Posts Tagged ‘A Million Years With You’

Here’s the link to the Mindful Reader column in today’s Concord Monitor.

I’ve pasted the text below for anyone who can’t take the link.

Keeping Her Eyes Open

“While wandering down the road of life, it helps to look for something more meaningful than oneself .  .  . .  I find it by keeping my eyes open,” writes Elizabeth Marshall Thomas in A Million Years With You. “I see it in the stars when I look up and the soil when I look down . . . .” Fortunately for readers, her keen observation, attentive and inquisitive nature, and thoughtful, unvarnished writing grace numerous books devoted to sharing what she’s seen. This time she turns to a fascinating subject: herself.

From doing groundbreaking anthropological fieldwork with her family in Africa at eighteen to studying animal behavior, writing for the New Yorker to serving on the Peterborough Board of Selectmen, meeting Idi Amin to struggling with addiction, helping her grown children overcome grave injuries to surviving breast cancer, Thomas reflects on her life. She maintains a tone of wonder and gratitude, as well as gently self-deprecating humor: “. . . if you want a long marriage,” she advises, “. . . marry young and wait.”

Thomas examines her parents’ and grandparents’ role in nurturing her lifelong affinity for the natural world, her perseverance in the face of life’s obstacles, and her faith in wisdom, human and animal. There is a great deal of wisdom to glean from this memoir as well as sheer enjoyment. Thomas generously shares what she’s learned through her experiences, and tells a good story, too.

Poetry, Money, and Food

Hillsborough poet Martha Carlson-Bradley’s second full length collection, Sea Called Fruitfulness, addresses ideas contemporary and historical, individual and communal, emotional and intellectual. Her poems brim with visceral imagery – flies landing on fruit and tripe in a market, gall bladder removal, “the wafer, Giovanni, working/ its miracle –  body of Christ – on the hot/damp expanse of the tongue.” They are lyrical, rich in sound and rhythm. The title derives from the 1651 Riccioli-Grimaldi map of the moon, created by two Jesuit astronomers. Carlson-Bradley addresses or imagines the two in several poems such as “Bearings,” where they walk “while Bologna’s roofs and porticoes/ cut the world into heated planes of red clay/ and coverts of shadow . . . .” In others, like “Heavenly Body,” she roots her themes in human experience, “. . . that wave of hormonal blues,/. . . my body, abandoned,/ was hollowed out—his soul no longer/my center of gravity.” Notes reveal the extensive research that went into this thoughtful, expressive collection.

Vermonter Ben Hewitt’s $aved: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World, is thought-provoking; I marked dozens of passages. Hewitt’s friend, Eric practices “self-imposed frugality,” making him both the poorest and the wealthiest person Hewitt knows. Hewitt studied his friend’s understanding of money and wealth and ended up learning the intricacies of monetary policy and the economy, the physical and conceptual definitions of money and debt, the social and environmental impact of our “unconscious economy,” and patterns of earning, spending and saving disconnected from the true sources of wealth in our lives – time spent with family, community, and issues and pursuits we care about. He’s a terrific writer, clear, funny, observant, even poetic: “We are repeatedly told that the path to prosperity and contentment is the one paved by the commodity economy, the one that separates and compartmentalizes us. We have been told this so often, and for so long, that sometimes we forget to take our eyes off the path, to look up and around. To look forward. To look inward.” $aved made me laugh and think.

To Eat: A Country Life, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd’s last book together (Winterrowd died in 2010), is an artful tribute to their seven acre southern Vermont garden and their passion for raising, preparing, and eating food together. Even lettuce becomes luxuriant in their exuberant and informative hands. Bobbi Angell’s drawings and Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta’s recipes, along with Eck & Winterrowd’s elegant prose, take readers through the northern New England seasons, featuring one food per chapter. The book is seasoned with history, anecdotes, and abundant practical advice, and with reverence for land and tradition, “ . . . the deepest reward of a country life is that its deliberate embrace of a small conserving ethic opens one to the rhythms, values, habits and flavors of another time.” Whether or not you garden, To Eat is a vicarious pleasure.

My family hopes I’ll review more cookbooks like Yankee Magazine’s Lost and Vintage Recipes by Amy Traverso and Yankee’s editors. I made “Shirred Eggs and Ham,” “Fan Tan Rolls,” “Yankee’s Crisp-Chewy Waffle Iron Brownies,” and “One-Week Ginger Beer.” Everything turned out as described (and pictured in Heath Robbins’ mouthwatering photographs). My son liked the brownies enough to make another batch. I cut the spicy non-alcoholic ginger beer with seltzer; my neighbor mixed it with sparkling wine, an excellent variation. I enjoyed Traverso’s notes on the recipes, which “tell the rich story of our region’s people and places.” She notes “our mothers and grandmothers were making rich dishes . . . without creating a national obesity epidemic,” and suggests readers “needn’t fear . . . but, rather . . . enjoy them in moderation.” One quibble with this otherwise wonderful volume: the font is too small for reading across the kitchen counter.



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I’m reviewing Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s A Million Years With You: a Memoir of Life Observed, as well as brief reviews of Martha Carlson-Bradley’s new poetry collection Sea Called FruitfulnessBen Hewitt’s $aved: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the WorldTo Eat by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, and Yankee Magazine’s Lost & Vintage Recipes by Amy Traverso and the editors of Yankee.

I turned the column in today and it will run in the Sunday, June 9 Concord Monitor.

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I finished Alexandra Horowitz‘s On Looking: Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes last night, and earlier this week finished a book for next month’s column, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas‘s A Million Years With You: A Memoir of a Life Observed.  Thomas is an amazing woman, who learned at an early age the value of being fully present (both to people and animals) and observing closely. More on her book in the column. Horowitz is a cognitive scientist specializing in animals — both women wrote very popular books about dogs. But her latest book looks at what we humans don’t see, hear or sense in our everyday environments.

On Looking is about Horowitz walking her own block and other city streets with eleven experts: her toddler son, a blind woman, an insect tracker, one of the foremost raccoon experts in the world, the artist Maira Kalman, a geologist, a typographer, a physician, a public space specialist, a sound engineer, and her dog. On each walk Alexander immersed herself in the specialty of the person (or dog) she was with. By identifying signs that other creatures were nearby (or what lettering or types of stone reveal), understanding how the blind (or a toddler, an artist, a dog) experience the world, and so on with each of her walk-mates, she considered the unique perspectives of her experts, and all that was there to explore in plain sight.

All of us have experienced — at work, at home, in friendships and with our families —  the way differences of perception color our everyday experiences. What we each notice and what even those closest to us notice is not always aligned. But Horowitz reveals that not only do humans perceptions vary, but beyond that, we don’t give our full attention to what’s right in front of us. As a longtime (and very unskilled) student of mindfulness I knew this, but Horowitz’s book examines this phenomenon beautifully.

She finds as she walks around her block at the start of her project, “What I saw and attended to was exactly what I expected to see . . . .” Throughout her fascinating research, walking with people who guided her beyond the familiar, Horowitz discovered “the unbelievable strata of trifling, tremendous things to observe.” She writes with humor and very accessible intelligence, as well as curiosity and admiration for her fellow walkers.

Will I ever be as attentive as she is? My monkey mind gets in my way all the time, and I’m not sure I can ever wrangle my synapses’ high capacity magazine with a mindfulness trigger lock. I recently read that creative types and “sensitive” introverts have overly active brains so maybe fighting the way my brain works is counterproductive, but some stillness and attentiveness has got to be better than none. I don’t expect to reach Horowitz’s level of attention on my next walk, but she’s given me a great deal more to notice.

Which brings me to the seeing part of the post: thanks to an attentive friend, I heard about and attended the rally in our town on Monday in support of our homeless community, who’ve been evicted from both public and private land and had their belongings seized, including donated tents handed out by a number of churches and social organizations when winter shelters closed. At the rally I noticed that one of the problems facing the homeless is perception: people see someone rough around the edges and assume mental illness or addiction. But the only accurate definition of someone who is homeless is that he or she has no home.

If you or I had nowhere to rest, clean up, or be safe, we’d look a little rough. As my friend Kellie’s sign said: poverty is not a crime. Treating it as such isn’t productive. Refusing to see the homeless will not make the problem of homelessness disappear. Thank God telling them to get out of sight won’t put them out of mind of the concerned citizens who were present on Monday. I’m thankful for those that not only see but also do, who are providing legal representation, practical support, and loving kindness to people who have little else in this world.

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