Seek and You Shall Find

A species-identifying app, a path to the spirit world, and a really great cup of coffee: our favorites for this fall offer fresh air and self-care.

The Seek app was developed by iNaturalist, a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
The Seek app was developed by iNaturalist, a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.

THE SEEK APP

There are an estimated 8.7 million distinct species in the natural world; more than 80 percent have yet to be discovered. The numbers might be intimidating, but you don’t need a PhD in biology to learn about the wildlife all around you with the free Seek app. Developed by iNaturalist, a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, Seek has a simple conceit: point your phone camera at a living thing, and Seek will identify it by family or genus, if not down to its exact species. You are encouraged to snap a photo for your own use and to help Seek improve its wildlife-identification technology. The addictive experience of observing, classifying, and learning about new species induces a Pokémon Go–esque “catch ’em all” mentality—but here, you’re engaging in a real-life search for a desert willow, an alligator lizard, or a western bluebird rather than a virtual monster hunt. Use the app in your favorite national forest, an urban park, your backyard garden, or anywhere else your inner naturalist is inspired to roam. inaturalist.org

—Sam Schuman

GREAT SPIRIT PATH

As you’re driving along the San Francisco Bay shoreline in Menlo Park, the most noticeable sight is the gleaming cluster of office buildings that make up Facebook’s headquarters. Yet just across the highway is a hidden gem with an entirely different vibe: the Great Spirit Path, known to locals as Stonehenge by the Bay. Situated in Bedwell Bayfront Park, the path is a windswept, three-quarter-mile-long trail that intersects with 53 sculptures, fashioned from about 900 unhewn rocks and four stanzas of verse to form what its creator, local artist Susan Dunlap, calls a “stone poem.” The path “fuses both literature and sculpture,” an accompanying brochure notes. Each work along it corresponds to her verse as well as drawing inspiration from Native American pictographs. To better understand the sculptures, grab a brochure at the start of the trail (these run out quickly, but never fear: the path features wooden signs, too). Walking the route is a meditative experience, soundtracked by birdcalls and the rush of the wind, punctuated by rocky shapes with meanings like “flee your troubles,” “holding firm to harmony,” and “reaching out with supplication.” It’s a hopeful invitation—despite Big Tech’s proximity—to connect with nature.

—Sarah Stodder

NOMADIC COFFEE

Nineteenth-century French writer Honoré de Balzac is rumored to have consumed 50 demitasses of coffee a day—“Coffee is a great power in my life,” he wrote. While the French literati stuck to the Left Bank, their affinity for coffee, reading, and conversation did not: when Thomas Landry founded Bay Area roaster Nomadic Coffee in 2012, he was “inspired by the French Revolution, café society, bringing people together to articulate change.” In that spirit, each bag of Nomadic coffee comes with a poem, which changes week-to-week. Selections are curated by guest poetry editors, who are chosen through a collaboration with Oakland publisher Nomadic Press (their shared name is a coincidence); per their guidelines, the vast majority of the poets identify as LGBTQIA+ and/or people of color. (Past poets have included Roger Bonair-Agard, devorah major, and Alta contributor D.A. Powell.) Nomadic Coffee, which is worker-owned, launched a chapbook series in August: 10 poems by California poets, printed on loose-leaf paper and sold in (otherwise empty) coffee bags—Forrest Gander (see “Not Without,” page 13) edited volume 1. The roaster hopes to eventually establish cafés where patrons can engage in dialogue with one another as well as with experts in their respective fields. Until then, Nomadic Coffee is available online and in cafés and grocery stores around the Bay Area. nomadiccoffee.com

—Sam Schuman

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