Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Johnny Appleseed - The Man, the Myth, and the American Story - Howard Means

First, let me say that I have grown up with the family story that John Chapman was somehow tied to my family tree. Now, that being said, I have known that he never married, was somewhat of an eccentric, was definitely a spiritual man, had few roots (pardon the pun), and definitely had a part in planting loads of apple seeds.

Fast forward to a couple months ago ... my son came to dinner one Sunday and, in dinner conversation, mentioned a new book that he was reading about John Chapman/Johnny Appleseed and how it was a study in separating the historic man from the great American folk hero. He said it was a good read in that it had discussion on the history of the era in which John was active within the NewYork/Pennsylvania/Ohio frontier, the spiritual awakening of the era, and the economics of expansion westward. Being a history geek, I asked him to share the book when he finished reading it.

Eric brought it over last week and I have been reading a bit of it every day since ... I am not disappointed. It's exciting to read the historical information about Chapman's time in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and his connection to the Cooley family (my ancestors). No huge genealogical revelations have come from the book, but the connection is validated by someone else (Howard Means), at least.

The biggest thing I take from the book is a new awareness of the wide open spaces of that post-Revolutionary War frontier in the immediate region just west of the Eastern seaboard. I grew up in New York state, so the idea of wilderness on the Allegheny plateau and the idea of people walking westward by following creek beds and river valleys is just so intriguing. For me, the region is criss-crossed by back roads, small farms and small industrial towns, cut through by the swath of the New York Thruway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike and scarred by coal mines slag heaps, quarries and gravel pits, defunct mills and factory towns. It all seems kind of sad when I drive through these days.

To think that places along those rivers provided rich loamy bottom land for Chapman to start apple tree seedlings is just so cool. His business model for surviving seemed to get free seeds from cider mill presses, seed them in on unclaimed land, return to tend them as they grew, harvest them as seedlings and sell or give them to homesteaders who were moving into the region. What a guy! Talk about living a green life and practicing a simple lifestyle ... it gives the reader a look at that era immediately after the new nation formed, when people were moving out away from the thirteen colonies coasts and in toward the frontier.  That's a window of time that we don't often peer through. The great events of the Louisiana purchase were several years off, the Eric Canal was just a dream in some man's mind, there were grand ideas being written about and grand events incubating in New York and Philadelphia, but on the frontier, people were chopping down trees, trading pelts, walking the old Indian trails, and carving out a place in this new country called the United States by claiming the land.

It's a good book, folks. Worthy of a read ... and I'm not saying that just because I have a long ago connection.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - First Hard Frost

It was cold last night ... so crisp and crystalline in the back yard this morning! I snapped a few pictures of my herbs, the vegetable garden and the leaves on the grass ... so pretty! 

oak leaves

cat mint


Brussels sprouts

milk weed seed and oak

shared at Saturday Snapshot photoshare 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Light in the Ruins - Chris Bohjalian

Bohjalian's latest book revisits World War II and the aftermath of its toll on the Italian citizenry. The story begins with the noble Rosati family, living in rural seclusion during the final days of WWII on their Tuscan estate. The attention of the Germans is drawn to the estate because of an archaeological site discovered years earlier by the family. A burial chamber with lovely wall murals and the vestiges of the burial biers and sarcophagi. Looking to form hard connections between the early Etruscans and Aryan bloodlines, the Germans come to look over the site and perhaps confiscate artifacts. In the process, members of the German search team become connected to the Rosati family. This puts the Rosatis in a difficult situation, as the Tuscan hills are full of partisans who are fighting against the Reich and the Fascist government of Mussolini. The locals and partisans may look at the family as betrayers of Italian freedom.

Fast forward ten years to Florence. One of the Rosati women is brutally murdered and butchered in her small city apartment. The homicide police called in to investigate the case are familiar with the family, as they were partisan fighters in Tuscany years earlier. In investigating the case, one of the investigators is 'taken back' to a particularly harrowing battle between the German/Fascist troops and the rebel fighters. Her scant memories, due to severe injury during the battle, become mixed up in her ability to investigate this murder.

So, two mysteries unfold. What has the Rosati family done to incur a wrath so intense that a family vendetta is being carried out against them and how will the young policewoman resolve her war memories and use them to solve a series of brutal crimes ?

I had to parcel out this book, as I wanted to enjoy a slow build to the climax of the story. The intermingling of past and  present in the telling of the story and the short italicized snippets in which we enter the mind of the murderer are really well done. Too fast a read, I think, would take away from the sinister stalking of the murderer, the slow and incremental building of memories within Investigator Bettini, and the slow exposure of the Rosati family's activities during the last months of the war.

I have loved every book that I've read by Chris Bohjalian. He has a terrific way of taking parallel stories and weaving them together seamlessly. Once again, he has delivered a great read.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fog and The Cornfield and Water Shots - Saturday Snapshot

Sometimes fog creates the most interesting play with light ...in this case, morning light that is filtered through grey clouds ... this, taken at the beginning of a road trip to the coast that I took last week.

A friend and I had lunch in Gloucester, Massachusetts, walked a jetty out into Gloucester harbor, clambered our way toward Pebble Beach in Rockport, Massachusetts, and drove the back shore of Cape Ann. What a day ... out by the sea with city and suburbia far away.

shared at Saturday Snapshot, Melinda Ott's weekly photo share

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - Fall Doorways in Deerfield, Massachusetts

Last weekend, my husband and I joined friends on the campus of UMass- Amherst to participate in a fundraising walk/bike ride/run for the campus Hillel organization. The day was cloudy and drizzly, but the company was great fun. After everyone completed the route, SB and I dawdled our way back up the Connecticut River Valley and east toward our little corner of New Hampshire ...

Historic Deerfield Village is one of the stops we made along the way - I have promised myself that I would drive the little village street in autumn to get photos of the various architectural features of buildings that interest me. The doorways of homes that have been restored are especially ornate and reflect the different periods of the homes. The whole village holds a special place in colonial history (and my imagination), as it is the site of a particularly vicious attack by French military and their Native allies during Queen Anne's War. 

The massacre took place in the winter of 1704 and became famous for the numbers killed in the village and the numbers of captives that were taken back north to Canada. Over one hundred captives were driven out of the village and around eighty survived the trek north to the French and Indian settlements along the St. Lawrence River. Over the years following the massacre, great efforts were made to negotiate the return of the captives and many did, indeed, return to their families, but some chose to remain with the Native families and tribes into which they'd been adopted. I've often thought a novel about the whole event and era would be a terrific read ... 

If your imagination is piqued, check out the link below ... it tells the story of the attack and aftermath really well.

The grey skies made for great lighting ... no washed out colors. You see the vibrancy of the paints, the details of the weathering on the old houses, and the contrasts with the leaves, flowers, and pumpkins. 

I have a hard time choosing my favorite ... how 'bout you?

shared with others at Saturday Snapshot

Special thanks to Melinda Ott for hosting this weekly photo share

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth's novel of a dystopian society living in the vicinity of Chicago will inevitably be compared to The Hunger Games. How can it not be compared? Strong female protagonist thrown into a coming of age situation meets strong male protagonist.  Strange chemistry forms a close bond. Danger, murder and mayhem ensue , a bit of romance ignites things, teens take control of their destiny and fight the political elite, teens discover things about themselves and their society that transforms them. It's all there, plus the ending that so obviously leaves the reader with the knowledge that there's 'more to follow'.

This may sound cynical or snooty, but I don't mean it to be that way - just stating the facts cut and dried. This book is one more in the extremely popular sub genre called dystopian novels. The story moves along and the story line is set up in such a way that it makes it rife with conversation topics that can help reading groups, literature classes, or families sort out and debate big issues and emotions. The problem that I have with the book is there is no subtlety. Everything is right out there in your face, as you read. Relationships form quickly, the big questions are right there for all to see and not tease out, events unfold quickly, Tris (the young protagonist) is the voice of the plot and her telling is rushed and almost cold, despite her moments of high emotion. I'm unsure if this is a function of Roth's need to have her main character move the story along at any cost because there's so much more to tell (in later books) or if she developed the character this way to reflect the character's personality trait that makes her seem a classic Dauntless faction member.

That statement leads me to address one of the elements of Roth's story that intrigues me - her choice of factions within her dystopian society. There are distinct groups in her society that serve very specific functions in keeping this culture functioning - Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, Amity, and the factionless. Each group with a capital letter serve specific needs within society. They are caretakers or defenders or providers or truth-tellers and judges or technology geeks and builders. The factionless are the people that don't fit any one group. How does one fit into any one group? That's one of the big questions the reader grapples with in this novel. That question, alone, would keep a group discussing the social theory of conformity and self-determination and free will, and the merits of non-conformity, personality development, the psychology of social development, maturity and personality change, etc. for an age ... which is why this book series is destined to be on many a middle and high school reading list for a while ... or at least until the next big thing gets published that grabs young readers' imaginations.

That last statement leads me to a question I asked myself - I wonder what got dropped from the reading lists of middle and high school literature teachers when Divergent made the list - do classes still read A Separate Peace or Bridge to Terabithia or To Kill a Mockingbird or Great Expectations ? Hmmm ... they're all still big sellers, they all deal with 'coming of age' issues, they all target big social issues, but I wonder who is reading them and how old the average reader is when picking up the book?

I will probably pick up the next books in Veronica Roth's series to see where she takes this society that she's created. I'm curious to see if she can wrap things up for the characters while satisfying my curiosity about the bigger world around this society.  Chicago is a pretty small blip on the Earth's surface ... what's happening elsewhere while our divergent personalities are breaking loose and establishing a lifestyle of their own during dangerous times in their little culture? What are the next big questions? How does a burgeoning Divergent group govern itself? Is there a back story that will come out?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Poetry Jam - Fibonacci Sequence

Conflicting Messages

Be wise
Look both ways
Use your mirrors, kid
Objects are closer than they seem
Keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road ahead

Crank the radio when you head out on a road trip
Roll the windows all the way down!
Pedal to the metal!
Don’t look back!

Fibonacci Sequence Attempt # 3

Being a parent is the most difficult test in life ... enough said.

-shared at Poetry Jam - 

Check it out.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - Ashuelot River in Autumn

Along the Ashuelot

Just north of Keene, New Hampshire there's a little town called Surry. It sits in the hills between the Connecticut River and a ridge of mountains within the Monadnock Region and it includes Surry Mountain. This week, the light during one of our back road rambles was perfect for getting some foliage shots. It's just gorgeous in New England right now.

Wind Ripples and Cloud Shadows From Up Top Surry Dam

Further Up the Ashuelot - View From Old Stone Bridge in Gilsum

- shared with other photographers at Saturday Snapshot -

Thanks go to Melinda over at West Metro Mommy Reads for hosting this weekly event !

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Mag 188 - Love's Invitation

Love’s Invitation

we built these walls around our world
across the landscape of touch and word
they sunk over time to the roots of love
and stood firm as life filled in around

tread hard as you like upon these stones
sit for a while and brush their cracks
rest your bones on their sun-warmed dips
smile at the sky and listen to the grasses

you’re welcome to add to our great wall
stay and lend this place your touch
let life fill in your cracks and crevices
join us here between the grass and sky

- SM-L -10/1/13

My reaction to this prompt was fast ... almost immediate. Consequently, this poem got very little editing. Perhaps I'll go back to it at a later date and work those trees into the verse somewhere, but the stones will remain at the center.

- shared with others at The Mag 188 - thanks, Tess Kinkaid