ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kissed by a Fox



Okay, I confess.  I want this title.  I want this cover.  I covet the complexity of this accomplished work and the gracious wisdom of this accomplished author.  To read Priscilla Stuckey’s memoir KISSED BY A FOX requires patience – it is not for the reader seeking a “fast book” experience.  But if you’re drawn to the slow food movement, which is all about savoring each bite and commitment to environment and community, then you’re the perfect reader for this Counterpoint Press release. 

Priscilla Stuckey elegantly weaves into this memoir the many grasses that make up the fields and open spaces of her life.  Spirituality – as seen through the lens of an arduously gained doctorate in religious studies and feminist theory.  Humanity – as seen through the lens of a woman once ill, adrift and grieving, now firmly rooted to health, love and community.  And Nature – humbly seen through the lens of a two-legged mammal learning late in life that she is, above all else, a vital member of the animal kingdom as comfortable exploring the creeks and hollows of her unkempt neighborhood as are the wild creatures she now knows to be her friends.

Priscilla Stuckey reaches out to the world, tentatively and naively at the first, but the world reaches back and draws her to it.  A bald eagle.  A red fox.  A baby oriole.  The black and white mottled dog who will become her greatest teacher.  The cat named Brio whose story even Priscilla hesitates to tell.  And in the end, the fertile field of understanding that provides her solace, each animal’s story an integral part of the ecosystem of her life.

At this moment my heart, too, is tied to an ecosystem rich with stories. As I write this, I am struggling to protect the land which holds the bones of the animals who have taught me the greatest lessons in my life.  So I want to draw your attention to the chapter in Kissed by a Fox where Priscilla talks about WATERSHEDS.  The Wyoming Highway Department is proposing re-routing a major highway through my Wyoming ranchland.  It grieves me that those in power do not know this land intimately – the gurgling sound of ephemeral creeks during spring snowmelt, the reckless summer flow of water off her drought-stricken ridge tops, the coyote dens tucked into the sides of her red-eroded arroyos.  The shedding of water – as critical to an ecosystem as are highways to the tourist economy.  Therein lies the rub for me.

“Take a sheet of stiff paper and crumple it into a ball,” Priscilla is told by a young elementary school teacher.  She does so, then looking at the wrinkled paper carefully begins to unfold it on a table.  A miniature landscape emerges—little hills and valleys “rippling across its crinkled surface.”  She colors in forests and hills and the little house where she might live, then a neighborhood, a town, a road.  She “makes rain” with a spray bottle, misting the paper.  Water finds its way off the ridges and into the valleys.  Her landscape begins to erode.  And, like in the minds of the teacher’s young students, the meaning of RELATIONSHIP dawns.  What we breathe out, the natural world must breathe in. 

Don’t plan on gulping in great lungfuls of KISSED BY A FOX.  Be content with slow, deep thoughtful breaths.  Some books sprint to the finish line but this is the work of a lifetime. 

NOTE: Please read my petition at Change.org, urging the Wyoming Highway Department to slow down its decision making process pending the gathering of more data.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Wondrous Junot Diaz (This Is How He Keeps You)



Photo by Keith Hood
“These are holy moments, a sacred communion,” Junot Diaz said as he began his November 11, 2012 talk at Lighthouse Writers* in Denver.  He was referring to the brief time he was about to spend with dozens of people crowded into the lower-level grotto of this historic Denver brownstone.   

 “Trust is essential in the teaching process,” Diaz told us. “It usually takes weeks, not just a couple hours.”   

 Of course, the fact that Diaz has not only received a Pulitzer Award for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but was also just recently awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship, meant we were all pretty much ready to trust his genius, as well as his good intentions.  I think the fact that we trusted him right away might also have had something to do with the affectionate way he held his coffee cup.

That’s all we had with him Sunday, though—a little more than a couple of hours.  Within moments, Diaz challenged us to take the truths we thought we knew—those self-righteous belief systems about ourselves—and turn them inside out.  “Truth that doesn’t challenge our arrogance is no truth at all.”

Photo by Keith Hood
With his authenticity firmly established, he jumped into the meat of the session.  But first, a couple of disclaimers from me.  The quotes in these notes are not verbatim.  They are not transcribed from a recording of his talk, but rather were typed in the heat of the moment while I was listening.  And the moments were heated, as in intense—Diaz is passionate about literature.  

 He told us emphatically and numerous times that “literature saved me.”  He also had an endearing way of softly drawing out the word, “Yeah…” –as a question, an entreaty, a challenge, an affectionate way of softly wrapping his oral arms around the audience.  “Yeah…you know what I mean…yeaaaah?”  

 At the end of our time with him, he softly cajoled us, Guys? Questions? You gotta have some questions."

Photo by Keith Hood
Second disclaimer, Junot didn’t talk about the use of the “N” word in his writing (google “Diaz and the   N word” and you’ll find some interesting reading, like this blog on Race and Speculation). Diaz also had an endearing way of using the “F” word, not just in his literature, but conversationally.  I’m including a few uses here because … well, to censor it would be just, well … wouldn’t be very Diazish, now would it?  

Want to read more about Junot's talk? Go to my NEWS page and download  Junot Diaz on Fear and Control in Writing.

*Page Lambert’s notes were taken November 11, 2012, in Denver, Colorado, during the Lighthouse Writers sponsored event, “Junot Diaz on Fear and Control in Writing.”   Thank you Andrea and Michael and all the Lighthouse staff!  And thank you Keith Hood for the use of your photos.