Posted on

BirdNote: Chirp-sized bird stories from the popular radio show

Here in Ashland, Oregon, I listen to our local radio station KSKQ. And for the past several years I’ve enjoyed the weekly, two-minute BirdNote programs.

So I was excited to find that there is now a BirdNote book. What the book lacks in audio, it makes up for in very high print production values; it is beautifully designed, with full-color illustrations and a handy bookmark tassel.

This will make an excellent gift for the would-be birder in your family. And even veteran birders will enjoy it. While I’d like to think I’ve learned a fair amount about birds over the years spent gazing upwards, I still learned plenty, such as:

  • The Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker rely heavily on ants that bore through the trees. A Norther Flicker was known to consume 5,000 ants in one sitting (or perching).
  • The Green Heron may use a “bait” of twigs, feathers or insects to attract fish within reach of their bills.
  • A barn swallow eats up to 850 insects a day — making this a wonderful bird to have around not just a barn, but any yard.
  • There is a crow roost in Illinois that is home to 100,000 crows. I would love to hear that.
  • The cardinal (who I sorely miss out here in the Oregon) was named after the red hats and robes of the Roman cardinals.
  • And speaking of red, cars this color are most often targeted by birds doing their business, according to a study. Green cars are least likely to be targeted.
  • And the much-maligned starling gets some deserved love. I find their symphony of sounds to be truly remarkable. And I was not alone; turns out Mozart had a pet starling that he wrote a poem about after it passed on.

My only complaint is that it would have been nice to see longer, more informative notes. A number of notes come in at just a few paragraphs.

Also, while some chapters do explain why certain species are threatened, such as the California Condor, I would have liked to see more of this, such as regarding the many species of albatross now under threat.

Quibbles aside, I recommend this book to anyone who loves birds (or anyone you think should love birds).

PS: All BirdNotes can be listened to online here

BirdNote: Chirps, Quirks, and Stories of 100 Birds from the Popular Public Radio Show

Publisher: Sasquatch Books

Posted on

The Overstory: An arboreal love story (and lament)

When we started EcoLit Books five years ago, this was the type of book I had in mind.

A novel that places nature in its proper place in relation to people. That is, above us — in this case, both figuratively and literally.

In The Overstory, Richard Powers has crafted an epic novel that stretches hundreds of years, culminating in a series of life-and-death environmental battles. But even more so, this is a novel about rediscovering the largest and oldest living creatures on our planet.

So many of the characters are alien to the trees they share the planet with until various events open their eyes. And they look. They smell. They see and feel the loss. And they act up.

The book could be used to teach a course on trees. And it should be used for just that purpose. I have books about trees — mostly identification. But identifying a tree is only step one. How does a tree relate to the creatures around it? How does it respond to insect attacks? How does it care for its siblings? And other species of trees? For example, the Douglas Fir, which we live among here in Southern Oregon, are called “giving trees” because the dying trees will send out nutrients to the Ponderosa Pines. Powers does an outstanding job of providing insights into beings we have only just begun to understand.

But there are oversights in the novel in regards to activism. While the novel addresses environmental activism in Oregon and elsewhere, the players are too often seen eating meat without any awareness of the irony of defending one living entity while eating another. I know that many of those activists who have served actual time behind bars for similar crimes are vegan. They don’t differentiate between protecting trees and protecting non-human animals. And it must be noted that millions upon millions of acres of forests have been cleared for the sole purpose of raising cows and sheep for human consumption.

In many ways I feel that this novel begins where Barkskins by Annie Proulx ends. And I highly recommend reading them in chronological order. And I’m not just talking about time but about awareness — our collective awareness that the planet is not some all-you-can-eat buffet, that the planet is, like us, finite and fragile. If you are not a “tree hugger” before reading these two books, you will be afterwards.

And I think what I like most about this book are the voices he gives those who have no (human) voice. Such as: All the ways you imagine us–bewitched mangroves up on stilts, a nutmeg’s inverted spade, gnarled baja elephant trunks, the straight-up missile of a sal–are always amputations. Your kind never sees us whole. You miss the half of it, and more. There’s always as much belowground as above.

Like the trees Powers writes so beautifully about, this book towers above us and nurtures us. And, I certainly do hope, it motivates us to do more. And quickly.

The Overstory: A Novel

Posted on

Upcoming writer and artist opportunities at PLAYA

PLAYA, a creative residency program in Summer Lake, Oregon, is organizing two exciting artist+scientist opportunities for next year:

Confluence of Creative Inquiry: Climate Change Communication Residency
July 3-4, 2017

Art + Science and the Cultural Terrain
July 17-August 11, 2017

For more information on how to participate, click here.

And, of course, PLAYA is also accepting general artist residency applications for 2017.

PS: PLAYA is a generous sponsor of the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature.

Posted on

Book Review — Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country

collared

Wolves–will they ever cease to create controversy and incite emotion? After all, they are just another four-legged, fur-covered predator–powerful, but certainly not the “beast of waste and desolation,” that Teddy Roosevelt called them. Hopefully, the time will come when our biases become obsolete and people accept Canis lupus as the survivors they are. But we are still light years away from this understanding.

Which, in a sense is OK, because if wolves weren’t such a love ‘em or loath ‘em species, people would probably stop writing about them. And we wouldn’t have books like Aime Lyn Eaton’s Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country to enjoy.

Eaton does an admirable job of representing both sides in the proverbial wolf wars. She includes comments from wolf advocacy groups including Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Big Wildlife, and Northeast Oregon Ecosystems. Their sentiments express the belief that the wolf is valuable to our ecosystem and should be protected.

And from the other side, Eaton offers a voice for Oregon ranchers, a group that tends to express regret that wolves ever returned to Oregon. Eaton spends time with livestock producers in the northeast corner of the state and we sense her sympathies for the added element of hardship wolves can add to a rancher’s already difficult life.

Collared also reveals the workings of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), especially Russ Morgan, the state’s Wolf Coordinator. Caught in the middle, the ODFW must manage Canis lupus while surrounded by a culture fed on misinformation about the species. The pressure of Morgan’s position comes clear as Eaton sits beside him in his pickup truck, watching Morgan who “…seems to have a weariness that goes beyond not getting enough sleep.”

Eaton provides an in-depth review of the Oregon Wolf Plan (OWP), the people behind it, and the changes made to the plan. She takes us to the first gathering of the Wolf Advisory Committee held in 2003, and none of the tension of that meeting is lost in the retelling. The book includes an addendum that explains the July, 2013 revamping of the OWP, which directs in detail how livestock depredations are handled. This is an innovative document, one that sets Oregon apart from other states by allowing lethal removal of wolves only as a last resort. Under the new guidelines, livestock owners must demonstrate the use of non-lethal measures before the state will step in and kill predating wolves. And wolves now have four strikes, meaning they are allowed four qualifying incidents of livestock injury or death within a six month period before the ODFW will remove the offending animals.

Collared is a slim book, but then Oregon’s current wolf saga is also slim. The last of our original wolves was killed in 1947. Fifty-two years later, a wolf wandered to Oregon from Idaho. She was hastily caught and returned. But more followed and according to the ODFW, at the end of 2012 there were at least 46 wolves in six packs. All are in the northeast section of Oregon, except for Journey, the legendary wandering wolf who is now camped out in the southwestern part of the state.

Collared is a book for hard-core wolf enthusiasts, those who want all the details. Yet despite the scholarly bent of this book it is a captivating read. Eaton’s seamless writing takes us into all aspects of the wolf issue, from a hash brown scented diner where she meets with a rancher, to the Eagle Cap Wilderness where Eaton and Roblyn Brown, ODFW Assistant Wolf Coordinator, track a newly discovered pack of wolves. Her forays into the wilderness in search of wolves are some of the most memorable parts of the book.

It stands to reason that there should be a sequel to Collared (perhaps Uncollared?) as the Oregon wolf population increases and disperses into the Cascades and elsewhere. By the time this occurs, perhaps there will be less need to micro-manage the species. But the need will continue unless we change. As Eaton writes, “The wolves are just being wolves.” And Russ Morgan’s wise response to this comment is, “Yeah, it’s the people that are the challenge.”

Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country
Author: Aimee Lyn Eaton
Publisher: Oregon State University Press