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Lake & Island Notes                                  April 2016

Northland College and the Bay Area Film Society Earth Day Film Event
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Bayfield couple travels to Cuba on agricultural research visas

Featured Title

Spain in Our Hearts
by Adam Hochschild

This is a fierce, but sober, account of the Spanish Civil War and, most particularly, the role of American volunteers in the conflict. Hochschild’s narrative is compelling and exciting and assesses accountability without overtly tilting toward the Republican side. There are heroes, self-promoters and, most assuredly, plenty of blame to go around. Principal among the latter, of course, are Franco and his Fascist and Nazi henchmen - Mussolini and Hitler. But, Stalin, despite his assistance to the Republicans, himself sowed discord in the ranks of the Republican militias with critical consequences. One must also consider the failure of the western democracies, including the United States, to lend support to its democratic ally. A chief bête noir in Hochschild’s telling is Torkild Rieber, an American Texaco executive, who provided the necessary petroleum products to Germany, Italy and, especially, Franco which went far to win the war for the Nationalists. While there are in-depth profiles of key American volunteers, most remain anonymous despite their heroism. 

Featured Title

Homage to Catalonia 
by George Orwell

Sticking with the theme of the Spanish Civil War, which began eighty years ago this year, we are reminded of George Orwell’s (born Eric Blair) personal account of his participation in the conflict. His descriptions of front-line combat and vicious street-fighting are jaw-dropping and accompanied by clear-eyed analysis of the Byzantine politics which Balkanized the Republican side. The government came under the control of communist apparatchiks and participants considered too bourgeois or too anarchist were harassed and often purged. He saw those divisions as critical to the failure of the Republican cause along with the failure of the US, France and others to provide assistance. Orwell’s love of the Spanish people and culture shines through his always gritty, but elegant prose. Worth reading (or re-reading, if it’s been decades since you first picked it up).
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Today is Earth Day 2016. Among the traditions of this day hereabouts is Northland College’s announcement of the winners of its annual Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Awards (SONWA) for adult, young adult and children’s literature. The prize was established in 1991 to honor the memory and literary legacy of Sigurd F. Olson and to support and encourage the work of contemporary writers who seek to carry on his tradition of quality nature writing. SONWA is presented annually to an author whose book best captures the spirit of the human relationship with the natural world and promotes the values which Olson held dear. Among the winners in the past few years have been: Carry Home by Gary Ferguson; Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer; and Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs.

This year’s winner in the adult category is For the Love of Rivers by Kurt Fausch a Stream Ecologist at Colorado State University. This is a fine and compelling book that weaves together the science of rivers and streams with the triumphs and tragedies of human interactions in the natural world. It also reflects on the larger questions of how and why water ecosystems are critical to our lives and what will be necessary to ensure their future viability. As with past winners, Professor Fausch is expected to be on the Northland Campus to receive the award sometime this fall. Stay tuned!

Among the excellent cast of some fifty nominees, several books stood out and are worthy of special mention: Resurrection Science by M. R. O’Connor, which explores the incredible scientific measures being taken stave off the extinction of vulnerable species, is a beautifully-written and deeply provocative book; Satellites in the High Country by Jason Mark tracks the author’s journeys in search of wilderness and its meaning and enduring power in the Anthropocene; The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf is a page-turning biography of the visionary German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt whose ideas lie at the root of modern environmentalism; and, Lentil Underground by Michael Pollan protégé Liz Carlisle that links together interests of the emerging sustainable agricultural movement with those of the traditional conservationist movement and contemplates the politics that inform both.

This year’s winner in the Young Adult category is Water Runs Through This Book by Nancy Bo Flood. This book presents a sense of wonder and mystery about water, presenting unusual information – regional, global, and astronomical – and then describes ways to conserve this resource that is essential to life – from birth to death. Finally the winner in the children's category is North Woods Girl by Aimée Bissonette, and illustrations by Claudia McGehee. This is a book that celebrates life’s simple, quiet pleasures—from canning summer vegetables to savoring the smell of pine—as well as the importance of sharing them with like-minded souls of any age.

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What we're reading...

Water Runs Through This Book  
by Nancy Bo Flood

Water Runs Through This Book is written for readers, young and old, “green or not yet green” who are interested in participating through art or action to increase water awareness and water conservation. Through photographs, verse, and narration, this book celebrates the most essential ingredient to life: water. This book is much more than an exploration of how water impacts life on Earth. It is a guide for how readers of all ages can become conservationists and protectors of this endangered resource.
North Woods Girl
by Aimée Bissonette, Illustrations by Claudia McGehee

“When Grandma tucks her pants into her oversized boots and grabs her walking stick, I run to catch up,” reports a young girl charmed by her visits to Grandma’s north woods home. Their walks take them through the seasons, to a pond with a downed tree just right for sitting, to a garden lush with tomatoes ready for canning, through a snowy nighttime woods where the only sounds are the squeak of boots on snow and the hooting of a distant owl. Whatever the month, there are plenty of woodland critters to observe: squirrels or rabbits or deer, geese or goldeneyes or mergansers. Time with Grandma teaches about quiet observation, generous sharing of resources, the beauty of the forest and pond at any hour. Grandma is the quintessential north woods girl, breathing deep the piney scents, relishing the chirping activity of her animal neighbors. Small wonder that her admiring granddaughter is inspired to follow in her footsteps. With a tale as understated as Grandma herself, Aimée Bissonette shares a message of appreciating the treasures of our natural surroundings.

Final Thoughts...

Thank you to Northland College and Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute Magazine for sharing the following excerpt from the book Wilderness Days:

by Sigurd F. Olson

"It was late May, before dawn and the first calling of the birds. The lake was breathing softly as in sleep; rising and falling it seemed to me, absorbing like a great sponge all the last sounds of spring; the tiny trickles, the tinklings and whisperings from still-thawing banks of hidden snow and ice. No wind rustled the leaves; there was no lapping of water against the shore, no sound of any kind. But I listened just the same, straining with all my faculties toward something -- I knew not what -- trying to catch the meanings that were in that moment before the lifting of the dark. 

Standing there alone, I felt alive, more aware and receptive than ever before. A shout or movement would have destroyed the spell. This was a time for silence, for being in pace with ancient rhythms and timelessness, the breathing of the lake, the slow growth of living things. Here the cosmos could be felt and the true meaning of attunement... "

Happy Earth Day from all of us at Apostle Islands Booksellers!

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