By Friends’ Board Member and writer Matt Richtel This true story ends with me sobbing. In public. The story starts five weeks ago, on a Monday night, with a text. I was amid an exciting time, working on a front-page story for the New York Times (my day job) about a controversial new twist involving […]

Social Correspondence: the art of the personal letter

By Marcia Schneider Recently, the U.S. Postal Service announced its intention to discontinue Saturday mail delivery in August 2013. This is not surprising. In the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012, the Postal Service reported an all time record operating loss of nearly $16 billion, attributed in part to declining mail volume. This is not […]

Red-Hawks in Coffins

By Mary Ellen Hannibal When I first visited the Bay Area more than 25 years ago, my future husband, a San Francisco native, took me around to the sacred spots.  There was the site of the Mabuhay Gardens, several Chinese restaurants, Land’s End and Ocean Beach.  In Berkeley, there was the university itself, and the […]

The Writer’s Life

By Mary Ellen Hannibal Groping In post-modern fashion, Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Map and the Territory includes a character  named Michel Houellebecq.  The character Houellebecq comes on the scene well into the action of the book, which follows artist Jed Martin, a mostly disaffected guy who escapes his own anomie at several key junctures only […]

The Writer’s Life: Mob-sourcing extinction education (and fun!)

By Mary Ellen Hannibal Our own version of Charles Dickens’ famous opener to A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” might go something like this:  On the one hand, we are choking off our life-line to biodiversity, big time. If you really want to know […]

Powers of Observation

By Mary Ellen Hannibal David A. Owens is a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Graduate School of Business, and his whole gestalt is about helping companies make innovative products and manage themselves successfully. His book, Creative People Must Be Stopped, is a field guide to what goes wrong or gets in the way of progress. The […]

Books of Life

By Mary Ellen Hannibal “Research” means “to search intensively,” but that’s not the whole of it.  I love to research partly because it is an invitation for the mind to wander.  I’m sitting in the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture, preparing a story on cloud forests.  In 1993’s Biodiversity and Conservation of Neotropical Montane […]

The Writer’s Life: Bait and Switch

By Mary Ellen Hannibal Nature writing has tended to sort itself into two camps.  On the one hand are the descendants of Thoreau and Muir, those who observe nature’s beauties intertwined with the development of the sensibility recording them. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is one exemplar of the form.  On the other hand are clarion […]

Earthly Delights

By Mary Ellen Hannibal As in the Coldplay song currently cycling over KFOG’s radiowaves, paradise is usually a state of mind. But there’s a whole history of those who have taken the idea more literally, and Brook Wilensky-Lanford has provided a highly entertaining compendium of quests to locate this ideal in Paradise Lust:  Searching for […]


By Mary Ellen Hannibal Yesterday I talked to M. Sanjayan, Lead Scientist for the Nature Conservancy, about one of his mentors, Michael Soule.  Back in the 70s, Soule, who was Paul Ehrlich’s first graduate student and a population biologist, had the insight that landscapes increasingly fragmented by human incursion would sooner rather than later lead […]