Thursday, September 12, 2019

"The Sound Of The Snow Geese: A True Story Of Surviving California's Deadliest Wildfire"

Dax Meredith, the pen name of a Chico State and Butte College instructor, was caught in the Camp Fire as she and one of her young sons fled towarrd Paradise from Magalia. Her harrowing story, including the aftermath with its own trauma, is told in "The Sound Of The Snow Geese: A True Story Of Surviving California's Deadliest Wildfire" ($15.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle).

"I’m relatively young," she writes, "to have survived the things I’ve made it through so far. To date, these include near death from a virus and secondary infections, extensive nerve damage, long term illness, near death by wildfire, loss of home to fire, relocation, and the post fire list goes on and on." She's also a single mom, bringing up two boys called in the narrative Andy (age eleven) and Tommy (who's nine). 

On that fire morning, the author is home with a feverish Andy; Tommy is driven to school in Chico by his grandmother. A little after 8:30 her mom calls, the phone voice crackling. "Huge plume of smoke. Ugly. Maybe plan to evacuate."

Meredith walks outside. "I know immediately that something is different, something is wrong. The skies are an unnatural glow of greens and oranges, and ash is collecting like deathly snowfall on the deck, on the cars, like an ominous dusting of the destruction that has begun."

With Andy and their puppy Harley, she begins driving toward Paradise. Then traffic stops at the turnoff to Pentz.

Soon, "sparks, ash, debris, and huge demonic flames are right there behind us. They don't dance or flicker. They eat everything. ... I can't wrap my brain around it." There will come sheltering in place near the Optimo, then eventual escape. 

She is filled with emotion and yet also a confidence in God. Hardships continue afterward, but there are new starts.

Trained as a counselor, the author discusses coping techniques in the last chapter, including identifying triggers, prayer, visualization, music, and more. 

The book is a superb and heart-stopping account of the unimaginable, full of honest faith and true grit. When you are ready--read it.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

"In Search Of The Canary Tree: The Story Of A Scientist, A Cypress, And A Changing World"

"Some people call it the Alaska cedar," writes Lauren E. Oakes, who teaches Earth System Science at Stanford. "Others call it the yellow cypress. ... Alaskans use the name yellow-cedar." In remote parts of Alaska groves of yellow-cedar are on the decline. Just what is going on had not been documented until Oakes, in 2010, began a years-long research project for her doctorate. 

The book that emerged is a nuanced and poignant exploration of the impact of the dying trees. "What I didn't know then," she writes, "was that these dead trees would eventually ... give me a sense of conviction about our ability to cope with climate change. They'd motivate me to do my part. They'd move me from pessimism about the outlook of our world to optimism about all we still can do."

"In Search Of The Canary Tree: The Story Of A Scientist, A Cypress, And A Changing World" ($27 in hardcover from Basic Books; also for Amazon Kindle) has been chosen as the 2019-2020 "Book In Common" for Chico State University (, Butte College (, and the larger community. (Oakes is scheduled to speak at Chico State in April.)

In addition to teaching, Oakes works for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Her book presents the scientific questions she set out to answer in Alaska, such as how to distinguish the normal growth and decay cycles of a healthy forest from the threat to the yellow-cedar species itself. 

On some Alaskan archipelagos there is significant yellow-cedar dieback, but that has made room for spruce to flourish. There is grief at the loss, especially among the native Tlingit community, but that leads to questions of how the relationship with the forests will change. 

Oakes comes to realize, through dozens of interviews, that the many perspectives she finds (economic, ecological, spiritual) present a complex pattern of how those affected face the loss.

The yellow-cedar is the canary, the early warning that profound change is upon us. The species teaches "that there's simply no imaginable tomorrow ... that could ever possibly nullify the need for unwavering care and thoughtful action today."