Review of “The Overstory” by Richard Powers

This book won a Pulitzer Prize and I can understand why. It was a massive work of over 600 pages that literally took me months to read. The research is amazing and so is the theme. Most themes involve man versus something: man vs. man; man vs. himself; man vs. nature, etc. In this case it’s man siding with nature and trying to save the environment from exploitation.

I heard years ago that a moral dilemma always makes a gripping story. If nothing else, they’re thought provoking. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Is there really a difference? Or are both wrong in some way?

This story features a handful of unique individuals from diverse backgrounds whose experiences drive them to try and save the trees. Not just any trees, but primarily those massive giants like the redwoods which have stood their ground longer than civilization itself. Science has learned that trees, even those in the typical forest, communicate with each other. Some of us talk to our plants. I have five live oaks in my yard that I named. I had a bald cypress when I lived in Houston that I also named. I wrote a science fiction story about a telepathic walking plant, so I guess I fall out on the side of the people in the book. Of course their protests were directed toward big lumber companies and the like. To date, I have not gone that far.

Another character in the book was an individual who’d become crippled when he fell from a tree. His response was to become an IT guru creating gaming software that ultimately covered the earth, kind of like the old game SimCity on steroids. In other words, creating worlds while ignoring the one they live in.

The dilemma lies in the question how can our supposed civilization expand and prosper without exploiting the environment? Indigenous people are the only ones who “get it.” They understand that they’re an integral part of nature and honor it, giving thanks for those things they need to survive. Their attitude is more like being partners with the Earth as opposed to its conquerors.

More irony lies in the concept of using “renewable” resources. A tree that is a thousand years old is not exactly “renewable,” at least in our lifetime. They are no more “renewable” than fossil fuel and actually provide far more benefits, such as cleansing the air and providing oxygen. Have you ever seen one of these giants, or even a mighty oak, and wondered what it might say if it could talk?

This book is worth reading as it takes you into a world you have most likely never seen before. Sometimes it gets off in that realm where your unconscious probably understands it while your conscious mind doesn’t. It would have been helpful to me if the author had included a dramatis personae, since there were so many characters. There were only about three I could keep straight, while the other ones tended to blend together, especially the way the author skipped around. The ending almost felt as if Powers simply quit without really tying it all together. Yet that was probably deliberate to let each reader draw their own conclusions. I suppose I should issue a spoiler alert when I state the conclusion wasn’t in the “happily ever after” category. Frankly, if I were the story’s editor, there’s quite a bit I would have cut out.

All that aside, it’s an amazing work that will allow you to see the world around you through different eyes. You’ll probably appreciate nature a lot more, maybe even start talking to your plants. But it’s unlikely you’ll have any answers, either.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon from this affiliate link.

Reaching Out to the Heavens

October 22, 2020, 11:17 CDT. Canon Powershot SX530 HS.

I am fortunate to live in a rural area where night skies aren’t sullied by city lights. I’ve always loved astronomy and found stargazing inspiring. This crazy, obnoxious year has been stressful for everyone, myself included, though I have to admit I’ve been far less affected than others. Nonetheless, the background noise of a upended world has once again motivated me to spend some time with the night sky.

Of course when we see something inspiring, we want to preserve it. I quickly found my cell

phone couldn’t capture what I was seeing in the sky, at least a closer view. So I decided to buy an actual camera. It’s been great fun, especially taking pictures of the Moon, like the one above.

I was somewhat disappointed in the pictures I attempted of the planets, which came out looking like a powder puff as opposed to the familiar pictures we have courtesy of passing space missions. For example, the above picture is Mars. At least you can tell it’s a planet, not a star, and it’s the right color, but other than that, not too impressive.

Here’s Mars again, this time with the Moon. The halo reveals that there was a lot of humidity that night.

On December 21 Jupiter and Saturn will be in a very tight conjunction, tighter than they’ve been in 800 years! There are some speculations that such a conjunction was what comprised the Star of Bethlehem and guided the Wise Men to the Christ Child.

Unless you know a little about astronomy or astrology, you may wonder why this is the case. After all, it takes Jupiter about 12 years to orbit the Sun and Saturn about 29, so Jupiter will pass Saturn at least every 12 years or so, right? The plane of their respective orbits, however, is not the same, so while they may appear in the same latitude, their declination is seldom close enough for them to appear as one bright celestial object. How fascinating that in this rather unpleasant year of 2020 we can see this unusual treat in the night sky.

Here’s a picture of the Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon.

November 18, 2020, 7:09 p.m. CST.

Attempting a closer view of Saturn and Jupiter as they converge has resulted in another powder puff, but of a slightly different hue than Mars, with Saturn nearly invisible. Clearly to get the photos I really want is going to require a telescope. I was pretty proud of those Moon shots and checked out some of the astro-photography Facebook groups. Talk about humbling! Some of the pix out there look as good as what we’ve seen from the Hubble! A telescope has been on my bucket list for a while and even more-so now.

This picture of the Halloween Full Moon is one of my favorites.

Halloween Full Moon, October 31, 2020.

And here’s a comparison of how much the Full Moon changes in one day.

I was blessed this autumn with a beautiful color display from my crepe myrtle, which is especially appreciated here in Central Texas where autumn tends to be shades of green and brown as opposed to the spectacular fall colors found in more temperate zones.

November 7, 2020, 1:52 p.m.

I know this post isn’t particularly profound. What I’ve derived from these photos defies words, which for an author of 6 novels and an book on astrology says something in itself.

Perhaps the message I’m trying to convey is that even in a year that gave us a glimpse of the Underworld, there is beauty to be found in both the heavens and here upon our own planetary home. We can always hope that the Star of Bethlehem replay on 21 December is telling us there are better times ahead.