Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wildflowers Series #2: Oh, for Peat's Sake

True to its name, bog rosemary grows only in a bog,
where the plant has adapted to the cold, acidic environment.

A bog and a book signing


Heading up north to our first bookstore book signing in Park Rapids (last weekend), we detoured to the Lake Bemidji State Park bog boardwalk—one of our favorite places to visit. The boardwalk leads out into a bog at the edge of a small, secluded lake.

Bogs are peatlands whose only water comes from precipitation; they are tough but fragile environments where footprints in the moss can leave a lasting mark, so we’re grateful for boardwalks that allow us a glimpse of these wild places.

Along the trail through the park to the boardwalk we saw signs of what we call second spring (the one we follow north after the first woodland flowers have already bloomed in southern Minnesota). Wood anemone, Canada mayflower, sarsaparilla, pussytoes, and sessile-leaf bellwort all bloomed brightly under the trees.

Labrador tea: This plant really can be made into
a tea, but don't try it—besides the fact that you should
leave native plants unharmed, the tea is said to be toxic.

Goldthread's small flowers look like thready stars,
and its three-part glossy leaves with scallop-edged
leaflets lie close to the ground.

We came to the bog while mist still drifted across the little lake where a lone loon called. Along the boardwalk we found Labrador tea’s white flowers, the small pink blooms of bog rosemary, purple pitcher plants deep in the moss, the small white flowers of goldthread (so called because of its thready yellow roots), bright buckbean, and the graceful buds of stemless lady’s-slipper about to open. Tamarack trees were already clothed in their soft green new needles, the tiniest of sundew plants were just beginning to show themselves in an island of moss, and blueberry bushes wore tiny pale bells of flowers. A temperature gauge at the end of the boardwalk informed us that while the air temperature was 62 degrees Fahrenheit, ten inches below the surface the water in the bog was 36 degrees.

Later in the summer we’ll come back to look for tuberous grass-pink orchids, dragon’s-mouth, showy lady’s-slipper, more sundew, and whatever else we might see in this rich and amazing place. The plants that grow here may look fragile, but they are also tough survivors, able to tolerate higher acidity and colder water—and they delight us whenever we have a chance to see them.

Filled up with flower sightings and loon song, we drove from the wonder of the bog to the wonderful independent bookstore Beagle and Wolf Books and Bindery, where we talked wildflowers with fellow flower seekers, signed books, read a lovely review of our book by bookstore owner Sally Wizik Wills, and had a splendid time. A day of bogs and bookstores. What could be better?

Here's a list of more summer book events in June.


Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo spent ten years collaborating on Searching for Minnesota's Native Wildflowers: A Guide for Beginners, Botanists, and Everyone in Between. Check back on this blog as they document their wildflower-seeking adventures this summer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Spring abloom: Scouting for wildflowers in Minnesota's great outdoors (Wildflowers Series #1)

If you're scoping out Minnesota's woods, chances are good you'll run into
Dutchman's breeches this time of year. The flower gets its name because the
blossoms look like tiny breeches drying upside down on a line.

Our new book, Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers, is officially out this month—and we’ve already begun this year’s searching in the bursting springtime. Here are a few of the places we’ve already been and what we’ve seen there.


Suddenly, spring, and all sorts of native wildflowers seem to be rushing at once to make up for lost time. We love looking for them in the wilder places, but it’s also great to visit a place with easy paths among the trees and flowers with name tags to help us be sure, for instance, that the tricky anemone flowers we’re looking at are truly Eastern false rue anemone.

On a quick trip to Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum (“the Arb”) we headed for the bog boardwalk. On a log in a pond, five turtles, from largest to smallest soaked up the sun. A woodpecker hammered, birds called, and the trees were already tinged with the light green of new leaves. A glorious day to wander and search.

And searching was easy. Under the trees along the path, woodland flowers climbed the hillside while along the boardwalk marsh marigolds budded and small signs promised later blooms, including the lesser purple-fringed orchid we’ve been yearning to see. Over in the wildflower garden, many of the same woodland flowers were either abloom or in bud, and, like the turtles in the sun, we basked in their presence.

Here’s a list of the native wildflowers we saw blooming in one afternoon at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum:
Canadian wild ginger
Dutchman’s breeches
Skunk cabbage
Snow trillium
White trout lily
Eastern false rue anemone
Marsh marigold

And here are the ones that were almost in bloom:
Red columbine
Virginia bluebells
Large-flowered trillium
Nodding trillium
Dwarf trout lily

We love the wilder places, but we love, too, the wild native flowers wherever we find them. And we found them in abundance on an early May day at the Arb.


Bloodroot's white flowers open on sunny mornings
and close at evening, and on a cloudy day they might
not open at all.

Notes from early May: A Walk on the Wilder Side

With a whole Saturday ahead of us, we drove farther afield to see what other native wildflowers we might find. On a precipitous hillside in Hastings where we’ve only ever seen snow trilliums and hepatica in March or April, we now discovered a forest floor carpeted in green. Snow trilliums, taller now, still blossomed, but wild ginger with its dark red flowers hidden below velvety leaves also carpeted whole swaths of the floor along with Dutchman’s breeches where a fat bumblebee searched for nectar and pollen among arching stalks of white pantaloon-shaped flowers. A few large-flowered bellwort gracefully drooped soft yellow blossoms, and little star-shaped wood anemones bloomed in scattered places. Alone and in bunches, eight-petaled bloodroot blossoms looked like bright white flowers dropped from the sky. Same place, different time, a whole new world of flowers.

Our goal for the day was Frontenac State Park along the Mississippi River where we hoped to find rare squirrel corn, which looks much like Dutchman’s breeches but has a more rounded flower shape almost like butterfly wings. We haven’t seen squirrel corn yet, but we live in hope, and so we headed down the Lower Bluff Trail at the park into more Dutchman’s breeches than we’ve ever seen. We studied their flower shapes as we negotiated the steep, sometimes stairstepped, trail down and down and down toward the river, wondering at times if a slightly different flower silhouette signified squirrel corn. But all of the flowers we saw had the distinctive two petals spreading like the legs of a pair of pants.

What we did see:
Dutchman’s breeches, Dutchman’s breeches, and more Dutchman’s breeches
Large-flowered bellwort
Wood anemone

Of squirrel corn nary a blossom that we could discern, but oh, what a day of sunshine and springtime and flowers!


Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo spent ten years collaborating on Searching for Minnesota's Native Wildflowers: A Guide for Beginners, Botanists, and Everyone in Between. Root is author of more than forty books for children, including Plant a Pocket of Prairie and One North Star (both winners of the John Burroughs Riverby Award for excellent natural history books for young readers) and Big Belching Bog, all published by University of Minnesota Press. Povo, a professional photographer for thirty years, has exhibited in galleries and art shows across the country. Her cards, gift books, and calendars have been sold internationally. She and Phyllis have collaborated on several books.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A look behind the challenging, provocative, fascinating history of the color grey.


I recall the day The Truth Is Always Grey was conceived. I was visiting the Alberto Giacometti retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Fall 2007—a huge exhibition in which Giacometti’s portraits, sculptures, and busts were placed in dialogue to shed new light on the oeuvre. As I walked from room to room, two things struck me. First, the uniformity of the figures—irrespective of the identity of the person in the portrait image, they were all the same figure—and second, every painted image was dominated by a grey palette. The array of greys was vast, and they were never monochrome, always shaded with pinks and purples, browns and greens. I had never seen a comprehensive retrospective of an artist’s work in which the entire oeuvre was painted grey. Moreover, Giacometti’s was an oeuvre in which the single color meant so many different things. Of course, Jasper Johns: Gray at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the same year was the breakthrough moment for the art world’s growing interest in grey. But, for me, the persistent repetition of grey, and its breadth and variety in Giacometti’s work, was the encounter that opened the door to my fascination with grey painting. I had seen smaller exhibitions of Gerhard Richter’s work over the years—Eight Grey at the Deutsche Guggenheim in 2002 for example—which I had found revelatory. This installation ended up taking a central place in my reading of Richter’s grey paintings in the book. In addition, when I started thinking about the many single works by Richter, Cy Twombly, Philip Guston, and the late Rothkos, the list of works in twentieth-century painting in a grey palette became endless. Grey was everywhere.

Ironically, although the Giacometti exhibition had been my inspiration, his works fell to the sidelines of my research as I continued the pursuit of grey. This had more to do with my ongoing interest in a certain kind of abstraction than it did with Giacometti’s portraits. Specifically, grey was repeatedly used to articulate the iconoclasm that dominated the postwar period, a time when abstract painting arguably reached its most intense moment. In postwar American art, everything we knew and assumed about painting was being challenged. When all distinction between figure and ground was removed from the canvas, and artists such as Rothko and Frank Stella, and later Johns, Twombly, and Rauschenberg were engaged in a process of reducing painting to its most fundamental aspects, they so often did this in grey. The connections between this “revolution” in painting and the exploration of grey that contributed to its execution became the centerpiece of The Truth Is Always Grey. Put differently, it was striking to see how many of the concerns of American abstract painting were shared by artists using grey through the centuries. Painting was engaged in exploring ideas of transience and ephemerality, the ambiguity of reality, the shifting identity of the medium, and the value of representation. In addition, these postwar American artists were often looking to other art forms as a way to define what painting was and was not. I discovered that their use of grey actually focused these searches because of the color’s ephemerality, its shifting identity, ambiguity and constant transformation.

Coming back to why Giacometti became less important to The Truth Is Always Grey: a lot of the grey painting in postwar Europe was concerned, broadly speaking, with mourning and healing following the devastation of World War II. Artists such as Jean Fautrier, Antoni T├ápies, Anselm Kiefer, and even more recent artists such as Luc Tuymans, who work in grey do so to explore questions of memory, the past, the social and political responsibility of representation. In the American postwar paintings discussed in the book, the figurative, thus arguably, much of painting’s relationship to the social world, is stripped away from the surface of the image. In turn, as I say, this reduction, or elevation, of grey to the entirety of the canvas enabled American artists to really focus on the material and aesthetic of painting. This, in turn, became my focus.

If this is what justifies the place of American postwar abstraction at the center of the book, what of grey? I discovered that not only was grey everywhere in the history of painting —all the way back to middle ages—but that it was under attended to by critics and art historians. For example, so much has always been made of Picasso’s blue and rose periods, but what about the grey? And when there was an exhibition of Picasso’s grey works, we were told they were black and white. Why is this, when very little of the work in that exhibition was painted in black and white? Why is it that grey is always so difficult to talk about? This raised another question of why art museums, historians and critics often struggle to name the color on the canvas when it is grey. For example, at the National Gallery in London’s recent Monochrome exhibition, there was an awkwardness around the description and discussion of grey. The exhibition was titled Monochrome, and yet, throughout, there seemed to be agreement that grey is never monochrome. Added to this, the subtitle of the exhibition, Black and White was misleading because only a few of the works in the exhibition were painted in black and white. Grey may fill the scale in between the two, but it is neither black nor white. Typically, when grey is discussed by exhibitions and critics, they tend to gloss over the complexity and full significance of the color.

Take for example, the discussion of Richter’s grey work; invariably, critics accept Richter’s claims in interviews at face value and argue that grey is nothing and has no meaning on his canvases. When in fact, in Richter’s paintings, grey has a formative role. For Richter, if grey is nothing and non-identity, as I argue in the book, it is an “element of nothing” a “non-entity” on the canvas that holds within it enormous possibilities for the development of painting as a medium. Indeed, his persistent return to grey across his fifty-year career, as well as his interrogation of painting through grey as a medium, are the basis for the book’s situation of Richter’s work in grey as an extension of the concerns of the postwar American painters. I should also say, it’s not all critics who can be accused of dismissing, ignoring or undervaluing grey. Nevertheless, when I started the book ten years ago, grey hadn’t attracted the attention I believe that it warranted.

My intention is for The Truth Is Always Grey to contribute to the current renaissance of appreciation for grey. I say "renaissance" because while we might think of grey as depressing, somber, the color of melancholia, there was a time when grey was seen as vibrant, as signifying richness and hope. The recent insistence on the influence and provocation of grey is also not new. In painting, while contemporary art critics often refer to grey as a non-color, as the place on a canvas where painting is negated or nothing happens, this has not always been the case. Alberti celebrated grey in his discussions of light, and Baudelaire applauded Delacroix’s use of grey for its intimate depiction of different intensities of light and mood. Moreover, irrespective of its mixed appeal for critics and the public, artists have always been fascinated by grey. Over the centuries grey has been chosen as the color of artistic experimentation, often at moments of transition and reflection in their careers. Alternatively, they have used grey as the color in which to explore their concerns without distraction, and as the medium in which they challenge the limits of painting. The recognition of the importance of the grey through exhibitions such as Jasper Johns: Gray at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008, Picasso: Black and White at the Guggenheim, 2013, and Monochrome: Painting in Black and White at the National Gallery in London, 2017, thus comes as a renaissance of sorts.

If Giacometti’s portraits mark the conception of The Truth Is Always Grey, my thinking about grey painting continued to grow and transform with the writing of the book. Today, I understand grey as a way of seeing the world. Because the identity of grey is more fluid and transient than that of other colors, we have to approach what is painted in grey on its own terms, without preconception. Thus, before a painting in grey, we are asked to see the mutations, the ever-transforming nature of painting and its relationship to the world in any given moment. The viewer’s presence to the canvas that is demanded by grey is its unique lesson for seeing the world. Lastly, the title of the book captures this way of seeing the world through grey. The Truth is Always Grey comes from a quotation by Anselm Kiefer in which he talks about the in-conclusion and uncertainty of the truth of art and of its relationship to the world. Grey foregrounds uncertainty, and simultaneously, insists that abstract painting and the world are perhaps closer than we had ever anticipated.


Frances Guerin is senior lecturer in the School of Arts at the University of Kent. She is author of The Truth Is Always GreyThrough Amateur Eyes, and A Culture of Light, all from University of Minnesota Press.

"The Truth Is Always Grey is a work of exceptional erudition, breadth, and clarity."
—Brian Price, author of Neither God nor Master

"Frances Guerin has done a magisterial job in selecting and combining a variety of points of views on grey as a color of major significance, in its own right, throughout the history of art."
—Angela Dalle Vacche, Georgia Institute of Technology

"A well researched, vibrant, and thoroughly engaging reconsideration of that widely underestimated color."
—Anthea Callen, author of The Work of Art

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

From environmental impact to community saviors, here are seven things you might not know about one of the largest wildfires in Minnesota history.

Author of Gunflint Burning

Eleven years ago this month, the most destructive wildfire in modern Minnesota history at the time rallied more than one thousand firefighters, consumed 75,000 acres of forest, with firefighting costs around $11 million and structure losses estimated to top $100 million. Writing about the Ham Lake fire was no easy task, and here are some of the highlights that made the process most compelling.

1. Forests. Like many Minnesotans, I love forests. I was raised on the edge of woods, and have spent much of my life climbing, circling, and weaving through trees. Once on the Superior Hiking Trail, my father-in-law, Don, who was raised on the wide open plains of western Montana, said, “too many trees.” A lovely man, but I could not disagree more. For me, hiking a woodland path is a transformative experience. Forests have been so important to me, and I wanted to know more about the impact of fire on what I consider sacred country. Much of that impact is bad, but surprisingly, much of it is also good.

2. Northeastern Minnesota. One of the things I love about northeastern Minnesota is wilderness. During Memorial Day weekend 2007, just days after the Ham Lake fire was extinguished, my wife and I drove 45 miles up the Gunflint Trail to hike the Magnetic Rock Trail. Parts of the area were still smoldering and a red fox trotted along a ditch with a recently dispatched woodchuck in its mouth. We hiked through burned-over country with green shoots already pushing up through the ash. At the time I did not think of writing about the fire, but the image of those fern fronds rising out of the blackened forest floor hung with me long after my return home.

3. Firefighting. While at the time the Ham Lake fire was the largest fire in Minnesota in nearly a century, it was not the largest fire in Minnesota history. Not by a long shot. The Ham Lake fire burned 75,000 acres. That sounds dramatic, but when placed in historical context the fire is number 12 on the list. The Hinckley fire of 1894 (No. 1; 350,000 acres) killed 418 people. The Baudette-Spooner fire of 1910 (No. 2; 300,000) killed 42 people. And the Cloquet-Moose Lake fire of 1918 (No. 4; 250,000) killed 452 people. So why cover a forest fire that ranks number 12 on the all-time Minnesota forest fire list?

Over the past century we have grown increasingly sophisticated in how we fight forest and structure fires. Currently, when fires break out, there are lots of resources from a variety of government and non-government organizations that are brought to bear on the flames. In part the comprehensive, complex approach to managing forests and fighting fires accounts for why – at least in Minnesota – we haven’t seen forest fires of the magnitude of the top 10 on the all-time Minnesota forest fire history list. In large part, Minnesota forest fire history is a key reason for how today’s firefighters attack a blaze.

4. Water. Fires in Northeastern Minnesota differ from wildfires in other parts of the country by having virtually unlimited access to one essential resource: water. During the Ham Lake fire a variety of aircraft were constantly scooping water from nearby lakes and keeping up a steady douse over the flames. Similarly, property owners employed sprinkler systems that tapped nearby water resources. In fact, all but one of the cabins running an operational sprinkler system survived the fire intact. Without access to the area’s incredible wealth of water resources, the damage wreaked from the flames would have been substantially worse.

5. Numbers. The Ham Lake fire burned 144 structures at an estimated cost of $100 million. The fire raged and was fought for 13 days. At one point there were more than 1,000 people on its front lines. The total firefighting costs were an estimated $11 million. The basic statistics of this fire begged the question: How do you organize, feed, equip, and deploy a force the size of a Roman legion who are battling one of nature’s most destructive events?

6. A match. All the other fires on the top 12 list were started by drought and/or lightning. There are one or two minor exceptions which were also manmade, but not in the same way as the Ham Lake fire, which was started by a match that kindled a campfire. At exactly the wrong time a camper walked away from the campfire, returning to his tent. It appears he believed the campfire had been sufficiently extinguished. By the time he returned, the flames were out of control. He struggled mightily to douse them, but the dry conditions, wind, abundant burnable fuel, and fire progress overpowered his efforts.

More than one year after the fire was extinguished the camper was charged with one felony and two misdemeanors. If he had been found guilty of the felony, under Minnesota law he would have been held responsible for paying damages caused by the fire. Perhaps more importantly, he had been visiting the BWCAW every spring at the same time for more than 25 years. It’s hard to imagine the depth of pain he felt about starting a fire that destroyed so much of a wilderness he loved.

7. People and community. Finally, last but definitely not least, if you are searching for examples of altruism, drive up the Gunflint Trail. This is a region of Minnesota and the country where people watch out for each other in ways we don’t always see. Fighting this fire involved professionals from the US Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, and other government organizations. But it also involved the assistance of seven Cook County volunteer fire departments. These volunteers were joined by many others contributing time, energy, equipment, and money to assist with the efforts required to fight fire, including (but not limited to) feeding and housing everyone who had anything to do with working in the area. These people made significant sacrifices in the pursuit of saving lives, limbs, and property.

The Ham Lake fire contains many of the elements of great drama: tragedy, heroism, triumph, rebirth. My hope is that Gunflint Burning at least in part conveys some of the blood, sweat and tears of the legions who came together to battle this blaze.


Cary J. Griffith is the author of five books: Gunflint Burning: Fire in the Boundary Waters; Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods; Opening Goliath, winner of the 2010 Minnesota Book Award; Wolves, winner of a Midwest Book Award; and Savage Minnesota, which was published serially in the Star Tribune. He lives in Rosemount, Minnesota.

"Cary Griffith has penned the consummate story of one of the great wildfire disasters in the history of Minnesota. Expertly reported and cleverly written, this account of the Ham Lake fire of 2007 reads like a thriller and an environmental treatise all in one. This is no coincidence, given Griffith’s bona fides. Gunflint Burning is one of those rare books for just about anyone."
—Peter Geye, author of Wintering

"Griffith's precise research and his clearheaded storytelling serve admirably to underscore the skill, selfless dedication, and love of place and community that sustained foresters, firefighters, outfitters, pilots, food suppliers, and residents through a truly heroic struggle."
—Cheri Register, author of The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Child at the Social Limit

Associate professor of English at the University of Toronto

From a podium in Central Park West, a student activist from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School declared: “The adults failed us and now seventeen people are dead.” During a day of nationwide actions, a coalition of youth would point to the “failure” of adults to protect children not only from school shootings at locations such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Stoneman Douglas (to name a few!), but from the everyday gun violence directed at children and youth in minority communities. “We share the stage today and always with those who have always stared down the barrel of a gun,” Jaclyn Corin, a Stoneman Douglas student and one of the event’s organizers, told the crowd. And Edna Chavez, a South Los Angeles resident, asked those assembled to remember her brother, Ricardo, and chant his name. “This is normal—normal to the point that I’ve learned to duck from bullets before I learned how to read,” she said.

What many of these young activists point to in their anger and grief is a social failure, or a failure of the social, that only seems to draw successful attention to itself in isolated moments but which is surely calling out for a more meaningful response. How are we to respond when some of the “solutions” offered up conjure a feudal world (every school an armed citadel) or a state of nature in which all the “bad” guys and all the “good” guys are armed? And surely the point here is that our world is already, in some sense, this dystopian world, even if we can’t always see it.

A story in The Washington Post reports that every day, threats send classrooms into lockdowns and thousands of schools conduct active-shooter drills in which children as young as four hide in darkened closets and bathrooms from imaginary murderers. Another account in the media tells the story of teachers who opt to follow protocol during a school shooting, versus those who decide to break the rules; this scenario calls for a decision about shutting a classroom door once and for all, sealing it against a shooter but also against potential victims, as opposed to opting to open the door to let others in. While some teachers who opened their doors at Stoneman Douglas were considered heroes, others who opted to follow the directives of their training were severely criticized. What is most striking to me is not which choice any given individual made in this circumstance, but rather that the individuals in question were abandoned to such a choice. Decisions regarding the protection of children are in a sense like all decisions regarding sexual and social reproduction. They ask to be engaged on a scale that suspends and complicates the fantasy of individual responsible decision making. And to fail to engage them on such a scale is to lapse into a dangerously reductive morality (open or shut, good or bad). Here I think of philosophers who only appear to encounter the madness of decision making when they address the madness of the reproductive decision, as if any other decision might be made entirely rationally (e.g. L. A. Paul or David Benatar) or those whose philosophical accounts remind us of the inseparability of sexual and social reproduction (e.g. Hannah Arendt or Donna Haraway).

If it sometimes seems as if children are abandoned at the edges of the world, at other times it is as if too much is demanded of them. Such children may be “asked” to suture together the ragged edges that expose us to the traumatic real, or, to put it slightly differently, to be the “all” which fulfills an adult’s desire. Ben Lerner’s 2014 novel, 10:04, takes on questions of sexual reproduction, social reproduction and the reproduction of life itself in the Anthropocene. When the narrator is engaged in the highly unusual activity (for him) of preparing food for another (a protester camping out at Zucotti Park) he is suddenly struck by an overwhelming desire: “for the first time I could remember—I wanted a child, wanted one badly. Then I recoiled at the thought, wanted one not at all. So this is how it works, I said to myself, as if I’d caught an ideological mechanism in flagrante delicto . . . ” In this hybrid of a text, what we might think of as the child figure in contemporary discourse is dispersed throughout the narrative, rather than intensified in a particular instance. The narrator consumes baby octopus at the beginning of the novel; he has a sense of himself as child-like and relays memories from his own childhood; there is also a plot line concerning Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), “fatherhood” (“I felt my presence flicker”), and the narrator’s good friend and the mother-to-be of a thus-far imaginary baby; and finally there is Roberto, an undocumented immigrant eight-year-old, whom the narrator tutors in an unofficial capacity (no social roles here are established or stable).

What the narrator and Roberto share most profoundly is a tendency to “figure the global apocalyptically.” The narrator (referred to once or twice as “Ben”—itself a kind of flickering) listens to Roberto’s extravagant and anxious tales, but, living in his world—which is also our world—the narrator can only provide the most minimal of reassurances to his young unofficial charge. We should probably read Lerner’s novel in dialogue with other fatherhood stories less marked by irony and more comfortable with grandiosity (McCarthy’s The Road or just about any “angry dad revenge drama”). When Ben temporarily loses Roberto in the dinosaur exhibit in The Natural History Museum, we encounter a deflated version of the man and boy negotiating post-apocalyptic terrain. Ben comments on his anxiety and helplessness: “I was no more a functional adult than Pluto was a planet.” In one of the novel’s culminating moments, and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Ben watches while Alex receives an ultrasound: “On the flat-screen hung high up on the wall, we see the image of the coming storm, its limbs moving in real time, the brain visible in its translucent skull . . . Confirming a heartbeat lowers the risk, although the chances the creature will never make landfall remain significant.’’ Here the tenuous being-coming-into-being is at once octopus, fetus (fetupus?) and storm, as Lerner figures new life as a kind of cataclysmic event. Which may be just another way to say that it is an “event”—a future that, while anxiously anticipated, is also sublimely unknown and unknowable.

Naomi Morgenstern is author of Wild Child: Intensive Parenting and Posthumanist Ethics. Morgenstern is associate professor of English at the University of Toronto.

"Your child isn’t civilized. Neither are you. Expect the child to be more productively destructive and survivalist than you imagined, showing us to be the techno-relational-vulnerable animals that we are, strange to the core in crisis and change. Also expect that you won’t find a smarter, more forthright, and beautifully nuanced guide to these thoughts than Naomi Morgenstern. Impressive and persuasive."
—Kathryn Bond Stockton, author of The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century


Emma Whitford, “’The Adults Failed Us’: More than 100,000 youth, parents, teachers, and Beatles march in New York to end gun violence,” The Village Voice, March 26, 2018.

Lois Beckett and Evelyn Hockstein, “’We share the stage: white suburban liberals and minority activists fight together for gun reform,” The Guardian, March 25, 2018.

German Lopez, “March for Our Lives’ Edna Chavez speaks for the kind of gun violence that doesn’t make front pages,” Vox, March 24, 2018.

John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich, “Scarred by School Shootings: More than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine, The Washington Post Found. Many are never the same,” The Washington Post, March 25, 2018.

Oliver Laughland and Eleanor Beckett in Parkland Florida, “Parkland teachers faced an impossible choice: ‘Do I hold the door open or close it?,’” The Guardian, March 23, 2018.

L.A. Paul, “What You Can’t Expect When You’re Expecting,” Res Philosophica 92.2 (2015): 149-170. Print.

David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Clarendon Press, 2006. Print.

Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Education.” Between Past and Future: Six Exercises in Political Thought. Viking, 1961. 173-196. Print.

Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke UP, 2016. Print.

Ben Lerner, 10:04, Penguin, 2014. Print.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.