Showing 131 - 140 of 206 annotations tagged with the keyword "Nature"

Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Born breech and deprived of oxygen for two hours, Irish poet and writer Christopher Nolan was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and is unable to speak and virtually unable to move voluntarily. His book, subtitled "The Life Story of Christopher Nolan," is narrated as a third person account of the life of "Joseph Meehan." The memoir opens with Meehan's winning the British Spastics' Society Literary Award for his first book of poetry, Dam-Burst of Dreams (1988) and ends with his last day at Trinity College, having turned down the invitation to continue his studies there towards a degree.

In the mixture of linear, traditional life narrative and lyrical, neologistic description that falls in between, the memoir addresses Meehan's birth, early life, education, and growing acclaim as a poet and writer. It recounts how his family and teachers helped develop a combination of medication, tools (a "unicorn-stick" attached to his forehead), and assistance that allowed him to type.

It details, above all, how various family, friends, and health and education professionals advocated Meehan's special-school and mainstream education and made available to him such normative life experiences as riding a pony, boating, fishing, skipping school with his mates, and going on school trips without his parents--and such unusual life experiences as becoming an award-winning writer.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

The Voyage of Life series is an allegory of the four stages of man: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. In each painting, accompanied by a guardian angel, the voyager rides in a boat on the River of Life. The landscape, corresponding to the seasons of the year, plays a major role in telling the story. In childhood, the infant glides from a dark cave into a rich, green landscape. As a youth, the boy takes control of the boat and aims for a shining castle in the sky. The last two pictures reverse the boat's direction. In manhood, the adult relies on prayer and religious faith to sustain him through rough waters and a threatening landscape. Finally, the man becomes old and the angel guides him to heaven across the waters of eternity.

The wild, untamed nature found in America was viewed as its special character; Europe had ancient ruins, but America had the uncharted wilderness. As his friend William Cullen Bryant sermonized in verse, so Cole sermonized in paint. Both men saw nature as God's work and as a refuge from the ugly materialism of cities. Cole clearly intended the Voyage of Life to be a didactic, moralizing series of paintings using the landscape as an allegory for religious faith.

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Black Dogs

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Apr-09-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator, Jeremy, orphaned at age 8, is attempting to write a memoir of his wife's parents, June and Bernard Tremaine. The pair married in England in 1946, idealistic young members of the British Communist Party, but on their honeymoon in France something happens to June that estranges her from her husband and his values forever. After the birth of their daughter, Jeremy's wife, the two live separately. June dies in a nursing home in 1987, after telling Jeremy a great deal about her life and marriage.

In 1989 Jeremy and Bernard travel to Germany together to share in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Bernard has taken a lot longer than his wife did to give up on communism. In Berlin, Jeremy hears his father-in-law's very different version of the couple's biography. Jeremy then travels to France to try and unearth the truth about their honeymoon, finding unreliable storytellers, poor memory, and, at the center, June's encounter in the French countryside with a pair of black dogs, owned and trained and then abandoned by the Gestapo. The story, as Jeremy reconstitutes it, is a discovery of evil that, regardless of literal factuality, bears a terrible truth about the human capacity to do harm, both personal and political.

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The Shell Collector

Doerr, Anthony

Last Updated: Apr-09-2002
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A 63 year old biologist, blind since childhood, collects snails and shells in Africa. His self-imposed isolation is shattered after he is credited with saving the lives of an American woman and a native eight year old girl who are both suffering from malaria. The venom of a cone shell provides the cure. Strangers flock to the scientist’s abode hoping to find their own miraculous remedy, but instead a few discover tragedy or even death.

The biologist’s own adult son dies from a cone shell bite while visiting his father. In the end, the shell collector is also bitten by a cone and experiences both paralysis and clarity in his near-death condition. He survives with the aid of the young girl whom he had earlier cured of malaria.

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Ordeal by Hunger

Stewart, George

Last Updated: Apr-08-2002
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

This is one of several histories or collections of documents concerning the ill-fated Donner Party westward trip of 1846-47. The wagon train of inexperienced and irregularly prepared families and individuals were California-bound from Illinois. Their misfortunes seem to have begun when they chose to follow the directions of a man who suggested a "short-cut."

Following upon a dreadful passage through the Wahsatch [sic] Mountains and then across the salt flats west of the Great Salt Lake, the group attempted the Sierra Nevada mountains too late in the fall to precede the snow and the cold. For the months of November through March, the party ( now cast asunder and without leadership) made various attempts at wintering over versus futile assaults on the pass.

From the diaries and other records surrounding this misadventure, the historian puts together a summation of the horrors of the cold, starvation, and growing hopelessness of being trapped and ill-prepared for a winter in the wilderness. Based on some of the diary entries, a sense of the extent of desperation that resulted in cannibalism is made available to the reader of today.

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Letters from a Father

Van Duyn, Mona

Last Updated: Apr-08-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem consists of six "letters" in verse from an aged, chronically ill father to his daughter. In the first he presents in excruciating detail the sorry state of his body, and also Mother, "who falls and forgets her salve / and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels / are so bad . . . " Things are so bad that he has "made my peace because am just plain done for . . . " At the end he mentions the fact that, though the daughter enjoys her bird feeder, he doesn't see the point; "I'd buy / poison and get rid of their diseases and turds."

In the second letter, written after the daughter visited and gave them a bird feeder, he says that Mother likes to sit and watch the birds. In the next one, he talks about how much the birds eat and fight. As the letters progress, they include less and less about the parents' pain and disability, and more and more convey curiosity and, eventually, enthusiasm for bird watching.

By letter #5 the father ticks off the names of numerous species he has observed, and at the end casually mentions, "I pulled my own tooth, it didn't bleed at all." Finally, "It's sure a surprise how well mother is doing, / she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine." He ends by describing his plans for buying birdseed for the next winter. [112 lines]

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The Fifth Child

Lessing, Doris

Last Updated: Mar-24-2002
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the "free love" context of the nineteen-sixties, Harriet and David Lovatt are throwbacks to a more conservative, traditional, and family-oriented decade. Their life dream is to have a big house in the country filled with children, and it seems that they will succeed. After bearing four young children, however, Harriet is feeling the strain of years of childbearing, sleeplessness, money trouble, and her parents' and in-laws' disapproval of her fecundity.

Her fifth pregnancy is not only unplanned, but also unusually painful and disruptive. Harriet's doctor prescribes sedatives but finds nothing abnormal in her situation. When Ben is born, Harriet jokes that he is like "a troll or a goblin," but no one responds well to this unusually hairy and physically vigorous baby, who in turn does not respond to anything but his own desires and fears.

As he grows older, family pets and other children seem to be in physical danger. Health care professionals do not confirm the couple's conviction that Ben is not normal, but neither do they obstruct the decision to send Ben to a private institution, a removal that leaves the family temporarily happy until Harriet visits Ben and recognizes the institution for what it is, a place where all manner of "different" children are sent to live heavily medicated, physically restrained, and foreshortened lives away from families who do not want them.

Harriet brings Ben home, where he grows up amid what remains of the Lovatts' domestic fantasy, and finds community in a gang of thuggish older boys whom Harriet suspects are involved in various criminal acts. As the story closes, Ben has left home and Harriet imagines him in another country, "searching the faces in the crowd for another of his own kind" (133).

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

A young man (Alexander Anaishnov) has come to take care of his mother (Gudrin Geyer) who lives alone in rural Russia. She is dying. He watches her sleep, takes her for a walk (or rather carries her), reads to her, gives her medicine, and, when she falls asleep, goes for a walk alone. He breaks down and weeps, then returns to his mother, who may still be sleeping or may now be dead.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Nan Shin was an American woman living as a Zen Buddhist nun in France. She is diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer, undergoes surgery and chemotherapy and, by the end of the book, it appears, is dying. Her account does not, however, take the conventional form of the illness narrative; in fact its form might be called anti-narrative, for its focus is not on the story of Shin's illness and dying, but rather on the "every day living" that is at the center of her Zen beliefs.

The book consists of several strands that recur in alternating sections. One strand describes, in minute detail, the course of a single day's devotions and activities in the life of a Zen nun. Another traces the author's travels in the United States with her sensei, an astonishing man whose perspective on American culture is both detached and hilariously insightful.

A third tells of the author's frequent horseback rides through the French countryside, with beautifully focused and precise descriptions of the natural surroundings. Finally, there is the illness, presented matter-of-factly but conveying powerfully the author's (not always wholly successful) efforts to put into practice, in such trying circumstances, all she has learnt as a practitioner of Zen.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Referring to Francis Bacon's 17th-century definition of modern science as the conquest of nature "for the relief of man's estate," Kass looks with concern at the ironic possibility that future advances in medical science and technology may lead to the significant diminishing of humankind. Thus he asks, what price will we wind up paying for medical progress? Kass is concerned about the disconnect between modern medicine, with its powers to extend our controls over life and death and over many human potentials, and, on the other hand, traditional social and individual values.

He argues particularly for serious consideration of values in three areas: (1) distributive justice (which for Kass is, finally, the question as to who shall do the distributing), (2) the "use and abuse of power" (in which he focuses on the process by which power over nature becomes turned into power of some humans over others), and (3) "voluntary self-degradation and dehumanization" (two major concerns being the concept of the optimum baby and the development of technologies of pleasure).

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