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No Other Way Paperback – May 31, 2012
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"It combines a fictional story together with an Audubon guidebook..." - Dew on the Kudzu"
"While the young author lacks Hiaasen's dark sense of humor, he shares his tree-hugging passion. It's a good bet No Other Way would bring a smile to Hiassen's face -- and yours." - Sarasota Herald-Tribune
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For a more detailed review, see my blog post: [...]
Following a proclamation of a nature-centered novel, what should be mentioned is that No Other Way makes moralizing about our sacred world entertaining. It's a work that doesn't resemble an episode of Captain Planet or a high-kitsch early nineteen-nineties' kids' movie. No Other Way relates to how its main character, Samuel Leaton, thrives in the outdoors, almost alone. Samuel is a nature photographer, a man willing to live off the grid with no cell phone reception or a prayer against indifferent serpents or accidents.
He kneeled in the dark space, took the small tarp from his rucksack and folded it atop the layer of pine needles. He tilted the mug, sipping the last of the coffee, including the crunchy grind sediment the filter didn't catch. Some of it stayed on his tongue, grainy and bitter, before he swallowed it down. He put the empty thermos into one of the compartments before taking out the 200 mm long lens and clicking it onto his favorite camera, an older digital Nikon. The Nikon was a few inches bigger, and heavier than the newer models, and Samuel liked the sturdiness of it. He set the 300 mm lens on top of the pack where he could reach. The two plates of egg-and-bacon that he ate at the hotel would be wearing off soon. He took out two granola bars from the side compartment.
Waiting it out, leaning against the back of the old three-walled hunting station, he was grateful for the half-rotten, weathered structure that stood between him and the ptttt plunk plunk of the rain beginning to fall on the rusted roof.
He sat with his back against the shelter, his arms around his knees so only a few drops of the rain slanting down into the black soil splashed onto his boots. The wind came through in an unsteady whistle. It was high-pitched, silencing all other sounds, and then hesitant but rhythmic. Without the motion of the hike to keep him warm, the photographer of birds rubbed his hands together.
That lengthy excerpt is Samuel's world: Nikons, cups of coffee and rain drops. Samuel is a man who has lost human interaction after his wife, Lorine, died of cancer. He's in hiding, in a manner of speaking. After his wife died, Samuel threw himself into his hobby, and embraced his love: nature photography, to seek out the countless mulligans in the form of birds. For Samuel, photography is a means to capture another sort of life, and capturing birds in his camera's sensor means a life well lived. His main mulligan is the Northern Stilted Curlew, a bird thought to be extinct even by experts. Oh, you haven't heard of such a thing? Get used to it. Bird names are dropped like famous names in a musician's autobiography; in all that means a new reading experience: it's something that most readers aren't challenged with but are introduced to through Samuel's references as he analyzes warblers, pigeon's, rails, owls, sparrows, all aves nearly extinct to casually common.
Samuel's son, Ryan, a college educated blue collar worker, says his father has his head in the clouds (pg. 16). But that's where Samuel has found his own humanity and passion; this is affirmed by how Samuel studies the world both around and above him. Roger Drouin's prose becomes encyclopedic as it explains the evolutionary trajectory of birds, and how Samuel feels close to his bird brethren, if only under the skin.
The bones are thin, hollow inside, filled with oxygen, and supported with trusses that keep them strong. The wing bones are fused to other bones to brace together the moving parts in flight and landing. Look at the bones of a bird and, although all stretched out, they will match a mammal's skeleton. Side by side, compare those scientific sketches from college biology and see how the wings anatomically correspond exactly to each human bone from arm to the longest finger. But in birds, the bones are simplified, compacted so that the humerus, radius and metacarpals are welded into a single, pivoting elongated bone.
What makes No Other Way a genuinely standout novel is, other than the clean but vibrant prose, the book is written by an actual nature photographer as well as focused on one. Reading with one's eyes is the great caveat of literature. Unimaginative authors cripple the world they wish to create by a broken vision, but here, the inhabitants of the world, both human and undomesticated are just as vibrant as the colors of birds contrasting in perfect ways. No Other Way becomes the reason why people will subscribe to National Geographic or watch Planet Earth: you want to see nature and have your senses assaulted by the natural world, Sun and all.
Samuel drank his coffee and listened to a Scarlet Tanager somewhere close by singing his high-pitched song of chip-churr, chip-churr, chip-churrr, chip-churrrrr. He looked up to try to glimpse the brilliant contrast of red and black, but he wasn't surprised when all he saw was the thick green leaves. Despite the male's vivid coloring, this tiny guy is difficult to observe because he will perch motionless for long periods of time, hidden deep in trees or bushes.
The morning sun painted the water a softer reflection of clouds and sky as he paddled out past where the water lilies grew by the hundreds, past the second island of trees, towards the eucalyptus strand that looked like feathers growing right up against the edge of the water.
Both Samuel and Ryan deal with Lorine's death as they both suffer through civilization; both Leatons are as different as the weather can become in a single day: sunshine to sharp rain, a warm morning that dissolves into skin stabbing chill. They are juxtaposed characters: a jaded workman willing to set art aside while he survives his chosen life of manual labor, and his romantic father. Both Leaton's are opposing characters, until all paths lead to Idaho, where Ryan brings along Karia, a pill-popping, PTSD addled mess, who lets the reader know that Ryan only sees his father's birds as beautiful myths. In Idaho, there's Thomas, a park ranger and friend of caribou and wolverines, and his partner, a life-saving mutt named Japhy. Thomas can't sleep because he dreams of drilling--oil drilling. What he loves most, the Rilla Lakes, is being prepared to be penetrated by No Other Way's corporate villain: Centur Corp., and its hydrofracking shale drilling methods--the Empire and their Death Star.
No Other Way doesn't give a voice to the speechless, it sings for itself by capturing the beauty rustling right outside window, away from computer screens. One beautiful thing can stop the world; it doesn't need protecting. Humans are what need to be protected from themselves and what comes natural to us. No Other Way tells a story of songs and squawks of things that existed before the noise that carries itself across our concrete country. Roger Drouin utilizes intuitive and meditative methods of descriptions to bring our afflicted world to life in text. He creates a world that croons the tunes of what was here before us and what will be here after us--what howls and serenades after our silence, when birds and wild creatures carol the Sun to cold sleep.
Samuel is a famous bird photographer who is also dealing with his wife's death from cancer a year earlier. He is very familiar with the story of the Northern Stilted Curlew. It is a bird that has not been photographed in the wild in many years. That is because it may, or may not, be extinct. It is the bird watcher's equivalent of the Holy Grail.
The Curlew migrates several thousand miles each year. Among its last untouched nesting areas is in the northern reaches of the Sanford National Forest in Utah. There are no roads; the area is accessible only after several days of hiking. Samuel makes the trek to look for the Curlew.
Things are complicated by a natural gas corporation getting the required permits to beging fracking inside the forest. There will not be just a few wells; there will be many wells, including in the Curlew's nesting area.
Thomas is a forest ranger who has had a run-in with the law. He did a stupid thing, but for the right reasons. He and Samuel put their heads together and see if they can do something to stop the fracking, and preserve a small piece of untouched wilderness.
This an excellent piece of writing. Drouin shows that he knows, and cares, a lot for the natural environment. This is very much recommended.