captivity in recent years, five had died since the 1990s, leaving only four remaining: one in Hoàn Kiếm Lake, one in the wild in Đồng Mỏ Lake west of Hanoi, and two in captivity, the latter now both part of the Suzhou Zoo’s captive breeding program.

Since 2008, when the Changsha Zoo’s female, “China Girl,” was relocated to Suzhou, scientists at Suzhou Zoo have undertaken a captive breeding program with their older male turtle. But despite repeated bouts of courtship displays and mating between the pair in the years since, the resulting eggs have failed to hatch.

With the passing of this lonely, legendary turtle, it is perhaps fitting to remember it today more than ever through the legend that made it a cornerstone of Vietnamese mythology, a fairytale hero to Vietnamese schoolchildren, and an omen of good luck to all who were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the turtle surfacing in Hoàn Kiếm Lake over the years.

The following retelling is from the 2012 article I prepared on the history and natural history of this species in the journal Bibliotheca Herpetologica, and is excerpted here, below (a citation and link to the full article are provided below).

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The Legend of the Sword Lake Turtle

“In the six-hundred years since the Dragon King first guided the farmer king to victory, the legend of the Sword Lake Turtle has evolved in the telling. The heart of this legend roughly holds true to the historical record. Between 1418 and 1426, after enduring years of violent occupation under an invading force of the Chinese Ming, the farmer Lê Lợi raised an army of 500 volunteer soldiers – the Lam Son army – to free their country. Although Lê Lợi’s guerilla tactics demoralized and chipped away at the invader’s forces, the Ming occupation persisted (Trang 2006). It is here that the lines between legend and history blur.

As retold by Minh Trang in “Sự Tích Hồ Gươm (The Legend of Sword Lake)” (Trang 2006; see also Asian Turtle Conservation Network 2008), legend has it the Dragon King – witnessing from his underwater palace the Lam Son army’s struggle – sent forth the Golden Turtle (referred to as the “Golden Tortoise” in Trang 2006) to deliver a magical sword blade to Lê Lợi. Whether by design or by accident (here the legend is unclear on all counts), this blade was delivered, not to Lê Lợi, but to a fisherman, Lê Thận. Lê Thận cast his net three times, each time entangling it in the sword blade. It wasn’t until the third cast that Lê Thận, beguiled by the reappearing blade, tucked it in his belt and returned home. Soon thereafter, Lê Thận joined Lê Lợi’s resistance army.

One night, after stopping by Lê Thận’s quarters to visit, Lê Lợi noticed the blade on the wall, which began to glow in his presence. Inspecting the blade, Lê Lợi saw the radiance emanated from two words etched on the blade: “Thuận Thiên” (“Heaven Approves” or “The Will of Heaven”). Several days later, during a retreat of Lê Lợi’s guerilla army before an anticipated Ming attack, the farmer king again saw a strange glow – this time from the canopy of an ancient banyan tree. Upon closer inspection, Lê Lợi saw that it was a sword hilt decorated in gems and etched with the same divine words: “Thuận Thiên.”

When Lê Lợi and Lê Thận next crossed paths, Lê Lợi asked to see the blade; the blade and hilt were a perfect fit. Seeing this as a sign from heaven, Lê Thận knelt before Lê Lợi, bestowed him the sword, and swore his allegiance to the farmer king that he might save their people and their homeland (Trang 2006).

As word of Lê Lợi’s magical sword spread, his Lam Son army grew (Trang 2006, Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008). Backed by a growing resistance some 350,000 soldiers strong, reinforced with horses and elephants, and – by legend’s score – armed with the magical sword that made Lê Lợi grow tall and gave him the strength of many men (Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008), Lê Lợi destroyed the Ming forces and led his people to victory. After years of oppression, in 1427 the Chinese recognized the Vietnamese people’s independence. One year later, Lê Lợi was declared king under the title Lê Thái Tổ, founder of the Lê Dynasty (Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008).

Not long after Lê Lợi became king, he was touring Lục Thuy (“Green Water”) Lake when the Golden Turtle emerged from the waters to retrieve the divine sword. By some accounts, the Golden Turtle asked for the sword’s return and Lê Lợi respectfully complied (Trang 2006); by others the messenger instead plucked it from Lê Lợi’s belt, inciting the king to retrieve it (Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008). In the end, however, Lê Lợi acknowledged the sword’s return to the Dragon King and in tribute, renamed the waters Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, “The Lake of the Returned Sword” (Trang 2006, Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008)” (Bettelheim 2012).

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Full Citation: Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2012. Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei): The Legendary Sword Lake Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 10(1): p 4-20.

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California Tiger Salamander Terrestrial Ecology Workshop 2016

CTS_TerrestrialThis spring, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and The Wildlife Project are sponsoring the California Tiger Salamander Terrestrial Ecology Workshop, March 18, 2016 at the Laguna Environmental Center, Santa Rosa, CA. Workshop instructors Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez will cover the terrestrial ecology, land use management, and regulations of the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), as well as a review of the species’  biology, upland habitat use, and migration patterns; the theory and design of roadway under-crossings; pitfall trap arrays design; Agency-approved survey protocols; and implementing and monitoring land use management practices. The afternoon will consist of field trips that will provide training and hands-on experience. A pitfall trap and fence array will be constructed by attendees. Three CTS tunnel systems along roadways will be visited and discussed. Instructors for this workshop include Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez. An afternoon field trip will provide training and hands-on experience with the species, as well as pitfall trap array construction and a visit to three roadway under-crossings.

You can learn more about the workshop by downloading the informational flyer or visiting the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

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