05 October 2015

77 Favorite Novels

My plan was to identify my 100 favorite novels, but I stalled out at 77. I can think of other novels I've read, and enjoyed, but they don't qualify as "favorites." These aren't the greatest novels ever written -- though I think a handful should be on that list -- they're the ones I've enjoyed the most and most frequently returned to. I'm still on my first read of The Wake. I've read The Once and Future King at least 20 times. And if I had to pick just one --

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; Sherman Alexie
The Age of Innocence; Edith Wharton
Always Coming Home; Ursula LeGuin
The Anna Papers; Ellen Gilchrist
Another Roadside Attraction; Tom Robbins
Beloved; Toni Morrison
Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
By the Highway Home; Mary Stoltz
Ceremony; Leslie Marmon Silko
The Changeling; Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Child of Fortune; Norman Spinrad
Cold Comfort Farm; Stella Gibbons
Cold Mountain; Ian Frazier
The Crock of Gold; James Stephens
The Dharma Bums; Jack Kerouac
The Dispossessed; Ursula LeGuin
Driftless: David Rhodes
The English Patient; Michael Ondaatje
Fear of Flying; Erica Jong
The Fifth Sacred Thing; Starhawk
Gone to Soldiers; Marge Piercy
The Great Bay; Dale Pendell
The Handyman; Carolyn See
Hannah Coulter; Wendell Berry
Hardball; Sara Paretsky
The Heartsong of Charging Elk; James Welch
High Fidelity; Nick Hornby
The Highest Tide; Jim Lynch
Howard’s End; E.M. Forster
I, Claudius; Robert Graves
Island of the Blue Dolphins; Scott O’Dell
In the Name of the Rose; Italo Calvino
Jane Eyre; Charlotte Bronte
Jubilee; Margaret Walker
Lavinia; Ursula LeGuin
Let The Great World Spin; Column McCann
Lincoln; Gore Vidal
The Living; Annie Dillard
The Lord of the Rings; J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lacunae; Barbara Kingsolver
Little, Big; John Crowley
Little Women; Louisa May Alcott
The Last Unicorn; Peter Beagle
Lolly Willows; Sylvia Townes Warner
Mary Poppins; P.L. Travers
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; Kate DiCamillo
The Mists of Avalon; Marion Zimmer Bradley
Martin Marten; Brian Doyle
The Melendy Family; Elizabeth Enright
Middlemarch; George Elliot
Midwinter of the Spirit; Phil Rickman
My Antonia; Willa Cather
On Beauty; Zadie Smith
Outlande; Diana Gabaldon
The Once & Future King; T.H. White
The Owl Service; Alan Garner
Persuasion; Jane Austen
The Portrait of a Lady; Henry James
Possession; A.S. Byatt
Ragtime; E.L. Doctorow
Rascal; Sterling North
Riddley Walker; Russell Hoban
The Round House; Louise Erdrich
The Sea Lady; Margaret Drabble
The Sea Road; Margaret Elphinstone
The Secret Garden; Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Shipping News; Annie Proulx
Snow Falling on Cedars; David Guterson
Sophie’s Choice; William Styron
Stuart Little; E.B. White
Summer of Love; Lisa Mason
Ten Days in the Hills; Jane Smiley
Tell Me How Long This Train’s Been Gone; James Baldwin
To the Lighthouse; Virginia Woolf
Voices; Ursula LeGuin
The Wake; Paul Kingsnorth
The Wind in the Willows; Kenneth Grahame

27 August 2015

100 Greatest Novels of My Life - coming Soon

After seeing all these "100 greatest" book lists I decided to make my own list of personal greatest hits; books I've re-read most times, learned most from, most enjoyed, given to others most often, raved about most. I'm finding there's some research involved to recall books that were important decades ago, or remember authors of childhood favorites. Culling favorites from certain authors (Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Drabble) is challenging. The process also makes me want to check out some often-mentioned "great books" that I just haven't read. More soon.

23 April 2015

Old Kitties in Sun

Our dear old kitties Millie & Pox celebrate their 16th birthday this month. Millenium & Apocalypse were 1999 kittens who've lived their lives mostly outdoors, by their choice. Millie is a wild girl who lives rough in the summer; we don't know where she goes or what she does but she comes home when the weather turns cold. Pox stays close to the house, sleeps in his box up high, and never misses a meal. He's thinking of becoming a house cat in his old age.

They spent a lot of time hanging out together this winter & spring.

31 October 2014

Happy Halloween!

White cats are not traditional for this holiday, but Casper FEELS those Samhain-Halloween-Dia de los Muertos vibes. Green Man Jack O'Lantern by Professor Bob.

21 August 2014

Ultimate Summer Salad

It's all about the colors.

18 July 2014

Distant Neighbors

Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder. Wonderful, makes me miss the Age of Letters.

"And I myself am not comfortable with unnecessary exotic Far Eastern baggage in my secular and spiritual life here on Turtle Island. Trappings of the ancient Judeo-Roman world, or Greek Hellenistics, also strike me as exotic. Where to draw a style of our own from? The plain style of plain folks is truly attractive -- and also the free use of found feathers and beads, and the beautification of daily life with the things at hand that the Indians did so well. Oh boy: We sit in my barn doing Japanese Zen meditation, using those alien texts, but in the dialogue with the teacher, nothing is exotic -- it is really the depth of the natural heart. But the work that lies ahead, of creatively making a coherent style that fits our daily life, as well as our inner needs, is a big one; it could be a whole work in itself, even if there wasn't a planet about to crumble around us."

Gary Snyder to Wendell Berry
June 5, 1980

02 July 2014

Bees in the Poppies

Bees in the poppies, covered with ivory pollen, 8:30 am.
Do they use it medicinally? Treatment for nosema? Indulge on winter mornings, rain falling outside? Use when the hive weakens, those last weeks of dwindling, small cluster, the chill creeping in? Are there bee doctors, prescribing the right pollen for sickness or depression?

Some dark-red and wine-purple poppies buzz with three bees at a time, while the morning haze still hangs over the grass.

25 June 2014

Solutionary Rail Chronicles, I

A utopian fantasy in the form of an email.

From: Margot Boyer
Subject: Train to Chicago
Date: June 14, 2031
To: Bill Moyer

Hi Bill;

Writing to you from my sister’s place in Oak Park; big airy living room, south-facing with an overhanging porch that keeps off the summer sun, and doors that open to a garden of mostly prairie plants with a couple of roses near the door. They’re near the graywater outflow and seem happy, glossy leaves and strongly scented apricot blossoms that exactly match the cushions on the gray couch. This is not an accident. It’s especially pleasant in the morning with doors open.

Bob & I came out on the train for nephew Beckett’s high school graduation. I used to ride Amtrak cross country in the 80s, equipped with purple poncho, backpack of cheese & crackers, science fiction novels. I always loved trains; the smell of hot creosote still makes me nostalgic for riding the Blackhawk to Galena in 1976. But those trains were slow. When I was in college, the cross-country Empire Builder scheduled 50 hours from Chicago to Seattle, but was normally 6 to 12 hours late. We endured long mysterious waits in the middle of North Dakota while the AC ran at half power, everyone started to sweat, and babies began by whimpering and got to howling before the train moved.

So I was excited, but skeptical, to think that we’d arrive at Union Station after 26 hours, even with a couple of hour-long stops along the way. I armed myself with two days worth of knitting yarn, dried fruit and goat cheese, and your new memoir! Didn’t have much time to read on the train, but I’m loving the revelations of near-catastrophe with Backbone projects twenty years go. You surely have more secrets to spill in the next volume.

Bob brought his mini-computer and a wood carving project; pocket knife blades up to 3 inches are okay, if you want to take up whittling.

The new trains look like trains, duh, with a sort of rocket ship at the front end, but amazingly clean and quiet. The windows are clean, without the scratches and muck that accumulated on diesel trains. All the seats have good views, with folding panels to block the sun if you want. The seats are comfortable and spacious; we paid extra for the ones that fold flat so we could lie down completely -- well worth it.

Plenty of room to walk around among, I think, 32 cars. The lead car, which probably shouldn’t be called an engine. Staff dorm behind it. Further back, two separate lounge cars with drinks and snacks, an excellent diner, one car for big baggage. There were a couple of quiet cars, an official “noisy” car full of teenagers playing complicated board games and old guys watching games on a TV at full volume. I couldn’t sit in there but the atmosphere was convivial. The cars are not identical, but have minor variations in seating arrangement and several different color schemes so it’s easy to figure out which is yours. Wireless net everywhere, natch, and in one of the lounge cars a thoughtful library of actual books. Each one has an envelope tucked in back so they can be finished at leisure, and returned to the train station at either end of the journey.

The staff was professional and seemed to enjoy their jobs. The bartender in the Hawaiian-themed lounge car said she’s writing a dissertation on psychological adaptation to the abandoned cities (Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, southwest England), and the return of drowned-city myths similar to Atlantis or the French city of Is. She’s used her free-rail pass to visit Florida once a year for five years; 32 hours each way from her home in Portland.

The conductor – that’s not the right title, but the guy who looks after things in the cars, answers questions, makes sure people get off at the right station, and wears a sharp hat with a brim – said he’s been working in trains for 30 years. “When my kids were little I’d have to wait for a train to get home and never knew when that’d be. Once I got stuck in Fort Buford for six days in August. It was 110 and I missed my daughter’s big swim meet when her team won the championship. With the new trains I know when I’m getting home: 4 days on, 3 days off. I have a lot of seniority so I get about 8 weeks off a year. My wife and I usually go to LA in the spring and help in my son’s desert plant nursery, but we’ve been through Canada, Europe – next year we’re going to South America. We get great rates on the trains all over.”

Outside the tracks: strange bare rocks in the Cascades where glaciers used to be. Orchards in Eastern Washington; they’re still doing apples but with shade-culture, growing young trees on the east side of old ones and using contour to channel moisture to the growing trees. At CWU they’re breeding new heat-tolerant varieties – have you seen the pale-green Wenatchee apples? A lot of apricot and peaches and maybe pomegranates; is that possible? I swear I saw some.

There’s still a lot of dryland wheat, but the shapes of the fields have changed so it’s less of a checkerboard, instead following the contours of the land. North and east-facing slopes are in grain, south slopes in pasture. Smallish cattle, lots of sheep, lots of black Jacob goats with the fancy horns. In Montana we saw a herd of bison, hundreds or maybe a thousand.

The wind generation starts on the east slope of the Cascades and goes on to Minneapolis, at various scales. The biggest wind turbines have an op-art yellow and silver patterning that apparently scares off the birds so they don’t get caught in the blades.

The old rail towns looked spiffed up; I saw old motels that were obviously refurbished and doing business, signs for B&Bs at the station in every railroad town. Antique-and-café neighborhoods near the train stations. Old houses with fresh paint, bright colors, flower gardens! in North Dakota. Signs for the Prairie Restoration Corridor, state names and Dept. of Interior logo, here and there.

Do you remember 20 years ago we were demonstrating against coal trains and coal ports – downtown Seattle, rainy December, the opponents in red sweaters & Santa hats? I can’t believe we had to work so hard to block such a monumentally stupid idea. It was like the dead hand of a zombie industry dumbly intent on dragging us all into the pit; filling wetlands, contaminating aquifers, blocking traffic, suffocating children, all so it could fulfill its mission of catastrophic climate change. Is that why zombie movies were so popular in the waning years of the fossil fuel industry?

Obviously we reached a tipping point, and it now seems as inevitable as the electric light bulb but we didn’t see it coming. Obama nixed that huge oil pipeline. The big tribal lawsuit in Canada made it way too expensive to keep mining Alberta tar sands. The Whatcom county council refused permits for the coal port, and then all 4 western governors on both sides of the border dug in their heels and insisted that health and safety rules forbade them from letting the coal trains in. The big west coast corporations agreed, saying fuel trains would ruin property values. Buffett set up the electrification project on the northern trunk line. Then the Republican governor of North Dakota had that dream about Jesus and wind turbines, took all the Bakkan shale revenues, and plowed them into renewables. The Lakota and the Blackfeet nations decided to combine solar-voltaic with prairie restoration – so now the buffalo are grazing under the big solar collectors. After Northwestern University voted to divest from the FFs in 2016, the great plains colleges followed, and BP and Shell Oil lost 52% of their value in a single week, April 2018.

We arrived in Union Station, Chicago, 5 minutes ahead of schedule, with plenty of time to make our local, and went up to the Great Hall to stretch our legs. It’s sharp as ever, with some of the ancient wooden benches and new café tables under the 100-foot ceiling, filtered sunlight streaming in.

Have you seen the two huge pillars that guard the hall “To Trains,” each with a monumental female figure way up high? One holds an owl, and the other a rooster. My grandfather told me when I was little that they are Night and Dawn. He said it meant the train station is always open.

cheers for all your work!

22 March 2014

Stairway to Cat Heaven!

It's been a good winter for fiber arts: I've finished a small quilt, learned the basics of drop-spindle, made a small dressy sweater and a large scarf, and have eight projects in the works. This pattern, available online from McCalls Quilting, is called Stairway to Cat Heaven.

The pattern makes all 4 cats in black, silhouettes in the night. This take depicts the cats in our house, in white, white/gray, gray, and black velveteen. From top to bottom, these depict Millie, Pox, Rosemary, and Ramona.
I added embroidered details, including Pox's shoulder marking and the names, and quilted by hand in pale thread. This detail shows embroidery and quilt stitches, as well as the obvious marks of a white cat rubbing up against the quilt, which hangs behind our couch.
This project served as a sampler for trying techniques that were new (hand quilting) or that I hadn't done for a long time (embroidery). It left me wanting to stitch. The next project -- far more experimental -- features hand-stitching prominently.

10 October 2013

Oil and Honey: Like Bees in Autumn

Beeyard Report & Book Review
The bees know when fall arrives. On the 20th of September the bee yard was full of buzz – a photo can’t capture the smell of honey, the flight of thousands of pairs of golden wings, the need to bring in food before winter comes.
Now at mid-day the workers go foraging and return loaded with bright yellow pollen that winks in the dark as the bees enter the hives. Pulling a feeder in garden gloves I took a sting to my finger -- the bees are irritable and protective in this chill.

Bill McKibben’s new book Oil and Honey captures a different urgency; to create a movement that can stop the Keystone XL pipeline, protect our atmosphere and climate, and force politicians and corporations to consider more than their own short-term interest. 
It’s a memoir of recent events, from the creation of 350.org in 2006 to last year’s national bus tour that kicked off in Seattle the night after President Obama was re-elected. The excitement of movement-building creates tension in counterpoint to the peace of a neighbor’s honey-house. Hurricanes flood Vermont Valleys and the New York subway system, even as the Occupy movement and the 350 demonstrators find their strength.

Now that the entire nation has a front in the Extreme Energy wars, we struggle to block coal ports on the west coast, mines in Montana, tar sands oil pipelines through Texas, and fracking in Pennsylvania. Beekeepers do what they can to keep hives going despite parasites, pesticides, poisons in GE pollen, and violent weather. 
The urgency of bees in autumn brings in the food before the cold and dark descend. Our urgency is to protect what’s left, to stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere before we precipitate climate changes that will make civilization (maybe human life) impossible to maintain. 
Of course, we may have already passed the point of no return. With six hives to watch over, I’m hoping that some will make it to spring.