Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snowmageddon Reading

I am always amazed at how my seemingly random choices of reading (and movies) serendipitously overlap. What I mean is, I will choose two movies with the same star or that are set in the same obscure place and I had no idea of this when I chose them. With books, randomly chosen, I'm amazed at how one will mention the other, or the content overlaps.

For my recent blizzard adventure (Snowmageddon I) in Cape May, I brought a stack of books chosen from my "Sabbatical 2010 Book-a-Week Reading List" and some others. these books turned out to be my primary source of entertainment after the electricity went out and stayed out for three days. here are the three books I actually read from the stack: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and Notes from the Shore by Jennifer Ackerman. I thought I was choosing very different books, but I was surprised (and delighted) by the overlap.
Travels with Charley, where Steinbeck leaves his home on Long Island and travels across the county with his dog in a customized pick-up truck, and Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's groundbreaking environmental book, were both published in the very early 1960s. In the very early 1960s, I was a newborn and living in the very house in which I was experiencing Snowmageddon I. (I lived there until I was about three and my father got a job in Manhattan to support this late-in-life surprise baby. He had just retired from the US Coast Guard.) We lived on Staten Island, but visited the Cape May house often on weekends and in the summer. I remember the mosquito trucks driving around the neighborhood spraying their fog. Between the Delaware Bay four blocks away and all the salt marshes in the area, we had a lot of mosquitoes and they especially loved my father and me. (Mom could stand still out there and not get a bite.)

Anyhow, both Steinbeck and Carson describe the same America but from different perspectives. His is that of a writer who observes people, and hers is that of a writer who observes nature. Both describe a country and culture that has changed enormously in about fifty years.

Jennifer Ackerman's Notes from the Shore is a much more recent book, published in 1995. It is a collection of nine essays about Cape Henlopen, across the Delaware Bay from Cape May. That is where the Cape May-Lewes Ferry takes us, but I had only driven through it and not explored until about a decade ago. Ackerman is also a nature observer and writer, and describes this environment which is very similar to Cape May in some ways and very different in others. There's way less tourist traffic for one thing, so I imagine Cape May probably used to be more like Cape Henlopen. One of her essays is dedicated to the osprey, a large bird of prey that was almost wiped out by DDT spraying in the 1950s and 1960s. The poison chemicals made their eggs so weak and brittle that the mama osprey would crack them when she went to roost. The osprey population has rebuilt itself now, and we can see pairs of them in the warm weather on their nests. By page 48 of Ackerman's book, she had mentioned both Rachel Carson and John Steinbeck. Carson was no surprise since she was largely responsible for the public awareness that put an end to blanket pesticide spraying that allowed the ospreys to come back. But Steinbeck? Well, it seems that John Steinbeck found, in his Long Island garden, a gigantic osprey nest (they usually are) that contained three shirts, a bath towel an arrow and a rake. How cool is that? (A naturalist in Cape May once told us that an osprey nest there contained a hula hoop.)

Since I'm documenting everything during this sabbatical, I wanted to show the relationships between these three books. A mind map wasn't going to work for this because it wouldn't allow me to compare. Instead, I took a stab at a concept map, which is a way to map out similarities and differences between things. since I'm still without a scanner, I took an iPhone shot of my concept map to share. Also, if you are interested in what I'm reading, I'm keeping a list on LibraryThing where I am known as MargaretMontet.

1 comment:

  1. These books sound interesting. I bet you didn't mind being trapped in the house during the blizzard as long as you had some great books.