Saturday, September 23, 2023

Volcanic Adventures in Tonga by Ann Goth


    In the year 1991 Ann Goth travelled to a volcanic island in Tonga, a tropical place with no running water or electricity. Her purpose was to study an endangered species: the Malau birds. She was only twenty-one years old when she made the decision to settle there for two years with her boyfriend, Ivo, to do their research and protect the species.

 As a conservation enthusiast and a biology student, Ann may have been inspired by other women.  Jane Goodall had traveled to Tanzania to study chimpanzees in the wild thirty-one years earlier; Dian Fossey had flown to Rwanda in 1967 to understand the intricate lives of the mountain gorillas; Birute Galdikas reached one of the wildest places in Indonesian Borneo in 1971, along with her then-husband, Rod Brindamour.

  How did Ann and Ivo manage to get the support they needed to reach such a remote island in the South Pacific? How did they even survive on that island? How did they adapt to the culture of the local people to be able to accomplish their goals? What did they do to tackle the distrust they would face there?

 Patience, curiosity and a love for adventure were the pillars of their determination.

 I was impressed by how sensitive and careful they were in their interactions with the local people. They painstakingly studied their beliefs, conventions and customs to be able to communicate with them and gain their trust and support. They needed their cooperation to protect the Malau birds and to learn about them.

  Volcanic Adventures in Tonga narrates the journey that led her to become an international authority on megapodes. The Malau birds bury their eggs in the warm soil close to a volcano. People in Tonga used to unearth the eggs to eat them. This action contributed to their endangered status back then. Now the birds face new threats…


Ann and Ivo had to adapt to the precarious living conditions and the food the region offered. They lived in a simple hut that had been made by weaving fronds of the coconut palm. This is a vivid account of their experiences, discoveries, disappointments and rewards. 

  Dr. Goth does not even hide the grueling challenges of dealing with one of her supervisors, who had different objectives and threatened to revoke the visa that allowed Ann and Ivo to stay on the island.


  The kingdom of Tonga consists of 171 named islands, but only 36 of them are inhabited. Volcanic Adventures in Tonga reminds us of the deep interconnection and interdependence that exist between the people and their environment. Human beings' coexistence with other species is part of that relationship. 

  I thank Dr. Goth for sharing her book with me for My Writing Life: awareness, reflection, inspiration. Her book won the Literary Titan Book Award.

   Dr. Ann Goth decided to write about her experiences in Tonga thirty years after her stay there, and this is her memoir. The letters she wrote to her mother during that time helped to shape her story, and kudos to her mother for having typed the letters that keep the details of her scientific work and adventures.

 I asked Dr. Goth to answer a few questions about her book for My Writing Life. I appreciate her time, knowledge and enthusiasm.

1)Why did you choose the Malau bird to do your research?

For two reasons. First, because the Malau is endangered and I wanted to help save an endangered bird. Second, because, among the birds, this one is highly unique and special. It is one of the very few birds in the world which does not sit on their eggs to incubate them and instead uses external heat sources for incubation. The Malau uses the volcano for this purpose. And what is even more amazing: the chicks have no contact with their parents and live all by themselves. They are the most precocial chicks in the world. 


2)Are you still in touch with people from Tonga? Did you share your book with them?

For many years, I have been writing letters back and forth with our family on Tin Can Island and the fishermen we worked with. This has ceased after about 10 years.  I have also sent some goods to our adopted family after the terrible volcanic eruption in 2022, and I did, of course, send several copies of my book to both this family and the school on the island. I have not heard back from them yet, but mail in Tonga is slow and this may take quite some months. I am also sharing the news about my book with the Tongan community on various Facebook pages.  


3) In your book you mention that people in Tonga are no longer into the habit of digging out eggs, thankfully. Is this a result of greater awareness of the effects of this deleterious action? 

I do not know the exact reasons but suspect there may be two motives behind this. One is the fact that digging out the eggs is very hard and sweaty work, especially in the humid tropical climate on this island. Younger people may be less inclined to do so. The other fact is that, hopefully, the awareness programs about the plight of the Malau have contributed to a heightened awareness about the negative effect of collecting too many eggs. 


4) In what ways is climate change affecting the livelihoods and health of the people in Tonga today? (Feel free to explain how they are dealing with the challenges).

I have devoted a whole last chapter in my book to this topic, which provides more detail than I can give here. In summary, climate change in the South Pacific does not only mean that islands become flooded and people lose their place to live. It also means that their drinking water gets inundated with salt water and becomes unsafe to consume, that the soil becomes salty and useless for growing crops, and that their lives are at risk from increased disease, cyclones, heatwaves, and droughts. The more frequent cyclones damage the coral reefs where people fish for food and they destroy important crops such as coconuts, bananas and breadfruit. I finish my chapter with a positive note from Will Turner, senior scientist at Conservation International: "We can still make a difference, but we must act now!". 


Feel free to check Dr. Goth's website:

Saturday, September 16, 2023

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen


 This book is addictive. Once you start it, you can’t put it down. Astrid and her thirteen-year-old son live in a van with their gerbil, Horatio, in Vancouver, Canada. They are homeless. Despite the drama of their experiences, Nielsen makes the story humorous and fun. This is a fast-paced read, but the depth of it is evident in the characters and the plot.

 This is the kind of book you want to finish because you desperately want to know what happens to the characters, who are quirky and interesting. Nielsen makes them jump off the page. I am convinced I've met them in person.

 Felix is Astrid’s son. “Felix” means lucky and successful. He is very smart and has an excellent memory. His best friends at school are Dylan and Winnie. Winnie is one of my favorite characters, and I love how their friendship unfolds. At the beginning it irked me to read that Dylan and Felix made fun of Winnie, but then they all became inseparable friends. Winnie is socially and environmentally conscious. She is empathetic and authentic. She ignores the bullying altogether and keeps working on her goals and motivations.

  No Fixed Address will keep you on tenterhooks till the end.

   The story is told from Felix’s point of view in the form of a diary. The narrative is compelling. As I read the novel the city of Vancouver became vivid in my mind. 

 The author did not give the characters a break. Every day is a challenge of unpredictable proportions. The hurdles that Felix and Astrid encounter make the reader seethe with anger, and, to make matters worse, Astrid keeps getting in trouble, so the story becomes even more riveting as you approach the end.

 No Fixed Address made me think about the intersection between homelessness and domestic violence. It also made me wonder about the vulnerability of homeless women and the violence they have to endure. I searched for reporting on these subjects but I found very little information. There was an article from a San Francisco journal about the violence that homeless women endure in the city of San Francisco, but it is not a free access article that I can share. I also found an article from The Guardian about the plight of women in UK who have to choose between being homeless or staying with an abuser because of the lack of social support in their system. I was astonished by the lack of reporting on this critical issue, but then I realized that the main media outlets are dominated by men. Furthermore, research has shown that 90 percent of both men and women globally are biased against women. It is probably easier to sell articles that vilify women than to bring the spotlight on issues of gender inequity and inequality.

  The end of No Fixed Address is satisfying and hopeful. My eyes were two water fountains... I daresay that it is a happy ending, because happy does not mean perfect. The story highlights the power of kindness, human connection and empathy.

 This book is classified as young adult fiction. I recommend it to teenagers and adults of all ages, and I hope the author will write a second book to let us know how these endearing characters are doing.


Links related to this post:

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Great Quiet by Bekkah Frisch


  From 1966 to 1998 France conducted 193 nuclear tests in the Polynesian islands. The impact of this action continues to be revealed today. The nuclear tests were brought to an end because of the fierce protests of the local people, who ended up suffering the disastrous consequences of the fallout.

  The Great Quiet is a novel that sheds light on the ways political decisions are enmeshed with the health and personal lives of people.

   Manu is a widower whose fourteen-year-old daughter, Ari, is diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a condition that tends to happen in older adults. Her best friend, Natua, will be inspired to do what it takes to support her through this ordeal. The plot of the story centers on the struggles and challenges the two teenagers navigate as they try to support each other.  Angela, Natua’s single mother, works to keep her family afloat while she contends with irreversible health issues. The family secrets she keeps away from her son are revealed at the end of the novel.

  The Great Quiet is about resilience, family bonds, friendship and how the dynamics of relationships can change and grow over time. The novel uncovers the effects of corruption and exposes the deep interconnection between human health and the environment. The story transports us to the wondrous landscapes of a Polynesian island, sharing insights into its wildlife and plants. As the plot unfolds, the reader can appreciate how the setting blends with the characters’ emotions, motivations and experiences.

 Natua and Ari try to practice a dance that seems to symbolize their desire to hold onto their culture and celebrate it.

 Ari makes a trip to Paris to seek treatment, so some events take place there. The Great Quiet by Bekkah Frisch motivated me to learn about the nuclear tests performed by France and the ongoing consequences of the subterfuge. To learn more about nuclear tests and their effects, feel free to check the links at the end of this post.

 I thank the author for kindly sharing the book with me for My Writing Life: awareness, reflection, inspiration.


Links related to this post:

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do by Marc Bekoff


 I devoured this fascinating book about dogs. Marc Bekoff is a dog lover and an ethologist. Ethology is the science that studies animal behavior. I am always curious to learn more about dogs; I am enthralled by the ways my furry friends surprise me through their understanding of human language and expressive gazes. The communication that ensues when we genuinely care to pay attention to them leads to a more peaceful and meaningful coexistence.

  The first point to remember is that each dog is a unique individual. Marc Bekoff makes it clear at the beginning of his remarkable book: “As I will discuss, it’s wrong to talk about ‘the dog’ as if all dogs were the same. They’re not. Dogs are as individual as people, and learning to care for your dog means paying attention to your dog, discovering his/her likes or dislikes, and so on.”

  At least 67 percent of American households own a pet, and dogs are the most popular one. Sixty-five million households in the US own a dog, and stats show that there is an increase in the numbers of dog adoptions in other countries of the world.

  Marc Bekoff sensed the need to write a book about their cognitive, emotional and moral lives. Canine Confidential inspires us to be excited for this endless field of exploration. There is still a lot to be learned about dogs.

 Food, water and shelter are not enough. Building a relationship of love, trust and support is crucial for a healthy existence.

  Did you know that dogs can understand hundreds of words?

  Like human beings, dogs require mental stimulation and physical exercise. Taking dogs out for regular walks is essential, and we need to let them explore everything through their sense of smell, which is highly developed in dogs. This exploration is an important source of stimulation and learning. (I don’t understand why some humans deny dogs their basic right to go out for walks and explore the territory as much as they need to).  Tail wagging is another interesting subject of the book.

 Marc Bekoff prefers to use the word “teach” instead of “train” when he talks about the education of dogs. Unfortunately, in the United States of America anybody can call himself or herself a trainer, so he urges people to use caution when they choose a person for such a purpose. Transparency is one feature that should be sought for to make sure that the dog is in safe hands. Bekoff shares the experience of an acquaintance whose puppy was killed by a so-called “trainer” in the state of Florida.

 When we teach dogs, we have to do so with respect, love and kindness—being bossy is not a good option. Also, a sense of dominance over the dog should be avoided.

  Researchers refer to dogs as “social catalysts”. The reason for this is that they foster connections between people. Marc Bekoff loves to visit dog parks because he learns a lot about dogs and people in these places, although he acknowledges that not every dog likes to visit dog parks, and their wishes should be respected.

 Dogs grease the way for people to open up to one another, and this seems particularly true at dog parks. Most people go to dog parks to let their dogs have fun and meet other dogs, but people wind up meeting one another, too.”

  It was reassuring to read Canine Confidential because I know that taking the time to observe my furry friends helps me to develop a solid relationship with them.  It is enlightening and fun to watch their quirks and actions and to get to understand their unique individualities. Dogs sense the world differently; Canine Confidential delves into this crucial topic to gain insight into their behaviors.

  Dogs help human beings in various ways, but this should not give humans a pass to abuse them. Seventy-five percent of the dogs of the world are still struggling to survive. Although Marc Bekoff highlights the progress that has been made across the world in this regard, he also educates us on the multiple ways in which dogs continue to be abused and treated with cruelty.

 People still breed dogs who they know will have short and likely miserable lives because of inbreeding and selecting for traits that make it difficult for them to breathe or walk. These people are breeding for beauty over health…at the cost of empathy. At Texas A & M University, dogs are intentionally bred with deformities to study various forms of muscular dystrophy. Many of these experimental dogs are profoundly crippled by six months of age, and half of them don’t live more than ten months.”


 It is necessary to educate ourselves to do our best to advocate for dogs. In advocating for dogs, we are building bridges of kindness toward one another and toward other non-human animals.

I hope Canine Confidential will inspire people to treat dogs with respect and to celebrate their existence with consideration and love.



Monday, August 21, 2023

California Dreaming by Lily Iona MacKenzie


 The Capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”- Julia Margaret Cameron

  Mrs. MacKenzie’s poetry is an exquisite dance of words on the crevices of both pain and joy. She grew up on a farm in Canada, where her surroundings inspired her to see the beauty in everything.  

 It is not easy to summon up a common thread to all these poems.

 A number of poems at the beginning reflect on the inquisitive nature of the art; the last few poems of the collection seem to harmonize with the first section, for the poet conjures up questions that lack answers.

  A section is dedicated to the impact of Covid-19, and another one deals with a lyrical exploration of emotions. Her words carve a gentle trail into the soul of the reader.

  There is an array of her poems that meditates on the power of specific masterpieces by Matisse, Vermeer and other artists. The images of the paintings are included, so one gets to “see” the poems through her words.

 The musical rhythm of her verses along with the ingenuous quirks embedded in some of her poems assemble to create a unique style of expression. I think the magic of her poetry is also revealed in the variety of themes and elements she offers.

 I find the author intriguing. I have added one of her novels to my reading list: Freefall: A Divine Comedy.

 Lily Iona Mackenzie’s literary works have appeared in more than 160 literary magazines, and she teaches literature and creative writing at the University of San Francisco, California.

This lady's enigmatic gaze has captivated the attention of various generations of people. Mrs. Mackenzie traces the energy of this intriguing painting by Johannes Vermeer in one of her poems. I will share a fragment of it:

“It’s the contrasts

that make her enigmatic.

Her lips hover on the verge of sensuality,

her expression

chaste as well as inviting,

pale skin

lit from within.


A force of nature, she can’t be contained

for long in that frame, watching

the world pass her by.”


 One could say that Mrs. Mackenzie’s poetry celebrates the power of art, so I expected Mrs. Mackenzie would transcend the boundary of focusing on the female artistic muse and include the artworks of women artists as well. My curiosity propelled me to search for them in her collection, but I was sad and disappointed to see that no poem was dedicated to the masterpieces of women artists.

 Women artists have worked as hard as men to create their masterpieces. If we celebrate art, shouldn’t we celebrate the art of women artists as well?

 Unfortunately, biases against women artists continue to be alive and well.

 According to a website from Yale University, research has shown that women’s art appears less frequently than men’s art at auctions and galleries. A study of Yale Art School graduates over 120 years suggests that institutions pose bigger obstacles than market participants. If you attend art auctions or wander through an art gallery or museum, you will find that the majority of artworks is likely to be by men.

 One study found that men’s work made up 96 percent of art sold at auctions around the world from 2000 to 2017.  This may be due to the biases of buyers, curators or museum managers against women’s works. Institutional barriers may play a role too.

 Women’s names are still less likely to be mentioned in books, so there is less awareness on their works. Therefore, curators need to work harder to support women that are not in the spotlight. The biases against women artists have been well documented, and I am sharing a few links at the bottom of this post to help you learn about this important issue.


  California Dreaming was published by Shanti Arts Press.

 I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Thank you for visiting My Writing Life blog, a space of awareness, reflection, inspiration.

 Till next month.


Supplementary reading material:

Monday, August 14, 2023

Ride Cycle The World by Eyewitness


  I am thankful to live in a place where drivers are respectful to bikers. I use my bike as a means of transportation whenever I can. It fills my heart with joy to see the smiles of children as they persuade their mothers to get out on their bicycles instead of using their car.

 The rippling effects of biking go beyond a simple ride. I cherish the sense of freedom and lightness biking affords, for it expands the mind and invigorates the body. Whether you choose a quiet ride by the pine trees, a jaunt through the countryside or the exploration of a city, you get the chance to appreciate the experience of being fully present, to absorb the unique beauty of each scene, and to inhale the scents with a curious mindset.  


You become motivated to welcome the surroundings with a renewed sense of wonder and delight.


 Ride Cycle the World takes the adventure to a new dimension: it invites us to use the bicycle for journeys across the globe.

 In this book you will find ideas to take your bike across various landscapes and cultures. There are practical recommendations, photographs and maps to inspire everyone. You can choose the routes that suit you.

 I haven’t finished this book because I like to savor it slowly. Every night before going to sleep I read three pages from Ride Cycle The World to go on an imaginary ride somewhere. Every page awakens the mystery of a new adventure, offering a path, trail, or road that regales you with ideas on what to enjoy about a specific place that will lead you to discover new sites and opportunities to rejoice.


  The book takes you to every continent except Antarctica… I don’t know if I will ever make these trips, but the marvel of any ride—even if it’s close to home—creates more space to dream and to relish the magic of every moment through a deeper perception.

  Who doesn’t love the excitement of reaching a special peaceful spot? When the city gets too noisy and crowded, a bike can help us find a place that leaves us in awe, a sanctuary where the mind rests and restores itself, where we feel a deeper communion with Mother Nature.


 Have fun reading more posts/blogs related to bicycling:

Bicycling with Butterflies, a review of Sara Dykman's book

Thursday, August 3, 2023

The Creative Lives of Animals by Carol Gigliotti


  How do non-human animals’ creative processes contribute to the diversity of the planet we share? This question guided Carol Gigliotti through the maze of writing The Creative Lives of Animals. I had this book in my reading list before it won the 2023 Nautilus Book Award in the category of Animals and Nature, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn about this recognition.

  The author examines the scientific research on the multiple ways non-human animals create, blending into her narrative  insights, reflections and memorable personal experiences.

 Based on her detailed work of research, Gigliotti asserts that animals are creative in ways that are similar to humans and decidedly unique.

 Before delving into the examples of creativity in animals, she explores the concept of creativity, acknowledging some of the qualities that make up the mosaic of creativity, such as flexibility, curiosity, intelligence, persistence and comfort with complexity. Her book also reflects on how creativity intersects with empathy, cooperation and morality.

 The creative process engages emotional aspects as well as cognitive ones.

 If you created anything, whether that something is a favorite recipe, a garden plan, or a new app, you know that thoughts about the past, the future, and the feelings of others often arise in the creative process you used to make that dish, plan that garden, or design that new app, and may influence it.”

  Traditional views of creativity used to be restricted to focus on the most celebrated human artists, scientists and innovators, but the concept has expanded to appreciate the creativity of ordinary individuals and the cooperation among groups of people. How can creativity play a role in a community and impact a culture? How does creativity manifest in the world in ways that go beyond the human contribution?

 The creativity of animals exists on the individual, group, species and ecosystem level, and the loss of an individual animal is the loss of that individual’s contribution to those interactions.”

 We are only one species out of millions of species who inhabit the earth. The chapters of the book describe acts of creativity in various species of animals. 

 Over the last five years research has evolved considerably in the field of animal behavior. Non-human animals are no longer viewed as automatons that follow natural instincts but as complex individuals with personalities, intelligence, emotions, and even aesthetic sensitivity.  There is still a lot to be learned about their complexity.

  I made the decision to focus on the creativity of animals not in comparison or in contrast to human creativity but to see both as part of a ‘deep source’ of encompassing creativity.

 One of the most memorable experiences she shares in The Creative Lives of Animals takes us back to a remote mysterious place where the lives of humans are deeply intertwined with those of animals. Respect and knowledge are at the core of their coexistence. Her days there “opened her eyes to animals as members of families and cultures”. Gigliotti stayed with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais in the village of Klemtu on the island of Princess Royal in northern British Columbia, home to the Spirit Bear. There are still no roads there. “The ratio of humans to land is quite low and so, compared to many places on earth, untouched by humans.” The unemployment rate was reduced from eighty percent to ten percent. Money is used to protect the people and the animals, and to sustain their communities. The Coastal Guardian Watchmen protect the wolves, bears, raptors and other animals from trophy hunting.

 Gigliotti spent many hours talking to the people at Klemtu to understand the relationship between the community of indigenous people and the animals who inhabit the tribal lands.

  Animals that are considered “ferocious”, evil” or “hunting trophies” by other human cultures are treated with respect in Klemtu. Doug, a former chief leader, as well as other bandmates are very knowledgeable about bears and other animals in the region, and their curiosity and understanding of bears contribute to a peaceful coexistence.  For example, they understand the bears’ reactions to different colors. They’d researched this by wearing different-colored clothes on different days.

  After an interesting journey by tugboat through glacier-carved fjords, a visitor asked Doug about a case he had been carrying. The visitor was convinced it was a gun. Nothing could be further from the truth. The case contained a camera. Guns would have made things tense; bears and other animals would have treated them with distrust if Doug had been carrying a gun. Those were not needed.

  Perhaps her book will inspire humans to embrace ideas and actions that appreciate and respect the unique lives of animals as contributors to the diversity of the world. This intriguing book will hopefully encourage the newer generations of people to open up in the direction of new paths of cooperation and empathy not only toward non-human animals but also toward each other.

 I am sharing a couple of videos about the region and culture I mentioned in my post: Klemtu.

This one is about bears in Klemtu:

This one is about  how they have addressed unemployment and so much more:



If you enjoyed this post, you may be inclined to read my reviews on the following books:

The Wisdom of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher.

Sweet inTooth and Claw by Kristin Ohlson.