Book review: Memoir delves into consequences of human impact on natural world
When the recent hurricanes decimated parts of the U.S., I wondered why people choose to live in areas prone to dangerous flooding and hurricanes. Why do they choose to rebuild and repair time after time? Then I read Connie May Fowler’s “A Million Fragile Bones” and glimpsed a life lived in concert with nature. I understood why one would stay and also understood why, at the end, she chose to leave.
In the first half of her memoir, Fowler describes her journey of moving past childhood memories of neglect, abuse and poverty. She starts by seeking solace from her extended family and through environmental activism, but grows discouraged by their troubled memories and her inability to affect change.
It isn’t until she moves to a shack on a sandbar in the Florida panhandle that she discovers the healing power of nature and finds a simpler life that revolves around tending a garden and following the activities of the coastal wildlife.
Life on the Gulf heals. Fowler is able to write, teach and observe nature with awe. She follows the daily patterns of the dolphins, birds and even the insects. When Hurricane Dennis strikes in 2005, she is overseas but a friend boards up the house to minimize the damage. There is never a thought that she should move away from natural disasters — hurricanes, flooding, erosion. She returns and restores her home after the hurricane, recognizing that one has to bend with nature for the privilege of living in this incredible environment.
Then in 2010, the Deep Water Horizon oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico. Fowler is devastated: 11 lives are lost and an environmental disaster is looming. She and her neighbors organize to help with the cleanup. But BP, the corporation that owns the drilling rig, assures the public they have things under control and volunteers are not welcome. Fowler is convinced the message that is spun is far different than the reality. Her life is consumed by constantly checking the news on CNN, watching the spill site’s webcam and communicating with friends through Facebook.
The book becomes a series of daily journal entries documenting her reality for the next 84 days, entries that record BP’s efforts to plug a gigantic leak and its use of oil dispersant that creates a whole new set of problems. She realizes that there will be no reporting out of the environmental damage in the Gulf and along the coast. It is then that she decides to leave.
Fowler, using her incredible talent, draws the reader into a world of peace and calm that abruptly changes into a dangerous place. The fact that her story is true is chilling. An appendix provides more facts and figures about the Deep Water Horizon explosion.
For those who are disturbed by books about death and destruction, this book may not be for you. But manmade disasters seem to be more common these days, upsetting the delicate balance of nature. Fowler writes to work through her angst and also to educate those of us who want to be informed but are frightened by scary facts and events out of our control.
Her book is not intended to rally support behind the environmental movement but as a reader, though I am left wondering how I can help prevent the next environmental crisis. It is something to ponder.
This book is available at Bud Werner memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path bookstore.
Vicky Barney is a reference assistant at Bud Werner Memorial Library.
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