Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: In Search of America's Heartbeat

In Search of America’s Heartbeat:Twelve Months on the Road by Robert H. Mottram is not only a fun read, it’s an eye opener. Mottram and his wife Karen did what many people only talk about. They spent a year on the road driving more than 30,000 miles, discovering and chronicling their trip along the way.

Mottram had just retired after more than 30 years as a journalist. Karen, as a registered nurse working in public health, was ready to retire, too. One week after they walked out of their respective offices, they climbed into their diesel Dodge Ram pickup truck pulling a 32-foot fifth-wheel trailer, and set out on a memorable adventure.

Mottrams tour America in a rough horseshoe pattern. Leaving Tacoma, WA, they drive south along the West Coast, then enjoy the winter warmth of the southern states, find spring as they make their way north through the Appalachians to New England, then zig-zag west across the continent during the summer season, returning to the Pacific Northwest in the fall.

The extreme spectrum of life happens while on their trip: Mottram’s father dies and a grandson is born. For both events, they take leave of their trip and fly to the source of the events, then resume their journey. The trip is a series of travelers’ delights, mixed with a few inconveniences, such as biting flies and inclement weather. The Mottrams take the bad with the good and as a result, experienced a memorable journey. They poke into obscure corners of our country and come up with amazing tales of yesteryear balanced with how it is today.

Along the way the Mottrams discover the heartbeat of America. Though each region has its peculiarities, America’s strength is found in its differences, strengths that weave the resilient fabric of our nation.

In Search of America’s Heartbeat has many poignant stories, both historical and current, that make for a fascinating read. Told with humor and keen observation, Mottram’s journalism background serves him well. It’s obvious he not only knows how to write, but how to observe.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel or reading about our nation’s wonderous diversities. In Search of America’s Heartbeat is told by a master story-teller. You’ll find it hard to put this book down. I didn’t want it to end.

In Search of America’s Heartbeat may be purchased through your favorite bookstore,, or through the author’s website,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Unbroken

Jamie Lisa Forbes’ debut novel, Unbroken, is a WILLA Award recipient and worthy of this prestigious honor.

Gwen Swan’s life is an unbroken chain of cooking, helping her husband on their family cattle ranch, managing their children, Rory and McKenna, juggling finances, and working through Wyoming’s harsh winters and sweltering summers with seemingly few days of reprieve between seasons. Gwen’s hard-working husband Will centers his life around the ranch. His father John, a widower for most of Gwen and Will’s married life, lives in his own house, but takes his meals with his son’s family. John still calls most of the shots on the daily ranch activities. Will occasionally takes his own initiative, but when he does his father can be counted on to share his opinion.

It’s up to Gwen to deal with her son’s teachers and their disapproval of Rory’s behavior at school. When Will becomes aware of Rory’s trouble at home, his impatience is obvious, but Rory’s grandfather helps smooth over hurt feelings. Rory especially basks in his grandfather’s love.

Will’s brother, long estranged from the family, appears and old bitterness and resentments resurface, further straining their lives.

Meg Braeburn and her young son Tim have broken away from her family’s ranch. She’s made mistakes but is determined to make a good life for them. She’s hired as a hand on a ranch neighboring Swan’s. The absent owner leaves all the work to her, with a stringy, unkept horse, rusty equipment and unrealistic expectations. Meg surprises them all with her ability and drive, and her resoluteness.

Before long Gwen and Meg become friends, their children play, though Rory often bullies Jim. The ranchers support and help one another with time, equipment and friendship.

The isolation and closeness of the two families begins to take their toll and boundaries are crossed. The dynamics of splintering families is painful and everyone’s way of life is affected.

Unbroken is a powerful, absorbing book from the first page to the last. Forbes’ Wyoming ranch background adds rich flavors to the story. The author draws realistic, complex characters. Unbroken is an unvarnished testimonial to a way of life that few of us know.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Soar On Wings like Eagles

It’s time again to view majestic American bald eagles along Pacific Northwest rivers, particularly the Skagit. The Skagit River hosts the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Most of these eagles spend their summers in northern British Columbia and Alaska. In the late fall, they migrate to the Pacific Northwest to feed on spawned-out chum salmon carcasses and waterfowl.

Eagles feed along river gravel bars in the morning usually between 7 and 11. In the afternoon, it is common to see eagles perched on tree branches, resting for long periods of time. They seem to prefer well-spaced branches, heavy enough to accommodate their weight and large wing span.

For its size, the eagle is surprisingly light, yet it is very strong. The average adult bald eagle weighs nine pounds, with a height of three feet and a wing span of five- to seven-and-a-half feet. The bald eagle is strong enough to swoop down with incredible speed and carry away prey that weighs more than the bird does.

Bald eagle nests, which can weigh hundreds of pounds, are typically six feet wide and two to four feet tall. Nests are often located very high in tall trees with broken or deformed tops, with a view of the water. The nesting period in Washington begins around the last week of March to the first or second week of April. Although some eagles stay in the Upper Skagit River area, most find nesting sites around the shores of Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, or other coastal areas in Canada or Alaska.

Eagles are generally ready to mate at the age of five. It is believed that eagles mate for life. Females lay two to four eggs and the thirty-five day incubation duties are shared by both female and male.

Eaglets are fed by their parents for the first six to seven weeks and then sporadically while they learn to feed themselves. By the time young eagles emerge from the nest, they are almost as large as their parents.

The familiar coloring of white head and tail does not occur until the birds are four or five years of age. Juvenile birds are mostly brown and gray with varying amounts of white on the underside of their wings and back.

The word “bald” is simply an evolution of the Middle English “balled,” which meant “shining white.” Adult bald eagle plumage is characterized by a dark brown body with a bright white head and tail, yellowish beak and eyes.

Few animals, if any, can match eagles ability to see great distances. Generally, eagles can see distant objects three to four times better than humans.

The life span of an eagle in the wild is up to twenty years. The bald eagle was almost driven to extinction as the result of eggshell thinning caused by the pesticide DDT. After DDT was banned in the 1970s, the eagles, as well as other birds of prey, have made an amazing comeback. In 1995, the bald eagle status was upgraded in the lower 48 states from “endangered” to “threatened,” and in 1997 Department of the Interior took the American bald eagle off the endangered species list.

The bald eagle was chosen in 1782 as the emblem of the United States of America because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks. It’s an honor to view these birds and it is our duty to ensure their preservation by giving them the space, privacy and environment they need.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Review: Room

Room (Back Bay Books) by Emma Donoghue could have been taken from today’s headlines. Its gripping drama is as real as an interview with actual victims of captivity.

Jack, five years old, doesn’t know he’s been held captive all his life. He believes his life is normal. Jack and his mother live in an 11-foot-square soundproofed cell in a converted shed in the kidnapper’s yard. Jack’s mother whom he calls Ma, has been there seven years–she was a nineteen year-old college student when kidnaped.

The marvel of this story is the balance Ma has maintained in giving her child a rich, loving life, filling his days with exercise games, reading and math lessons, with limited television and unlimited love.

The entire book is Jack’s voice of heartrending innocence, wisdom and love. But there’s harrowing terror, too, and you realize the precarious tight-rope Ma must balance to keep them alive and together.

Even their captor, Old Nick, is seen through Jack’s eyes, or really through his ears, as Ma never wants Old Nick to actually see Jack when their captor visits in the night.

Through a child’s eyes, the reader absorbs the mother’s monumental task of raising a child under these circumstances. Old Nick, evil and unrelenting, is terrifying in his obsession.

Room is an amazing examination of two lives lived in captivity. It’s a testament to a mother’s love, a novel of astounding depth.