Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wolf Brother

This book was recommended to me by a Shelfari friend in the Netherlands and I decided to get a copy inter-library loan and check it out. It's actually a Young Adult book that is a fast paced adventure story that delves into the world of spirits and mysticism.

When I read about the author, Michelle Paver, it said she had dreamed about running with the wild wolves in the prehistoric forest since the age of ten. Writing this book series, The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness (of which Wolf Brother is Book 1), was a way for her to fulfill this dream. To research the book she traveled through the forests of northern Finland and Lapland, slept on reindeer skins, ate lichens, forest berries, and pine resin (Stone Age chewing gum), and peered into the mouth of a very large brown bear. My kind of author.

Obviously this kind of research lends great authenticity to the writing. When young Torak witnesses the death of his father by a giant demon possessed bear, he and a wolf-cub he picks up along the way and uses for a guide set out to defeat this bear. They journey through deep forests and across giant glaciers to find their way to the mountain of the World Spirit. His journey is part of a preordained prophecy that tells about the "Listener" who will rid the forest of the bear by delivering three lost artifacts to the mountain. The author's knowledge of the animals, trees, rocks, and plants of the forest interwoven in this adventure tale really brings the story to life. I liked this book enough that it makes me want to continue on in the series, and that's the whole point isn't it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Patiently Observing Animals

"If thy heart be right, then will every creature be to thee a mirror of life, and a book of holy doctrine."...Thomas a Kempis, 1427

After traversing North America in 1840, John C. Fremont wrote that "It was all wild and unexplored, and the uninvaded silence roused curiosity and invited research." George Schaller's spirit resides in such places.

He was fortunate enough to have been a part of the golden age of wildlife studies, from the 1950's to the end of the twentieth century, when many large mammals for the first time became the focus of intensive research. Patiently observing animals may seem an antiquated pleasure in the age of computer modeling and remote sensing, but Schaller was a pioneer and such knowledge became the coernerstone of conservation. Nature is now viewed all too often in economic terms and treated as a commodity to be bought, sold, or discarded. Appreciation of beauty, a sense of wonder, and the ethics of taking responsibility for other species and the land seldom enter official conservation discourse now. But true conservation must reach the heart. Intimate portraits help inspire concern for their future, create a feeling of kinship, and convey that they too have a right to exist. Conservation without moral values cannot sustain itself. The book is divided into four sections: The Americas; Africa; South Asia, China, and Mongolia; and The Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau.

The travels and studies in this book have been the basis for his scientific and popular writings. This book brings together in book form for the first time nineteen short pieces, for a unique overview of his remarkable career. His own photographs of animals and their behavior, of fieldwork, and of the author and his family, appear throughout. He has studied mountain gorillas in Central Africa and predator-prey relations in the Serengeti, as well as tigers in India and jaguars in Brazil's swamps. And then there was Schaller's groundbreaking work with giant pandas in China. This book is full of Schaller's fascinating observations.

"What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset..."Crowfoot, a Blackfoot Indian, 1890

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mountaintop Removal Movie from

This short video on Mountaintop Removal is a must see as an adjunct to reading Missing Mountains.

Missing Mountains

I love this book. It starts out with a quote from Isaiah (one of my favorite books of the Bible) that says "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain..."

It has an Introduction by Silas House and an Afterword by Wendell Berry. It is a collection of essays, poems, stories, and personal testimonials by Kentuckians who oppose mountaintop removal--a coal-mining technique that destroys and devastates Kentucky's mountains and the creatures who live there.

None of these writers have a vendetta against the coal industry. They realize that coal mining is an important part of the economy, and it has allowed a hard working and determined people to rise out of poverty. But coal has been mined for decades without completely devastating the entire region. They make an eloquent plea for the proper respect to be returned to the spirit of the land and its people.

It is an emotional book that mourns the loss of woods and rolling pastures as well as the mountains themselves. The authors hope that this book will make the general public aware of the problem, and they want to use it to build hope for all the people who suffer in the shadow of mountaintop removal. It is their stories that matter. Stories of water that ran red as blood with sulfur, or one where a man had to drill five wells in a year's time because the mining blasts caused every one of them to go dry. As Silas House says in the Introduction, "It is mind-boggling that the whole nation is talking about Alaska being drilled for oil, yet no one cares that Appalachia has been systematically scalped for the last 28 years." As one woman at a town meeting said, "I don't care what anybody says, the Arctic Circle isn't a bit more worthy of respect than my mountains."

Thanks to the internet, one can view satellite photographs of the region described. Google Maps has a feature which overlays maps of highways over satellite photographs. These photographs from space clearly show the devastation. Simply search for "Ary, KY", click on satellite view, zoom in and out a bit and observe the region east of Hazard along Highway 80 between Hazard and Hindman.

As John Muir said "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home: that wildness is necessity: that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Story of Character and Courage

This book just came into the library (though it's not a new book--it was published in 1999), and I thought I would take it home and read it, because it is a book about fathers (and this weekend was Fathers Day), and because it seemed to be a book about things that, country, what it means to be a war hero, valor and courage. I am a person who believes that there are deep truths in life and this book seemed to explore some of them.

McCain's descriptions of his grandfather (who was a navy pilot known affectionately as Popeye by the sailors who served under him) and his father (a navy submarine commander) are interesting and balanced. He tells stories of them concerning their devotion to duty and courage, and yet also lets you see some of their flaws; their hard drinking and salty language. Both of these men rose to the rank of four-star admiral, making the McCain's the first family in American history to achieve this honor. McCain's fathers final assignment was as commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific during Vietnam.

McCain was groomed from an early age to join the naval academy and says he never really thought of any other life path. McCain is very honest about what a poor academic record he had as a cadet and his hell-raiser attitude is not played down in this book. It was while he was serving in the Vietnam War, and shot down over Hanoi in 1967, that he would face his most difficult challenges. When his captors realized he was the son of a top commander, they offered him early release in an effort to embarrass the U.S. Acting from a sense of honor taught to him by his father and grandfather, he refused. He was tortured and held in solitary confinement for over five years.

He says that for someone who had long asserted his own individuality as his first and best defense against insults of any kind, that he discovered that faith in himself proved to be the least formidable strength he possessed when confronting organized inhumanity on a greater scale than he had conceived possible. He discovered that faith in himself was important, and remained important to his self-esteem, but he also discovered in prison that faith in himself alone, separate from other, more important allegiances, was ultimately no match for the cruelty that human beings could devise when they were entirely unencumbered by respect for the God-given dignity of man.

He said that in prison, he fell in love with his country. That he had always loved his country, but like most young people, his affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans enjoyed and took for granted. It wasn't until he had lost America for a time that he realized how much he loved her.

And it was what freedom conferred on America that he loved the most--the distinction of being the last, best hope of humanity; the advocate for all who believed in the Rights of Man. Freedom is America's honor, and all honor comes with obligations. We have the obligation to use our freedom wisely, to select well from all the choices freedom offers. We can accept or reject the obligation, but if we are to preserve our freedom, our honor, we must choose well.

This book is about the lessons learned from his experience. Lessons that are very relevant to combatting the apathy and darkness prevalent in today's world.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Wild Trees

Just finished this book, written by Richard Preston. I really liked his earlier book, "The Hot Zone" (about the spread of deadly viruses--nonfiction, written like a thriller).

This time out he opens up a whole new world talking about the largest and tallest organisms in the world--the coastal redwood trees. Yes, this is non-fiction folks, but he writes it like an interesting novel.

I have always loved trees...wouldn't want to live anywhere that was too flat and didn't have them. Reminds me of an old Seneca saying:

"When you enter a grove peopled with ancient trees, higher than the ordinary, and shutting out the sky with their thickly inter-twined branches, do not the stately shadows of the wood, the stillness of the place, and the awful gloom of this doomed cavern then strike you with the presence of a deity?"

I learned so many things about these giants that have been there for thousands of years.

  • The seeds of a redwood are released from cones that are about the size of olives.

  • Rain forest is forest that gets at least 80 inches of rain a year.

  • The California coast redwood is the tallest species of tree on earth. They range frm 350-380 feet high (35-38 stories tall)

  • The tallest trees are often not necessarily the largest

  • The main trunk of a redwood titan can be 30 feet in diameter

  • These trees could be 2,000 to 3,000 years old

  • The largest tree by volume of wood is the giant sequoia

  • The world's largest living thing is a giant sequoia named the General Sherman. It is 27 feet in diameter and 275 feet tall

And I guess what I find really amazing is that even now there are places on this planet that have never been charted or touched by human hands or feet. Wow!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Dewey Decimal System of Love

This book by Josephine Carr is a quirky, quick light-hearted read. It is dedicated to the extraordinary literary heritage found in our free library system and the librarians who help us discover its enduring wealth [so of course that caught my attention]. The picture on the front of a card from the old card catalog perfectly sets us up for chapters that are introduced by a little snippet telling us exactly where to find certain topics in the dewey decimal system on our non-fiction shelves. These chapter snippets and the descriptions of her everyday life in the library were my favorite parts of the book. The main character in the book, Alison Sheffield, is a reference librarian who makes you forget all those old stereotypes about librarians. She has been celibate for fifteen years but lives far from a monastic life. She loves to tool around in her convertible, listens to classical music, and is partial to ice-cold martinis. When she falls in love and falls hard, for once in her life she can't obtain the answers to her condition in a book-- she just has to experience it. And what a wild ride it is. It is romantic comedy that confronts celibacy with a touch of the absurd and a big dose of laughter.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A New Direction

I have been doing all my blogging on my MySpace page, but after a friend sent me a link to her blog on I thought I might give it a shot here as well. Since my MySpace blogs tend to cover a wide territory but mainly in the personal realm, I thought it might be interesting to have one that dealt pretty much with my stock in trade--books.
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