Book Review: Granite, fire, and fog : the natural and cultural history of Acadia by Tom Wessels

Author: Tom Wessels
TitleGranite, fire, and fog : the natural and cultural history of Acadia
Publication Info: Hanover : University Press of New England, 2017.

This book integrates the natural and cultural history of Acadia National Park in an intriguing way.  Wessels describes the geological processes that created Mount Desert Island’s unique formations and how the location of the island brings together fauna and flora not found together anywhere else.  For a short book, it can be quite detailed, as almost an entire chapter is dedicated to the different types of lichen that grow on the island’s rocks (don’t step on them!) and nearly as much as space to how fogs provide hydration and nutrients to the island’s plants.  The Fire of 1947 is also described as a cataclysmic event that unexpectedly shaped the national park that we know today.  This is a fascinating introduction to the wonders of Acadia, and a good field guide for visitors there.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Author: J. D. Vance
TitleHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Narrator:  J. D. Vance
Publication Info:Harper Audio, 2016

This book is being touted as offering insight into the Trump voter, but I think if you go into the book with that mindset you will be misled.  Nevertheless it is an interesting memoir of life for the self-proclaimed “hillbilly” culture of Appalachia.  Vance tells the story of his family from rural Kentucky and their migration along the “Hillbilly Highway” to a factory town in Ohio.  His community is one of strong family ties, rugged independence, and fierce patriotism.  But it is also a place of domestic violence, substance abuse, and extreme poverty.  Vance’s beloved grandmother, Mamaw, who primarily raised Vance is a key figure in the book. One of the most interesting political observations  in the book is that Mamaw could alternately support right-wing anti-government ideas and social democratic government programs.  The contradiction of these seemingly extreme viewpoints is due to the fact the established middle of both Republicans and Democrats have abandoned the ordinary working people.  Vance’s story is not typical for an Appalachian person as he joins the Marines, studies at Ohio State, gets a law degree at Yale, and now works at an investment firm in Silicon Valley. A lot of Vance’s book is the story of how he “got out” and doesn’t reflect the perspectives of those unable to “get out” or those for whom “getting out” is not an option to be desired.  With those caveats in mind, this is a good slice of life of part of our country and our people who are too often overlooked.

Recommended books: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, and The Other America: Poverty in the United States by Michael Harrington
Rating: ***

Forest Hills Cemetery Lantern Festival

Tonight we attended the 11th Annual Lantern Festival at Forest Hills Cemetery right here in Jamaica Plain.  This is the first time we’ve attended since moving to JP as last year I was violently ill at the time the festival occurred.  This year we had just as good a reason not to go and that is the fact that a toddler should not be kept out past his bedtime.  What could it hurt, I convinced myself, to just go around the corner for a little fresh air and fun, he’ll enjoy it.  We paid the price in the screams of an overtired boy, alas.

If in good health and accompanied by well-rested children, the Lantern Festival is definitely a great event.  Inspired by East Asian traditions, the Lantern Festival is a way to pay tribute to lost loved ones by decorating a lantern, lighting it and setting it afloat at dusk on Lake Hibiscus. “Drifting and flickering with the wind, the lanterns symbolize the soul’s journey when life ends.”

There is also a great variety of music and dance leading up to the floating of the lanterns including taiko drumming, gospel, and as we discovered among a dark section of gravestones, a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace.”

Our lantern is lit.
Our lantern is lit.
Our lantern floats off to join the other on Lake Hibiscus
Our lantern floats off to join the other on Lake Hibiscus
One of the most beautiful sites you'll see in Boston.

This bagpiper appeared out of a dark corner of the cemetary playing "Amazing Grace"
This bagpiper appeared out of a dark corner of the cemetery playing "Amazing Grace"

As an added bonus, here’s the best creepy movie you’ll ever see of a bagpiper playing in a very dark cemetery.

Forest Hills Cemetery is one of our favorite places in Boston and we’re members of The Forest Hills Educational Trust, definitely worth joining for their variety of arts and cultural events.  Below are some previous posts I’ve made about Forest Hills:

Book Review: The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky

Author: Mark Kurlansky
Title: The Last Fish Tale
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks, Inc. (2008)
ISBN: 1433214776


Mark Kurlansky, author of excellent books about Cod and Salt, takes on the unique fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts in this work.  Kurlansky approaches Gloucester from all angles with a historical survey stretching back to colonial times (and earlier), cultural and sociological insights into Gloucester people, and every so often throws in a traditional seafood recipe for good measure.  Kurlansky alternates between fish tales – adventures of exaggerated braggadocio – and Gloucester tales – peculiarly tragice stories of those who went down in ships.

Mostly though, this is a book about Gloucester’s life blood – the fisheries and the commercial fisherman who sail out into them.  In fact, Kurlansky ventures far beyond Gloucester to Canada, Britain, and Europe to other fishing villages who essentially share the same ecosystem and suffer the same fate of fishing villages in a time of dwindling stocks, pollutions, and sometimes counterproductive government regulation.  This is a fascinating and lively book and I really enjoyed a learning a bit about a town so close to home, yet so distinctly separate.

Recommended books: Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic by Redmond O’Hanlon; Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape by Peter Manso; The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea by Sebastian Junger

Links of the Day for 9 January 2008