Tag Archives: Books

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

This is a book about trees and somewhat of a memoir of Suzanne Simard and it just blew me away. It starts with her as a student intern working for a logging company in Canada and she is trying to figure out why Fir tree seedlings planted in a former clear cut do not thrive as expected. Why not, they have no competition from other trees, lots of sunshine and water. What is missing? So she starts trying to find out. She designs experiments with help from people from her work and over time she finds out that the fir trees need birch trees. It turns out that to professional foresters birch trees are weeds. They rob the valuable firs of sunshine, nutrients, and water.

Simard eventually rediscovers that birch trees and fir trees are linked by a fungus, a mycorrhizal fungus, that links the roots of birch trees and fir trees and this fungus facilitates the transfer of water, carbon, and other nutrients between the trees based on the needs of the trees. A great part of the book is Simard’s description of the experiments she ran to prove all this. Experiments in the woods are hard. Lots of digging to install barriers to prevent this fungus from connecting certain trees. Lots of exposure to radioactive gases as some of the trees are fogged with isotopes of carbon to help with tracing. Exposure to powerful herbicides when vegetation needs to be killed as part of the experiment. And then the dreary following up measuring how the various trees are growing and then running the data analysis.

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And then presenting the data at conferences and trying to get published and getting the cold shoulder and outright hostility from the older, mainly male, foresters who reject her findings outright. It’s a story of perseverance as she slowly gets her message out and government agencies and logging companies start using her recommendation to make replanted forests grow faster and healthier, not just for the trees but for the whole ecosystem.

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She writes about birches and firs but the forests are interconnected by all sorts of fungi between all sorts of species. She also writes about mother trees who somehow recognize their offspring and provide these “sons and daughters” extra nutrition and help to survive. None of this is speculation, she has proof that it occurs.

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At the end she talks about salmon, grizzly bears, trees in the pacific coast of British Columbia. A major source of nitrogen it turns out in the trees on the coast, extending far inland, is from salmon. (How do they know that, because the isotope ratio for nitrogen in salmon is different from the native ratios in the soil). During the spawning season grizzly bears eat thousands of salmon and leave the carcasses to decompose. The evidence suggests that maybe the fungus network may be able to transmit the salmon nitrogen hundreds of miles underground. No proof yet, but stay tuned.

What makes the book special is not just the science but Simard talks about her own life and struggles with marriage, children, career, and health. She’s kind of my hero right now. Talk about somebody who has a passion for many things and does her best to carry forward.

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Tell you what though, I am looking at trees and fungus with whole new eyes. As I hike my favorite trails here in Oklahoma I am looking at the trees and fungus with new eyes. Simard focuses her story the mycorrhizal fungus but there are literally thousands of other fungi out there that form networks between trees and other trees, and shrubs, and grass and every other type of plant you can think of sending nutrients here there and everywhere depending on season and need. It’s all kind of mind boggling.

I don’t think we have heard the last from her.

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

This cover is bogus

I’ve been hearing about Zane Grey almost my whole life. A famous western writer who was active in the early 20th century wrote about the old west. I used to watch Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater when I was a kid. I have never read his books until this one “Riders of the Purple Sage” his best seller.

Forest Ranger on the Mogollon Rim, Arizona early 1960's
There is my Dad, the Forest Ranger, at the Mogollon Rim on the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. I think that is my brother at the far right. The dog is Dupe the cocker spaniel. I don’t know who the guy on left is.

I grew up in Zane Grey country, the Mogollon Rim country in Arizona. Home of desperadoes, cowboys, and outlaws way back when.

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The Zane Grey Cabin in Payson, Arizona.

So I was expecting some sort of outlaw, desperado, rustler, lawman type novel when I read my first Grey novel. And there is quite a bit of that along with some great description of the country of southern Utah. A land of hidden canyons, secret passages, and beautiful valleys. There were outlaws, rustlers, and heroic hard bitten cowboys. But I’ll tell the dirty little secret of this book.

It’s a Romance Novel!! Oh my gosh, these cowboys when they meet the women their hearts go all aflutter, falling in pure, innocent love for these various damsels in distress. Page after page after page. I was never more glad to finish a novel than this thing. There were some “good parts in it” horseback chases across the sage flats. Hard charging horses. All the shoot outs and action is “off camera” if you will. They are told about afterwards.

Other than that it reminds of way back when when I worked in an office where one of the secretary’s didn’t have much to do so she read romance novels all day long. So I’d come by and say, hey let me see that. So I’d take the book and standing there for a few seconds read aloud what page she had been reading and it was all about heaving bosoms, quivering thighs, breathless anticipation, and soaring love (that is about as far as it went in this lady’s books). That is Riders of the Purple Sage, romance for cowboys.

The women are not treated much better. They are described as simple, childlike, and weak.

So I give this book three stars out of five for historical and literary interest. Otherwise I was pretty disappointed.

“Later” by Stephen King

Book Cover for "Later" by Stephen King

“Later” is one of Stephen King’s old school thriller, horror, books kind of based on cheap paperbacks. King can spin a yarn better than anybody in my opinion. We start out with kind of cute little boy who has this thing where he can talk with the recently dead.

So it starts out kind of cute and fluffy and as the novel progresses, the cute becomes less, and things get strange and then they get scary and all the sudden the novel hangs a hard left and sprouts knives, axes, teeth, and chainsaws and I swear it turns again right back at the reader. All before we know what is happening.

And after the story’s climax, King drops something else on us. Not a horror, but something else, just as horrible.

I finished it with like, what just happened here?

I strongly recommend this book. I got my copy at the library.

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

Jessica Bruder, a journalist, wrote Nomadland, a book about the (almost) hidden army of people who have decided for one reason or another to abandon permanent homes in favor of a life on the road. They don’t have real estate, they have “wheel estate.” they are not homeless, they are “houseless.” Many of them made this choice to follow a dream that doesn’t entail a house, maintenance, insurance, rent, and all the rest. I know a few of those people. Others made the choice because staying in a house or apartment did not add up. The type of arithmetic when you take your income and subtract food, medicine, insurance, other bills, and you don’t have enough for rent. They did it out of necessity. They are being squeezed out by the high cost of housing.

Where do they live? Many live in RV’s, new and old, travel trailers, truck campers. Some even live in their cars. Where do they park their vehicles? In RV parks, and on BLM and Forest Service land in the west. Walmart parking lots are popular, in commercial areas where their rigs blend in, public parks. Anywhere they are allowed to, and a few places where they are not. There are apps that guide them to free camping spots.

What do they do for money? Some live off their savings or in whatever jobs they can find. Thousands work for Amazon during the peak pre-Christmas season at their gigantic fulfillment centers. Amazon has a name for them, they are the Camperforce. Amazon loves them because of their work ethic and willingness to work for not very much money. Others work seasonally as camp hosts for National and State forests. They work the sugar beet harvest. All sorts of things.

Where do they go when they are not working. Thousands head to Quartzsite in southern Arizona where they boondock in the public lands surrounding town. The meet up in groups, learn the tricks and rules of the road from each other and enjoy the warm winters.

The author Jessica Bruder spent three years and researching this lifestyle. She even got her own van in order to embed even closer with them. You can tell she kind of fell in love with the lifestyle and the people. She tells the story with great empathy and insight.

I loved this book. And hey a movie is coming out starring Frances McDormand.

“The Sentinel” by Lee Child and Andrew Child

The Sentinel

I just finished The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child. It’s another Jack Reacher story. Lee Child has written a bunch of books featuring Reacher, an ex-Army MP officer who is big and tough and travels around the country and runs into many bad guys harming good people. This is another one of those books and this one falls flat on its face. I am not going to tell you the plot, but there is not a whole lot of action in this book. It’s mainly narrative and dialog. Boring narrative and boring dialog.

I hate to say it but maybe the book falls short because it has two authors. Lee Child collaborated with his younger brother Andrew Child on this book. Apparently this is the first book of a four book deal struck with the two authors. I’ve never really enjoyed fiction with two or more authors. This was a quick read and I am glad that I did not buy it. Thank goodness for our libraries!!

Anyway, that is how I feel.

The Sentinel by Lee Child

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


View all my reviews

The Room where it Happened by John Bolton

I just got through reading Bolton’s memoirs of his brief time in the Trump Administrator as National Security Director. The book is certainly eye opening as Bolton describes working with Trump on issues such as China trade, North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, the threats from Iran, and finishes off with the crisis in the Ukraine that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Bolton gets way down in the weeds and what comes out is his contempt for the way Trump does things. To Bolton, our president cannot maintain a train of thought for very long, cares little for issues except to the extent that he can use him to advance his own interests. He also doesn’t know the first thing about negotiating and mistakes personal relationships with international relationships. Bolton describes Kim Jong Un of North Korea laughing at Trump when he figured out that he could easily use that personal relationship to get concessions in negotiations.

Bolton also excoriates the House of Representatives for a lazy kind of impeachment where due to electoral schedules the calendar was abbreviated and so in the interests of time the issues were all focused on the Ukraine where in reality there was probably grounds for impeachment in a consistent pattern of self dealing by the President. The House also did not pursue their subpoenas in court so there was not much of an investigation and the process because ultra polarized and resulted in an acquittal by the Senate.

Bolton fears an unleashed Trump in a second term. The only thing that restrained him from many things in his first term was the fear of not being re-elected. Trump was barely constrained anyway and he’ll be much worse.

The book was interesting also as it gave me an insight into Bolton. The guy is pretty smart and has a lot to say. Once I understood where he comes from I could see where he got a lot of his beliefs. He is big into American Sovereignty for example which makes him very suspicious of any treaties that limits that for example. Despite some reports Bolton is not endorsing Biden. Bolton doesn’t say much about Biden but really goes after Obama and his policies.

The book scorches Trump pretty good. Trump did everything he could to stop publication of the book. It does not cast him in a good light.

I highly recommend this book.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

I just finished reading “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes. It is certainly comprehensive. It starts at the start of the 20th century and ends of course with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is very comprehensive as it surveys the development of modern physics and then gets into the huge industrial complexes built within just a few years with just one goal, to get enough fissionable material to make a bomb before the Germans, Japanese and Russians.

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“Little Boy” Atomic Bomb like the one dropped on Hiroshima

There are many interesting items in the book, such as:

  • Albert Einstein was instrumental in getting the United States to think about an atomic bomb. He played no part in the development of the bomb because he was considered a security risk.
  • USA believed the Germans were ahead in development because Germany was the center of Physics research. It wasn’t until after the war that they found out how far behind Germany was. The scientists working for the US knew that the basic science was well known and it was inevitable that other countries were going to develop the bomb and there was really not much that could be done to prevent it.
  • When the Manhattan Project started, the basic science for the bomb was considered settled so the work was to develop the technology to apply the science and fabricate a bomb. The huge facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington were there to get enough fissionable material to make the bomb. The basic plan was to make a bomb to test, and then after that drop bombs as fast as the fissionable material could be produced and fabricated into bombs.

So the physics is interesting and the technology challenging and so big parties when the test bomb at Trinity exploded. Rhodes does a great job sobering things up talking about the allied program of bombing residential areas in both Germany and Japan with mixtures of high explosives to break the houses and apartments and incendiary devices to make them burn. Rhodes also writes of the aftermath of the nuclear bombing including first person accounts of the horrific effects. Many people vaporized, others charred, others roasted alive. Many died of radiation sickness.

Atomic Bomb Test
Atomic Bomb Test, Bikini Island, 1946

There is a lot of second guessing going on now about if we should have dropped the bombs or not but the Americans were concerned about the casualties if the allies invaded the Japanese Homeland. They looked at the battle of Okinawa where the allies lost over 12,000 lives and the Japanese had 110,000 soldiers killed. In addition 40,000 to 150,000 Okinawan lives were lost. The allies estimated they would lose 400,000 to 800,000 lives invading the Empire. The estimated deaths after the bombing was 90,000 to 146,000 at Hiroshima and 39,000 to 80,000 at Nagasaki, many if not most innocent civilians including children, mothers, and elderly people.

Atomic Bomb Casing the ""Fat Man""
Model of Fat Man Atomic Bomb used on Nagasaki

I am very interested in Atomic Energy, the Manhattan Project, and all things Cold War. I spent a big part of my life in New Mexico, home of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, and the Trinity Test site. My mother worked at the Hanford Site, source of our Plutonium in a clerical role after the war. I have other relatives who worked in military nuclear related industries. I think other boomers have ties to the Cold War era.

Anyway, the book is 838 pages and too me forever to read but there is a lot of information that is packed in there. I loved it. I got my Kindle version very inexpensively on during a promotion.

“American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummings

American Dirt book cover

American Dirt‘ by Jeanine Cummins is a work a fiction following the Lydia and her son Luca, residents of Acapulco, Mexico. Lydia owns a bookstore and befriends a mysterious man who comes and is really interested in books. Her friend turns out to be a leader of a local cartel. The problem is that Lydia’s husband is an investigative journalist looking into her friend’s cartel.

Things take an explosive and tragic turn and Lydia and son Luca have to flee for their lives quickly and she decides the only place where they can be safe is El Norte, the United States. She has to think fast, make decisions at the spur of the moment and has to trust people. Some people she encounters are very helpful, others are total crooks. The books kept me on my toes the whole time.

The most interesting part of the story is “Le Bestia” the network of freight railroads running north and south in Mexico. Le Bestia is the fastest way for the migrants, including those from South America to make the long journey. But is dangerous, it is dangerous to try and get on and it is dangerous to ride. Here is a brief CNN video about the Le Bestia, the Death Train.

I don’t want to give away the story but this book has compared to “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I think American Dirt is a great book and certainly worth reading.

“Grass, Soil, and Hope – A Journey Through Carbon Country” by Courtney White

Grass Soil Hope Cover

This book caught my eye at the “Quick Pick” section in our local library. It piqued my interest as I am really interested in climate change and what can be done about it and of course Carbon is at the center of that debate.

The book is about a lot of things including carbon sequestration in soil via sustainable agriculture that builds up the soil and reduces the amount of fuel and fertilizer used while maintaining the the productivity of the land to provide food. I like win/win solutions to problems and reframing conflicts into cooperation and the practices and principles put forth in this book makes me very hopeful. I am very much interested in hope now.

You can get Grass, Soil, and Hope at the library!

“My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love” by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My Struggle, Book 2 Cover image

Karl Ove Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer who has caused a stir with his autobiographical fiction. I finished Book 1 about a year ago. I loved it but it was exhausting to read as Knausgaard delved into every single detail of his life. Book 2 is the second of six of his My Struggle series and it was every bit as fascinating and interesting as the first. It covers marriage and his three kids and his love hate relationship of being in a marriage and taking care of his kids, while trying to write.

He strips away the veneer of what society expects him to say about his thoughts on marriage and child raising and says what he really thinks, and his reactions to what he thinks. He applies the same process to the literary world and expresses the tiredness and resentment he feels toward readings and writings and literary things in general. He would rather spend the time writing rather than talking about his writing.

The whole thing is intense and I could only take about 50 to 60 pages at a time. Many paragraphs are over a page long. The angst is intense. So I’ll be getting Book 3 soon. I buy the books because it takes me too long to read them to get the library version.  You can get the Kindle version on Amazon for $10.

Want a pro tip – I am moving away from Kindle except for very low priced books. I found an online used  bookseller who will sell me Book 3 of the series  for $5 including shipping. Meanwhile I will give my copy of Book 2 to  our excellent local used book store Gardners. They will give me $5 credit against future books (yes I checked, they don’t have Book 3.) So my net cost of Book 3 is approximately $0. Sorry I digress into my thriftiness. 

What about the poor authors you say? They will miss out on royalties as I execute my strategy. Yep, I feel sorry for them, but I am trying to solve my problems. They can worry about their own problems. I still buy lots of books especially from authors just starting out. I happily pay full price for those books.