Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island

The Literary Hill

692
2. “Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island” cover and photo of Melanie Choukas-Bradley. Nature writer Melanie Choukas-Bradley shares a year of observations and insights in “Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island.”

You Say You Want a Revolution?
In writing “The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World,” Lucinda Robb and Rebecca Boggs Roberts have accomplished two admirable goals. They have rescued key figures of the suffragist movement from their images as “old-fashioned historical characters wearing itchy lace and judgy expressions.” And they have created a do-it-yourself manual for young activists (ages 12 and up) who wish to follow in the footsteps of those estimable foremothers.

“In the course of seventy-plus years,” they write, “the suffrage movement had to put up with physical hardship, wars, infighting, determined opposition, and, from the very start, the tiresome task of changing public opinion.” Calling on their deep knowledge of women’s history, the authors document the heroic efforts and setbacks that led to women gaining the right to vote, and they use the suffragists as examples of how a group of determined people can change the world.

They also illuminate some of the “don’ts,” such as when the exclusion of blacks led to a schism in the movement. While they caution about judging historical figures by modern norms, the authors point out that suffrage was supposed to be based on fairness. “It’s just so hypocritical,” they write of this racist episode. “You would think they would have known better.”

Written in a style the authors call “useful and fun, and … definitely irreverent,” “The Suffragist Playbook” is packed with valuable lessons and advice. Set goals, they counsel, do your homework, don’t always do as you’re told, never give up, and, above all, take inspiration from the admirable lives of remarkable women such as Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells.

Lucinda Robb was project director for “Our Mothers Before Us: Women and Democracy, 1789-1920” at the Center for Legislative Archives. Rebecca Boggs Roberts is the author of “Suffragists in Washington, DC: The 1913 Parade and the Fight for the Vote” and co-author of “Historic Congressional Cemetery.”

1. “The Suffragist Playbook” cover and photos of Lucinda Robb and Rebecca Boggs Roberts. Lucinda Robb (left) and Rebecca Boggs Roberts co-author “The Suffragist Playbook,” a manual for young activists who want to change the world.

Nature-Nourished Hearts
Couldn’t we all use some “balm for our troubled and grieving souls” these days? Melanie Choukas-Bradley offers a respite from the “soul-crushing news of the day” through “the healing powers of nature.” In “Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island,” the naturalist invites us along on her year-long journey exploring the waters and woods of this nearby preserve of “wild beauty in the midst of the city.”

In graceful and fluid prose, she describes the bitternut hickory trees, the sneezeweed and woody vines and the ospreys and kingfishers she encounters. Following trains of thought piqued by what she sees, hears and smells, she shares her considerable knowledge and her “gloomy musings” as well as her cheerier “moments of feeling fully alive.” And she expresses her profound gratitude for the health and flexibility that allow her to bask in the serenity of nature. “I wish every stressed and overworked Washingtonian could paddle around Theodore Roosevelt Island on occasion,” she writes.

Choukas-Bradley’s journal begins in July 2016, so her seasonal meditations are also interspersed with thoughts on what’s happening in the world, from the barrage of campaign rhetoric to the election of Donald Trump and “the terrifying lunacy” that his tweets portend. In the end, however, nature prevails. “We can’t cure the political world just now,” she writes, “but we can inhale the fragrance of bald-cypress cones as we dream of better days.”

Calling upon a cadre of botanists, conservationists, geologists – and even family members of Theodore Roosevelt – she fills us in on the history of the island and its abundant flora and fauna. Full of delightful digressions, snippets of poetry and meticulous observations, “Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island” is a perfect guide to feeding our “nature-nourished hearts.”

Melanie Choukas-Bradley leads hikes, tree tours, forest bathing walks and kayak trips in the DC area and beyond. She is the award-winning author of several nature books, including “A Year in Rock Creek Park” and “City of Trees,” and her stories and op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post and other publications. Find more at www.melaniecoukas-bradley.com.

3. “iNK BLOTS, Vol. 1” cover and photo of Mark Fishbein. “iNK Blots” is the first anthology of verse published by poet Mark Fishbein and the DC Poetry Collective.

Nobody Reads Poetry
“Dear Fellow Nobodies,” writes poet Mark Fishbein in his introduction to a new anthology by the DC Poetry Collective. He is taking to task an editor of the New York Times who, when asked why poetry had not been included in an extensive summer reading list, replied, “Because nobody reads it.” As Fishbein and the other poets whose work appears in “iNK BLOTS, Vol. 1” make abundantly clear, poetry is still very much alive – and welcomed by readers now more than ever. In fact, he writes, “[t]he alienation caused by COVID-19 has caused poetry to emerge with new urgency and vitality.”

Fishbein and nine others have contributed more than 60 poems to the anthology, and their stories are as diverse and engaging as their work. Elizabeth Black is a former nurse turned award-winning artist who came late to poetry; she writes eloquently of toads, brown spiders and a dead deer by the side of the road. LKN (pronounced LaKAN) describes himself as a “global poet” who has competed in poetry slams from Singapore to Toronto and shared his poetry in 13 countries; his works challenge convention with their inventive use of language. Rebecca Wener is a global health professional whose poem, “Quarantine (When You Are Already Lonely),” movingly addresses pandemic-induced isolation. And Vadim Kagan, who writes in both English and Russian, reminds us not only that “daisies are as beautiful as ever,” but “[t]hey might save the world.” Other poets include Dana Gittings, Julie Mauer, Martin T. Parker, Zebra Black and Keith David Parsons, whose poem appears in this month’s Poetic Hill.

“iNK BLOTS,” which is the first anthology published by the DC Poetry Collective (www.poetrycollective.com), offers a much-needed infusion of grace and creativity to our pandemic-fatigued souls. The book is dedicated to those who have been most affected by COVID-19, and all proceeds go to Bread for the City, a DC-based charity that provides relief to our city’s low-income residents.

Mark Fishbein has been writing poetry for more than fifty years and currently has five collections of verse available on Amazon. He is also a classical guitarist and serves as “host” of the DC Poetry Collective and monthly virtual readings. www.poewtwithguitar.com