On Paradise Pond

The back-to-school season finds me once again at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. My appointment as the Joan Leiman Jacobson Visiting Nonfiction Writer was supposed to end after the 2015 spring term, but, most fortunately for me, I've been asked back for a third academic year. In addition to the interaction with truly motivated students, I enjoy my friendships with a few faculty members and the physical beauty of the campus, including Paradise Pond. The pond, which is really a dammed section of the Mill River, got its name from Jenny Lind, who sang at Northampton's Old First Church in 1851 (before the college existed) and declared the village "the paradise of America." A path that runs from campus around the pond and along a good stretch of the river provides the ideal hour-long daily walk.

The incoming first-year students have been asked to read The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, a book I assigned as required reading for my science-writing class last semester. It takes a grim view from the future at the current failure of nations to address the consequences of climate change.

I read a few books myself this summer, including Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. All three will come up in conversation in this year's classes, as they offer, respectively, a fictionalized account of organisms affected by climate change, a scientist's appreciation of a misunderstood mollusk, and the bonds between humans and other animals.

I spent most of May through August writing my own book about the female "computers" of the Harvard College Observatory, The Glass Universe, which I hope to finish by the publisher's November deadline. To keep the project moving forward through the summer, I turned down an invitation to attend a week-long conference on European Women in Mathematics, convened at a palazzo in Cortona, Italy, where I would be right now had I agreed to go.

But I'm happy to be at my work, and to be here, on Paradise Pond.