Field Notes

Twofold View

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some birthday cake
for a nature-loving novelist.
** Linger to consider the world through the eyes of a poet & a scientist.
** Savor a last ½ cup perusing some of my own nature-loving haiku.
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First Sip:

By the time we were in sight of Tucson
it became clear what those
goofy pink clouds had been full of:


Within five minutes the car was covered with ice
inside and out, and there was
no driving on that stuff.
The traffic was moving about the speed
of a government check.

I left the interstate at an off ramp and pulled over…
The sun came out before the hail stopped.
There was a rainbow over the mountains behind the city…

In a few minutes it was hot.
I had on a big red pullover sweater and was starting to sweat.

Arizona didn’t do anything halfway.
If Arizona was a movie you wouldn’t believe it.
You’d say it was too corny for words.

from The Bean Trees
Barbara Kingsolver

Pima Canyon,
Tucson, Arizona

(photo by me)


Slice of Cake:

In the summer after her husband’s death
Lusa discovered
lawn-mower therapy.
The engine’s vibrations roaring though her body
and its thunderous noise in her ears seemed to
bully all human language from her head,
chasing away the complexities of regret and recrimination.
It was a blessing to ride over
the grass for an hour or two
as a speechless thing,
floating through a universe of vibratory sensation.
By accident, she had found her way
to the
mind-set of an insect.

from Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver writes with insight and depth about people in love, and in families,
and as part of communities.

She writes with skill and clarity about science, weaving biological information into her prose.

And she writes about nature with both respect and delight.

She swiped her weed cutter at the
dense stands of
bristly seedpods

Parakeets’ revenge, was how she liked to think of them.
They’d coevolved with an expert seed eater,
the Carolina parakeet, which had gone extinct

Audubon painted the birds’ portrait with their
mouths full,
feasting among cockleburs,
and he wrote of how the bright flocks would
travel up and down the river valleys searching the burrs out,
descending noisily wherever they found the bristly stands
and devouring them until hardly any were left.
Hard to imagine a scarcity of cockleburs.
Now they went uneaten and would continue so for the rest of time.
Now they grabbed the ankles of travelers
and spread into fields and farms, roadside ditches

trying to teach a lesson that people had
forgotten how to know.

– from Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver

Carolina Parakeet
by John J. Audubon1

The older I get, the more
I appreciate my rural childhood.
I spent a lot of time
outdoors, unsupervised,
which is a blessing.

Barbara Kingsolver 2

First she got her degrees in biology,
Next she worked as a science journalist,4
Then she began to write novels.

I always loved reading and writing as a kid,
but I didn’t imagine that I could be lucky enough to
be a writer for a living.
I thought I should study something practical …
I was cut out to be a scientist.
I studied biology in college, and I actually have
a master’s degree in evolutionary biology.
I have always loved science, but somehow apparently
love writing novels more.

Barbara Kingsolver 3

Seems to me that Barbara Kingsolver is the
precise center of a
Literature-Nature-Science Venn Diagram...

My interpretation of
Barbara Kingsolver’s novels as a
Venn Diagram

** A Barbara Kingsolver Reading List **

The Bean Trees (1988)
If you’ve never read any of Barbara Kingsolver’s books, this is a very good place to start.
Taylor Greer is a fun character to spend 200 or so pages with.

Pigs in Heaven (1993)
If you liked The Bean Trees, you’ll enjoy this sequel. I liked getting acquainted
with both Turtle and Taylor’s mom, Alice.

Animal Dreams (1990)
This novel has different characters, but returns to an Arizona setting. Though not as well known as
some of Kingsolver’s other novels, I really enjoyed its humor, romance, and the strong sense of place.

Prodigal Summer (2000) and Flight Behavior (2012)
These are her two most science-y novels—which I like about them!
The plot of Prodigal Summer goes back and forth between three couples, and Kingsolver
cleverly uses their lives and interactions as metaphors for trees, insects, and apex predators.
The vivid characters of Flight Behavior have very different reactions to
a remarkable manifestation of climate change.

High Tide in Tucson (1995)
For those who like non-fiction, I highly recommend dipping in and out of these 25 essays.
Most memorable to me: The title essay, High Tide in Tucson, where she discovers
something remarkable about her family’s pet hermit crab.
And Somebody’s Baby, where Kingsolver finds radically different cultural attitudes
toward seeing human babies out in public.

The Poisonwood Bible (1998)
This is a big book in every way. To me, there’s no question that this is her finest work.
And although Kingsolver mines childhood memories of spending time in a remote African village,
the novel’s characters are thoroughly fictionalized. In fact, in her preface, Kingsolver thanks her parents for being so “different in every way” from the parents in her story.
She also says she waited thirty years for the “wisdom and maturity” to write this particular novel.
Her perspectives on politics, poverty, religion, and family dynamics were well-worth waiting for.

Happy 65th Birthday
** Barbara Kingsolver

– born April 8, 1955
in Annapolis, Maryland and
grew up in rural Kentucky


Linger Awhile:

Her body moved with the frankness that
comes from solitary habits.
But solitude is only a human presumption.
Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot…
She loved the air after a hard rain,
and the way a forest of dripping leaves
fills itself with a sibilant percussion that
empties your head of words.
Her body was free to follow its own rules:
a long-legged gait too fast for companionship…

from Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver
opening paragraphs

Been thinking this week about the dual vision of seeing the world as a poet,
and seeing the world as a scientist.

This is what I relate to in Barbara Kingsolver’s novels
she comes to her writing with both a scientist’s training
and a poet’s delight in the natural world.

Like Barbara Kingsolver, I love both science and literature,
and both influence the way I look at everything around me.

I know some people feel that it takes the joy out of things to inspect too closely.
Why analyze all the plot devices used in a play when you could simply sit back and enjoy the show?
Does knowing the genus and species of a flower make the smell sweeter?
But for me, seeing more detail makes things more interesting,
and knowing something better makes me appreciate it more.

For instance, I see a pretty purple flower...

Hyssop in bloom5
Hyssopus officinalis

And that makes me think about… square stems.

Is the stem square? I check. It is! And so I know that this flower’s in the mint family (Lamiaceae)
which means it’s a close relative of lemon balm and lamb’s ear.
Basil and sage are also in the mint family. As is rosemary, thyme, and… mint.

I see a wild rose…

Virginia rose 6

And that makes me think about… Robert Burns.

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

– from My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose
Robert Burns

And it makes me think about Dorothy Parker…

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet—
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

from One Perfect Rose
Dorothy Parker

But the wild rose also makes me think about…stamen.

The rose’s five symmetrical petals encircle dozens of stamen—those yellow-tipped filaments around the center.

photo by Mary Hardesty

This is very different from cultivated roses. After some 5000 years of hybridization, garden roses have lots more petals and many fewer stamen.
People slowly cross-bred different mutations of roses until most of the stamen morphed into petals.

(Although—just so you know—the ‘underlying molecular mechanism has not been fully characterized.’) 7

Apple blossoms also have five petals—and that’s not coincidence.

Apples and roses are in the same family (Rosaceae).
(pronounced ro-ZAY-see-ee)—
So are blackberries, almonds, pears, and plums.

And that makes me think about…Robert Frost.

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only know
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose–
But were always a rose.

from The Rose Family
Robert Frost


“Half Cup More”

When I lived in Tucson, I got into the habit of bicycling
early on summer morning. The searing heat let up
in that magical half-hour, just before dawn.

And I quickly found that I was not the only one out and about that time of day:
Rabbits, quail, and Harris hawks kept me regular company;
less frequently I’d see coyote, bobcats, and javelina.

What started as an exercise routine became a wilderness experience.

After a while, I began recording the morning’s ‘critter count’ in the form of haiku.
Such spare poetry seemed appropriate.
The desert is a spare place, unsupportive of too many adjectives.

Here are a few poems from a collection I call:
by Kelly J Hardesty

Lovely pre-dawn hour,
Out when animals are out:
My kind of bike ride.

Sunrise cloudy skies,
Pink tints on a grey blanket
Hints of heat to come.

Lizards love high sun,
Rabbits are crepuscular,
Quails busy all day.

Topping a blind curve,
I and coyote cross paths.
Who was more surprised?

I apologize,
Cousin Coyote. Didn’t
mean to startle you.

Gila woodpeckers:
Laughing cry, swooping flight, and
Perch-perfect posture.

Monsoon season.
Roads turn into rivers as
The desert drinks deep.

In sky freshly washed,
Above clouds weary of rain,
Moon stands out alone.

Bobcat at sunset
Was strolling up our driveway
Like she owned the place.


Take-Away Box

In my own worst seasons
I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair
by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time,
at a single glorious thing:
a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window.
And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress.
And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere
behind the crescent moon.
Until I learned to be in love with my life again.
Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to
grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy,
over and over again.

― from High Tide in Tucson
Barbara Kingsolver


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…

…about composer J S Bach,
wolf intervals and baroque music,
well-tempered and otherwise!

…about Wangari Maathai,
her political and environmental activism,
her Nobel Peace Prize, and a whole lot of trees!


notes & footnotes

I was able to download this beautiful print (legally, and free!)
John J. Audubon’s Birds of America
Plate 26

A life in writing: Barbara Kingsolver
by Maya Jaggi
The Guardian
Fri 11 Jun 2010

Climate Change Takes Flight in New Novel
Barbara Kingsolver, interview
with Flora Lichtman

November 9, 2012
Talk of the Nation from NPR

Barbara Kingsolver,
the authorized site

Hyssop in bloom.
(Hyssopus officinalis)
from Encyclopedia Britannica

Virginia rose
from Encyclopedia Britannica

An APETALA2 Homolog, RcAP2,
Regulates the Number of Rose Petals Derived
From Stamens and Response to Temperature Fluctuations
by Yu Han, et al.
12 April 2018
Plant Science


Please note:
Whenever you click on ‘Post Comment’ your comments always come to me first. Then I post them below.
If you’d rather they stay between us, just let me know.
© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

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