Sunday, July 5, 2020

Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice by Gretel Van Wieren - BOOK REVIEW

Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice by Gretel Van Wieren

Gretel Van Wieren went on a retreat to the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon’s western Cascade Mountains to reconnect with the natural world. She grew up on west Michigan’s lakeshore and her favorite childhood memories were of fishing with her dad, hunting for morels, digging in the garden, boiling maple sap, identifying birds, and generally spending time outdoors.

She decided to treat her writing residency in Oregon as a "spiritual experiment" to try to recapture that sense of deep connection with nature she had when growing up. Living a busy life of a college professor with a husband and three teenagers had her feeling over-scheduled, over-screened, and over-stressed. The question was whether ten days in the woods would be enough to spiritually reconnect with the natural world. She wrote about her experience and what she learned in Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice (OSU Press).

The book describes Gretel's time at the Andrews Forest, what she did and saw and what she thought about while she was there. She looks back at her childhood and experiences with her husband and children. The unifying theme of the book is her spiritual practice and how it connects her to the natural world. Gretel first realized that her childhood experiences of nature influenced her spiritual outlook when she was at Divinity School. Later, when working as a pastor in rural upstate New York, she began to explore the world of nature mysticism, which inspired and informs much of Listening at Lookout Creek.

While this book has more trees and moss – and fewer bugs (thank goodness) – it reminded me a bit of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I loved despite the bugs. Reader's who enjoyed Dillard's classic will enjoy Listening at Lookout Creek, as would parents thinking about getting their kids outdoors more and on screens less, the fishing and hunting community, and spiritual seekers. It's a book that made me want to slow down and spend time in a forest.


Read my Q&A interview with Gretel Van Wieren here, where Gretel talks about getting kids outdoors, a spiritual connection with the natural world, and her new book, Listening at Lookout Creek.

Read Gretel's 10 Tips for Getting Your Kids Outdoors.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Independence Day!

This is the text of the Declaration of Independence, signed by representatives of the original 13 United States. The original document is on display in the Rotunda at the National Archives Museum. The spelling and punctuation reflects the original.


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

   He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

   He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

   He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

   He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

   He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

   He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

   He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

   He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

   He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

   He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

   He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

   He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

   He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

   For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

   For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

   For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

   For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

   For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

   For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

   For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

   For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

   For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

   He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

   He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

   He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

   He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

   He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Spiral Shell and Braided in Fire: BOOK BEGINNINGS


As we head into this long Independence Day weekend here in the US, I have two books to share on Book Beginnings on Friday. Please join me to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are featuring this week.

Add the link to your post in the Linky below. If you share your post on social media come up please use the #bookbeginnings so we can find each other.


Both books I have are new World War II histories described as memoirs. I get the idea they are “memoirs” because the authors inserted themselves into the narratives, describing the way they investigated the histories they wanted to write about and how they interacted with the people whose stories they told. But I will understand more when I read the books. They both look excellent.

The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals Its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II by Sandell Morse

I knew so little of my own history. On my father's side, I had two names: Henriette Ducas and Jacques Hirsch, my great-grandparents, both born in Héricourt, France, a commune in the Alsace that used to go back and forth between France and Germany, a spoil of war.

The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals Its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II by Sandell Morse.

When Sandell Morse was 71 years old, she got a writer's grant to go to France. The result is The Spiral Shell in which she explores her inward journey to find her own identity as a Jew, and her outward journey as she pieces together the history of French Jews under the Vichy government.

Braided in Fire: Black GIS and Tuscan Villagers on the Gothic Line by Solace Wales

I stood in dappled shade on a small hilltop in northern Tuscany, somewhat perplexed. How had I, despite walking daily past this monument to World War II heroes, missed seeing this name before?

Braided in Fire: Black GIS and Tuscan Villagers on the Gothic Line by Solace Wales.

Solace Wales tells the story of Sommocolonia and the Black 366th Infantry Regiment that defended the village in WWII during the Battle of Garfagnana. At the center of her story are Lieutenant John Fox, who won the Medal of Honor for his heroism and the brave Biondi family.


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Freda at Freda's Voice hosts a weekly event where participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of their book of the week. Please visit her blog to share your post on The Friday 56.


From The Spiral Shell:

"This is important to me, that he became a gendarme afterward."

Important to me, too. His father was not involved in round-ups and deportations.

From Braided in Fire:

Most of the students at Ft. Benning were white. Apart from having separate sleeping quarters, Ft. Benning was not segregated.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Kevin T. Myers - Author Interview

headshot of Kevin T. Myers, author of novel Hidden Falls

Kevin T. Myers has worked as a stand-up comic, comedy writer, journalist, editor, speechwriter, and media liaison, among other jobs. He grew up in Massachusetts and now lives in Portland, Oregon where he works at a spokesperson for Reed College. 

Myers's new novel Hidden Falls launches July 15 from Beaufort Books. It is available for pre-order now.

book cover of Hidden Falls by Keven T. Myers

Kevin talked with Rose City Reader about his new book, Hidden Falls, its New Bedford setting, and what books he likes to read:

How did you come to write Hidden Falls?

When I began Hidden Falls, I was emerging from a dark time when I was processing a lot of old trauma through my writing. I set out to write the book I wanted to read to help lift me out of that place. At the time, my guilty pleasure (read: obsession) was reading the missed connections classifieds. It was a carnival midway of ideas, emotions, magical thinking, hope, optimism, denial, and sometimes depravity. Mostly it was filled with romantic souls exposing their secret desires to the world in hope of finding a connection. So, I started to write a comedic love story whose protagonist was pursuing a relationship through an ad he found.

I don’t write following an outline, and somewhere along the way my protagonist, Michael Quinn, went lookin’ for trouble. The original story almost necessitated that Michael be an unreliable narrator. As I dug deeper into why he was so lacking in self-awareness, his backstory became more interesting to me than what I was writing. Had I not had that false start, I don’t think Michael would have been as interesting, and I don’t think the book would be as fun.

The setting of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is key to the story because the location shaped the personalities of many of the characters. Why did you choose New Bedford?

Well, nobody had ever written a decent book connected with New Bedford. I was going to begin with the line, “Call me Michael.” Kidding. The story of Hidden Falls was invented whole cloth. It is also deeply rooted in the milieu of New England’s lower middle class, where I was raised. As I get older, I find myself becoming more appreciative of what I think was a pretty unique upbringing. In the first draft, Michael was from my hometown of Peabody, Massachusetts, but when the story started taking on elements of crime, I decided to change it to New Bedford. Not because of how it would reflect on the city, but because illegal gambling was so prevalent in Peabody that I didn’t want people to mistake the book for a memoir.

I chose New Bedford because I think it is the archetype of the kind of New England town I wanted to write about. The once great centers of now dead American industries. At one time, Peabody was to leather tanning what New Bedford was to whaling. The towns’ high school teams are named the Tanners and Whalers. We took great pride in an era and trade we never knew. It’s part of our heritage. The people from my hometown have a special bond that’s not easily explained. There’s also a connection to sports, professional and otherwise, that a lot of people who have never been exposed to that environment don’t understand. I wanted to explore those themes and I thought New Bedford was a great place to do that.

Your book is a mix of family drama and gangster story, kind of Richard Russo meets Elmore Leonard. Did you plan it that way or did the story take a turn as you went along?

The writer/director Judd Apatow said Hidden Falls was like Dennis Lehane meets David Sedaris; a theme seems to be developing that I’m really enjoying. I read Russo’s Straight Man around the time I started Hidden Falls. I never thought it influenced my book, but now you have me wondering. To answer your question, the book evolved into what it became. The characters lead me into the family drama and gangster stuff. I was about 30,000 words into what I was calling Missed Connections when it really became a different book. I went back and threw out most of it and reworked a few things. The rewrite was very intentional. I added some characters and gave others more of a voice.

The idea of combining genres was inspired by the French New Wave. I studied filmmaking in college and became fascinated by the idea of altering the construction of a film’s reality as it progresses. In Hidden Falls I wanted the narrator, Michael Quinn, to gradually ease readers from his workaday life in Portland to his extraordinary life in New Bedford without hitting readers over the head. That’s why there is an emphasis on Michael’s internal dialogue. His Portland concerns don’t go away, they just change perspective as he falls deeper into the realities of his life in New Bedford.

What do you admire most about your protagonist Michael Quinn? What is his least endearing trait?

I think what I admire most is that Michael is his willingness to take in new information, learn from it, and adapt his behavior as a result. He’s slow on the uptake, for sure, but he eventually gets there. His least endearing trait is still endearing when it’s not infuriating. He has a little Walter Mitty in him, but his fantasy life is more functional than fantastic. Michael is an editorial writer for the fictional Portland Daily, and his lack of self-awareness expresses itself in his columns; they are more aspirational than accurate when he’s writing about his own life.

What did you learn from writing Hidden Falls – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

I learned to trust my process and my instincts. I’ve been writing for a very long time, but only started writing novels about 10-years ago. My first manuscript was never published. I read it recently and totally understand why. It was very stiff. I made all the obvious choices. It was like I was imitating someone else’s writing. With Hidden Falls, I just listened to my own voice and gave the characters freedom to explore. My first manuscript was written while I was in a writing group and it reads like it was written for the group’s approval rather than my own creative expression. To be clear, that was my fault, not their influence. There were some really good writers in that group, but I think I was more concerned with impressing them, or at least not embarrassing myself—I lacked confidence as a writer at that time. What surprised me was following my process and trusting my instincts brought Hidden Falls to places that I didn’t foresee.

What is your professional background? How did it lead you to writing this novel?

My resume looks like a shotgun blast. I started out my adult life as a standup comic and comedy writer in Hollywood, including writing for the Archie comic strip. I was an agent for syndicated newspaper columnists, like Hunter S. Thompson and Ann Landers. Then I wrote screenplays and directed a low budget feature film. I sold newspaper ad space and wrote movie reviews for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and became the first editor of their website. I was a bartender. I moved to Alaska and did communications for the Sierra Club; trained as a bagel maker; was the morning news anchor for the pop radio station. I was the general manager and editor of the Capital City Weekly, which all lead to my first job in Higher Education at the University of Alaska Southeast. Now, I’m the director of communications for Reed College.

I’ve always tried to move in a direction that would sharpen my skills as a communicator, and my career choices have given me a lot of life experience from which to draw.

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

I don’t know that I’ve ever been given a single piece of advice about being an author that was all that valuable. The most useful advice came from my standup days—it’s some version of find your voice. There are no tricks or shortcuts, you have to put in the work. I was talking about this recently with a group of writers. I’ve been to scores of readings and lectures by wonderful, talented, and successful writers; but it’s seldom you hear the same piece of advice twice. All the contradictory counsel leads me to believe that the best advice is to find what works for you.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the books you read?

This is a tough one. I do think I my writing is more influenced by specific books rather than certain authors, but there are writers who blow me away like, Ishmael Beah. Radiance of Tomorrow has stayed with me from the moment I first picked it up. It’s so beautifully written. It’s filled with love and hope while navigating the most horrific setting imaginable. In some ways it’s like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I couldn’t put it down, but I didn’t want to read on. Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery was the first piece of writing that I have carried with me my whole life, and I love The Haunting of Hill House for very different reasons – it’s funny, quiet, and meticulous in its exposition of a mind unraveling. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was the book that made me want to be a writer. I also love Kurt Vonnegut, Peter Rock, Dennis Lehane, and David Eggers.

What are you reading now?

I recently finished Peter Rock’s, The Night Swimmers, which I highly recommend, and now I’m about halfway through Peter Stark’s Astoria. Evidently, I’m going through a Peter phase.

What do you do to promote your book? Do you use social networking sites or other internet resources?

I have a website that has links to some of my other writing and some of the nice things people have said about Hidden Falls. I also have an author Facebook page where I have recorded a few readings from the book.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

Well, I bought a Ferrari with my anticipated royalties from the book. So, there’s that. I’m working on a novel manuscript that’s set during the late ’70s in my hometown of Peabody, Massachusetts. The story takes place as the last of the factories are folding up and leaving town. The protagonist is going into his freshman year of high school and desperately wants to make the varsity basketball team—but the book is really about coping with sexual abuse in an environment of toxic masculinity.



Thursday, June 25, 2020

Arzak + Arzak and Create Beautiful Food at Home: BOOK BEGINNINGS

It's Friday! Time to share the first sentence (or so) of the book capturing your attention right now. For me, two new cookbooks have captured my attention.

Please share your Book Beginning on Friday by adding the link to your post below, or leaving a comment telling us where to find you on social media. Or just leave a comment with the opening sentence and name of the book.

Please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings so we can find each other.


Arzak + Arzak by Juan Mari & Elena Arzak (Grub Street Books)

Arzak has been a household name in Spain since the 1970s and Juan Mari Arzak, who presides over the family restaurant, is the innovative force behind its rise to the upper echelons in the world of culinary art.

-- from the Introduction by Gabriella Ranelli.

Restaurante Arzak in San Sebastian is legendary. It has had three Michelin stars, the most awarded, since 1989. I’ve never been to Spain, San Sebastian, or Arzak. But I am fascinated by San Sebastian and Restorante Arzak since I watched an episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain when he visits Arzak and tours San Sebastian with Juan Mari. Juan Mari is the third generation of chefs at his family's eponymous restaurant. He has shared chef duties with his daughter Elena for 20 years.

This new cookbook is half a history of the New Basque cuisine that Juan Mari pioneered, and half featured recipes from the last ten years. The photographs throughout are stunning. I will most likely never cook out of this book, but I will read it cover to cover.

Creating Beautiful Food at Home by Adrian Martin (Mercier Press)

Food is something that keeps me up at night. I dream of the perfect, balanced recipe.

Adrian Martin is a young, popular Irish chef. His new cookbook takes reasonably easy to make at home recipes and makes them look very, very fancy. His breezy explanations and the lovely photographs have me convinced.


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Please also share a teaser from page 56 of your current book on The Friday 56, hosted by Freda on Freda's Voice.


From Arzak + Arzak:

During the development process, a dish's foundation may depend on a specific ingredient or technique that fascinates the team, but something keeps it from coming together. Time marches on, the search continues until a new element arrives, if it ever does. 

From Create Beautiful Food at Home:

Mushroom soup made from wild mushrooms has the most extraordinary, intense flavour. Don't be afraid to mix and match the mushrooms here. 


Weekend Cooking is a weekly blog event hosted by Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. Beth Fish Reads started the event in 2009 and bloggers have been sharing book and food related posts ever since.

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