this is not a review: ‘the book of marvels’, by lorna crozier

I have a fondness for the overlooked and easily abandoned, things that seemingly have no use or appear to be limited in their use or have the misfortune of being in the company of people with no imagination. I suspect Lorna Crozier shares this fondness because The Book of Marvels  is dedicated to exactly that… the easily overlooked, the rarely if ever thought about, things that are right there, like air and eggs, ironing boards, crowbars, darkness and the brain… “The brain thinking about itself is thinking about the brain thinking. The brain not thinking about itself is thinking about the brain not thinking.”

I could just stop right there and mull that over for half a day.

But I’m compelled to read on, to savour the next bite-sized morsel, one more beautifully presented, poetic prosey observation about something I’ve never thought of in quite the way I’m reading it here. I make my way through the book like it’s a bar of 85% chocolate.

About the sky… “The sky is a blouse snatched from the back of a woman. No. The sky is a muddle of clouds that won’t sit still in the lecture hall. No…”

And then I look up at the sky and ask is it a blouse?  Yes of course! And no.

About a clothes hanger, Crozier points out the “cryptic punctuation mark”, the “?” atop the ‘shoulders’ of the wire or plastic or wooden frame, shoulders that are hidden by clothes but the “?” is always visible,  creating within our closets a row of “?????????????”…  that “bring to your attention …the multitude of questions whose answers you don’t know.”

She refers to feet as our “nethermost telluric twins” and I’ve learned a new word. And then she goes on to reflect on the moment of their first walking out of prehistoric waters “… our spines straightening, our gills slamming shut, the salt on our skin crusting in the dry air, our hands astonished into being hands and not another pair of feet.”

The hinges of a bird’s wings, the way one word hinges on another… how this is where poetry begins.

The pointlessness of an ear lobe.

The way a stone is “… a clock whose face you can’t read.”

The book is small. The marvels take up no more than a page each, a short paragraph or two. They are listed alphabetically. The only item under ‘O’ is ‘Objects’ in which Crozier quotes William Matthews who said “… if an object fails to interest us, it’s not its fault but our own.”

Couldn’t agree more. The Book of Marvels  is rich with the fruit of paying attention to connections, to the minutia that surrounds us, the frippery that has nothing yet everything to do with how we live. It’s a book that changes how you look at a flashlight, an eraser or a doorknob.

And isn’t that just so refreshing?



The Book of Marvels  is available online at Blue Heron Books
and Hunter Street Books.

Support indies! (These are two of my faves.)




this is not a review: ‘braiding sweetgrass’, by robin wall kimmerer

Oh nuts. Time has whipped by and my inter-library (thank you, *Trent Hills!) copy of Braiding Sweetgrass  is due back before I’ve had the chance to read more than a few of its essays.

This is down to a couple of things. The stacks of books and papers in my house being the only one worth mentioning. (Tho’ if you must know, the other is an obsession with watching taped episodes of Escape to the Country, which occasionally cuts into my extracurricular reading time.)

In any case.

I did read enough to know that I’m not troubled by having to give it back because I’ve decided I need my own copy of the book. In the same way and for many of the same but also different reasons that I needed my own copy of Theresa Kishkan’s beautiful Mnemonic…  a memoir through the memory of trees and, often, the houses and lives surrounded by them, not all of them her own — “All my life, I have wondered at the feeling I have in particular houses, usually ones in which no one lives any longer.”

And Peter Wohlleben’s The  Hidden Life of Trees , which I read in a Kawartha forest cabin and then wandered among the birch and spruce in a whole new way, alert and hopeful for a sense of the conversations I now realized were going on all around me.

And The Sweetness of a Simple Life, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, one of those tiny eye/mind openers that change your world in the very best way. Every bit of clover in my yard is because of her.

So, yes, I’m looking forward to adding Braiding Sweetgrass  to that particular shelf and to continue reading Kimmerer’s gorgeous essays on nature. Here’s just a wee slice from ‘Asters and Goldenrod’ where she writes about the reason she chose to study botany in the first place… a moment from her intake interview at college:

“How could I answer, how could I tell him that I was a born botanist, that I had shoe boxes of seeds and piles of pressed leaves under my  bed, that I’d stop my bike along the road to identify a new species, that plants colored  my dreams, that the plants had chosen me? So I told him the truth. I was proud of my well-planned answer, its freshman sophistication apparent to anyone, the way it showed that I already knew some plants and their habitats, that I had thought deeply about their nature and was clearly well prepared for college work. I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together.”

Kimmerer is my kind of guide through the natural world because she doesn’t see a difference between it and us. (Spoiler alert: she gets into botany school and learns the science, but never, thankfully, unlearns her innate connection and unique eye/heart/spirit for what is real.)


* That Trent Hills Library happens to be in Campbellford, a place I only discovered and fell into great affection with last year (they have a Stedmans!), is the kind of scrumptious serendipity that makes my heart sing. Also, I love the inter-library system.


this is not a review — nature’s little wonders: bees, by candace savage

“The life of a bee is like a magic well. The more you draw from it, the more there is to draw.” ~ Karl von Frisch

—A beautifully made book of satiny semi-gloss pages, colour photos, drawings, side-bars rife with fascinating facts, bee lore and poetry. Co-published (2008) by D&M Publishers (Greystone Books) and David Suzuki Foundation.  A joy to read. And important too. [Excellent gift idea. The bees will thank you. Which, in turn, is good for us human bee’ns.]

Here’s but a few things I learned from its delightful pages

Bees evolved from wasps.

They are herbivores, sting only in defence; raise young on protein rich pollen while wasps are carnivores, sting for food; eat other insects; also like people food [especially mine].

There are currently 16,000+ species of bees, ranging in size from that of a fruit fly to half the size of a human palm. (4,000 species in N. America)

A colony is about 300-400 bees of which most of those are worker bees.9781553655312

All worker bees are female; they live 60 days or so, except for those born late in season, which will spend a winter in the hive.

Only a few males are produced in late summer for one purpose: to mate and thereby produce fresh queens for the following year.

After the once-in-a-lifetime mating spree, the queen has enough sperm stored in her body to fertilize each egg she lays. Fertilized eggs become female (worker bees). Unfertilized become male (drones).

A Queen bee lays eggs (1,500 each summer day/ half a million in a lifespan of two years) while worker bees help raise successive broods of females.

The eggs are fed and raised by the female worker bees. Only a very few are reared in special areas of colony and fed the ultra-nutritious royal jelly, which allows them to grow into queens, i.e. egg layers.

Worker bees know that it’s time to raise a new queen (i.e. feed the royal jelly) when the current queen’s pheromones no longer predominate in the hive.

Drones die immediately after mating, or are killed. [I’ll spare you the gruesome details.]

Bee stingers don’t get stuck in bee flesh the way they do in human flesh. So they ‘can’ sting one another to death. [see above… but this is merely one method of getting rid of unwanted drones]

Honeybees can see colour.  [The book outlines how this was first shown by placing a bowl of sugar water on a square of blue paper. The bees, of course, were attracted to the sugar. Then the bowl was removed and the blue square moved to a different position among several grey squares. Didn’t matter. The bees still went to the blue square.]

The book cites the work of Karl von Frisch, A Nobel Prize winner for his research on the honeybee, and Martin Lindauer, a student of von Frisch, and a renowned bee expert in his own right. Of Lindauer, Savage writes:

“Through the glass walls of his observation hive, Lindauer could watch the workers as they scurried around performing their household tasks. Here, bees were cleaning out vacant cells in preparation for reuse, by removing old cocoons and re-coating the walls with wax. Over there, others were poking their heads into occupied cells, the ones with grubs in them, to check on the larvae and see if they needed to be fed. (According to Lindauer’s data, nurse bees inspect each larva, on average, 1,926 times during the five or six days before it makes its cocoon but feed it on only 143 of those visits.) Elsewhere in the hive, bees were busy building comb, capping comb, packing comb with pollen. Tucked away in a quiet corner, an individual might be flicking a droplet of nectar in and out on her tongue, waiting for the honeyed glob to thicken. At the same time, others were fanning their wings near the entrance, for cooling or ventilation, or standing guard in the doorway, with their forelegs raised and their antennae up, at attention.”

Lindauer noted that bees are hyper aware of various stimuli, changes in temperature, texture, taste, and instinctively know how to respond or communicate direction to others. When he inadvertently put a heat lamp too close to the hive he noticed the bees stopped foraging for pollen and collected water droplets instead to flick into the hive for a cooling effect.

Savage addresses the issue of colony collapse and other problems we’ve contributed to, while noting that “Bees [bring] sweetness out of chaos. Humans, on the other hand, [seem] to have an instinct for devastation. Could it be that these insects have something to teach us?”

And this, perhaps my most favourite morsel of all:

“Unlike human groups, which often seem less intelligent than the individuals who make them up, a swarm of bees is always smarter than the sum of its parts.”


little things (the big stuff always is)

“If you are like me, learning about bees will change your life. I’m not suggesting that you’ll drop everything and devote yourself to studying insects (though that is possible). What I have in mind is more subtle: a new alertness, a quickening of wonder. Little things that, in the past, have slipped by almost without notice will now demand that you stop and pay attention to them. The hum of wings: whose wings? An insect darting among the flowers: is it a bee or a beefly, a bumblebee or a wasp? What is it doing? Where is it headed? True, it may take you a bit longer to water the petunias or pick the beans, but in those few stolen minutes, you will have been on safari. Gradually, you will begin to sense that a garden is not just a bunch of plants set out in pots and rows: it is a world within a world, a half-tamed ecosystem, full of some of the most exotic and astonishing creatures on the planet.”

—from Bees: nature’s little wonders, by Candace Savage (Greystone Books, 2008)