All posts filed under: Non-fiction

Ekostories in narrative or creative non-fiction.

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 …

Great Horsetail_Luc_Viatour

More Than Ferns: Oliver Sacks’ Oaxaca Journal

When I finished the preface to Oliver Sacks’ Oaxaca Journal and found that the late neurologist and author shared my love for natural history travelogues, I knew I was in for a treat. What I was not expecting to discover was a potential new writing muse and a possible kindred spirit. If you harbour no interest for ferns, travel writing, or Oliver Sacks as a person, this slim tome may not be for you. Luckily, I’m fascinated by all of three elements, and so found Oaxaca Journal an Ekostory well worth exploring.

Elephant eye up close

Bearing Witness: The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs

It began, as it often did, with pronghorns. As a child growing up obsessed with creature comparisons, the main allure of the pronghorn antelope was naturally its cheetah-esque speed, evolved to evade the North American version of the same predatory cat now ghost. Now in latter years and slower-paced days, other characteristics came to the fore: Those long-lashed doe eyes; that sly, set hint of a smile; the pair of ebony horns, sheathed in keratin; the trace of melancholy that comes with knowing that it is the lone survivor from its family, the last of its kin. It was a fortuitous flip to the essay on pronghorns that swayed me to pick up Craig Childs’ The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild. It didn’t take long before I knew I had to write about it. In each intimately wrought tale on antelopes, hawks, and red-spotted toads, I found a writer and translator infinitely more versed in the subtle tongues of the non-human world than I will ever be. Childs honours the weight and magnitude of …

A Boat in the Desert

Look Up: Antoine De Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars

Unlike millions around the world, my first encounter with the works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry did not involve La Petit Prince; I am ashamed to admit that I have not yet read his most famous work. What I have read, and what continues to stay with me, was the man’s memoir and the inspiration for what is arguably one of the most beloved children’s stories in history. Winner of the National Book Award and hailed by National Geographic as one of the Top Ten adventure books of all time, Wind, Sand and Stars (an English translation by Lewis Galantière of Terre des Hommes, or “Land of Men”) is a work I return to when I grow weary or unsure of life. In the brief tome I am lifted by the soaring spirit of a writer at the height of his craft, by a pioneer of an age past who saw a vaster picture and dared to ask the great questions. Within its pages, I find a soul who believed wholeheartedly in human potential, a man open to the simple joys …

Things that Are - Caterpillar

On Whimwhams and Wild Whats: Amy Leach’s Things That Are

One of the reasons I took a break from blogging was to push myself to start reading again. But while I had a mountain backlog from great recommendations, I found myself not being in the headspace to explore new stories. For a while, I was worried that I might not find anything to spark my interest again. Then I stumbled onto this skinny, silly, crazy, exquisite little tome: Amy Leach’s Things That Are. As longtime readers of Ekostories know, I harbour a great fondness for several storytellers: Hayao Miyazaki, for his meticulous world-building and life philosophy; Michael Pollan, with his blend of Thoreau-tinged romanticism and candid introspection; John Steinbeck, for his warmth and compassion toward fellow beings; and of course, Ursula Le Guin, in her treatment of her craft as an ethical endeavour. Their writings and worldviews have in turn shaped my worldview and writing, and for that I hold them in high esteem. Leach has made her way into that select group. At once frivolous and profound, cosmic and intimate, silly and thought-provoking, each piece …

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 …

Orwell Thoughts on the Common Toad Wordle

George Orwell’s Love for 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 …