Monthly Archives: October 2020

“Down from the Mountain – The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear” by Bryce Andrews

One reviewer described this book as “feral”. No. Far from it. It’s thoughtful and highly nuanced. Andrews describes his interactions with nature very carefully. His relationship to nature is based both on study and practical personal experience.

Mission Valley, Montana, is a place where mountainous wilderness and farmland intersect. Andrews works for People and Carnivores, a conservation organization with the goal “keep people safe and carnivores wild”.

“Millie” is a mature female grizzly bear with two female cubs. Andrews writes about one summer, when he begins a project to try to keep bears out of a cornfield. Grizzlies aren’t really carnivores – they are decidedly omnivorous and opportunistic. When human change the landscape, they take full advantage of new food sources. Grizzlies spend a third of each year in hibernation, so their drive to EAT is strong, especially during the Fall.

Millie came to Andrews attention because she was illegally shot and did not die. Her injuries became infected. She became weak and unable to care for her immature cubs. Captured by authorities and judged to be untreatable, she was euthanized. Her cubs, doing poorly on their own, were captured. After long and complicated negotiations, they were finally moved to a distant zoo which was willing to accept responsibility for their long-term welfare.

What’s the point here? This is a book about human responsibility. It’s also a book about wilderness. What was here before humans arrived? What has changed as humans migrated and our numbers skyrocketed?

This was Andrews’ second book. Click here to read my review of his earlier book, Badluck Way, in which he describes his earlier ranching experience. Both these books are wonderful, and will be enjoyed by anyone who values wilderness.


“Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy” by David Zucchino

 I should read this book. While a close friend was reading it, he disappeared into somber gloom. It’s bad news, fully documented, and way too close to home.

In 1898, the democratically elected city government of Wilmington NC was overthrown and at least 60 African Americans were murdered. Hundreds of families were driven out of Wilmington.

One Amazon reviewer described the events as “an atrocity against God.” Other descriptions included “depraved” and “unsettling”.

In human experience, evil sometimes triumphs. White supremacy came out on top. Perhaps I’ll read this when I feel stronger.

“Whistling Vivaldi – How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do” by Claude M. Steele

I’m introducing a new category of books – books I haven’t read, but that I know something about. They may be interesting or important to some of you. (Or maybe we should call this “books I should have read, but didn’t”.)

Whistling Vivaldi was published in 2010, and soon after that Richard Stockton College (now Stockton University) chose it for its annual Common Reading, a book chosen for emphasis by first year seminars and related programs, but optimistically pitched to the entire campus community. (I can’t find a historical list of common readings, so I’m working from memory here. Selections have included both fiction and non-fiction.) If Claude Steele was invited to speak at Stockton, I’m unable to find a record of the event. Author presentations are a big event.

So here’s a book from ten years ago about TODAY’S very hot topic, racial justice. Interestingly, Steele uses a term/concept which is no longer seen, “stereotype threat”. What I see in the Contents is an emphasis on IDENTITY. Identity is controversial in academia. Are “identity studies” intellectually valid? How should “identity politics” be studied? The book ends with a chapter titled “Conclusion – Identity as a Bridge Between Us”. This sounds hopeful.

I may yet read this book. Or loan it to the first person who requests it!

“English Creek” by Ivan Doig

English Creek (Montana Trilogy)

This is the novel I’ve been waiting for! I mean during this pandemic. I’ve wanted something to get lost in, something not too fraught, something to entertain and distract me. My Library had two of Doig’s many books, so I got this early work of fiction from 1984 and his final novel, Last Bus to Wisdom from 2015, the year Doig died.

English Creek is a coming-of-age story, unfolding in Montana at the end of the Great Depression. The first person narrator is Jick McCaskill, 14 years old, the younger of two boys whose father works for the US Forest Service, ranger and manager of a section of National Forest. Their mother, though cushioned from poverty by her husband’s steady employment, leads the hard and often anxious life of a prairie woman.

As summer unfolds, Jick recognizes that his family of four is changing. His brother rebels against a long-held, carefully laid plan that he should go to college and leaves to work at a nearby ranch for the season. Jick is unsettled. Events cause him to take on increasing responsibilities.

This “set up” of the plot took time, but I enjoyed it because the descriptions of people, land, animals and events were so vivid and meticulous. Two thirds of the way through the book, I realized SOMETHING big was going to happen, but I couldn’t imagine what.

Spoiler alert! I can’t resist sharing the nature of the emergency that slammed the McCaskill family. After weeks of dry heat, lightening started a wildfire that endangered Jick and his father and scores of firefighters.

The parallels with the current situation NOW in the American west are many. Doig writes in detail about fighting a forest fire with the limited resources available in 1939. I couldn’t stop reading.

At the same time, Jick struggles to learn about this family and the people around them. Some situations are clarified. Others remain secret. Just like real life. The narrative ends as World War II breaks out in Europe.

This would make a GREAT book club choice! The parallels to our present situation are many. What is the meaning of community? How does a family navigate change? What pieces of the past should be shared with a child, and when? How do humans live in an ecosystem?

This book reminds me of Badluck Way,. reviewed here., another coming-of-age story.


“The Crossing Places”, “The House at Sea’s End” and “A Room Full of Bones” by Elly Griffiths

These books are #1, #3 and #4 in Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels, a mystery series set in Norfolk, England. Now I can read the rest of these books in order. The Library already has my requests.

Ruth Galloway is an interesting protagonist. A hard working, unmarried university professor, she has fallen for a married police detective. Their relationship unfolds as they work together on various criminal cases.

I just finished the fourth book in this series. Loved it! Griffiths finds ways to move into and out of different world views, including, for example Indigenous Australians and modern-day Druids. In contemporary England, she likes academics (mostly) and has reservations about the rich and/or titled.

I think these books would make wonderful movies or TV series.