Mary Beth Writes

My personal goal is to write this in one day. Sometimes my thoughts and ideas fly and dip like ‘always soaring never landing’ albatrosses – but do you know what happens to people who pursue albatrosses? They end up in the drink. Which is where more of my writing ends than you’d think.

Last week Kathleen (we’ve been friend 40 years so she can get away with a stunt like this) sent me a 500-page book that she had just finished, because, she said, she thought it might be my kind of book. The book I had been reading was not working for me so I started reading Kathleen’s book - Overstory by Richard Powers.

I read the whole thing (I went fast in some parts) in three days.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t especially like it. The book is too long, and his main characters are way too passionate. They come from intense families and dramatic circumstances. They were remarkable children and angsty teenagers who became radical adults. I have known a lot of people in my life, many of them ‘radical’ and I have seldom (maybe never) known people like the heroic, valiant characters that Powers brings to life. Several are definitely on the autism continuum and it bothered me that the complexities and frustration of autism are used as a prop to move a story ahead. Racism and sexism hugely affect some of the characters, to the point where one character almost commits suicide. That is not explored either. It just moves the story along.

The characters seem like people one might recognize in comic books or computer games; superheroes and avatars who are conniving, succumbing, and overcoming. Indeed, one of the characters invents computer games.

I didn’t find characters with whom I could or would identify. These people were way beyond my paygrade.

But what Overstory does accomplish is this. In a way I have rarely encountered in my whole reading life – it pulled me into re-examining being human now. I felt to my bones how dangerously and willfully innocent we pretend we are. The human race acts as if being human is the point of entire natural world; that we are the pinnacle of evolution and apex of creation.

The most compelling character in the novel is - the evolving science of trees. Trees are the protagonists. Forests are both background and foreground to everything. We learn what scientists have been learning over the past 50 years. That we share one quarter of our DNA with trees. That trees share detailed information below and above ground. Trees share measurable chemical warnings and invitations about insects, weather, pollution. Some trees such as aspens (this boggled my dear little mind) don’t grow by propagation so much as by migration. Aspen forests in Canada are connected by root system to aspens in Montana and California. Indeed, the idea of one single tree is the solipsistic vision of humans. Trees nearly always exist in communities. Every tree that dies – by age, accident, disease, or logging - changes the health and viability of the community around it.

There’s plenty more to know. Overstory is a slow, grinding invitation to long and to ache and to act on behalf of trees. The novel doesn’t make me want to learn more stuff. It makes me want to see, observe, notate, and experience the actual world I am in, instead of the world we keep inventing.


I seem to be writing a lot more about books in this quarantine year.  Hmmm. Well, I did do this is one day, so there's that. 

These are pictures of my grand cats.

Nancy Drew is the fluffy one the right. She’s a bit feral; she and an ill sibling were found alone and crying in a field six years ago and taken to the humane society from which my daughter adopted her. Nancy adores my daughter and is resentful of everyone else on earth.

The one on the left is Frank who spent his early kittenhood in loving foster care until our kid adopted him last year. Feisty, secure, happy Frank is messing with Nancy’s suspicious soul. She’s no longer 100% averse to being occasionally hugged by him. Especially when the apartment is chilly. 

 This is Frank living his best life. One can imagine how this scenarios unfolds when our daughter is on a zoom business meeting.

If you have photos of your cats and dogs or other beloved animals that you’d like to share in a kind of communal valentine, send them to me with a sentence or two about them. I love how much we humans, at our best, love our animals.

If you don't have my email address, write to me via the comments. Incude YOUR email address (I don't have easy access to it).  I will NOT publish that request to me. No one will see it but me and I will email my contact info back to you.       


Amazing info about trees. They share one quarter of our DNA? Impressive. I'm going to start talking to them.
Mary Beth's picture

I thought you already did...Hah.... The book is not sentimental and there is real research that indicates their sense of well being affects our sense of well being and vice versa. There is a real sensibility going on in the natural world that we can respect and be part of - or we can ignore and become extinct. It's so mind-opening to take in that this is not a greeting card sensibility. This is what we know and are learning more about.

Yes yes and yes about Overstory. You captured so well my experience with that book. And even though I was not crazy about it I believe I am the one who recommended to Kathleen. Talking about books is one of the most interesting parts of your blog for me. I have read at least one book because you mentioned it.
Mary Beth's picture

And you live close to SF. I think? The descriptions of the trees in some outdoor court on the Berkeley campus, I want to see that someday. Do you know what I am talking about? Thanks for the thumbs up on the book reports.. it really has been one of the most remarkable reading years in my life. If I can figure out why, I will write about that.

Ummmm — very interesting. Amazing information.

I knew you'd like best the part about the trees! I was fascinated by the idea that trees talk to each other. There should have been more about trees in winter. Are they dormant or are they busy in a way we can't perceive? And yes, Dorian sent me the book and I sent it on to you.

. . . pick up "The Hidden Life of Trees" by Peter Wohlleben - he is a German Forester, and author. I heard him being interviewed on NPR a few years ago, and was completely entranced by what he had to say, and what I learned about how they react and interact with the world. Makes you realize being human isn't that fancy.
Mary Beth's picture

A friend said the same thing - and stopped by here today with a copy of this book! Great minds recommend alike...

I need a much longer life to read all the books I have in my library now! Yes, I will be looking for this one...trees have always captivated me, starting as a child. Now my secret is out!

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Happy Birthday to Len


Today is Len’s birthday. I told him this morning I might write about him but I would let him read whatever I said first. He said not to run it past him, he’d like the surprise of reading it when you all do. Let’s see what I come up with.

1. This is cute. Len was born in Chicago’s Passavant Memorial Hospital which was the grandparent hospital to Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital - where two of our grandkids were born.

Stories, Q Club, Us

The photo is not by Len or me, its from I Love Canada on FB. I've seen a sky like that just once. 


Last week I read two books about young people who left their homes. They experienced some good and too many rough experiences and they couldn’t go back until they figured out how to not be who they used to be. Both novels knocked my socks off.

The People You Keep by Allison Larkin

Covid Diary #979 - Still Paying Attention?


Yes, it’s been 979 days since Friday the 13th, March 2020, when everything changed.

Last Saturday one of our kids visited for several hours with their kids. It was fun though our kid looked tired. They said they’d taken a Covid test that morning and it was negative. They figured it was the wine and rich foods they’d shared the evening before with friends at the end of a very busy week.

Next Day - What Are You Seeing?


It was a late night last night, wasn’t it? Len worked at a polling place 6:30 AM until 10:30 PM. He said the actual experience is a lot like working retail (which he has not done since he was 22). Stand up most of the time, pleasantly say the same thing over and over. Wonder if lunch is soon.  

Professional reporters and pundits are talking a lot about “what just happened”, but heck, we are noticing interesting things, too.  Let’s talk about what We The People saw and heard and are watching now.

Here are some things catching my attention.

Election Day


So many times I’ve thought things were going to be okay, and then they weren’t. My dad had that heart attack and the kid who was MB back then told herself to not overthink the drama because things always turn out more or less okay. Then the next day he died.

We lost a pregnancy far enough along that we had a name picked out and a crib in which to put that child. For a week I had all the misery and cramps that go with miscarrying and I still thought somehow it was going to work out okay.

That Beep-Beep-Beeping Moment.

In spring Len got a $100 traffic ticket when he turned right at a corner we’ve been turning right at for seven years. However, construction had started and there were orange barrels and cones everywhere – plus a small sign NOT facing the street Len was on, telling drivers to not turn there.

Len went back later that day and took photos. Len called the city to mention that if they posted a sign that actually faced the traffic, the city could save the cost of the cop parked there ticketing drivers.

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