A sample selection of recent books covers the communication skills of trees, a family whose generations harvested trees, the amazing coyote and a coyote of sorts, the autobiography of Keith Richards. Without accompanying covers, also read were Middlemarch along with Pride and Prejudice.
The prose of Richard Powers is a favorite of mine and his The Overstory won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize. It’s called environmental fiction, a clarion call highlighting the plight of a society that neglects the consequences of destroying the complexity of nature’s seen and unseen symbiotic reliance that supports a multitude of familiar creatures, less familiar micro-organisms all surviving under the overstory. Powers does not write simple stories. His encyclopedic knowledge of many subjects is shared, often spoken through his complex web of characters. The Overstory tells many tales, and it underscores the voice our planet and the natural world needs from writers like Powers to speak while we still have something to protect.
Bookending The Overstory is Annie Proulx’s Barkskins. Her tale spans three centuries of a family whose origins begin in 1693 with indentured servitude in New France, a place where the end of virgin forests is an unimagined idea. The new world was obviously an inexhaustible supply of goods for the old world. So the Duquet family, as it were, a metaphoric clan representing the ensuing centuries of rapacious resource extraction, focussing on trees. In a multi-generational scope, shares the forest plunder of all continents, save Antarctica with a dim reckoning that an end might be in sight. A dismal end. It’s epic and a perfect companion to The Overstory if you don’t mind being reminded humans’ shortsightedness.
Almost nightly, a chorus of coyotes is heard late evenings and midnights through open windows. They howl, yip, scream, bark, screech, sing and cry in varying degrees of pitch. At times it sounds like hundreds, and sometimes they perform a call and response. They are magical and ubiquitous in New Mexico and now throughout the world, In cities and suburbs, on the plains and in the deserts. Dan Flores documents their remarkable survival against all odds. Ranchers, farmers, the government and others have mounted remarkable and costly campaigns to eradicate Canis latrans or barking dog. Coyotes have prevailed. Coyote America is another story of humans determined to dominate nature without science, morality or an acknowledgement of our co-existence on this planet.
Speaking of barking dogs. When we bought tickets to the Denver performance of the Rolling Stones, I checked out Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. Rocker and raconteur, bon vivant and bad boy, musician, minstrel, manic, survivor of ingesting more intoxicants orally and intraveneously than seems possible for a human being, he has a cunning charm that comes naturally and despite decades of terrifically terrible behavior, he gets under your skin and wheedles a chuckle. He is self-deprecating, non-apologetic and flat out honest about his most interesting life. And after all the nonsense, he turns out to be a family man.
And a final counterpoint, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, one that got away and a simple pleasure Jane Austen re-read of Pride and Prejudice. Both nice to nestle down into the pillows and get captured by another world.