All posts filed under: Featured Ekostories

Hawaiian Island Topography Large

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will

The first place I ever felt at home in was on an island. My grandparents lived on Cheung Chau, an island ten kilometers southwest of Hong Kong. Literally translated as “long isle”, Cheung Chau is shaped like a dumbbell, its two granite masses joined in the middle by a sandbar. As a child I spent weekends and summers there fishing and swimming, and even now the scent of saltspray and sewage sends me back to that grimy old fishing village. This fondness for islands stayed and deepened. When I moved to Canada and started to read English I found myself drawn to Earthsea, the fantasy archipelago world of Ursula K. Le Guin. On each of her conjured isles laid not only magic and adventure, but moods intrinsic to and defined by geography. I connected to Astowell, last land before the open sea; Gont and its snow-capped peak rising up like a sharp spire; Osskil, raven realm, icebound and alien. Many times I have sailed in my mind to the shores of Selidor at the westernmost edge of the world, that …

Hong Kong Cityscape

Place and Memory: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

I’m not sure how to describe Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. It isn’t traditional fiction on a structural level, having no story arc or a defined ending. Nor is it conventional fantasy, doing away with the worlds it creates almost as soon as it forms them. Even the broadest definitions of historical fiction and magical realism don’t quite fit, as Calvino blends real and imagined details into a concoction of seemingly irreverent tales. Invisible Cities is a travelogue to places that do not exist. It is a work that brushes aside conventions of form and narrative to ruminate on ideas of memory and place, touching on everything from trajectory of civilizations to the limits of communication. At times delightfully whimsical and intensely melancholic, Invisible Cities is a testament to the power of an author at the height of his powers to provoke, enthrall, and connect.

The Road Fallen over poles McCarthy

No Nature, No Culture, Only Love: The Road

Over the past few entries, I’ve touched on the importance of staying optimistic in difficult times. This week, I want to look at a story that puts that to the ultimate test, a story in which hope arises from utter despair: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.There are some who read this post-apocalyptic tale only as an ecological parable, a potential scenario if humanity continues to damage the earth’s life support systems. I don’t. McCarthy doesn’t dwell on the cause of his world’s demise, and neither will I. Instead, I’m more interested in exploring the impact of a ruined earth on the human psyche. How do these characters make sense of the world where nature and culture is beyond recovery? How do they cope with constant and unrelenting despair? What compels them to go on when the past is lost, never to return? The Road touches on these difficult questions. Yet despite seeming like the type of story that revels in violence and nihilism, it is really a tale about the very essence of what it means to …

Eric Murtaugh Tidepool Steinbeck Sea of Cortez

From the Tidepool to the Stars: Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez

What was the story that began this journey? That question has been on my mind since I reflected back on the past year of Ekostories. What tale triggered this exploration of nature, culture, and self? After some thought, one story came to the forefront, a surprise contender. It is a work that straddles the boundary between fiction and non-fiction. It is a story that melds science with literature, philosophy with social commentary, art with ethics and adventure. It is John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez. That’s not entirely true. While the cover bears the name of the author of Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath, The Log from the Sea of Cortez was a collaboration between the Nobel prize-winning novelist and marine biologist Ed Ricketts. The book chronicles the two friends’ six-week, four thousand mile marine specimen collecting expedition in the Gulf of California, detailing the adventures, discoveries, and camaraderie as they travel from site to site, passing towns, reefs, isles, and sea. Like the voyage itself, the travelogue allows time …

George Orwell’s Some Thoughts on the Common Toad

As an aspiring essayist, it shames me to admit that I have only recently become familiar with the narrative and critical essays of George Orwell. While I have read his manifesto on clear writing, Politics and the English Language, I remained ignorant on the bulk of his work until a chance meeting with a shelf in a very comfortable section of the library. It was a joy to discover for the first time, Orwell’s quietly devastating account of time spent at a London workhouse in The Spike, his reflections on the ugly facets of colonialism in Shooting an Elephant, and his comment on the futility of vengeance, distilled into one waxy yellow face, in Revenge is Sour. Whatever the subject matter, Orwell had a knack for getting to its root with a concrete metaphor or an unforgettable statement. As an essayist, there is no greater skill than to be able to convey exactly what one intends, vividly and without doubt. For this is the writer’s truth, and Orwell spoke it as well as anyone. Nature appreciation …

Michael Pollan Second Nature: A Gardener's Education Word Cloud 2

Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Part 2

Welcome to part two of the analysis on Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: a Gardener’s Education. In this entry, I’ll focus on my two favourite chapters of the book: Planting a Tree and The Idea of a Garden. The Meaning of a Tree In Planting a Tree, Pollan explores the fascinating and ever-changing cultural significance of a tree. Once again, his reflections come out of his horticultural adventures; the chapter chronicles his thoughts as he decides on the right tree for his yard. The act of tree planting prompts Pollan to delve deep into American history to explore the meanings people have come to attach to the tree: The Divine Tree: Native Americans saw and treated trees as divine spirits, only to be cut down in need. The Tree of Evil: Puritans despised them as symbols for pantheism, danger, and darkness. The Tree as a Weed: New England subsistence farmers regarded them as obstacles to settlement. To them, the clear-cut landscape was viewed as a sign of progress and civilization. The Tree as a Commodity: The …