Fiona Jones – Twinkling

Fiona Jones
Twinkling

For most of a century, urban legend has held that the Inuit have a hundred words for snow. Whole armfuls of different linguistic units, each with its own fine-lined nuances, distinguishing one snow from another by temperature, thickness, flake size, adhesion, building potential… Because the landscape that shapes our lives should also channel our language, and the weather should feed our wisdom.
      I wanted it to be true. It isn’t.
      But here I am living in the UK, where rain shapes our experiences as much as snow shapes anyone else’s. We see rain often. Thunderous downpours and grey-clouded drizzle, sleet horizontally driven, large spattering drops that blotch the ground and bubble the water. Alternating sunshine and showers, and that long, dreary, drenching rain that spills autumn over into winter. The very word ‘weather’, untempered by adjective, defaults to mean ‘rain’ for us.
      Situated as Britain is—on the boundary between continent and ocean, in the meeting-zone of conflicting air masses—we can receive our weather from Siberia one day and the North Atlantic the next, carrying its Caribbean influence of warmth and humidity. And so we see rain not only frequently but also variously.
      Incidentally (or not), we also have armfuls of words for rain—dialect words, slang, euphemisms, onomatopoeia, metaphors, traditions: April showers, a splash or a soak, nice weather for ducks, bucketing, pelting, chucking it down. Scotch mist on a dreich old day, spitting and mizzling, liquid sunshine to wry optimists leaning toward irony. Rainstorms, cloudbursts, deluges, dropping down cats and dogs, the old man’s snoring. A fresh phrase if we need one for every rainy day in the year.
      There’s an empty space here for just one more word: a name for that ambiguous, almost imperceptible twinkle of moisture from an open sky—less than drizzle, hardly more than dryness, a half-sensed droplet or two like a sneeze from a butterfly.
      Twinkling: brief, negligible rainfall that leaves you never quite sure if you felt it or not.                 AQ

Mary B. Kurtz – A Dark and Gnarled Wood

Mary B. Kurtz
A Dark and Gnarled Wood

I want to write about the weather. I mean I want to write about climate change. But finding the words and naming the issue feels fearful to the point of unmentionable, like when we avoid speaking of ‘death’ and instead, say, ‘The deceased. She passed away. He’s at peace. She’s in heaven.’ But never straight ahead—‘She’s dead. She died.’
      I’m expecting my first grandchild in several months. In his or her lifetime, will he or she see what I saw today on the ranch where I live? The lone coyote who slunk across the meadow coming up from the riverbank as I sipped my morning coffee. A mallard duck pair searching for nesting ground as they wandered the cottonwoods outside my kitchen window. Three crows harassing one another for a mate and twigs for a nest, their decisions thoughtful but quick. The five, petite, white tail deer who ran across the county road, leapt over the barb wire fence and scampered south into an early spring wind. And the ritual first sighting of the diminutive Rocky Mountain Bluebell and the delicate yellow Glacial Lilly, faithful along my walking trail.
      I couldn’t watch Alfred Hitchcock and other scary shows when I was a child. The threat felt all too close and too real in my mind. And now in my sixties, when I lay in bed in the middle of the night thinking about climate change, I feel the same way: it’s too close and too real. When fears overwhelm me: I foresee heat so high life must be lived inside; I imagine drought that threatens food stores and fuels fights over caches of seeds; I draw up floods in my mind more primal in their will each spring as though Noah’s story may become mine.
      I am powerless in the inky silence. I grasp for control to protect my children and grandchildren. In the morning, I ask in daylight, how close, how real, how threatening?
      When my children were young, the micro-climate of our home was different. The year my daughter, Cassidy, was born, warm weather and shorts for Memorial Day picnics were never a given. The last few years, late May might be rainy, but short-sleeve shirts are hanging in Pete’s closet. For over thirty years, my husband, Pete’s, hay season began in late July and lasted through the county fair in mid-August. This year he the rolled out the mower, rake and baler and made tracks with his John Deere in early July. In the eighties, I expected the tomatoes in the garden to freeze by Labor Day. As the gardening season came to a close last year in mid-September, I gathered green tomatoes from my vines and put them in the windowsill to ripen.
      And in 2012, snowfall records were broken. We knew the run-off would be high, but when warm days and moderate temperatures at night collided, the melt accelerated. With my son, Andy, I stood on the county bridge over the waterway. Above the roar, I said, ‘Andy, my mind tells me we’re safe, but I don’t feel like we are. I’ve never seen a river like this. No one could survive in there.’ I failed to find the words for the raw power of the waterway that midnight in the years since. But if there were a nightmare, it was but a few feet below where we stood. The Steamboat Pilot, our local paper, wrote the next day, ‘Elk River sets a record at 8,250 cubic feet per second’. Later, it was declared a 500-hundred-year flood event.
      Thoughts and conversations about the weather, once light and inconsequential, a point of easy common ground in social conversation, now carry a heavier weight. Extreme weather events, like the 2012 flood, and the changes in our seasons shadow our thoughts about the future. Several years ago, I felt reassured that mankind could cooperate successfully with the will of the earth when scientists believed the stratospheric ozone layer could right itself if human activity changed: less carbon emissions and less deforestation. Now, new predictions, statistical data, forecasting models, create a new disquiet and questions arise.
      What mood are the climatologists in? Like me, do they toss in their fears, too, just as vulnerable in the silence of the night? Is there hope in the models, even those on the fast track? Will spring always erupt in the brilliance of green or will it one day weep?
      Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climatologist, reports that changes in parameters like temperature, sea levels and carbon emissions have occurred ahead of the best projections. All time global temperatures have risen for the last three consecutive years. Both the North and South Pacific regions have experienced one of their strongest cyclones in the last year and a half. Tropical cyclone expert Dr Phil Klotzbach reported in Di Liberto on 5 May 2017, that tropical storm, Donna, was the strongest May cyclone on record for the entire Southern Hemisphere.
      And the West Antarctic ice sheet is on the brink of collapse, which in turn would destroy the ice shelf, creating a rise in the sea level of ten to twelve feet. This would be catastrophic for coastal life in Australia and New Zealand. When our overheated earth, now a greenhouse with only modest ventilation, threatens all living things with heat waves five times more likely to occur and portions of the Western Antarctica ice sheet due to collapse, what would help create change?
      The new Climate Assessment report now predicts, too, that the future of our world is truly threatened by climate change and a shift to extreme weather events. Produced by thirteen federal agencies, the scientific report predicts dire consequences to health, global food stores, economics, damage to infrastructures, and mental health. Of greatest concern, the pace of the changes to our climate that have occurred since the last report in 2014.

~~~

I recently discovered the word, krummholz in Barry Lopez’s book, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. The crooked, gnarled wood lives in the transition zone between sub-alpine and treeless tundra, pressed by extreme vagaries of weather and physical circumstance. It survives at its environmental limit, its growth slow and irregular, windward branches failing to develop, but it remains a survivor, an elfin tree seeking low lying growth, intertwining, fortifying, and strengthening its hold. I weighed the question: as the extreme vagaries of weather create extreme circumstance for mankind, can we maintain survival at some future environmental limit?
      Laurence Gonzales, writing in, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Dies, and Why, explores, with the help of science and story, how and why certain individuals survive, whether in the wilderness or in facing any of life’s challenges. From stories of those who survived, they did so by keeping their wits about them and seeing the world, the situation at hand, as it is. They didn’t protest the situation. They worked with the reality of their condition, their plight, the scene as it was, one in which they needed to survive.
      Mann believes there’s hope if we look at history. When we do, science and honesty prevail. When society delayed acting on the issues of tobacco, ozone depletion, and the banning of chlorofluorocarbons, and lives were lost and damaged, we did eventually take appropriate action. So, I look for hope.
      After the signing of the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015 by 195 countries, Norway agreed to ban all sales of gas and diesel-powered cars by 2035 and France has pledged to eliminate coal in the production of electricity after 2022. In addition, the Dutch government has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030.
      According to recent reporting from National Geographic, China is focusing on renewables: wind, solar, and hydropower; Germany currently generates twenty-seven percent of their electricity from renewables driven by their commitment to reduce nuclear energy use; and with America’s Clean Power Plan, the United States will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by thirty-two percent by 2030 and produce thirty percent more renewable energy.
      In the middle of my nights, when I lay awake with restless climatologists, I still wonder, if the largest contributors to carbon emissions do not take effective action, what can I do to tame rowdy rains and winds, and polar bears looking for safe passage over a dwindling ice cap? Will my small efforts to recycle and reduce my carbon footprint, along with larger renewable energy programs and clean air plans worldwide, be part of civilization’s cooperative sculpting of a simplified but survivable existence, just like the intertwining of the crooked and gnarled krummholz wood?

~~~

The unanswerable. The unknown.

~~~

I’m reminded of the movie, Life is Beautiful. Set during World War II, it tells the story of a father and his young son’s internment in a Nazi concentration camp. As the threat of death hovers each day, the young boy’s father creates an illusion of their life, a slight of hand in the movements of the small freedoms they both have. Guido, the father, tells his son, Giosuè he must perform certain tasks and with each task completed he will earn points towards a tank, a tank that would rescue them. As they lived each day, Guido was a joyful, magical mime for his son in the dysphoric scene.
      While I don’t wish to deny the reality of the changes in the climate, I feel the need to live with hope. So, as I place faith in science and technology to create a sustainable and viable transition zone where extreme vagaries of physical circumstance threaten our survival, I will also remember the inspiration of Guido, the joy in daily living, the mime he embraced so his young son would live each day free from worry and fear. AQ

Ivan De Luce – The Strange History of Amsterdam Street Names

Ivan De Luce
The Strange History of Amsterdam Street Names

My old street in Amsterdam, Pierre Lallementstraat, can hardly be called a street. It’s more of an open alleyway that leads to a courtyard. My old apartment building, a modern, pearl-white student housing behemoth, is one of only two addresses there. In fact, my building is so large it needs two separate front entrances.

Pierre Lallementstraat is named after Pierre Lallement, the inventor of the bicycle. This is highly appropriate considering the Netherlands is a land of bikes. But this tiny backstreet didn’t seem to deserve such a fascinating name. Then again, it seems as if every street in Amsterdam is named after someone. Coming from New York, with our numbered grid system, I’m not used to streets being named after anything. But in Amsterdam, there’s no grid. But there is a President Kennedylaan, a Churchill-laan, and even a President Allendelaan, named after the Chilean Marxist who was overthrown in a coup with the help of the CIA on September 11, 1973. As Social Democrats, the Dutch presumably saw him as a victim of injustice when they christened the street five months later.

There are other streets, too — ones named after Beethoven, Hans Holbein, Richard Wagner, Chopin, Rubens, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bach, Jan van Eyck, Titian, and Botticelli. And those are all within blocks of each other. My neighbourhood, in Watergraafsmeer, is composed of streets named after engineers. James Wattstraat runs along the front of my building. At least engineers are more interesting than grids of numbers.

Amsterdam’s street names started out like many old European streets — they were named after things that happened there, or after some unique feature about the location. But after the 1850s, as the city encroached on the countryside, the Dutch decided to come up with seemingly unrelated names. After 1870, cities began commemorating people by naming streets after them, especially in France.

While Holland was late to this practice, it made up for it by giving every conceivable figure a street named after them. There’s even a Lord of the Rings-themed neighbourhood in the town of Geldrop — take a right onto Laan van Tolkien, and soon you’ll walk along Frodo, Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, and more dwarf streets than you can imagine.

But back to our friend Pierre. He seemed to have nothing to do with Amsterdam or the Netherlands, but they obviously owe a great to deal to him. He was born in France in 1843, and in his hometown of Nancy, in 1862, he saw someone riding a dandyhorse, an early version of the bicycle which had no pedals and required the rider to pedal with their feet, like a bike from The Flintstones. He added the chains and pedals soon after, and so the bike was born. He never received the recognition he deserved, however. A Frenchman named Pierre Michaux became known as the man who invented the velocipede, and he was the first to mass-produce them. Pierre L. was probably dismayed, so in 1865 he moved to Ansonia, Connecticut and filed a patent for his velocipede a year later. When he returned to France two years after that, bikes were all the rage, which must have infuriated him even more. Pierre Lallement died poor and forgotten in 1891 in Boston at age 47. Thanks to an investigation in 1993, Lallement, not Michaux, is known to have created the first modern bicycle. Thankfully, Michaux does not have any streets named after him. AQ

John Talbird – Rembrandt’s Drawings

John Talbird
Rembrandt’s Drawings

Perhaps more than his paintings which he is more famous for, the drawings show a mind at work and struggling, a mind trying to connect personal thought to objective image, render two dimensions three, bring life to the white void with nothing more than pencil and eye. When you look at the paintings — especially his portraits with their flesh and earth tones, souls radiating from faces — you can see that he was a genius and understand why the world still loves his work, but I love the rough-hewn drawings more anyway. Rembrandt viewed these as the drafts, the practice runs for his real work, but their comparable simplicity has an electric charm. They put me in mind of a kid sketching cartoons on the subway or a bent old man with a floppy hat sitting on an embankment interpreting the creek that runs at his feet.

In Susanna from 1636, the biblical heroine surprised at her bath tries to cover her nakedness as she peers over her shoulder at we who have stumbled upon her privacy. She’s exposed to the elements — no roof over her head — to our eyes — a scrap of clothing clutched desperately at her groin — to two thousand years of fable, faith, and story. I got chills on the back of my neck when I first saw that painting in the Frick, but it wouldn’t be until much later that I found the sketch that led to it in a book and understood the rawness of emotion, the way it can peer out of the page like a creature hungry for flesh and I was glad that Rembrandt had had the time to temper that sharp outline with the colours of the world.

Bob Ward – Touching the Surface

Bob Ward
Touching the Surface

In Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property in the east of England, there is a statue of an urchin examining the sole of his foot to remove a thorn. As usual in museums, you are not allowed to touch but, if you were, the sensation would be of cold smooth marble unlike that of a real foot roughened by trotting around without shoes.

The way things feel to our hands, feet, or tongue is an important part of human experience. That impulse to reach out and touch whatever seizes our attention is very strong and similarly we speak of ‘being touched’ by poignant events. We stroke friendly dogs; the physical contact creates a bond. When people are buying clothes, they finger the fabrics to judge what they might be like to wear. After all, the word ‘texture’ derives from the Latin ‘textura’ for weaving. A couple of centuries ago an ancestor of mine was apprenticed to a cloth-dresser, a specialist in improving the surface of newly woven bolts of woollen cloth. In the City of Leeds there were fifty tradesmen practising that craft. However, should you ever be wracked with remorse, one garment you won’t find on an outfitter’s rail is a hair shirt. Fashions change, even among penitent sinners.

Upstairs at Felbrigg the four-poster in the master bedroom is adorned with sumptuous hangings. You need to restrain an urge to let your fingers flirt with the tassels that dangle from the fringes. At a humbler level you might recall that Rupert Brooke in his poem The Great Lover celebrated both

. . . the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss / of blankets . . .

These days we have created a culture of tactile keyboards and touch-screens that makes us even more ‘hands on’. Through our finger-tips we enter the world. Just now my right hand rests on a mouse that controls my computer. But as a photographer I have long enjoyed recording the visual quality of different surfaces beyond what textiles offer. In my pocket I carry a small camera capable of taking good close-ups wherever I go. Etched by salt-water the blistering paint on a fisherman’s tractor can be revealed as an abstract masterpiece. Or I might see the spiky hoar-frost edging dead leaves, or a discarded viper’s skin, part of a creature you otherwise would not dare to contact.

Tree trunks bear close study and appreciation for their subtle variations between species. Scots pines have bark that breaks into islands, richly coloured especially when wet, whereas the bark in sweet chestnuts is incised with dramatic swirling ridges. In my garden there is a kind of birch where, as the trunk expands with growth, paper-thin bark peels off in curls tinted green by algae. In the creviced surface of trees lurk spiders and beetles, often the prey of small birds. Springtime snails venture upwards across this rough terrain in a search for the succulent fresh leaves in the woodland canopy. Ivy, of course, constantly exploits trees as a passage-way towards the light. Even when torn away the ivy’s clinging roots get left behind as tracks across the bark.

Walls too are worth inspection. In the area where I live, East Anglia, bricks were in short supply and those made in the region weathered badly as time passed. So many buildings were faced (and still are) with flint cobbles dumped by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The resulting walls are full of character, supporting small ferns, moss tufts and colourful crinkly lichens.

Text itself literally acquires ‘texture’ on the spines of leather-bound books, where the lettering may be embossed in gold leaf. However, you could say that a printed page assumes a virtual texture arising from the nature of the typefaces used in all their different forms, serif, non-serif, italic, bold . . . Contrast ‘Impact’ with the refinement of ‘Palatino Linotype’ or the eccentricity of ‘Crazy Loot’. As you read, let your eyes, as it were, caress the words. For the non-sighted, they are trained to feel words through the medium of Braille. But in doing so, I wonder, can they ever hear the surfaces they touch by the process of synaesthesia? That’s an attribute known among small children but mainly lost in adulthood, whereby a stimulus to one sense raise a response in another.

By analogy, music may be described as having texture. Performers touch their instruments with their hands or lips and we talk of being touched. How running your fingers across harp strings evokes the ripples in the surface of a lake. Composers meld complex layers of sound, fabric for the ears. Harmony relates to smoothness, discord to rough edges. The ‘minimalists’ Steve Reich and Philip Glass arouse one’s feelings with repeated phrases in constant variation that manage to haunt the soul.

Human sensations are richly textured. Do keep in touch.

Four-poster bed hangings, Bob Ward, photograph, 2017

Jim Ross – The Substitute

The Substitute
by Jim Ross

Nearly every country, culture, and school system uses substitute teachers to fill in for occasional teacher absences or for longer time periods while schools seek permanent teachers. Almost universally, substitute teachers are mocked and reviled by students and by schools, which accord them a status equal to a mayfly.

For four years, I eked out a catch-as-catch-can living as a substitute teacher. I knew the priority was keeping students reasonably safe, but I clung to the illusion I might occasionally get to teach.

After being certified in social studies, my first call came from a self-contained, special education school. On arrival, I was told I’d be teaching blind primary schoolers. When I reached the classroom, I found eight smock-clad students spread out on the floor, engrossed in finger painting. The teacher watching over suggested I let them continue for thirty minutes, handed me a lesson plan, and smiled knowingly.

I hadn’t laid eyes or hands on finger paint since I was five. I squatted down as the students smeared colours from their papers to the floor and back.

“What are you making?” I asked.

“Snow man,” one told me.

“Man walks on moon,” said another.

“Big mess,” said a third.

Fearing for the floor, their clothes, and my job, I encouraged staying on the paper. Then, one by one, I ported the children’s masterpieces to safety, walked each artist to the sink, and then situated them at desks.

The teacher’s lesson plan: Review latest Braille lessons. We conducted a round-robin reading from Braille to English. Whenever Stephen read a long word, he said, “Midnight.”

I checked into the office before leaving. The vice-principal asked: “How’d it go?”

“Through a glass darkly,” I said.

“Perfect. You free tomorrow?” he asked.

Next day, I had deaf students. My background with deaf people was seeing deaf students on the subway when I was in high school. How they communicated via sign language, gestures, and facial expressions fascinated. When I reached class, the students were wearing headphones.

“We’re not teaching sign language,” my escort explained. “We’re trying to tap what’s left of their residual hearing. You’ll communicate with them using this microphone. If they don’t hear you, hike up the volume.”

Thirty minutes later, the principal announced over the PA system that the entire school was departing imminently for the White House. I herded my twelve students onto a bus. Once students disembarked, we tried to keep track as they scurried across the White House pasture, blending in with students from other schools. On signal, I drew my deaf students as if with magnets to a row of folding chairs and observed them fidget to the Youth Orchestra’s beat. After the orchestra’s performance, a White House rep invited the assemblage to approach for cookies and punch. Running amok, students crumbled cookies over the lawn. Eventually we coaxed them back onto buses. I’d hardly begun debriefing my class about their field trip when the dismissal bell rang.

Most mornings I’d wait by the phone with my cup of coffee, bowl of hot raisiny oatmeal, and the newspaper, catnapping. More often than not, between 7.00 and 8.00 AM, the phone rang. The waiting game resumed from 3.00 to 5.00 PM. When I answered, I probably sounded like Helene, from Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Who Am I This Time?”

The first two months made me question why more teachers didn’t come unglued.

      •   I observed eight 4th grade girls shove two scrawny boys into the girls’ room. There they beat up the boys, then called for help claiming the boys had barged in and attacked them. Jumping to the boys’ defence, I said, to the contrary, the girls had forced the boys into the girls’ room. Said the vice principal: “Some of those girls were angels … until today.”
      •   I’d been told that if 3rd grader Robert cried, I was to send him to the office. Robert’s Valentine to Mike reached the wrong Mike, who tore it up. Heartbroken, Robert cried. Instead of sending him to the office, I let him lead the game at recess.
      •   Two 6th grade girls fought in the hall, drawing a crowd. The loser’s friends sought asylum in my class, blood streaming from nose and mouth.
      •   As I was teaching French to attentive high school students, rocks came flying through the windows. Glass shattered; students scattered.
      •   When a junior high school girl kept disrupting class, I sent her to the office, where she alleged, “That man tried to stick his worm in me.” The office staff’s refusal to take her seriously gave me cold comfort.
      •   On May Day, I escorted a Russian class onto the school’s front lawn to plant their Russian flag. Thinking I was a student, two passing students offered me drugs.

 
Almost no teachers left lesson plans. Some left terse notes like: “Have students draw their emotions using charcoal.” At best, they left busywork. Teachers who left scant or no instructions sent an implicit message: ‘Use your creative discretion.’

A 3rd grade teacher left instructions to randomly assign each student a required spelling word. The students’ task was to write a sentence using their assigned word and incorporate the sentence into an Earth Day card. The teacher would forward the cards to the White House. Eduardo drew the word “smother.” I expected a cautionary tale about how to keep a baby warm while avoiding tragic over-diligence but hoped for Maya Angelou’s recipe for smothered chicken. Surprising only me, 8-year-old Eduardo articulated the poetry of protest like a young Langston Hughes:

         My, oh my
         Why
         Do they smother
         Our cry?

I often wondered, did the White House write back? Did Eduardo keep asking questions? Did anyone hear him? Or did someone just shut him up?

After four feast-or-famine years, I quit substituting. Believing I might make a difference made quitting hard, but seeing capable, compassionate teachers become worn down and afraid helped set me free. AQ

Stephen O’Connor – “Lalla Roohk” and the Great Slide

“Lalla Roohk” and the Great Slide
by Stephen O’Connor

My grandfather, John O’Connor, once told me, in definitive tones, that Thomas Moore was the greatest poet in the English language. I was a boy, and when my grandfather made declarations, I set them down in the book and volume of my mind as facts, as infallible to my young Catholic understanding as papal bulls, and I remember many of them to this day. Besides, if anyone knew poetry, it would have been “Papa,” as we called my grandfather, for he was a great lover of verse. He often boasted that he had won an oratorical contest as a lad back in Ireland for a recitation of “Bingen on the Rhine.” The sponsors of the contest were supposed to have sent him a prize—a major award, no doubt. “I’m still waiting,” he would say, leaning toward me as we sat in the wicker chairs on his porch, slapping my knee or pushing my shoulder and laughing.

There was a tremendous thick tome on his bookshelf called The Poetry and Song of Ireland, edited by John Boyle O’Reilly. It was a literary mainstay of Irish American households, and held within its sacred pages the complete poems of Thomas Moore. A frontispiece depicted Cathleen ni Houlihan, the beautiful woman who was the embodiment of Ireland. While her people bore the yoke of foreign bondage, she was the Sean Van Vocht, the poor old woman, but whenever the Irish took up arms and shed their blood in the cause of freedom, she was transformed into the Gile na Gile, the Brightness of Brightness, the lovely Cathleen. Under the depiction of this radiant queen was a line from Thomas Moore, “Rich and rare were the gems she wore.” Papa gave me the book, and it sits in front of me on the desk as I write, one of the granite blocks in the foundation of my identity.

Papa, who was born in Rathkeale, County Limerick, in the late nineteenth century, was not alone among his contemporaries in his estimation of Moore’s greatness, or in his certainty of the genius of his chef d’oeuvre, “Lalla Rookh,” published in 1817. The Norton Anthology of English Literature states that the three thousand pounds that Moore was advanced by his publisher was the largest sum ever offered a poet for a single poem, and this at a time when Byron and Shelley were household names. Before Moore’s death in 1852, “Lalla Roohk” had gone through twenty editions.

I was reminded of all this the other day as I was thumbing through a copy of Huckleberry Finn, and noticed that Huck mentions a Mississippi riverboat which he refers to as “Lally Rook.” The poem is also mentioned in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Schuman wrote music based on scenes from the work. Moore’s “Lalla Rookh,” it seems, along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Les Miserables, was one of the most popular works for soldiers to read “by the bivouac’s fitful flame” during the Civil War.

Papa had declared “Lalla Rookh” a masterpiece, and since the verses he recited from memory had such a rich sound rolling off his Irish tongue, I was eager to read it. I must have been about thirteen, so I hoped that it would be a tale of mighty Irish heroes like Cúchulainn and Conall Cearnach, or The Fighting Prince of Donegal, whose exploits I had seen in the film of that name at the Strand Theater—still the only movie in my life that I sat through for a second showing. When I finally sat down in the rocking chair in my room with the heavy book opened in my lap to “Lalla Roohk,” I was immediately puzzled by the subtitle: “A Persian Tale.” It was a work of what is known today as Romantic Orientalism.

Let me be honest with you, and hope that my grandfather is not listening from a perch in heaven. I never did read the entire poem. In fact, I’ve never read most of the poem. The reason is that no one ever held a gun to my head and forced me to spend the hours that it would take to plough through all the maidens beckoning the brave to their bowers, or the descriptions of “the crimson blossoms of the coral tree in the warm isles of India’s sunny sea.” Three pages of this stuff would cure the most obdurate insomniac. The footnotes alone would keep the Prisoner of Zenda busy for months. On the first page of the poem, there are twelve explanatory footnotes drawn from atlases, treatises, mythologies, Persian miscellanies, and dictionaries.

Now I will not say that none of this is interesting; in fact, in some respects the footnotes are more interesting than the poem. Who knew that a “bulbul” was another name for a nightingale? But what I find truly interesting—fascinating, really, is the simple fact that throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such a dense and verbally ornate poem was enormously popular. It was not read by graduate students, (if graduate students even existed, they must have been rarer than a bulbul in February); it was read by a lot of people like my grandfather, who was a house painter with a grammar school education. Melodrama is out of favour, but beyond that, would anyone today have the attention span required to read a heavily footnoted, book-length poem? Most modern readers, including me, would not get beyond the first sentence of Moore’s introduction, which begins, “In the eleventh year of the reign of Aurungzebe, Abdalla, King of Lesser Bucharia, a lineal descendent from the great Zingis, having abdicated the throne in favor of his son, set out on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Prophet, and, passing into India through the delightful valley of Cashmere…” Is your mind wandering yet?

My point here is not just that such works have gone out of fashion. What strikes me forcefully is that people in the past, those who could read, possessed an extremely high order of focus, comprehension and expression relative to the modern reader and writer. Even the illiterate groundlings relished Shakespeare’s elaborate word play. And we need not go back so far. In the grammar schools and high schools of our grandparents, or in my case even aunts and uncles, American students still committed great swaths of Longfellow to memory, verses from such epic poems as “Evangeline,” (which sold 36,000 copies in the decade after its publication), “The Song of Hiawatha,” (50,000 copies within two years of its publication), and the ever-popular ballad “The Wreck of the Hesperus.”

Memorization of poetry? I’ve been teaching high school for twenty-seven years; when other teachers find out that I’ve had my students memorize “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” they look at me as if I had required the youngsters to put away their pencils in favor of a quill and inkwell. The last professor I had who expected students to commit poems to memory was another Irishman, Augustus Martin at University College, Dublin, who seemed to have the complete poetical works of Yeats at his fingertips, and in 1980, his fingertips were not connected to a hand-held device.

“Mnemosyne—Memory, is the mother of all the Muses,” he would remind us in that sonorous Richard Burton voice of his. “Memorization” in the modern educational lexicon is often coupled with the culpatory adjective “rote.” Why would you want a head full of poetry when you can google whatever you need? But what if knowing things, rather than just knowing where to find things, is a formative experience? What we know, what we memorize, lives in us, becomes part of us. The words return to us as we witness the beauty and tragedy of the world around us; they lend depth to every scene and illuminate every experience. I found strength in the words in my head as I spent time with my terminally ill father. The lines that always came back to me, as his days dwindled, were from Sonnet 73:

           This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
           To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

There are no longer popular poems which most Americans can quote. As a child, I used to look at a framed needlepoint my great aunt had done, which hung in the parlour. It depicted a homey cottage above the lines: “Let me live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man.” Many visitors recognized those lines from a poem by Sam Walter Foss, “The House by the Side of the Road.”

Such popular poetry no longer exists in America, and popular reading is synonymous with light reading. It was not always so. While watching a documentary on the Mexican American War recently, I was surprised to hear that many of the American soldiers in that conflict (or invasion) carried Prescott’s 1843 Conquest of Mexico, which they read to pass the tedious hours between marching and fighting. Now I happen to have inherited a copy of Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico, or I should say copies, since the work was published in two volumes. Opening volume two at random, I read, “Cortes reflected on his own impotence to restrain the fury of the Mexicans, and resolved in spite of his late supercilious treatment of Montezuma, to employ his authority to allay the tumult, an authority so successfully exerted on behalf of Alvarado at an earlier stage of the insurrection.”

Whether we can appreciate their tastes or their world view—whether we feel that their histories are slanted, their plots incredible, their scenes sentimental, or their poetry flowery—the sheer literacy of our ancestors astonishes me. Look at the works that they read; in 1842, a year before Prescott published his Conquest of Mexico, Charles Dickens visited my hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, (hardly the Oxford of America), and was the toast of the town as the most celebrated novelist in history. Fans crowded the docks of New York awaiting the next instalment of Martin Chuzzlewit or The Old Curiosity Shop. Yet I suspect that the average modern reader would be flatly incapable of getting through Bleak House, or even David Copperfield. And the difference shows. Read the letters of Civil War soldiers; visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum and read the letters sent home by those rugged men who thrust the cruel harpoon, (one letter I recall recounts that members of the ship’s company were performing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for the entertainment of the crew); read the prose that was written by young women mill workers here in Lowell, who were largely self-educated and often sent their pay home to put their brothers through school. Yet the discussions and debates conducted through their literary magazine, The Lowell Offering, were carried on at an intellectual level far beyond the capabilities of most of today’s college graduates. The magazine impressed Charles Dickens; in fact, Professor Natalie McKnight of Boston University, and grad student Chelsea Bray, have put forth a convincing theory that Dickens conceived of the idea for A Christmas Carol after reading stories in The Lowell Offering, stories written by “mill girls.”

The evidence of a general decline in literacy may be anecdotal, but it is persistent. New examples present themselves continually. A woman told me recently that she read War and Peace in its entirety with her English class at Lowell High School in the 1950’s. When is the last time you saw a high school student sitting in a coffee shop reading Tolstoy? And you never will. Am I nostalgic? Perhaps, but the incontrovertible fact remains that The Hunger Games is not Wuthering Heights, and that the preponderance of what high school students read today is much closer in style and level of complexity to the former than to the latter. Earlier I mentioned Jane Eyre—a retired librarian informs me that for many years, and again, we’re probably talking about the forties and fifties, and probably into the sixties, it was the most frequently borrowed book from our city library, principally by girls and young women. Try to read the novel with a typical high school class today—I speak from experience—and see how many pages are turned before students are yawning and peeking at their iPhones. A couple of years ago, I asked my daughter, then nineteen, what she and her friends were reading over the summer. She responded that most of them were rereading Fifty Shades of Grey because the film was coming out. In terms of the quality of the prose in that quarter, I can only repeat a question that was posed by a reviewer of the novel on Amazon, “Was this book written by a teenager?”

 
What happened to us? Shall we blame our schools? Was it TV? Was it the cult of self-esteem and lack of self discipline? The proliferation of excuses and accommodations? The belief that education could be had without a price and it would all be just good fun—a group project with crayons? Flannery O’Connor once responded to the assertion that students should be given what they want to read rather than what they should read. Her response was not ambiguous. “Their tastes should not be consulted,” she declared. “Their tastes are being formed.” Score one for Wuthering Heights. But the brave new world requires us all to change with it, they say, and so we continue, as Neil Postman argued decades ago, to “entertain ourselves to death.”

Politicians talk about the need to get the internet in every classroom across the globe, as if it is a given that this will, that it must improve education—a key component of “21st century learning” as they’ve dubbed it. But what if part of the problem is that we have all slipped into the world of the quick link—of “surfing” the web instead of deep-diving into a book. I know that many of the works I enjoyed easily as a young man strike me as dense and difficult when I reread them today. Maybe it’s true that the internet is changing our brains, as a recent book posits. What this will mean for our future, I don’t know, but I continue to swim against the tide, often repeating to my own high school students the simple admonition that John O’Connor, Papa, once used to chastise me for not having read a book of Irish history that he’d given me: “If you don’t read, you don’t know.” I’ve always remembered those words, but I’m quite sure my students have already forgotten them. For the very young, it is a world of distractions, a world of tweets and texts and sexts and posts and Instagrams and likes and downloaded videos, distractions with which even “high-interest” reading books cannot compete, let alone the interior life of Emily Dickinson’s “landscape of the spirit.”

Clearly, an ignorant populace is not a solid foundation on which to build a democracy. Beyond the political implications, I feel a sense of regret for what we’ve lost, for what people of all cultures are losing, for what we parted with all too easily, for what we are not handing down to our children. “It’s over,” an old book dealer said to me recently. She didn’t need to explain.

I’m sure there will always be a silent student somewhere reading Thoreau in the corner of the library—who knows, maybe even “Lalla Roohk,” but the general decline in the kind of deep literacy of a not so distant past is undeniable. We are approaching a time when, for many educated in American schools, our “native English,” will have become, in Shakespeare’s words, “like a cunning instrument cased up, or, being open, put into his hands that knows no touch to tune the harmony.” AQ

Bryan R. Monte – My Calling

My Calling
by Bryan R. Monte

As a lecturer of English language and culture at a Dutch polytechnic, I watched for years as some of my freshmen struggled to declare a major and choose an eventual profession. For me, however, this important decision came quickly, easily and by accident at the very beginning of my education.

When I was in the first primary school class, I came home every evening and taught my younger sister that day’s reading lesson. I helped her learn how to sound out the words using the examples from my Fun with Phonics book. “Hs,” I told her, “were the sound you made after running hard and had to catch your breath. Ss were the sounds snakes make as they slithered through the grass.” I was so happy to share what I was learning in class that was helping me to start to decode the newsprint my father read every night as he argued with the television news announcers. With my help, my sister was soon reading the simple texts tacked above her kindergarten classroom’s chalkboards and recognising words and phrases from the books her teacher read to the class. So at the age of five, I discovered I could not only learn how to do new things, but I could act as a conduit for this new knowledge. I could pass information onto others and check, whilst I was doing it, if they grasped what I was trying to teach.

Sometimes, though, in later life, I wondered, as some of my undergraduates did, if I had made the right career choice. Even though teaching seemed to be my calling or beroep, the Dutch word for profession, it was also a very labour-intensive, low-paid profession in comparison to other specialist and similarly complex and continuously-certified professions that work with the general public, such as pharmacists, (my father’s and next younger brother’s choice) or audiologists. I wondered if teaching was perhaps the best expenditure of my time and energy and if there was a measurable, social return on my efforts.

In addition, I wasn’t able to teach every year after I left college with my MA in English and writing. I taught for one year in exurban New England where I felt perhaps I’d been chosen for the job because my name, as the other teachers, ended in a vowel. Here, the male and female teachers sat at two, separate tables and I felt I would only be accepted if I married, produced children and lived there for a generation. In addition, every Friday evening that winter it snowed heavily. By midnight, the roads were impassible, making a foray into Cambridge gay society for the weekend impossible.

I knew there was a place in America where you didn’t have to worry about blizzards or being gay so, at the end of that school year, I moved back to California where I had obtained my BA at Berkeley. Here I never had to worry about spending an hour digging my car out of the snow in the winter before I could drive somewhere. I could also chose from scores of gay places and organizations for society. I did, however, discover I had moved back to an area that had a glut of teachers. After applying for dozens of teaching positions, I ended up getting a job in an insurance company because I was literate, organized and could file, retrieve, update and print computer forms with ease. I stayed in insurance because I discovered that most of the teaching jobs available in the Bay Area were free-lance and without benefits, including most importantly, health insurance during the AIDS epidemic. So I held a weekly writers’ workshop in my living room and taught technical writing classes at the UC Berkeley Extension one evening a week every other semester to keep my teaching skills sharp and my CV updated.

I did learn something meaningful, however, when I worked at one of the insurance company’s divisions that had underwritten a lot of “bad business” that year. Due to the losses from these new accounts, which outstripped the earned premiums, the underwriter at the desk next to mine remarked that if the company had shut its doors for a year and we had just sat at our desks and read our continuing education insurance books and not written any new business, then the company would have made a bigger profit.

But insurance as well as education, has a social benefit that is largely discounted these days by companies and governments driven by short-term profits or objectives. And I could enumerate and measure these educational and social benefits as clearly as I could my incoming freshmen’s English fluency seven years later in the Netherlands. At the beginning of the college year, I administered the same standardized tests in writing, listening and reading, whose scores dipped consistently overall by a percentage point (two points for reading) each year for over a decade.

Despite this, though, I could see definite progress in my students’ spoken English once they were in my class. At the end my of my first class of freshmen English, the students left the classroom complaining to each other in fluent Dutch (usually unaware that I could understand their every word) that they had too much homework. After going on their freshmen and sophomore excursions to London and Dublin, visiting museums by day and pubs by night, however, the value of English and my small talk conversation drills became more than apparent as they suddenly discovered they wanted to chat up that handsome or beautiful British or Irish young man or woman at the bar. (My coach drivers for these excursions also complimented my students saying they were the only group who consistently showed up on time and who took their rubbish with them). By their senior year, these same students left my classroom at the end of the first class complaining to me in fluent, polite English, using the persuasive phrases I had taught them, that they had too much homework. Then I knew all my time and energy as head of English had not been wasted, that it wouldn’t have been better if I’d stayed in the teachers’ room and spent most of my time reading books and planning curricula as some of my predecesors had done. I knew that due to my efforts, I had managed to change the world, even if by just a little, for the better. AQ

Vidya Vasudevan – The Urban Milieu

The Urban Milieu
by Vidya Vasudevan

“Street dog turns savior. Dog which saved child from being run over by car dies despite best treatment,”

ran the headline in the local tabloid.

Just returning from a visit to the local zoo, which offered animals the assurance of meeting their basic needs, medical attention plus security, my thoughts flew to the situation of animals in a different setting, a perilous urban setting with its rapidly paced life and relentless struggle for survival amidst rampant exploitation.

The school was located amidst a not-so-dense forest, one of the last remaining patches of green, within the city limits. The children waited in a long line for the morning assembly to commence. Just above their head, a troop of monkeys atop the banyan tree swung from branch to branch, chattering by the dozen. Were they discussing the day’s news read by one of the pupils?

Another monkey sat on the window ledge abutting the classroom. Was he listening? The children giggled. Chemistry was boring but the monkey seemed interested. Simultaneously, he was learning mechanics, trying to figure out how to unscrew the cap of a bottle he had found.

The little girl in pigtails on the corridor munching a cookie at break time looked back. A soft eyed, spotted fawn followed her with a mournful look. He tugged at her skirt. Turing around to pat his lil’ head, she shared her snack, amused by his persistence.

At the shopping centre located in the forested area, the clock struck 2 pm and the troop arrived on the dot. There stood the fruit and vegetable truck waiting to be unloaded. They waited eagerly, their hungry eyes and long legs, ready for action. The minute the driver left the truck, the simians climbed in ready to grab a tasty bite, only to be chased away by men with sticks. A sly one scrambled off clutching a huge bottle gourd. Shoppers returning with purchases looked around warily anticipating trouble. Some had their bags snatched away and watched helplessly as the culprit drank mango juice from a carton, while another ran up the tree with a roll of cream cookies.

A huge, tame looking stag, showing off his aesthetically designed antlers, wandered in and out of the shopping centre. His target was the big sack containing vegetable and fruit waste placed in a corner waiting to be carted off by the garbage truck.

Moving out onto the road, I spotted a stray dog wagging his tail at the customers at a roadside eatery. He jumped up eager to grab the tidbits offered. Witnessing this was a scrawny tabby on the wall. Her gaze fell on the notice board displayed outside. Was there fish on the menu? A Golden Retriever walking beside his master, held by a leash, looked down upon the street dog as if to say, ‘you are beneath me’.

Ahead on the road loomed a traffic jam. What was the cause? There, standing tall and proud, in the middle of the road, was a gaily decorated horse ready to carry the bridegroom as part of the wedding festivities. He was an old hand, adept at negotiating the long line of traffic. A group of kids, craning their necks through the bus window for a glimpse of the galloping hero, squealed in delight. The disgruntled cop, his hands up in despair, glared at the four legged creature for enjoying the attention. A far cry indeed from those gentle ponies offering soothing rides to kids on the beach.

Another sweaty creature, caught in this melee was the bullock, almost tempted to run away with his cart. He looked around but there was not an inch of space to move.

Finally, with the traffic clearing, we moved ahead only to be stopped by a herd of buffaloes indulging in a catwalk of sorts, down the road, with the desperate owner trying to shoo them away to the side. A trio of bleating goats lifted their legs to brace themselves against the wall, trying to reach the ‘greens’ hanging from a basket on the vendor’s shelf.

Alighting from the vehicle, we had to work our way through a few stray cows relaxing on the pavement swishing their tails, chewing the cud. Siesta time was nearing.

Other occasional sightings include the lone elephant carrying the mahout (handler), stopping whenever a crowd gathered, and lifting his trunk to offer blessings in return for coconuts and bananas. The sight of the washerwoman’s donkey bedeviled by the huge bundles on his back and trucks carrying cattle tightly packed together like sardines meant for the abattoir also form an inevitable part of the city scene.

Good tidings to you! This would be the loud call of a gaudily dressed fortune teller, shaking his Damru (a two headed drum) at our doorstep offering to foretell the family’s future for a fee. He would be accompanied by his decorated bull, emitting a jangling sound every time it shook its head, thanks to small bells tied to its horns. From the smallest to the eldest, every member of the family, would crowd around him, never mind, whether or not his predictions came true. His tame bull was the focus of attraction.

It seems to me that all these creatures have adjusted well to the madcap urban life. And so they carry on, along with Homo sapiens, in today’s urban jungles, some cosseted, others less fortunate, striving to make the best of their current habitat, be it chaotic or luxurious.

Grove Koger – Death of a Tortoise

Death of a Tortoise
by Grove Koger

The morning of June 24, 2012, was a somber one at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Located on the island of Santa Cruz in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago, the station had long been the home of what was believed to be the last surviving Pinta Island tortoise. But that morning his caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found him dead in his corral, the apparent victim of nothing more dramatic than old age.

The tortoise had been discovered on Pinta Island in November 1971 and transported to Santa Cruz for his own good, as his subspecies—known to herpetologists as Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni—had been considered extinct since 1906. Dubbed Lonesome George, he had become an icon of efforts to preserve the earth’s endangered species.

Pinta was once home to untold numbers of George’s brethren, but they were hunted down throughout the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by pirates and whalers. Darwin commented on their decimation throughout the islands during his visit aboard the Beagle in 1835, while noting the suggestive differences among the populations as well. Then fishermen dealt another blow to the surviving tortoises by releasing goats on Pinta in 1959, planning to slaughter and eat them as needed during their long fishing expeditions. Within a decade the goat population had grown to an estimated 40,000 individuals, destroying most of the island’s plant life in the process. It was at the height of this devastation that a scientist discovered the lone tortoise, and in 1972 rangers for the Galapagos National Park transported the animal to the research station.

Over the years scientists introduced female tortoises from a closely related Isabela Island subspecies into George’s pen, hoping to produce a population that, although hybrid, would nevertheless preserve George’s DNA. When it was determined that George was actually more closely related to a subspecies on Española, two females from that island were substituted. But while the females laid several clutches of eggs, none hatched.

After George’s death, his body was transported to the American Museum of Natural History for preservation by noted taxidermist George Dante and a short period of display. “This is absolutely the most important project you could ever do in your life,” Dante says of the assignment. Determined to capture the tortoise’s personality as well as preserve his body, he questioned those who had taken care of the animal. “Everyone you talked to had a different story about George,” he recalls. “They knew every wrinkle on this animal.”

Preserved in a suitably regal and lifelike stance, George’s body was scheduled for permanent exhibit at the Santa Cruz research station where he had lived so long. However, Ecuadorian officials insisted that he be displayed in the country’s capital, Quito, where environmental conditions could be controlled more carefully, and a bronze replica shipped to Santa Cruz.

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Questions of extinction aside—and they are certainly profound ones—there’s something about tortoises that appeals deeply to us. “Poor, lumbering creatures” we say, admiring their stubborn patience yet thankful not to be in their place. Of course George is far from being the first individual tortoise to have caught the attention of mankind. Think of Aesop’s fable in which the hare, certain of winning the race, settles down for a nap, while the tortoise—stubbornly and patiently—pushes on to the finish line.

Eighteenth-century English naturalist Gilbert White wrote affectionately of a Greek, or spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) named Timothy who had been bought from a sailor in 1740 and was eventually given free range of White’s garden at Selborne in Hampshire. (The designation “Greek” refers to the species of tortoise rather than its original home, which in Timothy’s case was never known.) Upon Timothy’s disappearance from the garden in late spring of 1784, White lamented that he “should be sorry to lose so old a domestic, who has behaved himself in so blameless a manner in the family for near fifty years.” Fortunately the old boy was found ten days later in a nearby field. Timothy died at about the age of 64 in 1794, surviving his famous owner by one year, and was only then identified as being an old girl.

Yet another spur-thighed tortoise named Timothy was a well-known resident of the rose garden of Powderham Castle in Devonshire until 2004. Taken off a Portuguese ship in 1854 during the Crimean War, he lived as a mascot aboard various vessels of the Royal Navy until given a home with the Courtenay family. Apparently perturbed by the vibrations of bombs dropping on nearby Exeter during a much later conflict—World War II—Timothy dug himself a shelter under a set of terrace steps. He was 160 or so at the time of his death. His last owner, Lady Gabrielle Courtenay, who was then 91 herself, remarked that “you could call him, and he would come and say hello and have a strawberry.” In 1926 a scientist had determined that, like White’s beloved reptile, this Timothy was actually a female, but the name stuck.

To this day a genuinely Greek tortoise, but one of undetermined gender, lives in the ancient Agora in Athens, where it has become something of a tourist attraction. My wife and I encountered it one afternoon a few years ago as it trudged through the dry grass for a drink at a shallow basin provided by the Agora’s staff, then retreated to a sheltered corner amidst a tumble of ancient masonry. Its life appears carefree, but in the midst of the economic calamity that has befallen Greece, it’s hard not to view its stubbornness and patience—those qualities again!—in a symbolic light. The animal has appeared in several YouTube videos, and may well be of greater interest to many tourists than the ruins it lives amidst.

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Today Pinta is goat-free, thanks to a project in which the island’s feral invaders were hunted down, but no more of its once-plentiful tortoises have been found. So is this the end of the line for Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni? Maybe not. After Lonesome George’s death, it was discovered that seventeen tortoises from the remote Volcano Wolf area of Isabela Island (the home, you’ll remember, of the first of George’s would-be mates) actually carry some of the genes of the Pinta Island tortoise, and that one of them is an eighty percent match. Given that five of the seventeen are juveniles, there’s a distinct possibility that purebred examples may yet live in the same area.

Others tortoises from Volcano Wolf carry the genes of the Floreana Island tortoise, also considered extinct. Authorities suspect that the crews of whaling vessels may have captured the Pinta and Floreana tortoises for food but later threw them overboard when they weren’t needed. Over the subsequent decades the animals would have mated with their distant Isabela relatives—or maybe, just maybe, among themselves.

Now efforts are underway to establish a captive-breeding program for the two subspecies, with plans of eventually reintroducing them to their original homes to help restore the islands’ ecosystems. “The word ‘extinction’ signifies the point of no return,” explains Yale University professor Dr. Adalgisa Caccone, a member of the research team working on Isabela. “Yet new technology can sometimes provide hope in challenging the irrevocable nature of this concept.”

And maybe, just maybe, George’s cousins will win their crucial race after all.