Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Reading List

When I was an undergrad, I had the wonderful chance to work with a brilliant scholar, Dr. Tom Samet. He died way too young, but his summer reading list offered up to all of us was recently uncovered. This from the man, a Fulbright Scholar, who invited his whole class to his house to watch Breaker Morant an influential film that gave us this: "The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations." It took me a few years into my thirties to break into Pynchon novels, but as a 42 year old, I'm glad I waited and remain sad that one of his followers, my favorite modern writer, David Foster Wallace (tennis player who went by Dave to all of his friends)left this world too soon. After an immensely stressful week that brought me to the cliff, I'm done. See this great reading list and escape, too, the mediocrity of people in higher paying jobs. The state's natural history is doomed.

See below Dr. Samet's reading list for budding scholars. I'm pleased to know I've read most of them.

SUGGESTIONS FOR SUMMER READING Tom Samet I've listed below a handful of titles that you may want to consider reading while you bake at the beach. Naturally, the list reflects all of my personal biases, quirks, and preoccupations. Though there are exceptions to each of the following principles, I've in general been guided by these considerations: a. length: the list includes a number of very long books, on the assumption that if one doesn't read these during the summer, one doesn't read them at all; b. period: most of the volumes included are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which is where I'm most at home; c. familiarity: with few exceptions these are well known and celebrated books--classics, if you like; but I've tried to avoid those that you are most likely to encounter in the classroom.

  • Richard Altick, The Scholar Adventurers: as the title suggests, an account of major literary discoveries, including frauds, secret codes, and other mysteries; Victorian People and Ideas: an exceptionally useful and readable introduction to the life of nineteenth-century England
  • W. H. Auden, Selected Poems
  • Jane Austen, Mansfield Park: novel
  • James Baldwin, Another Country: novel
  • James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain: short fiction
  • John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor: novel
  • Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism: an enormously important study of the "disjunction" between economic structure and cultural values
  • Saul Bellow, Herzog: novel
  • Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers: major essays on Tolstoy, Herzen and others by one of the great British thinkers of the twentieth century
  • Randolph Bourne, War and the Intellectuals: important essays by a central figure in American intellectual life during the first decades of the twentieth century
  • Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth: one of the few memoirs of World War I by a woman
  • Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: probably the best book on Freud ever written, and an indispensable introduction to psychoanalysis
  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France: a major work by the central figure in English conservative thought
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote: novel--arguably the first one
  • Joseph Conrad, Nostromo: novel--his most ambitious and possibly his greatest
  • Malcolm Cowley, Exile's Return: the most important account of the writers of the "lost generation"--Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Cummings, etc.
  • Charles Dickens, Bleak House, Little Dorrit: novels
  • Morris Dickstein, Gates of Eden: a cultural history of the sixties
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov: novel
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch: novel
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, Selected Letters
  • Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education
  • Ford Madox Ford, Parade's End: a series of four novels, and arguably the finest work of fiction to emerge from the first world war
  • E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy: essays
  • Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: historical study by one of the most important and influential of recent French thinkers
  • Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Totem and Taboo, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex
  • Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory: an award-winning study of the impact of the First World War upon the modern imagination
  • Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, No Man's Land: major studies of women writers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd: important reflections on childhood in America at mid-century
  • Edmund Gosse, Father and Son: a major Victorian autobiography, recording the conflict of faith with the secular pressures of the latter half of the nineteenth centuries
  • Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That: memoir of World War I by a major modern writer
  • Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls: novel
  • Walter Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind: the best available account of the climate of thought and sentiment in Victorian England
  • Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, The Princess Casamassima: novels
  • James Joyce, Selected Letters
  • Franz Kafka, Letter to His Father: as the title suggests, a letter from a great writer to his businessman father
  • Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion: novel
  • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon: novel
  • Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American life in the seventies by one of our major cultural historians
  • D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow: novel; Studies in Classic American Literature: critical essays; Phoenix: essays
  • Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night: novel; Of a Fire on the Moon; journalism
  • Thomas Mann, Death in Venice: short novel
  • Mary McCarthy, On the Contrary: essays
  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick: novel
  • V. S. Naipaul, Guerillas, A Bend in the River: novels
  • George Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism, Letters (4 vols.)
  • Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, The Crying of Lot 49, V: novels
  • Mordecai Richler, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: novel
  • David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd: a classic study of American character at midcentury
  • Katherine Rogers, The Troublesome Helpmate: a history of misogyny in literature
  • Philip Roth, Letting Go, The Ghost Writer: novels
  • Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: an important study of English women novelists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Patricia Meyer Sparks, The Female Imagination: a study of women's writing by a major American scholar
  • Stendahl, The Red and the Black: novel
  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace: novel
  • Ivan Turgenev, On the Eve, Fathers and Sons: novels
  • Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men: major novel by a major American writer, based in part on the life of Huey Long
  • Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall: novel
  • Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: a profoundly important account of the emergence of capitalism from the change in religious sensibility brought about by the Reformation
  • Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, The Long Revolution, The Country and the City: major studies by one of Britain's greatest cultural historians
  • Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: historical studies in European socialism-- indispensable reading; Patriotic Gore: historical and biographical studies in the literature of the American Civil War
  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own: an appeal for sexual equality; Three Guineas: an appeal for sexual equality; A Writer's Diary
  • Richard Wright, Native Son: novel; Black Boy: autobiography
  • Sunday, June 21, 2015

    Summer Solstice

    I live in an un-airconditioned bungalow built in 1906. I thought it was built in the 1930s (based on land plat maps), but after last week's appraisal, I learned this house is much older than I thought and that the knob-and-tube wiring is original to the 1930s upgrades. This is charming to a degree, but not from an insurance policy or the modern day appliance angle: I cannot run a ceiling fan and charge my cell phone at the same time, or use the microwave and the computer printer simultaneously, or a lamp in one room and the washer in the basement without my power going out. I like my house a lot, I love the yard even more, and during summer months this cottage reminds me of living in a cabin in Arkansas that I would take to as respite from the Louisiana heat back in the day before the storm.

    The longest day of the year, the summer solstice is still underway but under cloudy skies, which is unfortunate. I thrive in sunlight, try to spend as much time as humanly possible in the sunlight and delighting in pretty days. Upcoming travel plans include Jackson Hole and the Willamette Valley, both areas that normally see rain, cloudy skies, cooler temperatures, but have switched weather patterns. Oregon is sunny! And dry! And warm but not too hot! With the flooding rivers in the Ozarks I have yet to go on a float, having seen all the gravel bars underwater on the Current and Jack's Fork. June seems to be as fleeting as spring wildflower season, which is disturbing. Before I can even catch my breath it will be time for the tennis tournament in Cincinnati. We're already approaching Wimbledon and I haven't even eaten a blackberry. Strawberries are on the menu in England, but by the grass court season in Missouri, we should be eating peaches. This year may be different having heard that the Malden peach producer has been impacted by a misapplication of herbicide, so we may not be seeing Bootheel peaches, depending instead on the north Missouri farms. Or, worse, Georgia. Raspberries showed up this weekend at the farmer's market, so summer isn't as fleeting as it seems with the solstice marking the beginning of shorter days and the coming of winter. Ach. Where is the time going?

    Friday, June 19, 2015

    June 20: Augusta AVA Appellation Day!

    Every year I write about it, about how Missouri harbors the initial American Viticulture Area, and how great that it was awarded to my favorite part of the state rather than somewhere out in California. Missouri's wine history is long and storied with some interruptions due to anti-immigrant sentiments, which is a sad period in our state's history. Beer fans will agree, considering the impact of anti-German movements during World War I had on beer production in and around St. Louis. It was all very sad and deeply entrenched in the American psyche.

    But in the 1980s, when Napa Valley was exploding with great vinifera-based wines, the Augusta region in the Missouri River Hills of the Ozark Highlands was designated as the first AVA. Missouri wineries are releasing their 2012 vintage, the grapes grown during the drought. Supple, highly tannic, and delicious wines characterize this vintage, certainly one for setting aside to see how it ages. Visit Augusta this weekend, follow the maps of the detours around the flooded Highway 94, and make your way to their special events. Live music, games, sparkling grape juice for non-wine drinkers, and the first sunny weekend we've seen in weeks.

    Tuesday, June 09, 2015

    Hey, pollinators, these woods are open for business.

    It was a cool morning in early June after two days of severe thunderstorms when the woodlands erupted in the lilting calls of Eastern wood pewees, so many pewees, summer tanagers, pileated woodpeckers, just too many birds to count. Coming back from two days of dodging rain in the lush Current River Hills, we took a detour on the Central Plateau to check out one of the best examples of an upland flatwoods landscape in this part of the Ozarks.

    The area had been treated with fire in February, the latest of a long history of prescribed fires, including one in late April in 2013 a year when the vegetation was as advanced as early June. Most fire practitioners can tell when it's too late to burn, when the vegetation is advanced and when wildlife is setting up shop for breeding. With responsibly applied prescribed fire, when Ozark woodlands are largely dormant, there will still be some direct mortality of early emerging biota. However, for the health of the system, and for the sustainability of an ecosystem, prescribed fire on regular return intervals in healthy natural communities must continue for the viability of all plants and animals. I was personally opposed to the burn on these flatwoods in late April 2013; it was conducted much too late, and no one knows what was lost in that late fire. And that's a problem.

    So I returned there this year and found the traditional floral display that makes this landscape so nice to walk through--dominated by spiderwort and penstemons with a remarkable suite of legumes and grasses, and so forth. Hopefully the area's vegetation will be sampled to track changes through the years following fire events and analysis will show fire effects on the vegetation. Nodding a head up and down and proclaiming "it looks good to me" is not science. But that day last week, it did look pretty and it was fun to see so many butterflies and bees. But what about the insects and spiders that are not pollinators? There are certain specialists studying the impacts of fire on other suites of insects, but during my hike on a nice day it was great to see so many pollinators taking advantage of the rich floral display that, yes, included five species of milkweeds.

    Because most of our Ozark ecosystems are out of context with their historic character, and because nature today requires active ecosystem management to sustain biodiversity, the contrast of burned and thinned versus unburned was stark. At least the burned and thinned section, the area with all the flowers and plants and birds, spans over 3,000 acres. But I wouldn't spend a day walking through the unburned doghair even-aged stand of red oak-black oak ecological trash with an understory of leaf litter and a Virginia creeper sprout here and there. Crops of trees are not my specialty. I like plants. I like restored ecosystems that harken to a world mostly lost of highly functioning systems that have natural processes in place to shape and influence wildlife populations and all of biodiversity. Yes, I spend my time there.

    Saturday, May 30, 2015

    A Rumble becomes a Roar

    Stepping out of the car into a beautiful woodland on a clement 70 degree day, I could hear the calls of the yellow-billed cuckoo and Eastern wood pewee loud and clear. They were directly above me, along with the summer tanagers setting up their breeding spots and the red-headed woodpeckers chattering among the post oak snags. Large, contiguous, high quality forested blocks of uneven aged mixed white oak-post oak-black oak woodlands with a well-developed understory are becoming increasingly rare in the Missouri Ozark Highlands, and this White River Hills area, nestled just west of Cassville, represents one of the best examples of this natural landscape. After thirty years of carefully applied prescribed fire in the dolomite glade-woodland complex I visited, few can argue that the wildlife and herbaceous response to this management has not been beneficial: plants rare in Missouri have a stronghold in the region, including American beakgrass, Liatris mucronata, Callirhoe bushii. Greater roadrunners, wild turkey, black vultures are common inhabitants here, and Bear #1, the first recorded black bear in Missouri's modern era, was documented from this area, a region that certainly supplies enough food, wild land, and denning areas to support a teeming population of this incredible mammal.

    Unfortunately, the outreach and education aspect of prescribed fire management has not trickled down through the generations. Today, longtime practitioners of prescribed fire in Missouri take it for granted that they've passed that political hurdle, that surely everyone has read the Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri(Nelson, 2005, 2010), as well as all of the supporting literature that reiterates the importance of prescribed fire for our once pyrrhic landscapes--academic papers that support fire for the benefit of wildlife, oak and pine regeneration, and rare plants. So, today, resentment and anger is mounting in this fire-mediated landscape, with outcry against prescribed fire, perhaps because of misapplication of this management tool, but outcry against all such management. Serious criticism and a misunderstanding of the benefits of low intensity prescribed fires for wildlife and endemic flora is evident in a mounting campaign, complete with yard signs.

    It's a shame, really, that I don't live closer or that I can't get involved in politics because I would like to explain that properly applied prescribed fire is beneficial, that Eastern red cedar is only in the area because of a long history of overgrazing, and once you get rid of it and apply fire, a suite of indigenous plants and animals will rebound. The White River Hills Important Bird Area, a designation from the National Audubon Society, has been elevated to a Globally Significant IBA because of the high level of endemism, all the rare plants and birds and functioning ecological systems. Without fire, all of the rare elements that make this such a special place in the Ozarks will disappear. Unfortunately, and conversely, with improperly applied fire, all of these assets will disappear. Ecosystem management and restoration should be accomplished carefully, and it has been on thousands of acres in the region. Sadly, the results of a couple of situations in recent history have unleashed a firestorm of criticism.

    I don't know the outcome of all the politics and I can't get involved, but I hope that the lovely woodlands and glades, rich with such an incredible diversity of flora and fauna rare in Missouri because most of the state does not see fire, will persist. Fire remains the primary management tool to restore healthy ecosystems in Missouri. I'm sad that it has been misapplied, and hope for the future management that prescription parameters including humidity, wind, date of green-up, and fuel loading will be taken into account before causing another firestorm.

    Sunday, May 17, 2015


    May's warm rains have accelerated vegetation growth this spring with legumes already reaching their late summer height. The ragworts and Indian paintbrush are starting to go to seed, flowers fading quickly in the fens and glades of the Western Ozarks. The well-developed canopy makes evident the scattered dead white oaks that didn't make it through the drought year. It wasn't the 2012 drought alone that likely impacted the white oaks at a certain elevation, but the late spring frost earlier that year probably stressed them as well; together, these extreme weather events have proven a little too much for some white oaks. Breaks in the canopy, woodland openings, peeling white oak bark that makes for good bat roost sites, nice woodpecker trees. In resilient systems like the one I visited this week, the natural world can still sort itself out.

    Birdsong erupted at 5:30 that morning, with a Kentucky warbler in the lead. A veery chimed in with that haunting circular call and then the Eastern phoebes and the rest of the bird world came alive, the best morning alarm. It's always fun to see ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting flowers on the landscape. There was no shortage of wild bergamot this week, so the sugar water feeders at the building were not surprisingly hosting only a few of these amazing creatures. The hummingbirds were in the woods feeding on the multitude of invertebrates and nectar from all the wildflowers.

    We visited an Ozark fen that had been used in the 1970s as a recreational mud pit for trucks. The deep muck almost swallowed my colleague as he sank to his knees in beautiful black fen soil. He came out with a monster-sized devil crawfish whose turrets and tunnels coursed through the fen. This fen is dominated by uncommon sedges and ragworts today, but I wonder what we lost during the 1970s.

    It's so much fun to visit high quality ecosystems to see how natural systems respond to fire, to hear all the birds who depend on the intricate food webs that these places support and after a long winter it's nothing short of wonderful to hear the leaves rustling in the trees.

    Friday, May 08, 2015

    The New Nature

    Recently, there has been a surge in literature throughout the conservation community highlighting the importance of native plant gardening for the sustainability of wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation writes that chickadees, for example, require 5,000 insects from native plants to successfully rear a clutch. I trust them, just as I do Doug Tallamy's fantastic book that highlights the importance of converting landscapes from turf to native flora to benefit wildlife. These and a myriad of other articles have positively impacted many communities now embracing native plantings in urban areas; they have reinvigorated Wild Ones chapters, native plant enthusiasts, and wildlife advocates. Add to the resurgence in growing natives are the reports of impacts to non-target wildlife from the widespread broadcasting of glyphosate and other herbicides in an effort for a "weed-free" lawn, and so forth. The assault on wildlife and the natural world is pervasive with sprawling development, wanton abuse of chemicals, regular thumbing of the nose to regulatory agencies and procedures that were put into place in the 1970s during the heyday of the environmental movement.

    Yes, I'm familiar with all of this. And yes, my urban lot, located close to a thriving downtown of brewpubs and farmer's markets, is chocked full of native flora. I do not have a lawn, I do not apply chemicals to my yard, and hopefully one day I can afford to buy this old Craftsman bungalow with no attic fan or air conditioning to protect the yard's 400 year old witness tree, a fire-scarred chinquapin oak. Lots of birds, snakes and invertebrates use my yard because of its native quality and active management regime.

    So when well-minded individuals seek to convert an old hay pasture or lawn into a native grassland to support wildlife, it's an easy project to support. However, when the old pasture is nestled in an intact landscape of woodlands and glades with their own suite of native plants, I tend to be a little concerned. Where are the seeds coming from? Native to Missouri, yes, but what region? What is the criteria for introducing plants to a certain area if they were not known to exist there historically? Creating wildlife habitat with native plants is good mission in areas that are already destroyed, areas without existing native plants. But compromising the integrity of native systems by adding native plants that may have never been there to begin with is dicey, and is cause for concern. Native plants thrive in native environments because they are suited to the soils, climate, and so forth. So if someone broadcasts a big bag of prairie seeds gathered in the Osage Plains (or even in Kansas) on a field on the Central Plateau in the Ozarks, many of those prairie seeds will germinate. If that field is surrounded by glades, woodlands, fens, or other intact systems, those prairie plant seeds through time may end up in these native systems where they don't belong. Miscanthus, bush honeysuckle, privet, all of these exotics that were planted in yards are now showing up in native systems far removed from where they were originally planted. No one will argue that they compromise an area's naturalness, but so, too, do native plants that are introduced from another locality.

    I understand the drive to plant pollinator gardens. I had a great one when I lived in the bootheel where I was surrounded by corn fields. I understand the value of little patches of native flora in a sea of destroyed nature. But when plants of unknown genetics are introduced to native ecosystems, the scientific value and preciousness and fragility of the existing plant life is compromised. Eventually, with the surge in interest in native plantings, we may not be able to visit landscapes with all the rare and original elements in place. Baptisia australis? It's a beautiful plant in the White River Hills, but when it shows up in a seed mix on a sandstone prairie, it's woefully out of range and out of context. Sadly, this mixed up, seed mix-driven ecosystem creation may represent what future generations will know as Nature. It's a sad day when planting milkweeds is vital to the future of the monarch. Glades, woodlands, prairies, fens, they all have milkweeds and many other plants vital to the life history of suites of insects. Protect the nature where it exists, where the ancient genetic memory of intact systems serves entire systems, not just bees and butterflies.