Information, Answers & Reviews

Atomic Café

In the early 60’s I remember going through atomic bomb drills in school.  We were dutifully herded by our teachers down to the depths of Roger’s Elementary school here in Bloomington, past the furnaces, and seemingly below the floors to the area in which we were to remain until the radiation levels dropped enough for us to come out.  I can still remember the big storage cans of water stacked along the walls and under stairwells marked with the Civil Defense emblem.  I assume, though I can’t really remember seeing them, that there were food rations that were available for us to eat as well.  Along with the television advertisements for cereal, candy and toys we saw public service announcements with “Burt the Turtle” teaching us how to “duck and cover” if we should ever see the flash of an atomic bomb.   How naïve these advertisements and steps seem today when more accurate information about atomic blasts and radiation is common knowledge.   We know for example that we can’t survive an atomic blast by hiding inside of a refrigerator.

Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest

If one area of our continent calls to me more than any other it’s the Northwest, that region of coastal rain forests that extends from northern California to Alaska. 

This magnificent book of photographs covers one of the few unspoiled areas left there, the Great Bear Rainforest.

It’s located on the mainland slightly north of Vancouver and extends past Prince Rupert to the border with Alaska. Talk about wild: salmon, bear, wolves, sea lions, great Douglas firs and hundred-year-old cedars all thrive there.

Ian McAllister, who lives nearby and works as an ecologist, has taken many incredible photographs of the wildlife and the plants.  He also photographed the native people, including a few of the matriarchs of the Gitga’at clan.

The photos are thrilling including some of spirit bears—a bear I was not familiar with. They are white black bears (yes, that’s right) produced by a recessive gene. They are not albinos, so a spirit bear could have black-furred bear mother and siblings. Francis Kermode, a museum curator, first named them.

The chapter on sea wolves shows how tough making a daily living is for the wolves who have bred on this coastal area for centuries.  They must swim between islands to find food, and one young male, ostracized by his family is shown swimming away from all that he has known after his family boots him away because they cannot feed him.

In one charming photo, tens of curious stellar sea lion bob on the Pacific’s surface—only their heads showing. They stare straight at the photographer. McAllister reports that these wonderfully intelligent and agile creatures are making a comeback in the waters off the Great Bear.

If you’ve ever seen the starfish in the Northwest, you know that these echinoderms are huge and often bright orange. McAllister also takes incredible photographs of colorful underwater creatures: purple urchins and striking rose anemones. Some interesting shots focus on both above-water and below-water life in the same shot.

Like many pristine landscapes left in the world, McAllister reports that the area of the Great Bear Rainforest is under threat from oil drilling. Additionally, there are plans to create a large port in seas that are often stormy and dangerous. This motivated McAllister to publish these beautiful photographs. But the text of the book also provides much information about the creatures of the region.

Leonard Nimoy 1931 - 2015

Leonard Nimoy

Today I lost a friend though I did not know him personally.  He has been a part of my life since I was ten years old and Star Trek first aired.  Leonard Nimoy passed away this morning.  He was 83.   His best known role was that of Mr. Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise. The character Spock was a Vulcan/Human mix, not devoid of emotion, but able to suppress and control his emotional responses.  For many of us who thought we were different Spock gave to us a role model that showed us that we could overcome our limitations and excel in what we chose to do and be.  He told us it was okay to be different and that was really a good thing.     While Nimoy alternately tried to remove himself from the character of Spock and embraced it he was forever in our minds the symbol of diversity that epitomized Star Trek.  Spock’s devotion to logic inspired us to examine our situations and understand how they could be improved.

My Cousin Vinny

Imagine if you will traveling across the country with your best friend and stopping for snacks at a small town gas station.  Shortly after you leave you, glance in the mirror to see and hear the flashing lights and the siren of a police car.  You are about to be charged with the cold blooded murder and robbery of the proprietor of the gas station you just left.   Your only hope for freedom is your eccentric cousin Vinny, a New York lawyer who has yet to win a case. 

The Girl on the Train

One of the things I miss from my East Coast childhood is riding commuter trains.

There is something about the feeling of time being suspended as you lean against the window and watch the world flow past: houses, schools, playgrounds, rivers, cars and those glimpses of people passing ordinary days. After reading this British thriller, I will never look at trains the same way again.

A young woman, Rachel, just past the bloom of youth, rides trains into London every weekday: the 8:04 a.m. into town and the 5:56 p.m. return. Every evening she drinks too much—small bottles of wine or canned mixed drinks.

One particular neighborhood--where the train slows for a crossing--captures Rachel’s complete attention.  In one of the backyards she often spots a young glamorous couple, whom she doesn’t know at all, but she names them Justin and Jess. She often sees Justin coming out to the garden with a mug of coffee or tea for his wife, and they exchange endearments.

Rachel even invents careers for them, a private life. Jess works in the arts, and Justin does something with computers. Meanwhile, Rachel’s career and married life have taken a horrible slide.

Her husband, Tom, left her for another woman, Anna.  He’s not only left her but then had a child with Anna after Rachel tried and failed for years to have a family with him. To make matters even worse, Tom and Anna live in the same house, Rachel shared with Tom. Guess where it’s located?  Yes, just off the railroad tracks, a few yards down from that of the fabled couple, Justin and Jess.

Even though Rachel has no reason to ride the train every day she continues. Now she goes to the library and works on her CV. But her drinking gets worse and worse. She calls, texts, and emails her ex constantly, driving Anna crazy.  Her landlady throws her out of the apartment after she has left a major mess once too often.

Then one morning, a different man joins Jess in the garden. At first Rachel thinks: a brother, a cousin, her husband’s friend. But no, he kisses Jess tenderly as the train slows at its normal spot.

Soon someone is murdered in one of the houses just off the tracks. The problem: Rachel got off the train that night and wandered through the train tunnel.  She was soused and cannot piece together what happened.  So many details were lost to the fog of alcohol. Also, someone hurt her that night. But whom?

This riveting book will keep you turning the pages. My advice: don’t start it on a week night unless you have an open calendar the next day. The characters, the story, the unexpected twists, will keep you guessing and enthralled.

Orphan Train

I had a personal connection to this novel because my mom was raised as an orphan in Chicago. Luckily, she never had to experience adoptions or sharing foster homes with unloving parents but she did start out on her own at age sixteen working as a salesgirl in the Chicago Loop.

This touching intertwined story of two orphans: one contemporary and one from depression era days, was a quick and touching read. It begins with Goth-looking Molly, a young, half-Native America girl from Maine who just got busted for stealing a book from the public library.  Really? Well not every detail in a novel has to be 100% authentic.   

In case you’re curious, Molly took the third and the most beaten-up copy of Jane Eyre.

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