Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Where Courage is Like a Wild Horse: The World of an Indian Orphanage by Sharon Skolnick (Okee-Chee) and Manny Skolnick

I have read several good books from the University of Nebraska Press, including the memoirs The Days are Gods by Liz Stephens and Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior by Brandon R. Schrand. While inventorying our books on Native Americans last week, I found a somewhat older memoir, Where Courage is Like a Wild Horse: The World of an Indian Orphanage by Sharon Skolnick (Okee-Chee) and Manny Skolnick.

While the very well selected memoirs, biographies, histories, and nature books from the University of Nebraska Press are mostly regional, they are not limited to Nebraska. Sharon Skolnick's book is an account of a year with her younger sister in the Murrow Indian Orphanage, now known as the Murrow Indian Children's Home, on the outskirts of Muskogee, Oklahoma. At the time, the author was known as Linda Lakoe. The woman who adopted her gave her the name Okee-Chee, meaning little bluebird, which as an adult she has used as an artist and owner of a gallery for American Indian art.

The setting of Where Courage is Like a Wild Horse is 1950s Oklahoma, when there was still blatant discrimination against Indians by whites. In one chapter, Linda and her sister are twice denied service in local ice cream shops, both owners saying "We don't serve their kind." Being Apaches, the sisters also find themselves shunned by girls from other tribes. They have to fight to survive the bullies in the orphanage where the tough-love headmistress doled out communally-owned dresses in the morning. Girls hoped to be rewarded by getting a pretty dress for the day.

Where Courage is Like a Wild Horse is a compact memoir that could easily be read in a day or two by most readers. I found myself cheering for the plucky girls to overcome their tormentors and find a good family. I was not disappointed.

Skolnick, Sharon (Okee-Chee) and Manny Skolnick. Where Courage is Like a Wild Horse: The World of an Indian Orphanage. University of Nebraska Press, 1997. 148p. ISBN 0803242638.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890 by Larry McMurtry

Americans do not know much about our Indian Wars.

Think about it. Many of us know so much about the American Revolution, the Civil War, the world wars, and the Vietnam Conflict (war never being proclaimed in Congress). These wars are revisited often in books, movies, and television documentaries. My library has many shelves of books about these wars because we have reader demand.

What about the Indian Wars in our history, starting on the East Coast at the time of colonization and working their way west. If the shelves of my library and the reports of book circulation are an indication, we are not thinking about native tribes and the wars of their displacement. There are books a couple of shelves about the conflict but few are new. The readers are also few. Even our local schools seem to have dropped their Native American assignments. Some of the books have not been out in years.

In a way, the Indian Wars are hard to know. They stretched over centuries and involved many different tribes in many remote places. There was no concentrated focus of place and/or time as there was in World War I or World War II. Many of the battles have been forgotten nationally. What memory remains of many of the battles is often local and like legends.

I also think that many of us do not want to think about the Indian Wars. They do not show our ancestors in a favorable light. Subsequently, we are often surprised by what we learn when we visit historical sites or read a book like Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890 by Larry McMurtry. Though I have read a handful of other books on the forced displacement of the tribes, I did not know half of what I read in the popular novelist's compact book.

McMurtry has often written about the West, publishing many novels, essays, and histories. As always, in Oh What a Slaughter he is forthright and compels the reader to hear him out. It is a fine introduction to the history of the Indian Wars about which we should be reading more.

McMurtry, Larry. Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890. Simon & Schuster, 2005. 178p. ISBN 9780743250771.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Call of the Osprey by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

I am finding more and more that my favorite books about birds are pitched at kids. Add to the list The Call of the Osprey by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, a title in the Scientists in the Field series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The series label proclaims "Where Science Meets Adventure." That's a series of books for me.

Go into the children's section of a public library and you will likely find a good collection of let's-follow-working-scientists books. Many of these feature zoologists, botanists, and other nature scientists because they do such cool things, like study ospreys in Montana, as in The Call of the Osprey. Better than most university press birding books (which I do read and appreciate), these nature books aimed at kids have such great colorful pictures. Like the university press books, the youth-aimed books deal with serious topics, such as predation, pollution and habitat loss. I suspect the youth who read these books are better informed than their parents.

Why read The Call of the Osprey specifically? You get to follow the lives of Ozzie and Harriet, a breeding pair of ospreys. You also get to join the author learning to band osprey fledglings. There is more drama than you might imagine. Check it out.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. The Call of the Osprey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 80p. ISBN 9780544232686.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape by Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is a well-known environmental activist and author. While inventorying our library's travel collection, I came across his 2005 title Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont's Champlain Valley and New York's Adirondacks, an account of recent hike through the forests and mountains that transformed him several decades earlier from a suburbanite to a nature enthusiast.

The hike started in Vermont near Robert Frost's cabin near Mount Abraham, headed generally west (with lots of long curves), and ended in New York at his house near Garnet Lake. Some portions of the trail was harder than he remembered and he took one good fall, but mostly it was a delight, as he was joined for stretches by friends, most of whom are also environmentalists. In their conversations, they told McKibben their career stories. The narrative also reveals how the Northeastern United States has become a symbol of conservation and restoration. It is one of the few areas on earth in better shape now than 100 years ago.

At this point, McKibben has written many books. This is one of the shortest and most leisurely. It is a good introduction to his important body of work. Readers who enjoy travel accounts will especially appreciate Wandering Home.

McKibben, Bill. Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont's Champlain Valley and New York's Adirondacks. Crown Publishers, 2005. 157p. ISBN 0609610732.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

Living in New Orleans has always been dangerous. Hurricanes, flooding, and tropical diseases were among the natural dangers present even before widespread settlement. As a busy port for French and Spanish colonies, it attracted many rough characters and supported a booming vice economy. Some histories portray the city as racially tolerant before it become a part of the U.S. and less so when it really succumbed to Southern culture. It had notorious slave markets. By the 1880s, it had a bad reputation that business people and upper crust New Orleanians wished to improve. Novelist-turned-historian Gary Krist recounts a struggle for law and order in the city in Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans.

As he did in his Chicago book City of Scoundrels, Krist weaves together stories of crime, politics, and culture and how they shaped a city's future. Unlike that previous book in which the events occurred in twelve days, Empire of Sin is a story spanning decades and including many characters, including saloon owner and state representative Tom Anderson, brothel owner Josie Arlington, and young jazz musician Louis Armstrong. Some of the most interesting of the characters were trying to profit from vice while living in the respectable part of New Orleans.

I listened to Empire of Sin on an audiobook read by actor and frequent book narrator Robertson Dean. It was a pleasure.

Krist, Gary. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Crown Publishers, 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780770437060

Audiobook: Dreamscape Media, 2014. 9 compact discs. ISBN 9781633793231.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya by Jamaica Kincaid

Most people go to a garden center or trade cuttings with friends to collect plants for their gardens. In Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya, author Jamaica Kincaid recounts how in 2003 she joined experienced botanists for a trek into remote Nepal to gather seeds for her garden in Vermont. The story not only teaches readers that many of our beloved nursery stock are exotics, it also reveals how Europeans and Americans are still traipsing across less accessible parts of the globe as explorers, often not understanding the people they hire.

I recalled Michael Palin's travel adventures in the Himalayan region while reading Among Flowers. Like Palin, Kincaid and her party encountered remote Maoist rebels who delayed their expedition. Kincaid even feared for her life in Maoist controlled villages that were so unconnected to the outside world that they thought the American president's name was Powell.

As you might expect, Kincaid provides a day-to-day account, recording the elevations the party climbs, describing the hardships and wonders of a place most people will never go. Among Flowers is a great book for seasoned armchair travelers.

Kincaid, Jamaica. Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya. National Geographic Directions, 2005. ISBN 9780792265306.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Tooth and Claw: Animal Adventures in the Wild by Ted Lewin

"Close Encounters with Dangerous Animals" is the subtitle I would have given Ted Lewin's book Tooth and Claw: Animal Adventures in the Wild. Perhaps that would have been too sensational, but Lewin sometimes gets closer to wildlife than he intended. Round a path's curve, find bears. Climb onto a sunny rock on a chilly day and find rattlesnakes. Go for a swim and meet a bull face to face.

The most dangerous of animals just looked at Lewin, who stayed still and backed away slowly, shaken but not breaking eye contact. The boldest animals were the raccoons of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. They jumped onto a backpack he was still holding.

After each short wildlife encounter that Lewin describes in his book, he adds factual information about species and habitat in which he found them. I was particularly struck by his telling that dung-beetles were hard at work during the time of the dinosaurs. They had a lot to work with then and are still providing valuable service to the environment worldwide.

Tooth and Claw is an older title (2003) that Bonnie discovered and brought home. Lewin wrote the text, took the photos, and drew the illustrations. It is still timely. Considered a children's book, it is vastly entertaining to adults as well.

Lewin, Ted. Tooth and Claw: Animal Adventures in the Wild. HarperCollins, 2003. 97p. ISBN 9780688141059.