Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lyanda Lynn Haupt: Crow Planet essential wisdom for the urban wilderness

One Word Summary: 2030
More Words: This is an essential book. It is very good. I meant to read Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, but I'm glad I spent time reading this first. My copy is full of flags to mark passages or phrases I want to remember. Honestly, my first reaction when I pick up a book that uses the word 'wild' or 'wilderness' abundantly is to put it right back down again. Fast. Not because I don't care that our planet is dying... it's such a serious topic and I'm usually reading to escape responsibility. It's hard to be reminded that there is so much more I could be doing when I can barely keep my children alive. Well I read this book and in the beginning and sometimes in the middle I rolled my eyes because Haupt is such a hippie throwback, but I have to respect her because she's not afraid of me or anyone. She's smart, thoughtful, compassionate, and doing her very best. This is a good book, and it's full of references to other great books.

We are being called upon to act against a prevailing culture, to undermine
our own entrenched tendency to accumulate and to consume, and to refuse to
define our individuality by our presumed ability to do whatever we want.

There is, then, roughly one crow per family. I like to think about this
when I set the table for dinner; I imagine a dark visitor, our allotted crow,
perching on the back of a chair with one of our best china plates in front of
it, waiting for spaghetti. p 27

There will be no embalming of hearts today, thank you very much. "I have
lost the idealism of my twenties, as I feared I would," wrote Annie Dillard.
Yes, but there is more to it than that. I realize that in giving birth, managing
a household, raising a child, and composting potato peels in a city, I have
learned some things about wilderness that even Thoreau could not have known.

To think that it somehow shows greater intellectual discernment to stuff
compassion away for the sake of scientific distance is an error, one that does
not sufficiently allow the range of the human animal's complexity. We can think
and feel compassion at the same time. p135

It is difficult to say sense of wonder in this millennial moment,
when sleek, cynical, pop-nihilistic writing seems to be a sign of intellectual
rigor and rightness. p156

We practice wonder by resisting the temptation to hurry past things worth
seeing, but it can take work to transcend our preconceived standards for what
that worth might be. p157

But in the places that humans and animals intersect most frequently - urban
and suburban neighborhoods where people do lots of driving - we are afforded an
uncommonly regular view of the wild's most compulsory, most intimate moment.

...crows are so entirely relevant to our place on a changing earth, to
"reimagining a different future." They bring us into direct contact with the
utterly essential, with what we prefer to avoid, with what the corporate-driven
individual consumerism that runs more rampant now than ever in history contrive
to hide, with the lesson we most dearly need to comprehend: that we are all
nearly dead. That in light of that fact, just perhaps, our relentless, frenzied,
earth-killing, over-outfitting of our temporal bodies and homes is the tiniest
tad misguided. What was this body again? Oh yes, that heap of blue flesh lying
on the soil, being picked at by the crows. p202

I see them, and think that if I were a bird, I would want to fly like a
crow - with enough of a brain to love it. p207

It was 1949 when Aldo Leopold wrote, "In our attempt to make conservation
easy, we have made it trivial." He had no idea.

Most people don't realize that a wing - in spite of the radius, ulna, and
humerus - is not like an arm. It's more like a heart.

I hadn't seen Charlotte for nearly a week and was beginning to be
concerned. Finding her again, I smile. Charlotte might be thin and slumped, but
she managed to learn to fly on one leg - no mean accomplishment. I wonder, what
does it mean to have no hope when there is a radiant, earth-loving child singing
in the bathroom and a broken-legged bird that has learned to fly in your tree?
Still, it seems that the best prospect for a flourishing, ecologically vibrant,
evolutionarily rich earth would be a massive, brutal overturning of the human
population followed by several millennia of planetary recovery. Surely this
doesn't count as hope. But here we are, intricate human animals capable of
feeling despair over the state of the earth and, simultaneously, joy in its
unfolding wildness, no matter how hampered. what are we to do with such a
confounding vision? The choices appear to be few. We can deny it, ignore it, go
insane with its weight, structure it into a stony ethos with which we beat our
friends and ourselves to death - or we can live well in its light. p215

In the monastery library, I find this definition: hope is "that virtue by
which we take responsibility for the future."

Action List:
Install a bat box beneath the eaves of my home, when I own a sfr
Learn about my neighbourhood trees
Invest in a field guide for the trees (first)
Begin drawing again
Spend more time outside doing nothing
Write a thank you letter to Adam Lindsay

Wilderness Bibles and Other Books Gleaned from the Bibliography:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link
Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson
The Essays of Henry David Thoreau
Origins: A short etymological dictionary of Modern English
Finding Order in Nature: The Naturalist Tradition from Linnaeus to E.O. Wilson by Paul Farber
Benedict's Rule: A Translation and Commentary by Terrance Kardong

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shannon Hale: Forest Born

One Word Summary: Darkness Inside
More Words: Shannon Hale is great. I really liked this addition to the Bayern series. Especially because I've been reading back issues of the New Yorker and especially since I devoured that Genius book. For all their intellectual high-brow-ness, liberal wit, and activism I often feel lost and scared after I've put aside my reading for the day. The word I'm looking for is despair. Which brings me back to Shannon Hale and why I like her stories. There's usually some trouble where the fate of the world/continent/nation hangs in the balance - and yet it's gets pared down to a manageable bite without losing flavour. Hale writes fantastic heart racing crisis moments. Often her heroes are crippled by self-doubt or guilt or social incompetence or some unique brew of issues. But they still save the kingdom from utter devastation. I can identify with that- even if I don't have superpowers that can be used for good or ill.
Comment on the cover design: I prefer the artwork for the first edition of Goose Girl.
Plot Summary: Rinna is Razo's baby sister. She has tree-speaking. She runs away from the trees and her family because... well that would be telling. As a lady in waiting to Queen Anidori she is instrumental in diffusing a border dispute that could lead to war that destroys the world. In the end, having come to terms with her greatest fears, she returns home to her family and to the forest.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dave Eggers: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

One Word Summary: Frisbee
More Words: I read this book for the obvious reason. And because the back jacket promised something mind blowing. So yeah, it blows. Hehe. Actually I don't even know what self-conscious means. I mean I know how I feel when I've done something publicly humiliating, but this is different. I've never read Kierkegaard. I think I'm supposed to like this book. Everyone likes it. It's really gimmicky. He swears a lot. He thinks about sex a lot. He's all about the mid-stream. He might not be telling the truth. He's got issues with sentimentality. He's carrying the grief of the world. He sees himself as some sort of Christ figure, and his mother is... Mary? He might be a cannibal. And yet he's an everyman- a failure, a dreamer, a tired old man, a noying. But he is never mediocre. He is magnificent. And his brother too, even more. Even more.

This book is revitalizing. I feel renewed. Like it's sping and I'm twenty and anything is possible. I should become some sort of activist and start something great. You know change the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race. Naturally I really liked this book. It made me happy, except the part at the end where he wrote "I hate you, I hate everyone". That's what he wrote right?

Did he mean that? The part where he hates me?
What's Toph doing these days?

Censorship: Egger's does swear a lot and try to have sex a lot. It's got Alcoholics and and it's full of Death. My daughter should probably grow up before she reads this. By grown up I mean a) she can think for herself and b) she not a self absorbed immature person. Of course this book isn't necessary for survival and there are plenty of similar works (but the style is striking and it is like a dose of sunshine). So I guess everyone should read it at their own peril. Think skin cancer.

New Words:
Solipsism, Bathos (with a 'B')

If I were a stalker:
Dear Mr. Eggers
I just read you Heartbreaking book. It was fine.

Here's a picture of my brother. He's a man now and would prefer to be called Rob. Or Bob. Or Robert. While I was reading your words I kept thinking this is my brother. When I saw your picture I thought there is my brother, whose dog is that?
Of course half way through I realized you are not my brother. You don't even look like him. Only for a moment I believed you were the same. He is a bright star. A superhero. He always says, "Thanks for the compliment, but I am not nearly so wonderful." I'm pretty sure he's right, but I don't believe him anyway. Tears and snot are dripping off my face as I write- I love my brother.
Incidentally, he has read Kierkegaard.
I wonder if you're regretting that part in the introduction where you invite everyone to write to you. Do people remember the return address envelope? I'm not actually going to mail this because, well, it's just begging to be mocked, or ignored, or lost.
ah... all the best,