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Robin Ireland

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Book Reviews

The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, Jeremy Narby

Can shamanic hallucinations be the source of real information? Can plants communicate with human beings? According to the Amazonian peoples with whom Narby, a cultural anthropologist, did his field work, that is exactly how they came by their startling knowledge of plants and their properties. Still intrigued years later by their uncanny abilities, Narby began research which led him to the correspondences between shamanic language/knowledge and molecular biology. In The Cosmic Serpent he shares the antecedents of his thesis, the painstaking steps to his research, and eventually reveals his remarkable conclusion: DNA is intelligent.

En route, Narby visits the world views of a number of so-called primitive societies, points out some truly extraordinary similarities between them and then changes the context to show how their metaphorical language actually describes what we are just beginning to learn in molecular biology-knowledge these cultures have been using for thousands of years. (Hint: all life shares the same DNA and even Francis Crick, who co-developed the first model of it, posited an off-world origin.)

This is a powerful book, well written and remarkable in its conclusions. It knits a span between the poles of science and myth and opens up a whole new realm of possibility for the planet. Beautifully published with an eloquent cover, it would fit comfortably within contemporary science, shamanic, or native culture sections.

The Wholeness of Nature, Henri Bortoft

Two scientific theories battled in the early 1800s -- two different ways of looking at the world, two different methods of learning about it. One was Newtonian physics, the other was Goethe's theory of conscious participation in nature. In The Wholeness of Nature, Henri Bortoft explores Goethe's holistic approach.

Goethe did not agree with Newton, particularly with Newton's color theory, and spent 20 years trying to disprove it. He felt when prismatic colors are understood in a holistic way, "the quality of each color becomes something which is intelligible in itself and not just an accident. In Newton's account of the origin of the colors there is no reason why the color has the quality of red, or shy blue has the quality of blue, or why the colors are in the order observed and not in some other order." As Goethe believed, the act of seeing required the "nonsensory participation of the brain acting as an interpreter of data, i.e., the perception of meaning."

Goethe's theory approached what is now understood in quantum physics, wherein viewers must be considered as variables and their expectations have the ability to influence results. He also laid the groundwork for a holistic rather than analytical mode of consciousness. Bortoft discusses how analysis illustrates the world only in terms of its components. The holistic view, however, is nonlinear, simultaneous, intuitive, and concerned about the relationships of things. When moving between analytical and holistic modes of consciousness, writes Bortoft, a reversal occurs "between the container and the content."

While Newton saw a plant as a collection of separate pieces, Goethe saw it holistically, thereby discovering an "intensive depth available only through the properties of intuition." He felt "what mattered was the way of seeing, which influenced all the facts," writes Bortoft.

As Bortoft describes, Goethe believed it was necessary to awaken the intuitive mind in order to see the world accurately. In the intuitive mind, the universal is not the same as the general, and it cannot be reached by "abstracting the common denominator from several particular instances."

Although at times repetitive, Bortoft's academic work nevertheless presents an interesting question. As particle physics seeks to define itself, it would seem Goethe was already there in his vision that unified the world instead of fracturing it. It is interesting to speculate how science, and subsequently society, might have developed had Goethe's view taken predominance over Newton's.

Bortoft, who completed his postgraduate research under David Bohm, concludes his book with the suggestion that a new science of nature is in order and that Goethe might well be the point of division.

Bortoft's book is not an idle read, but for those with the interest (not to mention stamina) in particle physics, it can hold its own with works by such authors as Fred Alan Wolf or Fritjof Capra.

Transformation: Emergence of the Self, Murray Stein

"Can a caterpillar dream of flying?" asks Jungian psychoanalyst Murray Stein. In Transformation, Stein argues that the only route to authentic living is through transformation, and he uses both the butterfly and the lives of Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso, and C.G. Jung as examples of the process.

His argument is that a psychological ground plan exists within each of us. It is only through dreams and intuition, however, that we may derive some hint of it. He acknowledges the importance of pain in triggering the metamorphoses that unfold these plans, and he questions whether the rampant use of Prozac may be retarding the natural process. In addition, he feels modern individuals lack a suitable collective structure, such as church or cohesive culture, for guidance in the maturation process and so must turn within to their own images.

This is a beautiful book, elegantly illustrated on high-quality stock. It will display especially well. Transformation is a hot topic, so there will be great interest in Stein's book. Stein's work is thorough and fascinating. The book belongs either in a section on Jungian psychology or transformation of the species.

In the House of the Moon, Jason Elias and Katherine Ketcham

Elias, an acupuncturist with a strong background in Chinese folk medicine, has written with Ketcham a beautiful book to reclaim "the feminine spirit of healing." Although In the House of the Moon addresses specific women's health issues, its actual scope carries the reader far beyond, to the feminine powers of giving life as well. At its most basic level this book is about wholeness.

The first section begins with the thesis that, contrary to the mechanized world view, all is "interconnected and interdependent." There is also a section about the Chinese affinities of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, which are presented with descriptions of what to expect when these elements are in or out of balance. Another section presents case histories, each of which represents a different stage in a woman's life. In addition, the authors include a chart on common treatments used by both western and eastern medicine. Treatments which incorporate storytelling as a way to convey certain truths that heal are also presented.

The book includes three appendices: a list of herbs and what they are used to treat; a description of the basic acupuncture points and their roles; and a list of resources for acupuncture, herbal medicine, journals and newsletters, mail-order sources of herbs, and a variety of other topics related to the book.

Elias and Ketcham understand the importance of writing with care and attention to detail, and demonstrate an obvious willingness to research their subject thoroughly. They are articulate, succinct, erudite, and their prose crackles with vitality. Also, by no means should this book be confined to a feminine audience. The information is practical for all interested in a balanced approach to healing.

The Power of Words: June 1997

Birds don't do it. Neither do bees. Oprah apparently is doing it, but that's no reason to give it up. What is it? Reading. It's the quiet medium, the medium that gets shoved aside for more dynamic stimulation in our all-too-manic culture. But for all its silence, it can be the most eloquent of all, for the power of the written word to inspire is immeasurable. It has frightened governments, filled hearts with unrelenting passion, and changed lives. . . .

The Power of Words: Some Don't Like It Hot

When Walt Disney introduced "It's a Small World" in his Anaheim theme park, the last thing he had on his mind was the spread of disease. But it was the first thing on Jeff Chambers' mind when he read "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston. Chambers, a local poet who masquerades as a loan officer by day, read the book in 1994, and reread it in 1998. The book is the true account of an outbreak of the hemorrhagic virus Ebola in a group of lab monkeys in Reston, Virginia, a scant 10 miles from our nation's capital.

The Ebola virus is a deadly little bug that, as Chambers picturesquely put it, "melts your insides and then you die." After a brief incubation period of seven days, the first symptoms are headache, backache, and stigmata. . . .

The Power of Words: In Fertile Silence

Sometimes a writer will speak to us in the most intimate language, seemingly designed for our ears and our ears alone. For Andrea Learned, who handles public relations for the Bellingham Museum of Art, the first time she experienced that was when reading May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude.

Written at a time when Sarton was living alone in a house on the coast of Maine, the book captures her quietest thinking. "She was publishing work and doing book signings, living very much in the world," said Learned, "and then she would retreat back to the house by the sea." There she would think about things, placing her every emotion, desire, disinclination under the microsope of her own analytical mind. . . .

Audio Reviews

The Diaries of Adam "&" Eve, Mark Twain

Mark Twain "translated" the diaries of Adam and Eve separately, but believed they belonged together. In this version dramatized by Mandy Patinkin and Betty Buckley, and narrated by Walter Cronkite, the two have been wedded into one.

With his usual wit, Twain shares his remarkable insights about the experiences of this "primal pair." "I think it is a reptile, though it might be architecture," says Eve upon discovering Adam. "I wish it would not talk. It is always talking," says Adam early in his acquaintence with Eve. And so begins Twain's thought provoking look at the perennial differences between the sexes. The tape finishes with a brief essay by Cronkite which covers a bit of Twain's history with his own beloved Eve.

Delightful material, sensitively interpreted and flawlessly performed, makes this charming story a strong addition to your fiction section.

Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind, Candace Pert, Ph.D.

Dr. Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion, discusses her work in identifying and mapping receptor molecules on the surface of our cells. The brain is densely populated with such receptors, but she and her research partner discovered the same receptors are duplicated elsewhere in the body, indicating our emotions are produced directly at the cellulor level. Pert asserts all of our cells are intelligent entities, and her conclusion is we are "hard-wired" for bliss.

The second tape is an in-depth interview conducted by Sounds True publisher Tami Simon. Here, under Simon's adroit questioning, Pert elaborates on the concepts, process, history, and application of her work.

Pert refers to herself as a "recovering reductionist," and describes how her work led her to a more holistic, systems theory model. She presents her discoveries in a clear manner, with delightfully wry humor. Though at times technical, this will appeal to all who are interested in the mind/body connection, health, and/or subtle energy.

The Frog Prince, Stephen Mitchell

Stephen Mitchell supplies the historical, psychological, mystical and spiritual contexts in his telling of this familiar fairy tale. The result is a wonderful bedtime story for "consenting adults," which includes anyone intrigued (or plagued) by the mysterious dynamics at work within a romantic relationship.

There are two kinds of women, says Mitchell, those who marry princes, and those who marry frogs. Frogs never become princes, but thanks to the laws of entropy, princes sometimes slide into frogdom. His story tells of how a princess restores a frog's memory of his true, princely self.

Mitchell is a master of elegant prose which he laces with dry humor and its natural companion wry observation. Display it, include it with other self-help materials, or put it in a display featuring some of the other works by this well published author. Frogs as well as princesses will enjoy this tale, learn from it, and demand at the end of it, "tell me another please!" Hopefully, Mitchell will.

The Visionary Artist, Alex Grey

There's more to life than what we see with the naked eye. In fact, it's what we see with the third eye which captivates visionary artist Alex Grey. In this production, Sounds True publisher Tami Simon spends an hour talking with Grey about his unusual work and the philosophy behind it. Grey is also a talented poet and initiates each change of subject by reading one of his poems.

On the second tape, Grey takes listeners through several practices he and his wife have developed to expand awareness and sharpen inner vision. He combines techniques from shamanism, meditation practices and transpersonal psychology. The exercises range from stimulating primary color awareness or creating a personal talisman to journeying to the lower, middle and upper worlds to meet guides in these realms. Grey sees art as a form of worship and service. The artist's job, he says, is to communicate the symbols which come from the world beyond time.

Grey's quiet commentary and his meditations can provide a lovely ground from which to view as well as produce art. He maintains, however, that artistic talent is not a prerequisite for engaging in or benefitting from the practices he presents. This is best for those interested in art as a spiritual experience, or as a tool to promote healing.

Video Reviews

Alegria, Cirque du Soleil

The international Cirque du Soleil's innovative acts and dramatic costumes have captured audiences all over the world. Now they have applied their considerable vision and skill to a feature film which combines circus with theater. In this heartwarming and inspiring story we learn about love and longing-not just about the power of love between a man and a woman, but also about that between parent and child, friend and friend, and the most beautiful love of all, that for the well being of our fellow performers in this tragi-comedy of life.

Told in flashback, viewers follow the dreamlike story of a young orphan who, along with others like him, is sold into servitude. He is befriended by a young man. The two encounter a circus train under unusual circumstances and the tale is on its way.

Touching and enchanting. Stunningly sensual. The film is delicately directed, with hauntingly beautiful sets and scenery. All ages will enjoy both the story and the beauty. Place this in a children's section, or with fantasy. Add it to your store rental inventory. Those who view it will want to own it.

Your Diet, Your Health, Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Talk about women's health issues and sooner or later Dr. Christiane Northrup's name is bound to come up. She applies her empowering approach in this video to diet and how crucial it is to good health. Says Northrup, almost all of what we call aging is produced by too much insulin in our blood -- the result of eating food that is loaded with or breaks down to sugar. Her approach? Balance.

Northrup presents an outline of 10 points which range from evaluating and appreciating the emotional and energetic components of nutrition (eating to feel better, who prepared the food, when was it harvested), to identifying what's fueling hunger.

This is straight talk from a delightful presenter. Northrup's persona is warm, real, honest, and beautifully pragmatic. Not overly technical, she doesn't address the nuts-and-bolts of a balanced diet, so much as the compelling reasons for eating well and what to avoid (the color white). For once, food is placed in context, rather than reduced to a list of "shoulds," "shouldn'ts," and calories. Shown on public television, customers may already be familiar with it. Place it with any section on food, dieting, or women's health. It would also be a superb rental.

Restaurant Reviews (leads only)

Skylark's Hidden Cafe: Bejeweled by 18,000 twinkling lights, the spreading chestnut tree shelters wrought-iron tables and chairs in a cobbled courtyard in Fairhaven. This outside seating for Skylark's Hidden Cafe invokes nostalgia and beckons the passerby to linger and relax. As the name implies, the cafe is not actually on the street front, but rather in the rear of the buildings that form the southwest corner of Harris and 11th Street. . . .

LaFiamma: Northwest Warehouse meets Martha Stewart at LaFiamma's Wood Fire Pizza on the corner of Chestnut and Railroad in downtown Bellingham. "Exposed" is the operative word for the chic interiors of this clean space and applies to everything from the ductwork to the kitchen. Fresh flowers lead one into the restaurant, and each wall is painted a different earth tone. All combine for a dramatic effect, which is watched over by St. Anthony the Abbot, the Neopolitan patron saint of pizza as painted by local artist Dale Gottlieb.

The Calumet: Imporverished is the generation for whom cocktails are out of vogue. Lucky, lucky, lucky is the current generation, because they are back in style. And style is just what a cocktail is all about at the Calument. Open since October 24 in the former Beachfront Tavern space, this little restaurant is sizzling with an unbeatable combination of innovative food, savvy service, cool cocktails, and hot jazz. . . .

The Bagelry: When Rocky says there are no locks on the door to the cell cold-war culprit Boris Badenov had put them in, Bullwinkle, that amiable humorist replies, "No locks? There must be a joke about bagels in there somewhere." One thing is for sure, the bagels at The Bagelry are no joke. And certainly owners Ken and Marguerite Ryan take them seriously -- to our immense good fortune. . . .

Ad Copy

For Whatcom Transit Authority, 'Todd' series

Todd woke up Sunday morning. "Co-o-o-ffee," he croaked. Uh-oh, dilemma. Where to go for a cuppa jo? He massaged his brain. "That's it! Fairhaven!" he said when an inspiration dropped in. He could refuel, do some book store browsing, maybe get a birthday card for his mother -- after all, her birthday was last week -- and just generally poke around. It would be the perfect antidote for a hard night of . . . studying. Todd ambled off to the busstop and caught the next #7 to Fairhaven.

Todd opened his closet door. "Whoooooa!" he said, and grabbed the door for support. Time to do laundry! But it was Saturday and he wanted to go swimming. He sure didn't want to ruin a perfectly good weekend day doing dirty duds. Besides, he was out of soap. He did some quick figuring -- he could take the bus to Lakeway Center to pick up some laundry soap, along with some necessities from the four basic food groups (Salt, Grease, Sugar, and Carbonated Beverages), and still get his laps in. And if he taped his closet door shut, laundry could wait until next week . . . No problem!

Todd wiped the sweat off his brow. "Whew!" he said with a sigh of relief. His last midterm was over. He was sick of studying and the best Rx he could think of for the weekend was some mindless entertainment coupled with a big bucket of medicinal popcorn, buttered of course. Much as he might hate to admit it, he also needed to do some (shudder) clothes shopping. To his weary way of thinking, Guide Meridian was the yellow-brick solution. And he could take the bus, which was good news for his shattered nerves. Totally painless. Totally cheap. An awesome combination.

For Montana Pride, a horse feed company

3 Cowboys "&" A Rope Hot Cereal: If your cowboys think you're serving just any old mush, you may need the genuine 12-foot lariat that comes with this 3-box (24 oz. each) gift pack to bring them in for the first time. A short guide on "How to Throw a Cowboy Lariat" is included, in case you're a little rusty.

Easy Ride-um's: Your wee one won't need lessons to ride this 33" pony. Guaranteed not to buck or bite, this sturdy stick horse also has reins for maximum control. Your choice of black or brown, with a white face.

Saddle Rack: Packin' the saddle again? Then our sturdy, portable saddle rack will be helpful. . . .

Embroidered Sweatshirt: A sweatshirt is a sweatshirt is a sweatshirt, until you've tried this warm, heavy-weight one of ours. . . .

For Ocean Kayak, makers of fiberglass kayaks

Malibu Two: Who's counting? With a small jump seat in the middle, the Malibu Two lets you take up to three...either two-legged or four. Built for double or solo paddlers, it's also the most stable boat in our fleet, and you can get it with an optional three-hatch configuration. . . .

Zest Two: Like Noah's Ark, the Zest Two does things in doubles (carries two passengers and has two scuba tank wells), except what it can be used for -- there's no limit to that. . . .

Sprinter: Q: What happens when you cross an Olympic gold medalist in kayaking with a kayak designer? A: The Sprinter. And for extra credit, can you guess what this model was designed for? Bingo! Spe-e-e-e-ed. The Sprinter was born to race. Two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner Greg Barton and Tim Niemier designed this sleek and slender 21" wide model to cut through water like a hot knife though butter. If you need to get there in a hurry, this the way to go. . . .


Technology Helping Boost Efficiency, Business Journal, September 1998 (lead in only)

Few things conjure up as basic an image as a contractor. One thinks of a person carrying a hammer and nails, hurriedly scribbling some rough calculations on the back of a candybar wrapper.

Well, fasten your seatbelts. Things have changed and the industry is entering the next millenium in Star Trek style.

For starters, just the business of the business has modernized. According to Mike Roberts, head of Building Industry Assocation of Whatcom County, five years ago accounting software was typically very expensive. Now there are programs like Quick Books, and more particularly Quick Books Pro, which has special job costing applications. Says Roberts, . . .

Sudden Valley Real Estate Sales Lagging Behind City, Business Journal, September 1997 (lead in only)

According to the Multiple Listing Service Quarterly Sold Report for the second quarter of 1997, overall residential real estate sales in Whatcom County were up 33 percent over the first quarter of this year. Sales in the Sudden Valley area were also up by a similar amount, but these figures are misleading: the actual closings in the area are down nearly 50 percent compared to this time last year. . . . .

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