Thursday, May 26, 2016

Meet My Cousin Bob Mushroom

 Since I lean increasingly towards nature writing, I find myself ordering Kindle books on the topic. I’m delighted with my latest purchase: The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter by Colin Trudge. In very accessible prose, he provides a truly refreshing “refresher” course in basic biology.
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 In high school, as I was on the college track, I was instructed to take chemistry and physics, rather than biology. Maybe biology was considered a lesser science then. In college Biology 1A and B, I barely scraped by. I was a liberal arts gal.
 Fast forward fifty years: Now I realize that I want to deepen my understanding of the scientific foundations of the natural world – the evolution of scientific names for things and Carolus Linaeus’ system of classification: species, genus, orders, classes and kingdoms (later phylum was inserted between class and kingdom and domain added after kingdom). Add to that the later use of phylogeny, the family tree of the natural world demonstrating the relationship between the different groups of creatures. I’m learning (or maybe relearning?) biological concepts like analogous and homologous, convergence and divergence, and most confusing to me, haploid, diploid, polyploid and tetraploid (which has to do with genetics, hybrids, chromosomes and all that stuff that gave me so much trouble in college biology). Fortunately, I don’t have to take a test on this material, but just grasping the broad concepts is enhancing my wonder for the complexities, order and vastness of nature.
I totally share Mr. Trudge’s love for the idea that we humans are literally related to all things. He plays with the notions that ‘apes are our sisters, and mushrooms our cousins, and oak trees and monkey puzzle are our distant uncles and aunts.’ (Uh - I’d like you to meet my cousin Bob Mushroom.) Like when involved in a good novel, I can’t wait to get back to Mr. Trudge and his trees. On to chapter three: How Trees Became.
Today, as I walked down the street, I looked at the city trees with new eyes and wondered what they were saying to each other. If only I knew their language.

Baobob Tree  Adansonia grandidieri

Monday, May 9, 2016



In my memoir “Marrying Santiago” (2015) I wonder where my two sons would choose to put down roots. I ask: “Would I lose them someday to the place I left behind?” My parents’ only child, I left my California home forty-five years ago to marry and live in Chile. The great distance that separated us was the source of tremendous sorrow for them.  
            While my oldest son married and settled in Chile, the younger one has been living and working in New York for four years. I miss him terribly. Living in this hyper-connected era does ease the pain somewhat – we chat online, talk by Whatsapp and Skype and send photos taken instants before.
 Today a Chilean friend who passed through New York brings me a present from my son. An enchanting little book entitled “Owls: Our Most Charming Bird” by Matt Sewell. A rich text accompanies the delightful drawings. I am so pleased with this gift that I immediately call my son. We don’t talk long as he is at work, but just hearing his voice brings me pleasure. I recently ordered Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” for him. Since he’s a hiker, I thought he’d like it. He did.

With these small exchanges – books, photos, and online chats – the distance seems less. Last month he sent me a photo to show he’d just voted in the New York primary. I’m happy he takes seriously his American citizenship. I recently voted in the California primary by absentee ballot – signed, sealed and delivered (well, actually faxed). My son and I agree on the presidential candidate.

 This not just the expatriate’s or the immigrant’s dilemma. Several of my California high school and university classmates have children living on the east coast (many in Brooklyn, like my son.) But Brooklyn is a lot further from Chile than California. Here I’m at the bottom of the world.

Will he return to Chile someday? That is a question that must wait for an answer, and I must accept whatever choices he makes.

(I'd love to hear comments from other expats and/or parents.)