Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"I speak for the trees!" the Lorax has been known to proclaim and I've always identified with this, oddly enough. I grew up with the trees, I lived in a little house nestled amongst trees and blueberry bushes. Wild morning glories sunned their faces in the dawn's early light, maple leaves were an outdoor carpet in the fall, and I climbed trees like a squirrel. Wood chopping, berry collecting, flower picking, fish catching were the makings of my childhood. There's something about the woods or forest, something about nature, that speaks to me on a spiritual level. I feel most calm, most at peace, when I am able to escape to nature. 

I came across Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in an article that has long been lost. The subject was something about wanderlust, or hiking, or perhaps nature itself and this book was a suggestion. The description captured everything I wanted to read: a dramatic year in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains! A meditation on nature and its seasons! Yes, I wanted to read about all of that, I could identify with that. Nature has always provided a source of meditation and I marvel at all the seasons--it's one of the biggest reasons I refuse to move to San Francisco, because I love to have four seasons (even if I dislike winter a little more than the other three seasons). And I have so many memories of my angst-ridden teen years when I would be fed up with whatever angst-ridden teens are fed up with and I'd escape to the woods, climb onto of a fallen down tree, and sit with a notebook or novel in hand. I'd listen to the wind, the groan of the trees, and see deer pick their way through the brush.

This, surely, was the book for me.

I took my time with Pilgrim. I began it and found it wasn't something I could read here and there. I had to sit down and read a chunk at a time, fully devoting my attention to it without the distraction of music or television. It became a book read just before bed or early in the morning, with my only company being lazy cats and songbirds outside my window. 

Annie Dillard uses the most perfect language to bring a brilliant mental canvas to life of Tinker Creek. She describes floods, winter storms, the warmth of the sunshine and brilliance of starlight. She's reflective and smart, often going into very detailed passages about different information on bugs in particular. I am not a fan of bugs, not at all, so all the details on bugs did get a bit grating after awhile, but I still appreciate the wonderful language that Dillard used. She's one hell of a writer, really. And while Pilgrim wasn't written as a solid start-to-finish book, rather it's a collaboration of journal entries that were brought together for this book, there's still certainly a rhythm to the writing. It's amazing that something pieced together could still maintain a flow while other books that are meant as one solid story can't even keep a consistent flow.

I often found myself pausing while reading to think of my own nature-filled adventures and the things I myself have seen. At times, I paused to reflect on what I read and think of the imagery that the words brought to my mind. All in all, it's just beautiful.

A friend of mine with similar adoration for nature will surely love the book (she really likes bugs) and while I skimmed the bug sections, I still enjoyed the book as a whole. It was all so lovely, so beautifully written, and it brought to mind all of the emotions and reactions I've had while in the woods. While on one hand, it made me want to run straight for the hills and live amongst the trees, it also reminded me of the forest and brought a little bit of the woods right into my living room.

I really despise writing or highlighting in my books and yet I wanted to do that over and over again with this book. There are so many beautiful phrases and sentences through out it, it's extremely quotable, so I may in the future buy another copy or download it onto my Kindle so that I may highlight to my heart's content. Also? I really like the cover I had (as seen in the cover photo up above). I love how simple it was. This is, so much, like a field book. I even brought it with me while I hiked Minnewaska State Park. I am certain that I will return to this book in the future and joyfully so.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Silver in the Blood

An impulse buy, if you will. Silver in the Blood was an out-facing book at my local bookstore and I grabbed it because, well, there was a wolf on the cover. I'm always down to read YA books about werewolves because there aren't many published books that focus solely on female werewolves. At least, that was the impression I got from reading the blurb about the book. I took it home and when I got around to reading it, it was a quick, effortless read. This isn't a book to break your brain over, it's entertaining and passes the time. Was it the best thing I've read this year? No. Was it the worst? Also, no. But I wouldn't categorize it as one of my favorite reads.

Dacia and Lou, cousins from New York with family in Romania, have left behind their socialite status to visit their Romanian family under some spooky pretenses. Right off the bat, it's hinted that something is going on and they are purposely being kept in the dark on the matter. But along they go, traveling to Romania and encountering odd things along the way. They write to one another and there's a wonderful sisterly bond, something appealing to me because while I do not have a sister, I've felt I have a sisterly bond with some of my cousins.

The letters are somewhat off putting though, at times it seems the letters are a preview of an upcoming chapter while other times it seems they're misplaced in the timing of the book. Really, the book wouldn't lose anything if the letters were taken out entirely.

Upon arriving in Romania, things continue to get strange. While there's so much attention to the fact that these two girls are socialites of New York City, the story does not once take place in NYC. I would have enjoyed seeing them in their environment, rather than entirely out of place. The Romanian family is an odd bunch but they seem to have a great boy cousin whom they befriend and there is, of course, a slew of men that are practically tripping over each other to get to the girls.

It's this constant (well, almost constant) focus on men and flirtation that gets a bit old. Dacia can't seem to keep track of all the suitors she has and neither can the author. Lou, in the meantime, sounds so much more appealing as a character. She sounds sweet, attractive and smart while Dacia seems to often be a bit of a loon. Still, it's clear the girls love one another and will do anything to protect each other, which is good, because they need that support as they are thrown into the secret world of their family.

We're introduced to vampires, 'werewolves' of sorts, people who change into bats and people who change into a ghostly mist. I don't want to get too into the hows and whys that these creatures are introduced, as that could be too spoilerish, but when it happens... it happens. You are thrown into the story without any chance to look back.

After this, there's a slew of drama that happens and it just seems that there's always a positive result to everything that's going on. That says a lot considering we're dealing with two girls who previously had no real world experience nor any knowledge of these secrets. It just seemed to be too perfect of an ending.

There's a lot that could improve this story and I found myself rather disappointed by the end of it. I could relate to the sisterly bond the cousins had and that was wonderful, I like to see that kind of relationship in books, but past that I was left feeling generally odd about the entire thing. The "monsters" could have had such a better explanation. The characters who had positions and beliefs seemed to have very faulty ones at that. Everything seemed to be explained in a very off-handed manner and in the end, all was tied up too neatly.

Maybe you can qualify this as a beach read or something for escapism, but it's not much more than that. I do give the author credit, also, for giving a decent description of the Romanian world. However, I've never been to Romania so I can't quite judge the accuracy of it all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Homestead Farm

Where: Poolesville, Maryland
When: October 2014

While in college, I spent a fortnight at my aunt's home in Maryland. At the time, I was a New Yorker who only went south to attend school in Pennsylvania. I loved my aunt's home and spending time with my cousin, but had very little hold of the area -- who knew I would be living in the neighboring state of Virginia a few years later!

The time spent at my aunt's during that hot summer hold many memories for me, but one specific memory is of Homestead Farm. It's a favorite of my aunt's and she would have a regular supply of preserves from the farm filling her fridge for breakfasts and snacks. 

Last autumn, I wanted to do something fun with my group of friends. Something autumnal. I wanted to visit Homestead Farm the entirety of the past summer but never got around to it, so I figured I would see if they had anything going on for the fall. Do they ever! 

As a child my mother would take me to pick pumpkins each year and we would ride a hay-covered wagon to a big muddy field where pumpkins were scattered and still on the vine. Upon going to school in Pennsylvania, later on moving there and living in the country, then moving to Virginia, I had yet to find a similar experience. With or without my friends, I was determined to not only visit this farm that I had wonderful memories of, but pick a pumpkin.

But friends were able to tag along so we piled into my car and drove along the beltway and into the rolling hills of Poolesville. The parking was packed into a grassy field and the area was pretty crowded, but the lines moved quickly and the farm certainly has figured out how to deal with the autumnal crowds.

We immediately bought our tickets to the hayride and I was nearly jumping with joy. A hayride, to a field, to pick pumpkins RIGHT OFF THE VINE was something I hadn't done since I was a kid. Now this is how you pick pumpkins. I was ecstatic to teach my "city" friends a thing or two. What was even better was that the hayride wasn't a quick drive around a barn or anything. We actually were taken away from the crowded farm area and into the fields. There were multiple pumpkin fields and it seemed that each hayride took pumpkin-getters to varying fields. This helped maintain a wide selection of pumpkins (by size, shape and quality) but also prevented the fields from getting too destroyed by trampling feet.

After we hopped off the hayride, brushing off sticky hay that clung to our sides, we headed off to look through the wide selection of pumpkins. There were so many! Typically, I spot a pumpkin and I know "that's the one," but the majority of my friends were overwhelmed by the selection, torn between a number of pumpkins set out before them, and we missed our hayride back to the farm.

Not to worry! Other hayrides came through after a little bit and it wasn't so far that we couldn't walk back if we were really desperate to return beforehand. It was pretty wonderful being able to go through the fields alone, just the group of us, and take our time as we selected the perfect pumpkin. I appreciate that we weren't ushered back to the tractor when we weren't finished.

With the precious cargo on our laps, we headed back to the farm with the warm autumn sun on our faces. We checked out shortly after and brought our pumpkins to the car, nestled safely in my trunk, before returning to the farm to enjoy all the other options they had. Food, a market, little goats, a large lake to sit about, piles of hay for children to climb on, and an apple orchard to pick your own pink lady apples.

The food -- hot dogs, pie, cider -- while simple, was delicious. I think in part it was the atmosphere. You're sitting outside, eating a warm, freshly cooked hot dog while children laugh and the warm breeze catches your hair. The cider was absolutely delicious and we ended up buying two gallons of the stuff. It was the perfect autumnal day.

Afterward, we checked out the animals at their little homes and sat by the lake for awhile. It was beautiful and peaceful, despite how busy it was, but the day was starting to draw to a close. We spent a great deal of time relaxing by the lake and looking at the blue-blue sky with the occasional plane flying by.

One of our friends suggested we give apple picking a try and all were in. Despite my experiences with pumpkin picking, apple picking was something I had never truly experienced. In the Catskills, there were plenty of apple trees. In my neighborhood alone we had a number of them around my home. Rumor was that it was formerly a apple farm before the land was bought out for homes. I associate apple blossoms with spring and the thunk of small apples with the fall. But to pick apples off trees that are actually large enough to eat? Nope, never have done that before.

Pink lady apples were our choice for the time that we were there. Rows and rows of apple trees were passed by in pursuit of the pink ladies. Apparently, different apples are ripened enough for plucking at different points through out the fall. The farm has them in orderly lines trailing back further from the farm and we were, more or less, at the midway point.

The trees generally were short enough to reach up and grab apples without issue, but some people were able to snag ladders or poles to get the apples that were closer to the top and a bit more out of reach. We ended up getting far more apples than we intended but ultimately ended up eating and baking with those apples for weeks afterward.

Leaving the farm that day, I was tired but incredibly satisfied. It was a blast from the past, both a visit to a farm I had always loved when visiting my aunt, and a reminder of how fun pumpkin picking can be. While I'll be spending Halloween in New Orleans this year, I still intend to go back to this farm and enjoy the festive activities of my favorite season.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Sense of the Infinite

I received A Sense of the Infinite from my Book Riot YA box. It sat in a pile of yet-to-be-read books for quite awhile, only slightly ignored by me because I was busy reading other material, but while I had time off between classes I picked it up and decided to give it a go. I read it quickly, over two days, and easily could've read the book entirely in a day if I hadn't other things to do. It's a quick, easy read and certainly makes you feel rewarded by each finished chapter because all the chapters are super, super short. Like, a page short. I think the longest one may have been five pages long.

The book is simplistic in so many ways. The writing is simple, the dialogue is simple, it reads like a journal entry and I wish the book was presented in that way--considering how short the chapters were and the simple "I did this, now I did that" dialogue it could easily have been promoted as a journal of a girl's senior year in high school.

Annabeth is a pretty plain girl. She's just not very interesting. She's nearly obsessed with her best friend, doing anything her best friend deems worthy of doing, and I was so extremely bored by her. She is presented with a lot of huge life-changing events and yet handles them in the most uncaring way. We hit on topics of eating disorders, rape and abortion and yet Annabeth has the most chilled out, unemotional responses. I mean, there's reaction to these topics, but they are given to you in bland writing. Annabeth has a stronger reaction to the falling out with her best friend than anything.

Maybe... maybe I'm just old. Maybe I'm an old crone that doesn't understand how painful high school can be and I, therefore, find it all to be really dramatic and kind of stupid. The stuff I feel Annabeth has a right to be really upset over, she isn't. The things I find to be a waste of her time she's overwhelmed by emotions. I get it, losing your best friend due to stupid, petty shit is awful and every teenager seems to go through it. I read the book with the full knowledge that I dealt with the same events when I was in high school--somewhat meaningless fights with friends and then, suddenly, you're enemies and avoiding eye contact in the halls.

This book is great in terms of handling big life issues and showing that it doesn't equate a full out war with your loved ones. That's one part I really want to point out. Here we are dealing with rape, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion and yet family members aren't turning on their own. They're accepting and while upset, it doesn't mean the end of the world. I think this is something many teens who could be caught in similar situations are worried about--that their family may turn on them or blame them. Unfortunately, at times there are people in the world who do not handle these problems in the best of ways, but that's not always the case. I think teens (even adults) will assume the worst of their family when they're scared to admit to a "wrong" (a wrong brought upon you, in this instance).

By the midway-point of the book, we were given underage drinking, mental illness, and suicide. This book was practically a cry for censorship, it hits on every point that usually causes people to get up in arms over it. But really, that's not my issue with it. I am all for these subjects being in books and I feel I'll not have any issue sharing such books with my children (whenever I have kids). It's just the poor writing that makes it bad. There's also a lot of really obvious editorial mistakes that you don't have to be a copy editor to pinpoint. 

But beside the long list of challenge-worthy topics that made it into the book by the halfway point, it actually made Annabeth much more interesting and the story more entertaining. I was even wondering, by the end of the book, how Annabeth was doing and what occurred once she entered college. Maybe we'll find out later--if so, I suppose I'd read the book knowing it would be such a quick read.