Books of 2021: San Miguel

In a departure from his normally humorous style, T.C. Boyle builds upon the little-known history of a forgotten American domain to spin a novel both lyrical and haunting. So perfectly are the characters and their setting woven together that I almost feel like I was reading Steinbeck.

I finished the novel late at night, and, sitting up on the edge of my bed, opened my windows so I could invite in the mist and listen to the sea lions sing a duet with the foghorn.

Books of 2021: American Slavery, American Freedom

In American Slavery, American Freedom, Edmund Morgan, a renowned and respected historian of the American Revolution, made a convincing case for systemic racism in the American polity, and he did it in 1970, six years before Derrick Bell published his article “Serving Two Masters” in the Yale Law Journal.

I am in what appears to be a small-and/or-quiet group that approaches race studies generally and Critical Race Theory specifically with an open mind and a critical thinker’s toolkit. It can be exhausting, but Morgan helped open that door and push me down the corridor beyond. Forget 1776, and forget 1619. Seek the truth, not someone else’s narrative, regardless of its provenance and intent.

Books of 2021: A Promised Land

This is the first volume of what promises to be a two-volume presidential memoir. I decided to order the audiobook for this one, and no regrets: whatever opinions you hold about Barack Hussein Obama and his presidency, he has an orator’s voice. Given the man and tone of the memoir, I cannot imagine experiencing it any differently.

Like most presidents, Obama has a complex legacy, and I would argue that those of us not otherwise disposed to pillory or lionize him have put off an honest analysis of that legacy until such time as criticism may not seem to offer undue comfort and legitimacy to the forces of fascism in this country. Until then, we shall gather our string, take our notes, and listen to Mr. Obama deliver his side of the story.

Reading: Ode to the Kayendo

Grego, Caroline (2021) The Search for the Kayendo: Recovering the Low Country rice toolkit. American Historical Review, September 2021, 1165-1183

What a now-obscure but unique hand tool tells us about slave life in the South. Dr. Caroline Grego proves that sometimes history is little different than detective work.

Ghost Songs on the Gila

I was early on the day I visited, a mid-winter weekday after the holidays. It was in the low 40s with a brisk wind. Apart from a ranger and a docent trying really hard to stay warm, I was alone. I walked the site slowly, almost tiptoeing, to sustain the quiet.

The wind freshened as it shifted a few degrees, and I heard a low keening come from the ruin. I froze in place, listening intently, turning my head. I was in the center of the site, and it was one of those moments when you feel like you, like Billy Pilgrim, have become unstuck in time.

The interaction of the wind, the ruin, and the rafters of the shelter were interacting to play tricks on me, I rationalized. It’s nothing.

As I looked back toward the ruin, I saw a jackrabbit close by. He was on his haunches, regarding me. I regarded him back. We continued this for about a minute. Then I lost the contest, turning to look again at the ruin, but when I turned back toward the jackrabbit, he had vanished, and the keening stopped.

I heard a car door slam, and a family, bundled against the cold, began walking my way. The spell broken, I headed into the gift shop to warm my ears and buy the postcard in the photo.

Watch Over the Butterfield

Located in a remote and picturesque vale in the Chiricahua Mountains in Southern Arizona, Fort Bowie is an overlooked treasure among the National Park system. It’s all about the history here, but there is so much natural beauty you could turn your back on the fort and just enjoy the site for the feeling of being in a protected mountain stronghold.

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