Showing 11 - 20 of 206 annotations tagged with the keyword "Nature"

Under the Skin

Faber, Michel

Last Updated: Dec-04-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Isserley is an alien whose assignment on earth is to abduct male (preferably muscular and burly) hitchikers for their processing, in a subterranean area under a barn in Scotland where she and her fellow aliens are based, as farmed animals that are castrated, made mute by tongue-amputation and fattened up in pens like calves for their veal. After a few months, they are eventually slaughtered and butchered for meat and then transported back to Isserley's native land, which is portrayed as a dark, arid, unpleasant place where meat is a rare and expensive delicacy.

Vaguely canine in her original form, Isserley has had to undergo mutilating surgery to pass as a human whose day job is to drive on the A9 of Scotland picking up unsuspecting men and then, after sometimes quite interesting conversations, paralyzing them by flicking a switch that activates twin jets that come up through the front passenger seat injecting an immediately acting curare-like drug. Isserley then transports them back to the farm.

In constant physical pain from the surgery and the unnatural upright posture, and always questioning herself, her role on earth, her feminity amongst the otherwise all male alien workforce, Isserley falls in love with the earth's natural world (there are not oceans or lakes on her world), especially Scotland's lochs, rain, cloud and snow. Sheep hold a special place in her heart.

Amlis Vess, the son of the owner of the company that is selling earthmeat at exorbitant prices back home, shows up for an unnannounced site visit and curiosity since he is ideologically opposed to this killing of animals - he has no idea how sentient and intelligent earthlings are and this fact is carefully kept secret from him during his brief visit, which is also marked by his marvelling at earth's natural beauties and what appears to be an emotional or sexual attraction to Isserley.

After some rough handling by one of the hitchhikers who attempts to rape her, her troubling interactions with Amlis Vess, news that the police have taken notice of a missing hitchhiker and are conducting an investigation, and her discovery that there may be a replacement for her in the offing - Isserley decides to strike out on her own. The end of the novel is, although not shocking, not expected.

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A Sunburned Prayer

Talbert, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-10-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Eloy’s grandmother—his abuela—is dying of cancer.  She has been his faithful companion, teacher and refuge in a home where his parents often fight and his older brother seems to have lost interest in him.  He believes the only thing that will save her now is for him to make the annual pilgrimage on foot to the chapel at Chimayo, 17 miles from their New Mexico home, but his parents, both of who work full time, can’t go with him and won’t hear of his going alone.  Desperate for a miracle, and believing she can be saved by the blessed soil distributed at the chapel where many seem to have experienced miracles of healing, he sets out in secret early in the morning.  On the way a friendly dog begins to follow him and, despite Eloy’s efforts to get rid of him, travels the entire 17 miles with him, sharing the water Eloy reluctantly offers him from the canteen that once belonged to his grandfather.  Much of the story follows Eloy’s thoughts as he travels, and the small difficulties and surprises along the way.  As he finally sees the chapel in the distance, he hears his brother driving by slowly in his low-rider with tinted windows.  Angry at the brother who has given him no support so far and seems to be mocking him, Eloy flips him the finger.  Later, as he stands in line for the sacred soil, his brother enters the chapel with their abuela on his arm.  She explains to Eloy that she is indeed going to die, and that God has other ways of answering prayers.  She sees that Eloy has been sent a companion, and encourages him to bring the dog, whom he has now named, home with him.  His parents, who have steadily refused to let him have a dog, accept him, and Eloy comes to new terms with his grandmother’s approaching death.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem builds by repetition to a climax: "if there is a river /more beautiful than this," if there is a river more faithful, braver, more ancient, more powerful. Each repetition begins a new stanza, a stronger stanza, ending finally in a prayer that, if there is such a river, it should flow "through animals / beautiful and faithful and ancient / and female and brave." (24 lines)

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This remarkable memoir/natural history chronicles the author's observation of a snail that occupies the flower pot at her bedside during a long immobilization due to chronic fatigue syndrome.  For months of relative isolation, she observes the habits of the snail and begins to research the lives, habits, species, and idiosyncrasies of snails by way of getting to know this one in greater specificity.  As she puts it, "When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound...," (p. 5) and her mind certainly does.  Peering into poetry and story as well as biology, she discovers both facts and lore about the lives of snails to complement her intimate curiosity about the life of this snail.  Along the way, and very much by the way, she reflects on the nature of her own complex illness, the likely brevity of life she has now to expect, and how to learn from another species how to live in time differently. 

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Island of the Dead

Böcklin, Arnold

Last Updated: Jun-05-2012
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on wood

Summary:

A small stone island sits in the middle of a body of water. No other land is visible. Within the apparently naturally formed stonewalls that constitute the island’s perimeter, vestiges of man-made dwellings are apparent. On the left-hand embankment, the front of what appears to be a white house is visible albeit only slightly. On the other side of the island, doorways or windows have been carved out of the rock itself. Below the front most door some white paint has been added, as though to signify the fading presence of man’s creations on this island.

The center of the island opens up as a bay of sorts. In the middle of the bay and island, large vertical trees similar in appearance to Cyprus trees stretch all the way up past the stone and to the very top of the painting. Nothing of the island is visible through the dense trees. One solitary boat with two passengers makes its way into the middle of the bay. One passenger controls the oars while the other stands erect, as though a statue, and is completely white. At the front of the boat sits a box that looks like a coffin.

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Frida and the Miscarriage

Kahlo, Frida

Last Updated: Apr-26-2012
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Lithograph

Summary:

A female figure stands facing us, unclothed, her left side darker than her right, occupying the middle of the frame. She is surrounded with images from the process of human reproduction. The largest of the former is the well-formed male fetus in the frame’s lower left, which is connected by a thin umbilical cord wrapped around the figure’s right leg to a fetus in an early stage of development in the figure’s abdomen, which we see as if by x-ray.

Tear-shaped droplets of blood drip down the figure’s left leg and soak into a dark mass in the earth, where they nourish the roots of several plants. A tear rolls down each of the figure’s cheeks. Just above her to her left is a weeping crescent moon. Below it is an artist’s palette that the figure holds up with a second left arm.

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Summary:

Creation tells the story of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) at home with his family in Down House during the last decade he researched and wrote, but hesitated to publish, The Origin of Species (1859).  The film represents the sorrow of those intellectually ripe years when he worked out his insights into the process of natural selection as his "radiant," beloved daughter Annie-Anne Elizabeth-(Martha West) became fatally ill.  These events were compounded by Darwin's own mysterious chronic illness, which he attempted to relieve through laudanum and trips to Great Malvern for Gulley's cold water cures.

In 1851 he took a very sick ten-year-old Annie with him to the waters and, inconsolable, left her to be buried in the local churchyard.  Through his physical and emotional suffering, he continued to dissect barnacles, breed and skeletonize pigeons, engage the village parson and local farmers alike, consult with supporters Thomas Hooker and Thomas Huxley, exchange hundreds of letters, and remain an affectionate father and husband. 

The loss of "the joy of the Household" strengthened his wife Emma's (Jennifer Connelly) religious beliefs, as it exhausted whatever might have existed of his. The story, artfully told in beautifully sequenced flashbacks, keeps the tensions and accommodations between Charles and Emma on the subject of religious faith in balance, emphasizing their loving partnership as spouses and parents.  Emma supported his work, read his manuscript, and understood its importance, even as she disagreed with its implications for her spiritual life.  Darwin contributed to the local parish church Emma attended.    

Some of the most compelling moments in the film occur during Darwin's joyous outings with his children when they suddenly witness the demise of woodland creatures.  In these scenes, the ineluctable struggles between life and death that Darwin's theory of natural selection eloquently describes resonate with his personal experience.  We see a fledgling fall from its nest near a sheep's skull and decay before our eyes.  We hear Annie explain to her horrified siblings that if the fox they encounter didn't kill the screeching rabbit in its jaws, its pups would die.

These scenes, along with the earlier view of the captive Fuegian child Boat Memory dying of small pox in an English hospital, suggest the fragility of the young that Annie's death makes devastatingly personal for Darwin.  The film simultaneously acknowledges Darwin's empirically derived logic of such deaths in his scientific treatise and his suffering from the brutal manifestations of that logic in the life of his family.  While scientific explanation fails to console him for the loss of Annie, the film suggests human affection as the best, though still potentially painful response.     

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Legend of a Suicide

Vann, David

Last Updated: Dec-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A series of interrelated stories that include a novella (Sukkwan Island), the book is a semi-autobiographical tale of the impact of a father's suicide on his teenage son.  The author, David Vann, represents his fictional self as Roy Fenn, and his father as Jim.  In the first story, "Ichthyology," Roy is born on an island "at the edge of the Bering Sea" of Alaska and then he and his family move to Ketchikan, on an island in southeastern Alaska.  Roy's father is ever restless and that includes an interest in women other than his wife.  When Roy is about five years old the marriage breaks up and Roy moves to California with his mother.  At the end of this chapter, Roy's father kills himself with one of his own guns.

"Rhoda" is the story of Jim's second marriage to Rhoda who becomes Roy's stepmother, until that marriage also ends in divorce.  "A Legend of Good Men" relates how Roy's mother was courted by various suitors following her divorce.  These narratives are told from Roy's perspective.  The next and largest section of the book is "Sukkwan Island."  It is on this Alaskan island that Roy spends an extended visit with his father, in a simple, isolated cabin where their only other human contact is with a supply plane that comes periodically.  Life is primitive and difficult and reflects the relationship of father and son, which is uneasy and foreign to Roy.  Jim is depressed, obsessed with his former wife Rhoda and often cries at night, which Roy finds sad, scary, and eventually despicable.  Life on the island takes a bizarre turn, which I will not reveal here.

In "Ketchikan" Roy at age 30 returns to the town of his early childhood "the place where my dead father had first gone astray [with Gloria, his dental receptionist], the place where this father and his suicide and his cheating and his lies and my pity for him, also, might finally be put to rest" (209).  The last story, "The Higher Blue," is a mixture of fantasy and narrative reality; comments about Jim made by Roy's mother serve to bookend the novel.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Perillo's essays offer a lively, variegated view from the wheelchair of a woman with multiple sclerosis who is also a naturalist, an outdoorswoman, a wife, and an award-winning writer.  Not all of them focus on her condition, though observations about living with the disease occur in most, and are thematic to some.  Most are also laced with wry humor.  One comes to see in these sketches from the Pacific Northwest how full and rich a life it is possible to live while also fully acknowledging and even lamenting the loss of mobility.  She invokes Thoreau several times, and her work may be easily situated in his tradition of personal, reflective essays on the natural world.  For her, the natural world extends to the world of the body, linked as it is with the bodies of all living things.

            

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Tinkers

Harding, Paul

Last Updated: Jul-06-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

George Washington Crosby is dying from kidney failure. The eighty-year-old man has a crumbling body - Parkinson's disease, cancer, diabetes, and previous heart attacks - and a murky mind. He is hallucinating and his memories are disordered. George occupies a hospital bed in the living room of a house that he constructed himself. His family keeps him company as they await his imminent demise.

Some of George's thoughts revolve around his passion for clocks and his skill in repairing them. Most of his memories center on his father, Howard Aaron Crosby. About seventy years earlier, Howard owned a wooden wagon and a horse and scratched out a living as a tinker and a peddler of household goods. Howard's father had been a Methodist minister who exhibited worsening signs of mental illness. The man was eventually escorted out of his home. Only a young boy at the time, Howard would never see his father again.

Howard suffered from frequent and violent epileptic seizures. His wife and the family doctor thought Howard should be admitted to the Eastern Maine State Hospital, an institution housing feebleminded and insane individuals. Howard had a different opinion. One evening, he left his wife and four children and headed to Philadelphia. He took a new name and a new wife. He found work in a grocery store. The frequency of his seizures decreased dramatically.

George's final memory before death is a vivid one. He recalls a Christmas dinner in 1953. Someone is at the door. It is a surprise (and brief) visit by Howard to George's house. It is the first time that he has seen his father since George was twelve.

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