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Lake & Island Notes                                                    May 2014

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Featured Title
 


One Summer 

by Bill Bryson

It was the summer that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, much of the country was engulfed by a catastrophic flood, Jack Dempsey lost the famous “long count” fight to Gene Tunney, the world’s leading bankers made the policy adjustment that would do so much to bring down Wall Street in 1929, “The Jazz Singer” was released, an American audience got its first public demonstration of television, work started on Mount Rushmore, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, and Henry Ford stopped making Model T’s. And oh, yes, most of the world went mad over a 25-year-old prodigy named Charles Lindbergh, who flew a flimsy plane to Paris from New York.

All this and much, much more transpired in that epic summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order. Available in paperback on June 3rd.

Featured Title
 


The Serpent of Venice

by Christopher Moore

What do you get when you stitch Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and “The Cask of Amontillado” together? Well, you get this absurd adventure in which Pocket, the royal fool introduced in Moore’s Fool (2009), is lured to Venice, where he thinks he’ll be having a fun time with the beautiful Portia, but where three men (including a man named Iago) are actually planning to murder him. To some, the idea of combining two Shakespeare plays and an Edgar Allan Poe short story might be vaguely chilling, but in Moore's usual ways, he creates genius!

If you’re the kind of reader who insists Shakespeare is untouchable, then this novel will probably annoy you on principle. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Moore’s brand of history-mangling humor, you’ll dive right in with a big grin on your face. We think the grins win in the end.

 

Featured Title


This is a Moose
by Richard T. Morris

When a movie director tries to capture the life of a moose on film, he’s in for a big surprise. It turns out the moose has a dream bigger than just being a moose–he wants to be an astronaut and go to the moon. His forest friends step in to help him, and action ensues. Lots of action. Like a lacrosse-playing grandma, a gigantic slingshot into space, and a flying, superhero chipmunk.
In this hilarious romp, Richard T. Morris and bestselling illustrator Tom Lichtenheld remind us to dream big and, when we do, to aim for the moon.

Featured Title


Destroyer Angel 
by Nevada Barr

Anna Pigeon, a ranger for the U.S. Park Services, sets off on vacation—an autumn canoe trip in the to the Iron Range in upstate Minnesota. With Anna is her friend Heath, a paraplegic; Heath’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth; Leah, a wealthy designer of outdoor equipment; and her daughter, Katie, who is thirteen. For Heath and Leah, this is a shakedown cruise to test a new cutting edge line of camping equipment. The equipment, designed by Leah, will make camping and canoeing more accessible to disabled outdoorsmen. On their second night out, Anna goes off on her own for a solo evening float on the Fox River.  When she comes back, she finds that four thugs, armed with rifles, pistols, and knives, have taken the two women and their teenage daughters captive. With limited resources and no access to the outside world, Anna has only two days to rescue them
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One of the crown jewels in our Chequamegon Region is Northland College in Ashland. The school dates back to 1892 and has a deep focus on the environment and sustainability. In 1972 Northland created the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute with the aim of empowering citizens to be good stewards of the environment by facilitating solutions to environmental problems in the North Country through education, research, and citizen involvement. The Institute, since 1992, has presented the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award that honors books that capture the spirit of the human relationship with the natural world and promote the values that preserve or restore the land for future generations.
 
This year we have had the distinct honor and pleasure of serving on the juries which determined the winning books in both the adult and children’s categories. The winners have just been announced. In the adult category, the prize goes to Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Dr. Kimmerer has her PhD in plant ecology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is currently Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at SUNY. She beautifully blends the indigenous wisdom of her Native American roots with the rigor of her scientific knowledge to create a work of rare grace and inspiration. Braiding Sweetgrass weaves its way toward her central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.
 
The children’s award goes to A Place for Turtles written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond. This book simply and beautifully introduces young readers to ways human action or inaction can have a direct impact on the creatures that share our world, and opens children’s minds to a wide range of interrelated ecological issues.
 
Another remarkable initiative of Northland College is a commitment to source its food products locally and sustainably. In the past two school years, Northland exceeded its goals and is sourcing over 30% of its food locally. Northland’s ultimate goal is 80%. This bold plan is engaging the academic and surrounding communities in the challenge of walking the talk of sustainability, resiliency and buying local.  It is an excellent hands-on learning experience for all involved, and a clear reflection of Northland’s long-standing values and commitment to its students’ futures.


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The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be

by J.B. MacKinnon

This book was a finalist for the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award.
 
Having just returned from a visit to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), our earlier reading of J.B. MacKinnon’s meditation on the state of the natural world has resolved to crystal clarity. Rapa Nui is a microcosm of MacKinnon’s worldview. Humans first arrived there in the first millennium AD. By 1722, when the first Europeans arrived, its lush, pristine ecosystem had already been devastated and its Polynesian civilization left in ruins. The Europeans, needless to say, continued and extended that process. 
 
MacKinnon begins by asking us to, “Picture the first place you thought of as nature.”  He then goes on to show how, by the “shifting baseline syndrome” or “change blindness,” that picture is illusory and the result of a long history of human transformation. By 1492, which we often take as the baseline, every corner of the Americas had been radically changed by its native populations. Each generation comes to assume that the “nature” it grows up with is the normal state. And so it goes like the proverbial frog in a pot of warming water.
 
MacKinnon claims that what is left is a “10% world” – that the variety of species, their number, and the range that they occupy are 10% of what they used to be. What’s more, the loss of each species results in a “double disappearance” – that is the loss that occurs to us by the extinction or extirpation of a critter with which we have interacted. His prescription is to “…remember, reconnect and rewild." This is a sobering book, but the elegance of its prose is a pleasure to read.

End of Night

by Paul Bogard

This book was a finalist for the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award.
 
Paul Bogard takes us on a progressively darkening tour of the night sky going from the brightest point on the planet – Las Vegas’ Luxor Beam – to one of the darkest – the Great Basin National Park also, interestingly, in Nevada. Bogard’s premise is that light pollution is more and more alienating us from the beauty and importance of the night sky. His metrics are horrifying! He projects that 80% of children born in the US today will never know a night dark enough to see the Milky Way and that for 75% of us our eyes never switch to night vision.
 
Bogard has roots in the north having been born in Minneapolis and spending time in northern Wisconsin where his love for the night sky grew and set. He even had a stint at Northland College. There, in the Apostle Islands and some places along the south shore of Lake Superior, the Milky Way blazes across the sky, the northern lights shimmer, and the moon casts its own light and shadows. The range of Bogard’s exploration is worldwide and his prose is a deep pleasure. Witness:
 
“These are maybe the most exciting stars, those just above where sky meets land and ocean, because we so seldom see them, blocked as they usually are by atmosphere…and, as I grow more and more accustomed to the dark, I realize that what I thought were still clouds straight overhead aren’t clearing and aren’t going to clear, because these are clouds of stars, the Milky Way come to join me. There’s the primal recognition, my soul saying, yes, I remember.”
Ellie's Log: Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell
by Judith L. Li

This book was a finalist for the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Children's Award.

We really liked Ellie’s Log for how it artfully combines adventure, storytelling and scientific inquiry. The story is related as fiction but is clearly designed to convey factual information about the forest ecosystem. After a huge tree falls in the forest behind her home during a winter storm, eleven-year-old Ellie and her new friend, Ricky, explore the forest where Ellie lives. Together, they learn how trees provide habitat for plants and animals high in the forest canopy, down among mossy old logs, and deep in the pools of a stream. The plants, insects, birds, and mammals they discover come to life in colored pen-and-ink drawings. Ellie’s father is the U.S. Forest Service forest manager, and her mother is a naturalist so they help Ellie and Ricky identify and explain what they see. However, the two children also demonstrate how to consult appropriate references and explore on their own. 
 
The narrative alone could be a bit a bit dry for young readers, but it is artfully supplemented with excerpts from Ellie’s own field notebook. Ellie’s drawings and notes are distinctly colorful and childlike, and they create an inspiring model for any young person wanting to explore and record their observations in nature. 
 
Ellie’s Log also features book recommendations and online resources for readers and teachers—including a Teacher’s Guide—which are available at the companion website.
 
One caution is that Ellie’s Log is set in the Pacific Northwest, so, while the book generally models good nature journaling, children living in environments very different than the one detailed in the book, might not find it as helpful.

Final Thoughts from Sigurd Olsen...


"The more civilized man becomes, the more he needs and craves a great background of forest wildness, to which he may return like a contrite prodigal from the husks of an artificial life."
 
“I have found that people go to the wilderness for many things but, the most important of these is perspective. They may think they go for the fishing or the scenery or companionship but, in reality it is something far deeper. They go to the wilderness for the good of their souls.”
 
“Joys come from simple and natural things; mist over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water. Even rain and wind and stormy clouds bring joy.”
 
“Simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons. It is what we leave behind that is important. I think the matter of simplicity goes further than just food, equipment, and unnecessary gadgets; it goes into the matter of thoughts and objectives as well. When in the wilds, we must not carry our problems with us or the joy is lost.”

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