On April 23, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., meet authors Gary Raham and Elizabeth Ervin Blankenheim at the Sanderosa Art Gallery in Laporte as they share their Earth Day favorites. Here is a Q&A with the authors, about their work.
Q&A with author Gary Raham
What is Earth Through the Ages about at the Sanderosa Art Gallery?
Earth through the ages will be a unique and fun way to celebrate the planet we all live on. As a biology professor fresh out of the University of Michigan in 1969, I remember the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. I was able to share with my students some of my excitement about the interconnectedness of all life on planet Earth. Subsequently, due to a growing interest in paleobiology – the study of mineralized (fossil) creatures that once lived on Earth eons ago – I learned something about how the Earth changed over the over time. Nature forces me to draw her portraits and tell her stories. On April 23 at the Sanderosa Art Gallery in LaPorte, I plan to share both my writings and illustrations and chat with others fascinated by nature – its past, present, and even imagined future. (I write both science fact and science fiction.) I’ll be sharing the stage with a fantastic geologist/educator, Elisabeth Ervin-Blankenheim. It will help me tell some of Earth’s many stories. From 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., people can come and ask us questions, see real fossils, and enjoy the amazing collection of art (of all kinds) at the gallery.
What are your books about?
A book of which I am very proud is Confessions of a Time Traveler. This is a compilation of some of my best work from the North Forty News and Colorado Gardener magazine (among others). I plan to read about the fascinating scientist, Lynn Margulis, and her collaboration with James Lovelock to create the “Gaia Hypothesis”. (Gaia is the Greek word for Earth.) Come learn more!
I also like to write science fiction. In my tongue-in-cheek “Dead Genius” trilogy, Gaia even becomes a character in the book. The title of the most recent book—A twice-dead genie behaving with misunderstood abominations– gives you an idea of the tone of the work. If you like reading Kurt Vonnegut’s SF, you’ll probably like mine. AND, you can see the original artwork I created for the covers.
Why do you write both science fact and science fiction?
The first paperback I bought when I was ten was science fiction – an ACE Double novel for anyone old enough to remember (they cost $0.35). Science fiction helped me get interested in science. I think that may be true for generations to come. Science unlocks the secrets of nature. SF writers try to anticipate what might happen next, in exciting ways, of course.
I understand that you and Elisabeth Ervin-Blankenheim, the other author of the event, worked together. How did it happen?
Elisabeth (Bets) and I are interested in paleontology. She met me at a WIPS symposium where some of my works were exhibited. Later, while she was writing her book, she remembered me. I spent much of the pandemic year of 2020 having fun drawing illustrations for his book, The Song of the Earth, and some prehistoric horses for the materials she created for her classes. Come see us both on April 23!
Q&A with author Elisabeth Ervin Blankenheim
What inspired you to write Song of the Earth?
The inspiration for Song of the Earth was my Environmental Geology students at Front Range Community College, Larimer Campus. Many of them are not majors, taking my course for science credits, but they loved learning geology and wanted to learn more by the end of the course. So I wrote this book for them and for those who want to know more about the Earth, its history, how it works, and its implications for the future, especially in light of the climate crisis.
What was the best part of writing the book?
I loved making this book because it shares my passion for geology as a holistic framework through which to view the Earth. Writing it brought me back to the foundations of modern geology, from the 17and Enlightenment in Europe in the 20anddiscovery in the last century of plate tectonics. Finding and reading the original papers and tracing how early scientists discovered the basic principles of geology was exhilarating. The process brought me back to why I love geology.
What do you most want students to take away from your lessons?
After completing my classes, I want my students to understand how science as a whole works and how geology in particular is done; the starts and stops, the arguments and doubts, and even the mess of scientific discovery. It is also essential for students to have the skills to evaluate sources and information for credibility. Additionally, I hope to instill in my students an understanding of geology as the context of life on the planet. Finally, I encourage my students to take a long-term view through the biography of the Earth, which gives an appreciation of the current state of the planet and possible solutions for the future.
What other projects are underway?
I am finishing my doctorate. in pedagogical studies, focusing on scientific and geological culture. I plan to publish several articles from my thesis, one of which is a review of the literature on the teaching of geological time currently, submitted to the Journal of Geoscience Education. I will also be posting a toolkit of experiential labs for instructors and professors to give to their students. For example, several labs focus on 3D-printed fossil teeth (from the ancestors of horses and the fossil shark Megalodon), examining different aspects of animals over geologic time. Finally, students conclude the labs with scientific narrative writing exercises to integrate what they have learned.
More broadly, I am working on a second book entitled Calamities: Disasters and catastrophes through geologic time. Calamities focuses on geological catastrophes and disasters across Earth’s vast biography. The book is somewhat ironic because, in addition to extinctions and catastrophes, geological processes can and do operate slowly over thousands, millions, and billions of years. It is a work of narrative non-fiction written for mature audiences and anyone else who might appreciate gripping tales of devastation over time. They are relayed in a storytelling style to bring readers back to the scene of the particular calamity. Stunning color images and illustrations (by RG Raham) complement and further dimension the stories with parallels drawn from specific disasters with implications for the Earth today.
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