- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Twenty years ago, Eric Utne founded a magazine, the Utne Reader, that saved people vast amounts of time by compiling articles from all over the publishing world. Now, Mr. Utne has a new publishing venture, and time is still very much on his mind.

On the face of it, Mr. Utne’s Urban Almanac is simply a calendar, but Mr. Utne insists it is much more. Modeled after Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, which mixed witty sayings with practical information on planting crops and astronomical information, Mr. Utne hopes to offer a similarly appealing mix of fun and practicality to today’s urban dwellers.

His goal, however, goes far beyond helping people manage their time. Mr. Utne said he wants to “change people’s relationship to time” by helping them get more closely in tune with the rhythms of nature.

“The more urban we become, the more we pine for nature,” Mr. Utne said. “That’s natural and right.”

Mr. Utne said the problem of getting urbanites back in touch with nature has weighed on him for some time. He said he had an epiphany several years ago while standing on 48th Street in Manhattan, between Lexington and Third avenues, when he happened to look up and see the full moon above the Chrysler Building.

“I was caught up in the business of the moment, and then when I looked up I was in the middle of raw nature in the middle of Manhattan,” Mr. Utne said. “There was a sense of constancy, of, ‘Hello, old friend.’”

Mr. Utne should only have the success Franklin had with his almanac, which was written by the fictional Poor Richard at the insistence of his wife as a way to make money. The annual almanac became an early best seller in Colonial America after its debut in 1733, being outsold only by the Bible.

Franklin generously salted his almanac with wise sayings, usually encouraging frugality and integrity. Many were pithy — “A full belly makes a dull brain” — and others became famous in their own right, such as “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Likewise, Mr. Utne has generously sprinkled poetry, ruminations on nature, and essays on the joys of discovering natural beauty in unlikely urban places throughout his almanac, which is laid out in the format of a week-to-week calendar.

Every day has the exact time of sunrise, sunset, and the rising and setting of the moon. Also noted are other goings-on in the cosmos and the natural world, such as the timing of full moons, meteor showers and animal migrations.

“A lot of us are residents, but we’re not inhabitants,” Mr. Utne said. “I’m suggesting the way you inhabit a place is to notice what’s going on around you.”

However, Mr. Utne has plenty of material that has little to do with connecting with nature, and more to do with appreciating life in big cities or just having a giggle.

He names several “Living Urban Treasures,” such as Oregon politician and cycling advocate Earl Blumenauer.

Some tips for surviving urban life include how to get good seats at a ballgame, get a tongue unstuck from a frozen flagpole or get through the company picnic.

About 80,000 copies are in print, Mr. Utne said, and they are being sold in bookstore chains, among other places.

Bill Jourdan, who buys periodicals for all 470 Borders outlets in the United States, said he liked the Almanac because it was “a fresh angle on an old concept.” Sales, he says, have been “chugging along,” though he didn’t have exact figures.

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