Day of memories

Standard

“These heroes are dead. They died for liberty – they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Place of Rest. Earth may run red with other wars – they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for soldiers living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.”

– Robert G. Ingersoll

memorialdaywikiMany online images remind us that this is a day of memories, one that clashes with wishes for a “Happy Memorial Day” and with images of barbecues and shopping.

I served on an aircraft carrier. Please don’t thank me for my service today. Save those kind wishes for Veterans Day. Thank those who didn’t return for giving everything they had.

This is a day of reflection, I think. What do we have? Who helped us establish it and preserve it? Have we honored their sacrifice by doing the best we can to govern fairly within the scope of the Constitution? Were the wars that took their lives just and meaningful and necessary?

Difficult questions, I know, but more important that asking “Where can I get 25% off on my purchase of a new riding mower?”

Barbecue if you must, but don’t forget why you’re able to do it.

–Malcolm

Help Glacier Park track loons, goats and weeds

Standard

from NPS Glacier National Park

Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center Opportunities

Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center Opportunities

The Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center at Glacier National Park will continue its Citizen Science Program this summer, offering free research and learning opportunities for the public.

The program trains individuals to identify, observe, and record information on mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pikas, aquatic insects, loons, and invasive plants in Glacier National Park. These species have been targeted because of their sensitivity to changes in habitat, human disturbances and, in the case of invasive plants, their threat to native biodiversity. Participants are asked to attend a one-day training session before collecting data for a project.

Common Loon Citizen Science

Gather information on the distribution and reproduction of common loons to understand more about population trends and nesting success. Glacier National Park is home to about 20% of Montana’s breeding Common Loons. Monitoring takes place May through September.  Training Date: May 22, June 18, June 26, or July 9

High Country Citizen Science

Observe mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pikas, and aquatic insects at selected sites to assist with population and distribution estimates. These species are habitat and temperature sensitive and may be affected by climate change. Monitoring takes place June through October.  Training Dates: June 12, June 19, or July 2

Invasive Plant Citizen Science
Learn to identify five targeted invasive plants and use GPS units to map their locations while hiking along trails in Glacier National Park. Monitoring takes place June through September. Interested invasive plant citizen science participants can be trained in one of two ways:
1. Complete online training session at http://www.crownscience.org/getinvolved/citizen-science/noxious-weeds.
2. Attend annual weed blitz on Tuesday, July 21. Participants will assist Glacier National Park by pulling targeted weeds.

Glacierloonhighweed

Additional training sessions for any of the programs may be scheduled based on interest.

Since 2005, the Glacier National Park Citizen Science Program has utilized trained citizen scientists to collect baseline population data on species of interest within the park. Training is provided to participants to inform them of threats to native plants and wildlife that may result from human disturbance, climate change, and invasive species. Perhaps most importantly, the Citizen Science Program helps create an informed group of visitors involved in active stewardship of Glacier National Park.

Please contact the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center at 406-888-7986 to register for training or for more information, or visit http://www.crownscience.org/getinvolved/citizen-science.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the park while providing a valued service. Since our parks our underfunded, help is always needed, and this program gives people a chance to get involved, get hands-on  experience and get the summer of a lifetime.

–Malcolm

SunSinger4coverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of The Sun Singer, a contemporary fantasy adventure novel set in Glacier National Park.

Campbell is a former Many Glacier Hotel bellman.

 

Letterman just took the last train to the coast

Standard

lettermanIn today’s here today, gone tomorrow world, I’m reminded of my age when I remember events, books, and TV programs that the mainstream youth culture has never heard of or considers ancient history.

Today, fewer and fewer people remember Dinah Shore and Steve Allen. Johnny Caron is fading into history. And now David Letterman has pulled the plug. If not the most popular, he was perhaps the most innovative and literate of the late night hosts.

His influence will be felt by people who’ve never heard of him. But that’s okay. After 33 years of sitting behind his desk, he’s bound to have had an impact. One wonders, will he escape the “scene” and fade away quickly like Carson or will we see his name as one of the voices on The Simpsons?

It was difficult to keep up with Letterman after a while because of full-time jobs and the need to get some sleep before sitting in a cubicle all day. Even when I didn’t see the show, I saw clips and felt a sense of things being right with the world knowing he was there with a new top ten list, some low-key satirical jokes, a new band, and some intentionally lame comedy bits.

A lot of notable people came and went on Letterman’s show. Everyone has their favorite interviews. But Dave was more than those interviews: he was middle America trying to make sense of everything outside middle America.

Don’t quote me on this, but Letterman shouldn’t have left even if (ultimately) he had to do the show from a hospital bed hooked up on life support, he should have stayed the course: “Tonight, Ladies and Gentlemen, the top ten reasons I’m still alive.” That would keep our link with the past up and running, making us feel better about ourselves and our world.

This isn’t the say the comedy died. Let’s just say that it’s changed and quite possibly that means the world as we know it is over. Change is a scary thing.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat, a 1950s-era novella about Jim Crow, conjure and the klan in the Florida Panhandle.

 

The Falling Down Smokehouse Blues

Standard

That old smokehouse been fallin’ down,
Yes, that old smokehouse’s fallin’ down,
Seen wind and rain, babies born, babies grown,
Seen cotton, corn, and okra sown,
While roof and siding been fallin’ down.

When my wife and I had a house built on the site of her family’s original homestead, she became the 5th generation to live on property that’s been in the family since the 1880s. We moved here in January and found the site none the worse for wear for all the trucks, people, dumpster and piles of building materials that have been coming and going since last June.

We told the builder not to run over, back into, damage, knock down or even dent the old tractor garage, well house, and smokehouse. Along with the property’s one hundred year old trees, these remaining outbuildings represented the land’s history and the continuity of family over the years.

Several years ago, a tornado tore out one of the more ancient trees and, in the process, damaged the well house roof and the smokehouse. Now they have been repaired. We’re trying to stabilize everything old and restore a sense of “home” to this patch of ground, and that includes the two rose bushes we planted where my wife’s grandmother once had two rose bushes, and keeping watch over day lilies that bloomed this spring after spreading while people came and went.

Here are two BEFORE pictures:

smokehouseblogA

Here are the two AFTER pictures showing the new door, two new corner posts, new siding and a new roof:

smokehouseblogBMoving to this place has been–and continues to be–an adventure. We need more trees and shrubs in the yard, some fencing, a closer look at the well to see if we can get water from it again, and we need to finish unpacking things inside the house.

But today, that old smokehouse no longer has the blues.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

Review: ‘Lost Lake’ by Sarah Addison Allen

Standard

Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, January 21, 2014, paperback January 6, 2015), 304 pp.

lostlakeKate Pheris is waking up after the worst year of her life, the year she lost her husband and almost lost herself while her young daughter Devin waited for life to begin again and her mother-in-law Cricket orchestrated their future like a puppeteer with an agenda stronger than love.

But older ties are stronger even though they might have seemed forever lost.

Kate and Devin serendipitously discover a fifteen-year- old postcard in the attic while getting ready to move to Cricket’s house where neither of them wants to be: Greetings from Lost Lake, Georgia: a Magical Experience. Sent by Kate’s great-great-aunt Eby after Kate’s best summer ever at the ramshackle cabins our of another era in South Georgia, the card stirs up old hopes and memories.

Kate’s never seen the card before. Her mother, who had a falling out with Eby that summer, hid it away along with its message, “You’re welcome to come back anytime you’d like.”

It’s too late, isn’t it? Lost Lake and Eby are probably long gone. Yet, Lost Lake really isn’t that far from Atlanta. What if Kate and Devin drive down there and look?

While Cricket organizes the future she wants with indomitable and merciless force, Lost Lake suggests possibilities with a gentle touch, one that pulls on the heartstrings of those who have come back for one last summer before Eby sells the place she can no longer afford to keep and flies away to see the world.

The book features a cast of memorable characters and–inasmuch as this novel is magical realism–a magical setting. Everyone who arrives to say goodbye to Eby and Lost Lake is looking for something, and they all have their secrets and their losses.

Like an oasis that’s almost visible for one moment and gone the next, the magic and the synchronicity of the setting are deftly handled by Allen (Garden Spells The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper), adding mystery and, perhaps, a sense of hope that a seemingly lost future is not altogether lost.

One cannot read Lost Lake without noting a certain predictability in the plot and the syrup of sentimentality it the developing themes and coming-out-of-hiding histories of the characters. One can say the same thing about It’s a Wonderful Life.  Nonetheless, movie viewers return to It’s a Wonderful Life every year at Christmas just as the faithful, if not aging, guests return to Lost Lake every summer.

Lost Lake gives those guests what they’re looking for even though most of them are too stubborn to admit it. Readers may know, or think they know, how Kate’s and Devin’s summer at Lost Lake will end. They may be right. Even so, the book casts a spell that’s impossible to resist.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” set in the Florida Panhandle where folk magic lives deep in the piney woods.

 

 

How to destroy the pacing of your story

Standard

thrillerNovelists trick us in multiple ways in order to ramp up the suspense of a story. Important facts are concealed, backstories aren’t revealed, and point of view is shifted from one character to another keeping readers outside the head of the person whose thoughts would reveal important clues.

One trick annoys me, probably annoys others, and disrupts the pacing of the story. Let’s call this “hurry up and wait.” Here’s an example:

The Bomb

Joe opened the suitcase. There is was: enough C4 to level the building and a timer with ten seconds left in the countdown. The timer was old, sounded like a plastic clock.

The tick tock, tick tock reminded him of summer evenings at the lake when Dad not only woke him at the crack of dawn, but kept him awake most of the night with a loudly ticking alarm clock. Every time it woke him, he lay there waiting for it to go off in an explosion of bells and sunshine. Before the left the old cabin, he threw that darned clock in the lake, hoping a gator might eat it. He had to smile in spite of the bomb in the suitcase. If Dad were alive and sitting here next to him, he would love the sound of that timer.

When a story is racing toward a critical moment, stopping the action for an absurd reason cheats the reader, for it builds tension where there should already be enough tension to cover the action.  In this example:

  1. No sane person faced with a bomb with just seconds to defuse is going to walk down memory lane in his thoughts. He will run, throw the bomb out a window, or defuse it.
  2. Some novelists don’t pay attention to the time it takes a reader to read a passage. I always note it. In this case, the bomb will explode before Joe finishes his thoughts about the lake and the clock simply because the thought takes more time than he has.

A similar sin, somewhat less grievous, is the insertion of backstory information into a scene where, in reality, there’s no time for it. Now, if you’re a reader or a writer who isn’t concerned with the amount of time thoughts and memories take to occur, this won’t bother you as much as it bothers me. Consider this:

The Highway

Sue lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out the open window of the car. Goodness knows, she was driving fast enough for the wind to draw everything out the window including her soft voice, her hair and the gnats that took over the car while they were parked at a rest stop.

“What are we going to tell our parents when we get there,” she asked.

“If you’ll slow down,” said Jim, “we’ll have more time to come up with an elaborate lie.”

She laughed, looked at him sideways, and punched his shoulder gently.

“I’m eight months pregnant,” she said. “What kind of elaborate lie do you propose.”

Other than how she happened to get pregnant, Sue was forever practical. He preferred jokes and delays and white lies. If he could think of a real whopper, he would resort to that. This road was a highway of lies because it connected their hometown with the beach cottages. Things happened at those cottages. Always had. The road home, lined with saw palmetto and scrub oak and a few longleaf pines, was a fertile ground for fibs, large and small. They literally fell out of the trees. If they’d been fish, they would have jumped into his boat. Sue felt uncomfortable with lies. That’s why she drove down this road faster than the law allowed.

“You’ve been overeating,” he suggested.

Okay, maybe there’s some relevance in the fact Jim uses the road as a time and place for covering up whatever he did at the beach.

  1. Nonetheless, this diversion destroys what was developing as a back-and-forth dialogue of short sentences. The pace one can create with that kind of dialogue gets derailed with the intrusion of a giant paragraph of information.
  2. Plus, I feel like asking the author exactly what Sue is doing while Jim has this multi-sentence thought. Yes, sooner or later such conversations have to end. But not before they’re naturally over.

Pacing can help a writer’s work or destroy it. Sometimes, it’s a matter of personal taste. If you read your stuff aloud, you’ll hear the pacing as surely as you hear the rhythm of a song on the radio. The pace not only needs to feel right, it needs to make logical sense. I think it’s illogical for a man defusing a bomb to think about something else, and I think most people having a conversation would be saying “Jim, Jim, Earth to Jim” before Jim finished his thoughts about the road and the lies he found on it.

Pitch-perfect pacing keeps the thrills in your thriller.

My two cents for a Monday afternoon.

–Malcolm

 

How can you not love a great city park?

Standard

“One of the most important but least recognized essentials to an attractive and healthy urban environment is a well-designed and well-maintained network of city parks—an essential component of any city’s infrastructure. Parks support public health, the economy, the environment, education, and community cohesion. They are also critical to workforce development, particularly green career tracks. Parks make our cities sustainable, livable and vibrant.” – City Parks Alliance

Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco - Wikipedia photo

Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco – Wikipedia photo

Do you have a favorite city park?

I remember the parks of my childhood, Winthrop and Myers in Tallahassee, Florida; Nelson and Fairview in Decatur, Illinois; and Golden Gate in San Francisco.

If you’re a New Yorker, perhaps Central Park or Union Square Park or Bryant Park fits your style. In Boston, perhaps you stroll about the Boston Commons.  In San Francisco, you may like Mission Dolores Park–I do, I once had an apartment next to it. Forest Park in St. Louis has a lot to offer as does Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Forest Park, St. Louis - "Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all."  - Forest Park Forever

Forest Park, St. Louis – “Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all.” – Forest Park Forever

Many of us enjoy little pocked parks whose names aren’t well known outside their neighborhoods. Some of them are great for lunch with business associates; others appeal to dog owners and their pets; and some feature swings and green space for children.

Every time I receive a copy of “land + people,” the publication of the Trust for Public Land, I smile. Why? This magazine is a celebration of parks. New Parks being created. The latest innovations. Spotlights on trends and recent park ideas.

Some people criticize parks because they cost money, attract noise and/or “the wrong kind of people,” or create headaches when those who built them cannot afford to maintain them.

Griffith Park, Los Angeles - Wikipedia photo

Griffith Park, Los Angeles – Wikipedia photo

Aside from quality of life (as in beauty, play and relaxation), parks generally increase nearby property values, reduce hardscape, aid wildlife and increase the city’s tree canopy. Or, as the Trust for Public Land puts it, “We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to connect with nature. And as research clearly shows, access to nature is an essential prescription for the physical, environmental, social, and economic health of a community.”

I recently saw a link on Facebook to doctors who were prescribing time in a park for some of their patients. Many of the comments were along the lines of “about time.” Unlike some of the medications we’re given, park addiction is a habit we can live with. We’re hard pressed to live without it.

The current issue of “land + people” includes a photograph from Knight’s Pond in Cumberland, Maine, of a boy in old clothes walking along the shoreline with a net. The cutline reads, “Dragonflies and salamanders, fish and frogs–who knows what the day’s exploration will turn up. Every kid needs a place to discover the natural word.”

I like that. It reminds me of long childhood days. And it reminds me, too, that discovery of the natural world leads to respect.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a 1950s-era novella set in the piney woods of the Florida Panhandle he discovered as a child. Thank you all for your support of this book:

CWC05072015