Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Just Saying

The library is culling its collection, which is wonderful for the Book Store in a tidal wave sort of way. We're getting carts filled with entire letters of the alphabet from the fiction collection, plus lots of nonfiction.

Some of the books have never been read, which makes me feel sad. Imagine pouring your heart and soul into a book that is bought, shelved, and removed without a single patron's glance.

I suppose  that as long as the book was bought, the money is made and the author received satisfaction from that. But somehow I still believe there's more to writing than the sale at the end of one's labors.

Anyway, I've scored a few nuggets of gold as a result of the cull and processed a lot of (ahem) gravel, as well. And I couldn't help but gloat a little bit this week when a few generous tomes by Thomas Pynchon came through. I read The Crying of Lot 49 ages ago and remember nothing of it. Excerpts - read long ago at C.S.'s urging - from Gravity's Rainbow were memorable, but not in a good way.

Our lucky Book Store customers will find a few of Pynchon's recent works at the book sale next month, reasonably priced at $1 apiece and worth every penny!

Friday, October 14, 2016

In Touch with the Other

Being a Beast caught my eye in the "New Nonfiction" section of the library, so when I heard the author interviewed on the radio, I perked right up and grabbed it as soon as I could, looked forward to reading it for a few days, and then dove right in.

It's a frightfully interesting assembled chronicle of the author's time spent trying to know certain animals better by immersing himself in their worlds. Specifically, he focuses on Badger (Earth), Otter (Water), Fox (Fire), Red Deer (Earth again), and Swift (Air) for his explorations.  And by "immersing" and "explorations" he means - among other things - living in an underground burrow (badger), swimming at night (otter), and sleeping during the day in strangers' back gardens (fox). He makes certain concessions to human limits - his badger sett is dug with the assistance of a backhoe, his red deer ramble employs a survival blanket at a critical moment, and so on - but I judge his attempts to enter the worlds of the beasts authentic enough. They are certainly more authentic, in many ways, than sitting warm indoors at home and observing radio collar tracking data, or even waiting quietly in a blind with parka, Thermos, camera, and clipboard.

That Foster is English and has that dry English humor certainly helps. So does the fact that he's a veterinarian and an Oxford professor, and holds a Ph.D. in medical law and ethics, not to mention being a husband and father. Perhaps it's these very human qualifications that land him on the charmingly eccentric end of the crazy spectrum. He readily admits he is "dismally suburban," preferring a whitewashed wall to the changing, interesting, sometimes seething burrow walls that dripped earthworms after the rains. This keeps him relatable, overall.

Even so, this book reads rather unevenly as part neuroscience text, part extreme travel memoir, and part environmental ethics discussion. Somehow seems to be a rather poor representation of his actual experiences, although he is absolutely masterful in describing smells and tastes, as over-the-top and evocative as the world's most articulate oenophile. Yet I'm at a loss to suggest what might better communicate those experiences. Foster himself admits that a significant portion of what he learned simply cannot be communicated in human language and that the book turned out to be much more about him that he wanted it to be. Even so, it's well worth reading for its thought-provoking approach to our relationship with animals.

As humans, seeing the world from our 6-feet-up perspective, filtering everything through our limited senses and relatively massive brains, we are hopelessly locked into ourselves, and so-called modern civilization has dulled our senses, because urban survival depends on an almost wholly unnatural set of skills. We have lost so much that it's nearly impossible to recover, even where we're fortunate enough to glimpse it now and again. Indeed, that may be the most important lesson of all.

One excerpt simply wasn't enough:

On life as a badger: We bustled and grunted and elbowed and pushed and pressed our noses into the ground. And even we smelled something: the citrusy piss of the voles in their runs within the grass; the distantly maritime tang of a slug trail, like a winter rock pool; the crushed laurel of a frog; the dustiness of a road; the sharp musk of a weasel; the blunter musk of an otter; and the fox, whose smell is red to the least synesthetic man alive.
On the human experience: To be is to see is to stride is to be able to choose. Even the panic of claustrophobia, which I've know when squeezing through a tight rock tunnel somewhere under Derbyshire, is really an unhappiness that one's options are limited.

On returning to civilization: The town blared, belched, leered, and cackled. There was more variegation on one leaf outside our sett than there was in the whole place. It fed itself by oriental air freight, and everyone was the same color. They talked about the adulteries of footballers and tone-deaf singers. The scent blocks were huge and crass; they lurched and swung and bellowed. I felt sick from shock and boredom and the heaving floors of deafening smell. . . .  And yet, as an example of a human settlement, this is one of the very best. I've always been happy here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

All Clear

We were extremely lucky to be spared the worst of Matthew's weather and evacuate to a gracious home and beautiful backyard wildlife habitat created by our friends in northern Florida. More soon.

Right now it's yardwork and more yardwork!

Thanks, everyone, for your good thoughts. Please keep them coming for the folks who have much more to deal with than fallen branches.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hatches Battened

With Matthew's approach, we are packed and ready to move to safety. We secured the outside plants, furniture, kayaks, and whatnot. I also photographed everything in the house and shed, and uploaded the pictures, just in case the worst happens and we need to make an insurance claim.

With hurricanes, you never know. It might change course and miss us, or it might change course and clobber us, or it might stay on its present course and give us a nasty punch. Whatever happens, we'll be in another city.

All living beings from this household -- human and feline -- are heading out tomorrow to stay with friends. They live well outside the cone of uncertainty and generously offered us refuge for the next few days.

It's difficult to leave the books behind, knowing that if there is wind or water damage they may not survive. I took a few books with me and resigned myself to losing the rest, if I must.

For extra courage, I'm planning to read this one while we're waiting out the storm. Not only is it one of my very favorite novels, it features the great Okeechobee hurricane of 1928, in which the lake is depicted as a monster rolling in its bed and then rising to overwhelm the surrounding landscape with a flood of 20 feet in some places.

About 2,500 people, mostly poor African-American migrant farmworkers, were killed in the towns surrounding the lake. Afterward a huge dike was built around the lake, in the name of flood control -- but as with many environmental engineering projects, that created other problems and unintended consequences that continue to this day.

It's a fearsome thing, that watery monster, but Janie survives its assault. And so shall we, with much less hardship.

Here's a wish for safety and minimal damage to my friends in harm's way across Florida. May the winds and waters be kind to you all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bloom before Boom

Today I'm thinking about this . . . .

Photo credit:

when I'd much rather be thinking about this.

We're going to try and squeeze in a hike before Matthew lowers the boom.