In On an Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge, Robert Dash directs the lens of an electron microscope toward the universe on his doorstep. This enables him to bring into view an otherwise invisible world. He describes his impression of this vision: “I am stunned that a space this small can have a library this large.”
In the preface to his book, Dash suggests that he considers the book to be a sequel to Blake’s lines, “To see the world in a grain of sand”. If Dash’s intention is to inspire awareness in readers, he has realized his wish. I, personally, was spellbound by the vitality evident in a speck of pollen. My awe was intensified by successive pictures that together revealed the logic in nature’s purpose.
It is often suggested, by medical professionals and seers, that people look inwards to understand themselves, and to find peace. Mr. Dash demonstrates that perhaps looking out, very closely, may be as inspiring an exercise. There, on our doorsteps, an extension of our own existence may be discovered.
One photo that is particularly effective shows the underside of a tree leaf. In vivid color, we see stomata carrying on their function. This function is as essential to human life as it is to the life of the tree. Stomata inhale as we exhale, and exhale as we inhale. It is the same breath, exchanged and returned, between plant and human. We sustain each other.
Mr. Dash writes poetry to accompany his pictures. The poetry is unaffected and expressive. I especially enjoyed “Moon Came By”, in which the moon drops “gold light on rowdy black waves”. The imagery is original, and memorable. As charming as the writing is, though, it is not necessary to the book. The heart of this book, its life, is in the pictures.
On an Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge is a visually striking and conceptually unique book. I highly recommend it.
On June 27, 1950 Harry Truman ordered American forces into South Korea. The purpose of this action was to help repel North Korean troops that had crossed the 38th Parallel. It would be two and half months before significant reinforcements would be sent to buttress the small American contingent. By the time these fresh recruits arrived, the hero of this book, Private Philip Thomas Hughes of the 19th Infantry, 24th Infantry Division, had fallen. His demise came just three days before the U. N. intervention and a mere twelve days after his eighteenth birthday. The Battle of Turkey Thicket, by Christopher Russell, offers insight into the chaotic early days of the Korean War and provides an explanation for how young Philip Hughes found himself at the front line in a war for which he, and the United States, were poorly prepared
In writing this book, Russell has done a service to every soldier who ever fought in war. The details of Philip Hughes’ life are often murky. This was a boy who was not born to advantage. He was orphaned as an infant and sent to live in an institution. At the age of two, he was adopted. From the account of this book, it seems that the circumstances in that adoptive home were not conducive to a happy childhood.
Philip, and his brother, Frank, ran away in 1949, when they were teenagers. After that, neither boy was welcome back home. They ended up in a reformatory, though they had not committed a serious offense. Their mother simply found them to be unmanageable, so she turned them over to the state. Under the circumstances, the military seemed like a reasonable option to Philip. The country was not at war, he would have the opportunity to travel, and he would receive training. His mother did not object.
Philip was sent overseas, to Japan, where U. S. Occupation forces were supervising Japan’s post-WWII transition. It was while he was in Japan that the North Korean incursion occurred. Philip and other soldiers stationed in Japan were sent into combat. These soldiers were not seasoned fighters. Battlefield equipment was left over from WWII and it was not in great shape. Supply transport for the soldiers in the field was haphazard. The troops were cold, hungry and sometimes actually lost in the rough South Korean terrain. Clean water was in short supply, sanitation was “abysmal” and medical care was substandard. According to Christopher Russell, “During the first year of the Korean War, 60 percent of U. S. troop evacuations were disease related.”
Russell has ably managed a difficult task in writing this book. He has researched the scant details of Philip Hughes life and has noted when sections of the book are not supported by the record. Much of the narrative is derived from extrapolation or third person accounts. Russell does not blur the line between what he knows for certain and what is likely to have happened. As a result, the reader is grateful that the story as told can be relied upon. Still…there is a desire to know more about the young soldier. To Russell’s credit, he does not give in to the temptation to fill in the blanks with a faux account.
I wish everyone would read this book. The Korean War is largely forgotten in the United States, although Korea is much in the news these days. Millions of civilians were killed or wounded during the war. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers fell in battle. Approximately 36,700 of the fallen were American. And yet, the fallen, to many Americans, are a minor footnote to history. Christopher Russell’s book reminds us that the lives of the fallen matter, and that their sacrifice should be honored.
The Battle of Turkey Thicket is the story of an orphan, of a soldier, of an American War. I highly recommend this book.
“Park Bridge” by Zora Steenson, used with permission of Mary Steenson. Copyright protected.
Art Alone Enduring is a poignant story of two sisters, Hughberta and Zora Steenson, who were social pioneers and artists. Zora established herself as a freelance artist when most women did not work outside of the home. Hughberta joined the Marine Corp during WWII and became one of the first women ever admitted into that branch of the service. Both women created brilliant art that is just today beginning to gain well-deserved recognition. Art Alone Enduring offers vivid color reproductions of this work. The pictures alone are worth the price of the book.
Mary H. Steenson, author of Art Alone Enduring, is related to the Steenson sisters by marriage. Her husband, Robert, was their nephew and helped to oversee their care near the end of their lives. The journey traveled by these sisters is one that takes readers through Depression-era hardship, WWII and the post-war boom in the United States.
This book is loosely based on the lives of Zora and Hughberta, but it is also a work of imagination. It is impossible to separate the known details from the fictional embellishments. No matter. Ms. Steenson has created a viable vehicle for introducing two remarkable artists to the public. These sisters began their lives in the Midwest and ended, many years later, in a Tacoma, Washington nursing home.
Hughberta was the younger sister, filled with sibling rivalry. Zora was the protective older sister. After drifting apart and finding their separate destinies, the sisters reunited in midlife and stayed together until Zora was removed to nursing care. They did not remain apart for long. A determined and resourceful Hughberta found her way into the nursing home and stayed with Zora for the rest of her days.
In 1998, Hughberta died after a bout with the flu. Zora lived on for another three years. Today, the sisters are buried together near their parents’ graves, in Minnesota.
I recommend strongly that readers seek out the art of Hughberta and Zora. Their work is arresting and unforgettable. A website maintained by Mary Steenson, maryhsteenson.com, displays some of their pieces.
Art Alone Enduring is a lovely book, a delight to hold and peruse. It is the sort of book that reminds us why sometimes reading the physical copy of a book is an experience that cannot be matched by consuming the material through an electronic device.