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The rebuilt museum boasts an innovative green roof, home to poppies, yellow tidytips and other native plants. (California Academy of Sciences)

California Academy of Sciences: Greening a Higher Ground

San Francisco's new science museum hosts its own rooftop ecosystem

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Greening a Higher Ground
San Francisco, California—The biggest green roof in the state, atop the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, is an undulating two-and-a-half-acre landscape of steep hills, wide meadows and nearly two million plants. Three stories above ground, it has the city's largest concentration of native vegetation. Planted with hardy, drought-tolerant flowering varieties such as beach strawberry and stonecrop, the roof attracts birds, bees and other pollinators like the Bay checkerspot, a threatened butterfly.

The museum, completely rebuilt on its original site over the past three years, reopened in September with a rain forest, planetarium, the world's deepest coral reef tank and rare African penguins. But one of the main attractions is likely to be the roof, among the most ambitious of its kind at a time when ecology-minded designers are increasingly turning urban rooftops into green spaces. Engineered with seven layers, including 2.6 million pounds of soil and plants that create a blanket of insulation, the roof, and other features, will reduce the energy required to heat and cool the museum by an estimated 35 percent. A plastic drainage layer retains enough rainwater for the vegetation, reducing by a few million gallons annually the amount of polluted runoff that ends up in the ecosystem. The seven hills (two with 60-degree slopes are the steepest ever built for a green roof) are fitted with skylights to filter natural light to the reef and rain forest below while venting warm air.

A visitor can't walk in the garden. But a rooftop observation deck lets you get close enough to hear crickets and see bees flit from flower to flower.

Much Ado About Dickinson
Amherst, Massachusetts—For decades after Emily Dickinson's death in 1886 at age 55, her family battled over her literary legacy. "My Verse Is Alive," an exhibition at the Emily Dickinson Museum through 2009, brings the feud to life.

Dickinson, who never married, left behind nearly 1,800 unpublished poems. The family entrusted them to her brother Austin's wife, Susan, but she was slow to edit them. It was Austin's mistress, a young neighbor named Mabel Loomis Todd, who first arranged to publish some of the poems, in 1890. The ensuing family dispute, fueled by the scandalous affair, created bitterness for generations. By the 1960s, Todd's heirs had transferred about half of the works to Amherst College and Dickinson's had given the rest to Harvard. Even "ordinary town residents seemed to take sides" in the flap, says museum director Jane Wald. "Strong loyalties persisted into the 1990s."

Founded in 2003, the museum includes the 1813 Federal-style residence where the poet lived and Austin's house next-door. At Emily's, pore over photographs, scrapbooks and replicas of manuscripts and letters. Here, too, is the typewriter Todd used to transcribe and edit the poems. It's haunting to visit where the poet worked—a corner bedroom as spare as her verse, reflecting perhaps the "solitude of space....that polar privacy" she wrote about in an 1855 poem.

KP for the King
Memphis, Tennessee—"Treat Presley like everybody else," one captain ordered when Elvis was drafted into the Army in 1958. So Presley, 23, scrubbed latrines and pulled kitchen patrol like other GI's.

"Private Presley," an exhibition at Graceland, Elvis' mansion, marks the 50th anniversary of the King's humbling two-year stint in the Army. Check out the singer's fatigues, footlocker, ration cards and other Army mementos. Photographs and films show him getting a buzz cut, hanging out in the barracks and driving a tank. The exhibition closes March 2010.

"People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up," Presley said upon his honorable discharge in 1960. "They thought I couldn't take it, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise."

Traffic Jam
Floyd, Virginia—Every Friday night in this tiny town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, folks from all around gather to play and hear gospel, bluegrass and other homegrown music at the country store and on the street. It's a must-stop on the Crooked Road, the state's 250-mile musical heritage trail.

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