Review of After the Fire by Henning Mankell

Since I was a child, I have read from a novel every night before sleep. There have been times my schedule did not permit this and I would miss it terribly. The last couple years, however, I have read very few novels because they just couldn’t keep my attention. I would start a novel known to be a real page turner and I wouldn’t get half way through before I would abandon it.

This novel was different. I quickly fell into the soothing cadences of Henning Mankell’s writing and couldn’t have stopped reading even if I had wanted to. I don’t consider this Mr. Mankell’s best novel, but it was exactly what I needed at this time. It saddens me to think that he finished writing it the year of his death.

Here is a bit of a spoiler: my favorite part of the story may have been that most of the characters live on islands off the coast of Sweden in an archipelago. They get around in boats unless the ice is on, then they walk around. They all have boat houses on their islands in which they park their boats. The island characters live in old houses, though many of the houses have become summer retreats for city dwellers. The main character is a retired doctor who lives in his grandparent’s 100+ year old house. He continues the old tradition of bathing in the sea every morning, even when he has to chop a hole in the ice to do it. The culture of the islands is very interesting, reminiscent of many rural cultures, even the old culture of these Ozark hills.

Roy Reed of Hogeye

Roy Reed of Hogeye, Arkansas died yesterday in Fayetteville. He was certainly one of Arkansas greatest writers. I attended a book signing by him in 1997 at the Eureka Springs Carnegie Library. Below is how he inscribed the book for my daughter Sarah.

Grizzly Bears in the Western Ozarks Circa 1500

I’ve been browsing wildlife range maps for more than forty years. I find them fascinating. Below is the range map of the Grizzly Bear showing both the present day (striped) and the year 1500 (yellow). As you can see, it shows the Grizzly Bear being present in 1500 in the western Ozark hills. The map was included in a recent Washington Post story.

Buzzards in the Barn

One day Ian was in the barn and a big buzzard swooped down from above and aggressively flew at him. It spooked him a bit. Turns out the buzzard had a nest hidden in the barn and she was defending it. Later, I started seeing two white chicks standing in the barn window, waiting for their mother. Or maybe cooling off as I imagine it gets pretty hot under that tin roof during the day. They are getting quite large and turning black now. The buzzards are of the black vulture variety.

ES Independent Column – Panthers

For years, there has been accumulating evidence of mountain lions (or cougars or panthers) residing in Arkansas. The Fish and Game Commission officially denied it, apparently because it was a can of worms that they wanted to avoid opening. Then, last November, a hunter in a deer stand shot one, the first killed in the state since 1975. The cat was out of the bag, as they say.

It’s always a pleasure to hear from readers and I recently had a letter from Genevieve Bowman. In it, she told me of a panther scare in Eureka Springs in the 1940s. It all started with people hearing the trademark shrill scream of a panther. Soon there were reports of sightings of the big cat and men organizing to hunt it. Armed with a shotgun, one local man would walk his grandson home from the night shift at the Basin Movie Theater.

Cora Pinkley Call wrote of the panthers seen and heard by the pioneers of this area and the fear they caused. She wrote in Pioneer Tales that she only knew of one actual attack, though. It was by a female cat emaciated by hunger and  suckling young. A local man was returning home late one night and the panther leapt from a tree onto his back and nearly killed him.

The local panther scare of the 1940s, however, was not what it first appeared to be. Genevieve knows the true story behind the scare. It starts with John Bowman (her future husband) and Wayne Farwell. She wrote that they “got hold of a wooden contraption that slid in and out like a match box. When worked correctly it emitted a shrill yell. They thought how funny it would be to go over to East Mountain and try it out.” When the prank got out of hand and touched off widespread fear, they swore to keep it a secret. Years later, John told Genevieve and she said that “what they meant as a joke turned out to be not so funny.”