A Review of “Where the Crawdads Sing” from a Naturalist and Psychotherapist’s Perspective

I just finished reading this novel yesterday, and I would name it the best nature-focused novel I have ever read, this from a reviewer who idealized Jane Goodall as a teenager and wanted to grow up to study animal behavior just like her, in nature’s most beautiful and wild places. The author, Delia Owens, shows such sensitivity and intelligence in describing the natural setting as well as her main character.

where the crawdads sing

Kya was left to raise herself in the swamp country of South Carolina, to fill her days with survival skills as well as precise observations of the natural world around her. She loves her animal friends like the gulls. They are her only companions. We slowly see how Kya is uniquely qualified for this vocation as a natural loner who lives to be encapsulated in pure nature. As she grows and spends time with only a few other people, she learns to read and then she learns more and more about animal behavior.

Chimpanzee 2012 filmOne aspect of Kya’s life I found easy to relate to, was how she observed or read about animal behavior to inform her about human behavior. This comes through clearly as she describes the behavior of the lawyers during her trial. Ever since I saw the short nature documentary film Chimpanzee in 2012, released by Disneynature, I see most human behavior through that lens. Most human behavior can be understood by observing chimps in the wild, where they can truly be who they are. Males are naturally more aggressive, females protective of their young. Try watching a football game sometime through this lens and you will see that we are not so different as we think!

After decades of city living, I moved to a home in rural Colorado five years ago, where I find myself quite close to nature. Here I so enjoy the experience of observing changes in myself and how I see and feel the world around me. The best part is the complete silence here and with less reason for fear and daily vigilance, the natural world has unfolded before me, showing that we were made to live close to nature, not close together in cities. I have learned that city life can literally drive us mad. The perceived threats are everywhere in cities so we naturally keep our guard up at all times, not a healthy or natural way to exist.

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Now that I live out in the country, I feel like I have finally begun to live in harmony with each sunrise and sunset. Now I notice the birds’ songs as spring arrives, free from tension and anxiety, a feeling I have never felt before. That often unconscious and yet ever present stress felt in cities is simply gone.

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Inspiration for uncertain older writers (like me!)

Where Crawdads Sing

Have you heard yet the story of Delia Owens? I happened across her story on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday and felt new encouragement. She’s 70 and a loner from way back. Her new and first novel is Where the Crawdads Sing, although she has published non-fiction before (like me). This novel is tough to categorize; it’s a love story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an ode to the outdoors – all in one. It took her the better part of a decade to write, inspiration coming whenever it came.

I love the way she waits for wisdom even in her sleep:

 “I sleep at night with a little pad of paper in my bed with a flashlight and a pen, and I wake up in the middle of the night and write something down,” she said. “Something that I think is brilliant! And then when I wake up in the morning I’ll look at it and half the time I can’t read what I wrote.” A thousand such moments became little scraps of gold, like this one:

“Sand keeps secrets much better than mud.” That one made it into her book.

I found her whole story so inspirational. I also constantly find ideas or quotes popping into my head, especially in the shower, the source of my greatest inspiration. I must have a million snippets of paper like that, and never use these in my books, and the freedom of writing fiction also excites me.

We’ll see if any of these ideas go anywhere, but in the meantime, I love the fantasy!

Puzzle, a near-perfect midlife movie!

If the best measure of the perfect story is to show realistically how the main character can change and grow, than this is the perfect product. I’m happy to see more films recently focused on introvert loners who blossom out into the world in a beautiful way, and this is one of those. We all have unique skills we may not know we have, this is that story.

Puzzle_(2018_film)Agnes (played by Kelly Macdonald) has had no opportunities to develop herself or her unique skills. She is a middle-aged housewife with no self-confidence living in a small town. She is devoted to her church and her husband and grown sons’ needs, hardly ever noticing her own. That is until she realizes how much she loves doing jigsaw puzzles. So she makes a trip into New York City to buy new puzzles, completely out of her comfort zone. While there she happens to see a sign requesting a puzzle pardner. Agnes is a true introvert, not comfortable with strangers, but she loves doing puzzles so much she takes a chance and meets up with Robert (played by Irrfan Khan).

They eventually enjoy many deep, intellectual conversations as Robert keeps encouraging Agnes to become her full Self, brilliant as she is. As he does her priorities change. She discovers the rebel within who soon becomes angry and assertive, discovering and caring most about her own needs for the first time in her life.

Who knew there is a national and world jigsaw puzzle competition? Who knew that “puzzles are a way to control the chaos of the randomness of the world.”

An appropriate sidelight: “Kelly Macdonald’s career began while she was working as a barmaid in Glasgow. She saw a leaflet advertising an open casting session for Trainspotting and decided to audition, winning the part of Diane…”

LOVED this great quote from Wikipedia about this film:

 “They [the puzzlers] fall in love out of their mutual respect and for the ability to see countless random events in their lives taking the shape of a perfect picture similar to the fragments of a jigsaw puzzle. This is due to their realization that at the end of the day there are only right choices no matter how many wrong pieces might have been fit into wrong places. This helps them to discover their inner selves…”  Wikipedia on Puzzle (2018)

New Rules for Retirement: Do it NOW!

No one gets out of this alive. With retirement, you have more time to do the things you love, but the extra time is wasted unless you use it productively and actually live your dreams. Make that phone call to let someone know you are thinking of them. Better yet, go visit. Mend fences, hug, show appreciation, be kind to people. Don’t be complacent; you never know when the people you thought would be there forever will be gone.

Money is overrated. Money is a tool. To see it as anything else is folly. Yes, we all need some, but money is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Spend wisely and then let it go.

Time is your most valuable asset. You only get so much, and that is it. You can’t hoard it. You can’t get it back. You can’t turn back the clock. The best you can do is to start investing your time wisely.

Stop searching for happiness. The only place you can be happy is in the present. Stop chasing tomorrow and fully experience happiness today.

Your bucket list is crap. Putting things on a bucket list can be just another way of deferring your aspirations. Sure, go ahead and make a list but remember: Life goes on while you are busy making other plans.

Comfort is overrated. Keep pushing yourself and trying new things. Challenge yourself to more growth, not less. If you get disabled in one area, develop other ones!

Go with your feelings. No need to justify anything you want to do. It is OK to do things solely because you want to. Take dance lessons. Learn to play the zither. Who cares about the critics?

You are responsible. You get to choose how you respond to everything. Yes, everything. Your response to anything is a choice. You get to choose what matters. You didn’t get this far to keep jumping through other people’s hoops. Don’t forget the importance of yourself.

You can’t make others happy. You can listen. You can be kind. You can smile. You can respect. You can offer assistance. You can contribute tools, but everyone is responsible for their own happiness.

past better not bitterLet it go. Everyone has regrets, but don’t live a life of sorrow. The past is gone; find a way to come to terms with it. If you need to call up those from your past, do it and get it over with. Today is all we really have.

Stop complaining. Most people don’t care about your problems; some are happy you have them. Complaining only serves to keep negatives at the center of your life.

Your aspirations mean nothing if you don’t make an effort to realize them. Take action to get the things you want TODAY.

Ambition can be a killer. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t going to be No. 1 in everything you do. Breathe, and be satisfied, with the act of living today. Don’t let blind ambition cause you to lose sight of what is important. Savour all of life’s moments, even the bad ones, because you only get so many and you may wish you had paid more attention.

Take care of yourself. You aren’t much use to yourself or anyone else if you don’t. Looking out for your health and happiness is not the same as being selfish. This is fundamental.

It is OK to fail. Failure is part of life. Failure teaches us valuable lessons. In fact, we learn more from our failures than our successes.

You don’t have to wait for an apology to forgive. We have all been wronged at one time or another. Waiting for an apology from someone who may never offer one is a waste of life. Who cares? Hell, if this is a gray area and it’s possible the other person is waiting for an apology from you, apologize first. What does it matter? Life is too precious to play those kind of games.

Negativity wastes life. Being positive and optimistic in the present has a favorable impact on the future. Yes, bad things happen, but so do good ones. Remember, what you focus on grows.

Be curious. See both sides. Stubbornness is not strength. When given new information, intelligent people research it further. Is it true? Spend the time to read, develop and evolve your opinions. We grow when we can admit we are wrong. Your life stagnates when you are wrong, but you refuse to admit it.

Have you ever been wild and free?

Emma Thompson in The Children ActI watched an amazing film last night, and this question came from it. “The Children Act” is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. My gift to you this holiday season is to tell you that you must see it. There is nothing simple about this multi-layered plot, which investigates the complex emotions of human existence and relationships. Emma Thompson also delivers one of her best and most heart-felt performances in this film, which caused me to begin to ponder, when in my own life have I truly felt wild and free?

I have known only fleeting moments of “wild and free” most of my life. At the time I called these glimpses “zen moments” when everything seemed exactly as it should be. I loved that feeling of  finally being in the right place at the right time to experience this golden moment.

Then, in a shocking revelation last night, I realized that it is only now, in my sixties, that I regularly feel both wild and free. Now I can finally stop thinking about how others might judge me, and simply make my own choices. Everyday I again choose to be me, feeling safe and nurtured enough to reveal my authentic self, handing myself more freedom. What a refreshing way to live…

snowy Winter Solstice

I gave myself freedom in the past few years. That’s pretty wild, isn’t it?

Local Talk by Me!

Mike on old tree up at build site 2014

MIKE NEXT TO ONE OF OUR FAVORITE TREES!

I would like to invite any of you who live here locally, to my presentation at the La Veta Public Library this Thursday at 2PM. My theme is “What’s it like to move here?” We can discuss the ins and outs of moving to rural Colorado, how passive solar works, and anything else that comes up!

Louis L’Amour and Golden Aspen, Autumn in Southern Colorado!

I’ve been enjoying a Louis L’Amour novel this fall, while also indulging myself in some amazing quaking aspens.

aspen 2018 near Blanca Peak

Up above Cuchara near Cordova Pass…

back of Blanca Peak with golden aspen 2018

and up by Blanca Peak! Now is the BEST TIME to see these beauties!

Have you ever read the novel Conagher? A friend bought me a copy and said I had to read it, so I did. She said it reminded her of her dilemma since she moved here a few years ago. She loves the silence and isolation of her new life in the mountains, but sometimes craves companionship with someone special.

Conagher book

I thought Mr. L’Amour only wrote about the men of the West, but this novel is about a lonely female settler in rural New Mexico in the late 1800s who finds an ingenious way to connect with lonely cowboys. She even finally finds love way out in the middle of nowhere and just by chance. I love Mr. L’Amour’s descriptions of the beautiful but lonely West. Here’s a few lines from the main character Evie:

“She never tired of the morning and evenings here, the soft lights, the changing colors of sunlight and cloud upon the hills, the stirring of wind in the grass. Out here there was no escaping the sky or the plains, and Evie knew that until she came west she had never really known distance.”

I find it interesting how this character somehow captures my own feelings after just a year or so of living here, giving a marvelous explanation of how one adjusts to the silence and beauty of this powerful and yet desolate landscape:

Sunrise through snowy trees January 2018

“Evie Teale suddenly became aware of something else. For the first time she was at peace here, really at peace. She had believed the land was her enemy, and she had struggled against it, but you could not make war against a land any more than you could against the sea. One had to learn to live with it, to belong to it, to fit into its seasons and its ways…”