Meanderings on writing, reading, walking, bicycling, and life
I live in Missouri, a more beautiful place than many realize. I love writing, reading, walking, bicycling, and making lists. I’ve written poetry since I was seven. A few years ago I branched out into short fiction and memoir pieces. I also perpetually have a novel in progress. My brain pursues ideas at a brisk pace, wandering all over the map. This blog represents one of my efforts to keep up with it.
Well, I’ve gone and done another 2022 goal. I explored a path I don’t usually traverse on my walks. It’s not brand new to me. In fact, it’s in my old neighborhood, where I used to live twenty years ago. But I haven’t walked over there in a minute or two.
For some bonus exercise I got a bit of rowing in.
I’m not sure if I followed all advisories. ???
I only have specific health conditions, so I’m probably okay.
I survived to continue my journey, and encountered a majestic tree.
Oh, I can never resist a wooden pedestrian bridge! I wonder what’s around the curve on the other side.
Around New Year’s Day I blogged about my new project of logging species observations with iNaturalist while on my walks. I can’t honestly say I’ve been out and about a ton yet, but I have accomplished one science unit.
A mourning dove I saw and photoed while walking home on my lunchbreak one day has been verified by two other users. That makes it research grade.
I find this extremely motivating. The temperature around these parts is supposed to go above 20 F tomorrow. Maybe I can go out and find more science to do.
My older kid introduced me and my second born to the Seek app, affiliated with iNaturalist. Now we’ve all embarked on the app’s challenges. Son number two lives with me currently and is often game to accompany me on my walks. Today, we took advantage of the 60 degree weather to get in a good walk at an area lake before a predicted winter storm rolls in tonight.
We both had the app open and got our first recorded observations for an official challenge. I had already used Seek a few times to identify plants and wildlife, but then I learned I could do so much more. I even registered at iNaturalist so they can use my photos for science and track where different species are observed.
Here’s a little of what I learned about snow geese today:
There are many challenges within the app, but I’m going to take them one at a time. I’ve started with the Conservation Challenge, which has just a few achievable observation and learning goals, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. This appeals to me on many levels. It’s a prompt to pay attention to the world around me. I want to believe I’m helping science. I will learn some things!
One of my goals for 2022 is to explore more trails in my area. There are so many of them. This will add to the fun, and maybe spice up my “On Today’s Walk” posts a little.
I read some books this year. Here are some words about a few of the titles, placed into random categories I just invented.
Biography of someone I’ve always wanted to know more about:
Sometimes You Have to Lie by Leslie Brody. The subtitle for this is “The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy.” Though her book was formative for me in my youth, with a relatable main character who embraced her own quirks, I never knew much about Fitzhugh. Brody presents a satisfying portrait of Harriet’s creator, a person as real and passionate and complicated as the iconic character she brought to life. Fitzhugh was also an accomplished artist, outspoken against racism, and a person who strove to live a life true to herself, openly gay in an era when closeting was more the norm.
Sweetness and awww: A Handful of Happiness by Massimo Vachetta. This little memoir by an Italian veterinarian who opened a hedgehog rescue center will remind you that compassion is never wasted.
Nonfiction book that made me go hmmm while rubbing my chin in a thoughtful way, but also laugh several times: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling. This book is a sometimes hilarious, other times scary look at a failed attempt to build a libertarian Utopia in a small New Hampshire town. The author does a good job showing the humanity of the people involved, while also detailing the sometimes tragic consequences of prioritizing a rigid black-and-white ideology over the nuances of reality. You can ignore zoning and wildlife regulations in the name of freedom. But when you end up trapped in your house by bears that have come to see humans as their best source of food, that might not feel a lot like freedom.
Poetry that stands the test of time: Flame and Shadow by Sara Teasdale. I went to the way back transporter for this book by one of Missouri’s Pulitzer Prize winners. Her work puts me in mind of the nature-y essence of Mary Oliver combined with the sharp-edged insights of Dorothy Parker. “There Will Come Soft Rains” gives me chills every time I read it.
Nonfiction that made me want to do what they did: Wanderers, a History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews. The author begins with some of her own experiences in the mountains of Scotland, then forays into ten separate essays, each one focusing on a single woman who walked. How had I never heard about Dorothy Wordsworth before?
Novel written by a friend that’s so good I didn’t have to pretend even a little bit when I said I loved it: A Song for the Road by Kathleen Basi. Full disclosure — I was a beta reader for early drafts of this. I liked it so much, I still took the time to read the final version. It’s a touching but never maudlin look at grief. A year after Miriam loses her husband and two teen children in an accident, she happens across a road trip app her daughter was developing and decides to follow its prompts in an effort to find a way forward in her life. Along the way, she picks up a young pregnant hitchhiker. This sounds heavy, but there are also moments of real levity.
Highly original fiction celebrating neurodiversity, set in a specific cultural niche: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated to English by Ginny Tapley Takemori. This is a story about a woman who truly finds her calling, working part-time at a convenience store. If only everyone else in her life could accept this, things would be peachy. But her parents and sister always hold out hope that she will eventually “get better.” Keiko tries with all her might to understand and obey the rules of being human, observing that “foreign objects get expelled.” This book will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like a misfit.
Science memoir that made me say, Wow!: Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forestby Suzanne Simard. Suzanne Simard is a scientist who knows how to tell a story. Part memoir, part ecology lesson, this book is engaging and enlightening all the way through. The author has a knack for explaining science for the layperson. I was fascinated by the details of her experiments in old growth forests. Her nature descriptions are often breathtaking.
Some things I learned: Many trees in a forest have a reciprocal relationship, sending water and nutrients back and forth. Various kinds of fungi are instrumental in this. In a forest setting, if there’s a dry spell, the older, bigger trees with deep roots will pull up water from underground and send it to the younger, smaller trees with shallower roots to help them survive. That’s one of many reasons that clearcutting out big trees for wood products and replacing them with all new seedlings might not work out well. “We can think of an ecosystem of wolves, caribou, trees, and fungi creating biodiversity just as an orchestra of woodwind, brass, percussion, and string musicians assemble into a symphony.”
Historical fiction with added ghosts that made me say, Wow!: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan. Set in 14th century China, this story explores themes of fate, free will, loyalty, the nature of power, and of course, gender. Though we’re often taken deep into the point of view of Zhu, a girl who takes on her late brother’s identity in pursuit of his unclaimed fate, the author keeps back just enough so that the story does not become predictable. The characters are complex, the plot is clever, and the story a real page turner. Overall, I’d say this book accomplishes what art is supposed to – it made me feel and think deeply.
Laugh riot classic: Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. These short stories are a hoot, with the ever-resourceful, comically understated gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, time and again saving the skin of his employer, the hapless Bertie Wooster. In the process, Jeeves often advances his own agenda as well. Wodehouse had a genius for turns of phrase — “shrubbery that looked as if it had just come back from the dry cleaner” to describe a meticulously groomed garden, for instance. There’s quite a bit of slang of the era, and some that Wodehouse invented, but it’s easy to figure out the meaning by the context. I felt these stories were bracing — not the least bit rummy.
Unseasonably warm is becoming more the norm. It was 72 degrees F here today on Christmas Eve. Nothing for it but to hop on a bicycle. My husband, son-in-residence and I rode together far enough out of town that we had to dodge cow patties on the trail.
It was one of my longer journeys with Freida at nearly 13 miles round trip. After being sidelined for medical reasons earlier in the year, I’m doing everything I can to stay healthy in the hopes she and will be able to keep increasing our range.
I’m using up some holiday and vacation leave this week while my oldest kid visits. Thanks to climate change probably, the weather is warm enough for many long walks.
Today we went to Missouri’s Rock Bridge State Park. There were a few other walkers there, but very few. We had most of the wonders to ourselves. Of course, the first thing we had to see was *the* rock bridge for which the park is named.
Here’s another view of the rock bridge, this one from above:
We made our way down the Devil’s Icebox Cave, but the water was up too high for us to explore it much. We also neglected to bring flashlights.
Next, it was off on the trail that leads to a disused stone grain silo built 100+ years ago. As evidenced by the artwork, plenty of people have been here before us.
I found a friend inside.
A little research told me this festively colored fungus is called fulvifomes robiniae.
It is nice to get out of my own neighborhood occasionally. Missouri is a state with a lot of natural beauty, so I don’t have to travel far to find a pleasant hike.
Son the younger, who is currently living with me and the hubs, accompanied me today on my walk. We stopped to marvel at some large American sycamore trees, notable for their size and the fact that the bark sheds off, revealing stunning white wood underneath.
According to the Missouri Botanical Garden site,the American sycamore “is generally regarded to be the most massive tree indigenous to eastern North America. It is a deciduous, usually single-trunk tree that typically grows to 75-100’.” Indeed, I left the houses and cars in two of the photos for scale. The trees looked especially magnificent against the vivid blue, cloudless sky.
I know what you’re wondering about now, dear reader. When does Ancient Greek sculpture come into this story? The answer is, right now.
Son II commented that the peeling bark and white wood reminded him of some articles he’s been reading about statues from Greek antiquity. I learned some things from him during this conversation, notably that for centuries, scholars believed said statues had always been white. However, new scientific examinations reveal traces of pigment ingredients, showing the sculptures had originally been painted.
He also told me he believed from the images he’d seen imagining the original colors were off the mark. He thought artists who were so skilled and took such great care when carving wouldn’t have then made their creation garish. When I came home and looked on the internet, I saw what he meant. But I guess we can’t really know. Still, it’s fascinating to read about how a misconception is being revealed after all this time. Here’s a good article I found. The authors must know about culture, because they use British spellings, right?
Anyway, today’s walk was educational in more ways than one.
This tree is in a park near my house. Maybe someone else can identify the kind for me. I like to think of it as a survivor tree. At some point in the past, it fell over on its side. But did that make it give up? It did not!
It pushed some roots down from one side of its trunk and branches up from the other. It’s thrived like that for years now. I like to visit it for encouragement when things get difficult. It reminds me that life can knock you down, but that doesn’t always mean you can’t survive or even flourish. It reminds me not to give up, but to look for new alternatives, to adapt when faced with changes beyond my control.
Incidentally, the branches on the right side of the photo were propped there by someone recently. There’s a nice space in the middle, the right size to for a small child to sit in. Hmmm.
I was using some vacation hours today to work on a personal writing project, so naturally I took a three-mile walk. I assumed the day’s theme would be fall colors, but assumptions are often wrong. Also, the world around is full of astonishing finds if you pay attention.
First find, two doors down. A new resident in the neighborhood? You can’t tell from the photo, but this figure is BIG. I estimate at least seven feet tall, maybe more.
This gentleman has a polite request for us:
Whoa, how did these two get trapped here? Was it when the veil parted on Halloween? I nearly walked right over them without noticing! They’re not drawn on. They were put into the original sidewalk design when it was poured as far as I can tell.
I don’t know who Joe and Betty Wood were, but it seems they’re fondly remembered. Hi, Joe and Betty.
And finally, I did see some colors, too. ‘Tis I, Autumn.