Reading Historical Fiction about “Ken-tuc-ee”

Photo from Kentucky Native Plane Society: Purple Coneflower

Moving to Kentucky was a leap for me in unexpected ways. I’ve lived in many places including my homeland of East Tennessee where I was born.

Yet, in Bowling Green, KY I’ve realized a new land pulse. To “get to know” Kentucky I turned to historical fiction, one of my favorite genres in literature. I have an able guide in Wes Berry, Kentucky literature professor at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.

Wes suggested I start with Elizabeth Madox Roberts, a writer whose works were published between the 1930s and 40s. The Great Meadow, short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize in 1930, and resurrected in 2012 by Hesperus Press, is a lyrical journey back in time to Kentucky circa 1774 – early 1800s. Through the eyes of Diony Hall, readers learn about the land, the historic moment, young love, and the hardships of pioneers.

As an environmental educator and writer, I am interested in the Canelands as described by Daniel Boone and James Harrod. Canes with trunks as thick as a man’s arm reaching to 30 feet in height. What is the native state of this place, I seek to know.  Native Trees of Kentucky.

Elizabeth Roberts’ shares her emotional connection to the land of her birth through her character, Diony Hall: “Around them stretched the delirium of a fine land, level expanses of delicately tilted to fine curves, here and there cane patches of rich fat growth, here and there noble trees . . . ‘What do we want here? What did we come for?'” Chapter IV, page 102, Hesperus Press Limited, 2012 edition.

My questions, exactly.

Thanks Ann, For Helping Me Turn Down the Noise

Facts, rumors, reporting on reporting–even reliable reporting by groups such as ProPublica, Rachel Maddow’s crack MSNBC research team, and Democracy Now, all serve up a plethora of information. What is true? Misinformed? Biased? Downright lies?  I weary in my efforts to discern the truth, don’t you?

Reader shopping at Parnassus Book Store in Nashville

Perhaps for clarity, or even solace, I attended a wonderful presentation by author Ann Patchett sponsored by the Southern Kentucky SOKY Book Fest, Western Kentucky University, and Warren County Libraries. Ann is a favorite author of mine as much for her instructional stories about how she became a writer, as for her excellent works of nonfiction and fiction. Over a hundred Bowling Greeners must have agreed with me. We spent two hours with the author and independent book store co-owner [Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville] during which she discussed her books, and in particular, stories in which she presents the truth about a person [Truth and Beauty] or persons (her latest book is Commonwealth which she admitted is in large part autobiographical). It was obvious that she possesses integrity about what she writes and publishes about people.

When asked how she finds time to write, I was taken back by her statement that she watches no TV, uses no social media, and possesses a flip phone for which a limited number of people possess the number. Okay, Ann is a famous person and has to limit exposure to all the fans and promoters who would inundate her if they had easy access to her. But, I sensed that she would do that whether famous or an unknown.

As I mulled this over I thought about my recent exclamation as I stared at a clock telling me it was 3 p.m. and I’d not accomplished one thing that day. Where had all the time gone? My recent addiction to news (related to, what else, the election), transforming me into an NPR junkie — and my woeful attempts to use social media to promote my first novel and stay in touch with my kids — I finally realized where all that time goes!

I’ve been taken hostage by electronic gadgets and all the marketers and advertisers who are behind social media like a line up of Velociraptors. ~ a Susan Feathers original quote on Waking UP

So, I want to thank Ann Patchett for clearing up the matter and sending me on a lighter path, a quiet one in which to think, and to write. It’ like giving up a drug, isn’t it? But, I believe I’ll be better able to discern truth from lies by turning off, or at least, turning down all that noise.




Stop, Wait, Consider Houston!

Makes Sense!
That Makes Sense!

STOP: Why was flooding so bad –  worse than at any time we  can remember?

WAIT: Coastal areas–with their bays, bayous, wetlands, and streams–are normally a “sponge” that can absorb rainstorms and naturally conduit waters down to the ocean. 

CONSIDER: We pave over that sponge, laying down asphalt and construct concrete infrastructure, through which water cannot percolate down into the soil and on to the creeks, rivers, and wetlands that move floodwaters to the ocean.

Updated: See this article from PBS Newshour explaining how wetlands (think sponge) helped saved $625M in potential damage during Hurricane Sandy.




Will National Treasure “trump” economic expediency?

Keep Ecosystems Whole

For a nation that prides itself on science literacy, the U.S. government’s plan to reduce the size of national monuments is illuminating.

Check out this interactive map of the Bears’ Ears National Monument.  Notice the drainage areas that supply critical water sources for the Upper Colorado River system. The point: systems are connected to each other. Arbitrarily cutting up functional ecosystem areas flies in the face of reason.

In a capitalist driven economy, we trump good land and water management with a piece meal approach that facilitates extraction of ores, timber, and land. In this approach,  we draw down the area’s self-renewing capacities focusing on immediate economic benefits. This is our history. Short-term thinking.

National Monuments stand in the tidal wave of our rush for profits to preserve the integrity of whole living systems that ultimately provide much greater value. Clean water, clean air, beauty — a mirror to our better selves.


Draft of National Climate Assessment

Our national policy on climate change.

Today we learn that Donald Trump disbanded the Federal Advisory Committee on Climate Change. The group oversaw the National Climate Change Assessment, updated every four years to keep citizens and policy makers up to date with global climate changes and national impacts — long-term planning to keep our nation and the planet safe. The latest draft of the report was released to the public in August in anticipation that it would end up in the president’s waste can. And so it did. Here it is. Go to page 12 to read the Executive Report which summaries the findings of 100s of scientists and 11 federal agencies.

Let there be no mistake: this administration has rejected science as a way of knowing, wholly unprecedented in our American history.

US Global Change Research Special Report_8-17

From the Executive Summary:

New observations and new research have increased our understanding of past, current, and future climate change since the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA3) was published in May 2014. This Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) is designed to capture that new information and build on the existing body of science in order to summarize the current state of knowledge and provide the scientific foundation for the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4).

Since NCA3, stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid, human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean. This report concludes that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

Living in a Democracy

Central High School, Little Rock, AR

This morning I realized that the “world” into which I was born, lived my youth and middle age, has passed into history. Young 20 and 30 something citizens probably know little about that time — the 60s — when American society rocked and protested itself out of the post war era of our parents.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.                                     ~ Edmund Burke

Adults in my life as a teenager were locked into the belief that American life was a happy prosperity wrought from a terrible war. My parents, former career military couple, returned to East Tennessee to their home roots where not much had changed in rural Southern culture. White culture prevailed and a sharp divide between the poor and rich kept the social boundaries in place. If there were blacks in my community, they were no where in sight. From an unpublished memoir of that time:

Religious life in East Tennessee left much to be examined. The culture had a dark underbelly. Women wore prissy hats with a white organdy veils and spotless white gloves as they sat in the pew with their families at Munsey Memorial Methodist Church.  Peyton Place was being read in closets and under sheets by flashlight. Mom and her daughters were no exception. We lined-up, hats atop, white gloved, legs crossed just so, still marching to authority’s drumbeat. While the civil rights movement called to believers in Christ’s message to help end unjust laws and practices, and to stop brutality, torture, and the murder of black Americans—life went on as usual, the culture blinded by an interpretation of “God’s word” that blasphemed its true meaning. The deaths of four black youth in the Birmingham bombing did not move the moral lassitude in my hometown.

Just sayin’ . . .

How Climate Change Affects Food Supply

AZ Agriculture Photo

In Threshold, Ed Flanagan is a COO of a major community food bank. He is skeptical about climate change until he has to deal with unexpected shortages.

From Chapter 23:

As summer temperatures extended into October, the health of the people and the stability of the water supply preoccupied the minds of scientists, business leaders, and city and county agencies. Even the most stubborn climate deniers admitted that the situation was dire–no matter the causes. Action was required.

One morning Ed received a notice about shipments of imported fruit that were rotting on docks because cargo ships could not enter their ports. The recent rise in sea levels made it too dangerous. Ed had just finished reading a forecast of an expected rise in food costs due to lower production in the main food growing areas of the U.S. and in parts of the world that were experiencing either record rainfall and flooding, or the opposite: drought and record heat. Coffee prices soared as yields diminished. Food shipments lost at sea during mega-storms, and cargo planes grounded in record heat–each of these bore down on his mind like a locomotive coming around a bend, horns blasting its arrival.

Read from another chapter on



Threshold in Your Classroom or Book Club

Reading at Tanque Verde High School in Tucson

Threshold is receiving great feedback from teachers for use in their classrooms to discuss climate change.

As a retired teacher, fully certified in Social Studies and Science ( Earth and Biology) I would have given anything to have THRESHOLD  as a resource, in my classroom. Susan’s extensive knowledge and writing skill make this book readable, relevant and informative. If I should return to teaching, I will buy her book and lesson plans,(out of my own pocket if necessary) for the Social Studies or Science classroom. I have recommended this book to English teachers and Librarians.

Threshold is a novel about characters living in Tucson, Arizona “in the very near future.” Scientists, businessmen and women, government officials, and teenagers are experiencing the changes brought by increasing temperatures and water concerns. Teen characters are busy living their lives in very different circumstances. As the plot moves forward readers observe how each of them develops resilience to the changes as they affect their families and friends.

Teachers suggest that the descriptions of wildlife under pressure, the natural history of the Sonoran Desert, and the example of how one small city (South Tucson) engages youth in solutions offer relevant themes for their curriculum.


Threshold - a Novel about Climate Change in the Southwest
Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest


The Power of Stories to Foster Empathy

Research from Loris Vezzali, social psychologist, points to the power of storytelling, to fiction, in shaping attitudes. This NPR program features a recent study that Vezzali, et al, conducted to determine whether children who read Harry Potter novels change how they relate to stygmitized groups of people (disabled, immigrants, or “other”).

Recent research shows that extended contact via story reading is a powerful strategy to improve out-group attitudes. We conducted three studies to test whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refu-gees). Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (in Italy and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis. Identification with the main character (i.e., Harry Potter) and disidentification from the negativcharacter (i.e., Voldemort) moderated the effect. Perspective taking emerged as the process allowing attitude improvement. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed in the context of extended intergroup contact and social cognitive theory

Here’s the link to the NPR story below:

Loris Vezzali ResearchGate

The Wisdom of Kentucky Farmers

When confusion reigns, I turn to voices of clarity to reset my “compass”. Wendell Berry is a wise Kentucky farmer, prolific author and poet, and activist for conservation of nature. Find a quiet time to enjoy this lively discussion full of nuggets of knowledge from a man whose vision provides direction for millions.