Showing 81 - 90 of 209 annotations tagged with the keyword "Nature"

Oaxaca Journal

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is the journal that Oliver Sacks kept during a "fern foray" in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sacks is a fern lover, even though he admits to an even greater passion for club mosses and horsetails. In 1993 John Mickel of the New York Botanical Gardens introduced Sacks to the New York chapter of the American Fern Society (AFS). Consisting mostly of amateur naturalists, AFS meetings were both congenial and passionate, unlike the cold competitiveness of professional meetings in neurology and neuroscience. The New York AFS folks arrange periodic trips to hot spots in the fern world to indulge their passion. In 1999 Oliver Sacks accompanied them on a trip to Oaxaca, which is a veritable paradise of ferns.

Though the trip is only 10 days long, Sacks packs a month’s worth of sights and sounds and meditations into his journal. We learn a lot about the hundreds of species of ferns that range from southern Mexico’s rain forests to the nooks and crannies of its arid central plateau. But the author’s curiosity roams freely and absorbs his new environment. We learn about the origin of chocolate, the history of tobacco, and the archeology of Monte Alban. We learn about the process of distilling mescal in one’s backyard. Most of all, we are introduced to nearly a dozen vivid characters, united in their enthusiasm for fieldwork and ferns.

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The Piano Tuner

Mason, Daniel

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Edgar Drake, a forty-one-year-old English piano tuner, accepts a commission from the 1886 British War Office to tune an Erard grand piano located in a colonial military outpost in Mae Lwin commanded by Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll. Edgar leaves the squalor, fog and drizzle of London, as well as his middle class life and his wife Katherine, childless for eighteen years, for a journey by boat, train, carriage and horse to the exotic, intoxicating beauty of Burma.

En route, Edgar is surrounded by stories--a tale by the deaf Man With One Story, rumors about the legendary, eccentric Carroll's peace-making with the local Shan via music and cultural exchange, and socio-historical treatises about the Burmese, internecine wars, and British imperialism. The journey becomes a search for the meaning of home and purpose in Edgar's life. It is an adventure far beyond his prior imaginings and dreams.

The clash of cultures, British and Burmese, civilian and military, wealthy and poor, rule-bound and individualistic, is explored throughout the text. For example, a tiger hunt led by several British officials ends in disaster. Edgar meets Burmese culture on both grand and personal scales: street theatre; appealing, poverty-stricken children; the garb and cosmetics of various tribes; and, ultimately, the allure of Khin Myo, an educated Burmese woman who guides him to Mae Lwin and Carroll.

Carroll, a renaissance physician with a Victorian fervor for botanical and medicinal classifications and investigations, asks Edgar to assist him in his clinic. Common infectious diseases are diagnosed and treated by this forward-thinking physician, and he also performs finger amputations on the mangled hand of a boy without benefit of anesthetic. Other maladies are treated with local remedies and prayer. Meanwhile the delirium of malarial fever descends on Edgar.

Edgar does finally meet and treat the ailing, badly out-of-tune Erard piano. Edgar's expertise is required--his aural excellence and perfect pitch, his delicate yet callused hands, and his willingness to be innovative in the repair of a bullet hole. But what Edgar cannot be prepared for--intrigue and deceptions, fascination with the lush beauty of Burma, and his own shifting priorities and secret longings--is ultimately what sets his fate.

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The Road

McCarthy, Cormac

Last Updated: Oct-25-2006
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The world as everyone knew it ended years earlier when "the clocks stopped at 1:17" [p 45] and power was lost. Not many people are still alive. The landscape is charred and hostile with "cauterized terrain" [p 12], "ashen scabland" [p 13], and "the mummied dead everywhere" [p 20]. A father and his young son travel south towards the coast. The boy's mother has committed suicide. Papa and the child wear masks and tote knapsacks. The father pushes a shopping cart filled with potentially useful items that he has collected during the journey. The man keeps his pistol close. It only contains two bullets - one reserved for him and one for the boy.

The father and son follow a road towards the ocean, but they scurry and hide like two animals. Papa's biggest worries are marauders, food, and shoes. The world is cold. Rape and cannibalism are common occurrences. Although their goal is to remain alive and reach the coast, father and son wonder if the destination is any more hospitable than the rest of the dying world. Often hungry and freezing, both of them become sick. The boy contracts a febrile illness. The man frequently coughs blood and is wounded in the leg by an arrow.

Father and child ultimately reach the ocean, but it too is cold and dead. Not long after arriving at the coast, Papa dies. A stranger finds the grieving boy and invites the child to join his family - wife, son, and daughter. He assures the boy that he is a good man. He tells the child that his family does not eat other people. He advises the boy to hold onto his father's pistol.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The 25-year-old narrator returns to his hometown after a five-year absence. He accompanies his 14-year-old cousin to the hospital. The cousin's right ear is damaged, and his hearing is ruined. Although previous treatments have been unsuccessful, a new ear specialist is going to perform a procedure on the boy's ear.

The narrator recalls another trip he took to a hospital eight years earlier. At that time, he and a high school friend visited a girl who was having an operation on her rib. The girl had composed a poem based on a dream she had. She told the story to her two visitors and illustrated it by drawing a picture on a napkin. Her tale involved miniscule flies that crept into a woman's ear causing her to fall asleep. While she slept, the insects eventually devoured her flesh. A man attempted to awake (and save) her, but it was too late. The narrator remembers that his high school friend died not long afterwards.

The cousin's appointment with the ear doctor ends with a sack of medication and little likelihood that the day's treatment will restore his hearing. The narrator and his cousin eat in the hospital cafeteria. The boy asks the narrator to gaze inside his ears, and the narrator marvels at the structure and mystery of the human ear. He decides his cousin's ear appears normal. Soon, the narrator's mind once again drifts back to a summer eight years ago and memories of his lost friend.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Except for her canary and cat, Martha (Sheila Florance) lives alone in an apartment containing fragments and memorabilia of the past which speak to a rich and complex life comprised of various relationships and wartime horrors. Many of the fragments are further referenced in flashback scenes. Three current relationships--with her caretaker, her son, and her dependent and declining neighbor, Billy (Norman Kaye)--are central to this moment in time and provide an illuminating portrayal of Martha’s struggle for independence and undiminished zest for life. While her kind caretaker, Anna (Gosia Dobrowolska), respects the old woman’s fierce need for autonomy, her son, concerned about her frailty and safety, is intent on relocation to a nursing home where she can be supervised. Martha, on the other hand, provides gentle and kind care for Billy, who has been abandoned by his family; during the night, when he is unable to find the bathroom, Martha provides gentle and unobtrusive assistance. Martha’s strength comes from character and spirit, remarkable traits which leave an indelible impression about our tendencies to conventionalize aging.

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Summary:

This lively volume of medical history chronicles the forms of suffering, illness, injury, and treatment endured by the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805. Beginning with three chapters of political and medical history to set the context, the story follows the adventures of the extraordinarily fortunate "Corps of Discovery" among whom Lewis was the most trained in the medicine of the time (having studied in preparation for the trip under Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia), and he only an amateur. Even professional medicine of the time was approximate and largely ineffectual, limited mostly to purgatives, opiates and laudanum for pain relief, bleeding, and topical applications of various compounds or herbal substances.

The story chronicles the main events of the trip based on the extensive journals of Lewis and Clark as well as other historical account, maintaining focus in each chapter on the medical incidents including gastrointestinal distress from parasites and contaminated water; effects of overexposure like hypothermia and exhaustion; infections from wounds and scratches; syphilis; dislocations; muscular spasms; mosquitoes and other insect bites; snakebites and other animal attacks.

Along the way Peck pauses to explain the rather rudimentary medical theories upon which treatments were based, the effects of particular known treatments, and what Lewis and others likely knew, guessed at, or didn’t understand about lead, mercury, opium, and certain herbal substances they used. He speculates about the contexts of their medical decisions and offers occasional contemporary analogies to help readers imagine the circumstances and tradeoffs the explorers faced.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Editor Chip Spann created this anthology as part of his Ph.D. dissertation in creative writing. The poems were selected because Spann hopes they "can be a comfort to the sick and a rabble-rouser for those who work at getting well" (5). The book’s 234 poems have been organized into seven sections, each section named with a phrase from one of the poems contained therein. Each section is prefaced by an introduction that focuses on Spann’s own journey from a difficult childhood and unanchored young adulthood to his current life in which he is able to combine a love of reading and writing poetry with his background of working with patients in a variety of settings -- he leads a writing group of patients, caregivers, and health professionals at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, California.

The seven sections concern: the body; illness and life’s journey as quest; "feelings that are screaming to get out"; looking inward at dark truths; reflecting on "early wounds"; finding creative inspiration from unexpected and small things; and "perspectives on death and aging." I counted approximately 80 poets who are represented in this anthology; those with the greatest representation (number of poems) are Raymond Carver, Lucille Clifton, Emily Dickinson, Grace Paley, Muriel Rukeyser, Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, May Sarton, William Stafford, and May Swenson.

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Nature: Poems Old and New

Swenson, May

Last Updated: Sep-01-2006
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Swenson’s poems about the body and death express the essential mystery of human experience and of observing the cycles of the natural world. In "Question" she wonders in metaphor about what will become of the Self after death, "when Body my good / bright dog is dead." In "Death, Great Smoothener" Swenson notices the odd roles that the personified death seems to play. In "Feel Me" the poet ponders the curious last words of her dying father, suspecting a considerable indictment of the living by the dying. In "Death Invited" she details the gruesome ending of a bullfight, with death personified by the bull, dragged from the ring only to be replaced by another: "Here comes trotting, snorting death / let loose again."

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection of poetry evolves from one woman’s experience with the discovery of a lump in her breast, the removal of the breast, the assault of follow-up treatment and its impact on her sense of self as well as the relationship with her husband and her environment. The poems are brief, pointed, and deeply reflective of the author’s relationship with her surroundings and her history.

Among the issues the poems most effectively address is that of loss: "I dream of losing / my car, my purse, my period" (from "On First Learning of the Lump"); and "The world’s not keeping things safe / The world’s taking away what I want" (from "What I Want"); and "You believed your dead body / would have all its fingers / all its knowledge" (from "Apologia").

The author also speaks to the importance of breasts ("Terrain") as an integral part of who she is, and the memories of times past in which she was whole as one with nature ("Bird Feeder," "Pine Forest," "Peonies").

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In the Microscope

Holub, Miroslav

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this short poem (11 lines) the writer sees a whole world in the microscope: among the cells, a world of dreams and suffering, of courage and death.

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