Until life returns to some semblance of normal, from time to time we will send out the Corona Chronicles. This publication will provide commentary, brief stories, poetry, book and movie suggestions, and ways to make our time at home meaningful and fulfilling. If you have ideas to submit, please contact Nancy Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik
If anyone is feeling a bit bored or housebound by this pandemic, I recommend picking up this second novel by Erica Ferencik. It will vividly transport you into the rugged and wild Amazon jungle for a roller coaster thrill ride. At its core, is a story of love and survival. Nineteen year old American Lily thought she’d found a way to escape endless foster care and group homes. As soon as she can steal enough for a plane fare she jets off to a promised teaching job in Cochabama, Bolivia. When the job falls through she finds herself working at whatever needs to be done in a small hotel barely surviving from day to day.
One day Omar, a handsome native who has abandoned his life as a hunter in a remote jungle village to try his hand at city life walks through the door of her hotel. Lily is instantly love struck and longs for the sense of family and connectedness to the earth that she finds in Omar. When Omar learns that a jaguar has killed his four year old nephew, his obligation is to return to his village to join the revenge hunt. Lily impulsively decides to go with Omar back into his ruthless world of lawless poachers, greedy gold seekers, bullheaded missionaries and desperate indigenous tribes driven to the brink of extinction. She discovers the magic and wonder of the jungle as well as its terrors. To survive she will need resilience and the skills that Omar teaches her.
I was attracted to this novel because while on a four year contract with the U S Government in Bolivia, I had the opportunity to twice visit the remote jungle village, Rurrenabaque. Accessible only by air or river, I got there once via a 5 seat plane, and once via a longboat canoe after five days travel on the Rio Beni, a major tributary of the Amazon River. I can tell you that the author has painted an extremely realistic background for her story. Lily encounters wildlife, plants and humans, all different than she has previously known. Some are dangerous and even deadly. She must learn and accept tribal customs and beliefs contrary to her own values. Throughout her time in the jungle Omar warns her, “You don’t wake up in the jungle because you are smarter or trickier. You stay alive here because you pay attention.” When she is at the brink of death she recalls the advice she had been given by Omar, “Everything you will ever need is right here in front of you. Use what you have.”
The author’s style of writing keeps you turning pages and it is a hard book to put down once you have started reading it. Erica Ferencik says, “Of all things, I love to create entertainment; but when I’ve shut my laptop for the day I love to be entertained. Make me laugh, scare the crap out of me, it doesn’t matter; just take me away to another world, and I will do the same for you.” I think she succeeds impressively in doing just that with Into the Jungle.
Brenda E. Smith
Brenda Smith fulfilled a life-long dream when she moved to Belfast in 2019. An accounting graduate of Bentley University, she worked as a CPA and Vice President of Finance for several non-profit organizations. She earned her MS from Suffolk University in Philanthropy and Media. and has produced, directed and edited many award winning videos. She is most proud of the coveted “Telly” award on her desk. Now retired, she is busy with several writing projects: an early memoir recounting some of her hair-raising global adventures, a later memoir about living with the extremely rare Stiff Person’s syndrome, and writing short essays about things in life that make her smile. She is a board member and treasurer of Belfast Senior College.
A Winter Betrayal
thanks to the wood stove
just four feet away.
He is sitting on the floor,
leaning against the kitchen island,
His left foot still feels chilled
from working upstairs,
far from the cozy, cast iron stove.
Typing away on his computer,
writing a letter to the editor,
and then a poem,
he lost track of time.
He did not realize
how cold he was.
He felt betrayed
by his supposedly warm,
and by his affection
for those small,
intermittent, snow flakes
kissing the skylights
right over his head.
Still Mine (2012) Starring senior citizens!
This is a moving and beautiful movie, filmed in New Brunswick based on a true story about a Canadian couple who raised their seven children near St Johns. The husband, Craig, is played by Jim Cromwell, most well-known for the movie Babe (“That’ll do, Pig”), and the wife, Irene, is played by Genevieve Bujold. The story follows two threads. Craig has been a builder all his life (he is 87), taught by his father, and so when his wife shows signs of dementia and she takes two falls in succession, he decides that he needs to build her a safer house. He has a shop which includes a small sawmill, and he mills the lumber himself, plans the house, and has framed it when the local government bureaucrat decides that Craig is doing it wrong. He has to have approved plans, he has to have stamped lumber, and his joists have to meet government approved standards. The battle is joined. Craig has a lawyer, a fellow builder, decades of expertise, quiet pride and a wellspring of love on his side; love for his work and his wife. His opponents have the full force of the law and its bureaucracy.
The deeper thread is the love story between Craig and Irene, who have been married for over sixty years. When his wife’s memory begins to fail, Craig does everything humanly possible to keep her safe. When she ends up in the hospital with a broken hip in spite of his efforts, she asks him why she fell, and he answers, “Because your husband is a fool.” Both Cromwell and Bujold play their parts with gentle intensity and depth. Both were nominated for awards at the First Canadian Screen Awards, and Jim Cromwell won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and several other awards. Charming is not a strong enough word. Very highly recommended. It is available for free on Amazon Prime, and also available in the drama section of the Opera House Video Store in Belfast.
Rebecca is a retired Latin teacher who has taught at Senior College from time to time over the past five years. She is an active member of Belfast’s poetry community, and she currently serves as secretary of the board of Belfast Senior College. She studied Classics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and she lived in Colorado for 37 years before returning to New England with her husband, Duncan Newcomer.
Essay on Gratitude
I am a born pessimist, having imbibed a negative mindset at my mother’s breast. I found – and still find – Pollyanna-types fascinating but slightly foolish, while viewing my own outlook as reality-based and practical. “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst ” has long been my mantra, while I assume that the worst is far more likely to occur. Left to its natural inclination, my mind alights on negativity, my guilty thoughts perched like buzzards on a branch overlooking an unfortunate’s remains.
My mother foresaw disaster around every corner. A hypochondriac who avoided doctors, she knocked wood as preventative medicine and kept her fears to herself. Her apprehension was borne out at her first medical exam in 18 years when she learned she had both breast cancer and serious heart disease. She regretted deviating from her habit of not looking into things too deeply and leaving well enough alone.
It turns out that positive thinking and happiness are not as uncool as I supposed at 17. How trite and corny those concepts seemed to me then, clear evidence of intellectual inferiority. How can one be positive when the world is going to hell in a handbasket and we’re on the eve of destruction? Arriving at college I flung myself into the Existential abyss to the soundtrack of Peggy Lee singing “Is that all there is?” With reading assignments that included Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, Nausea, and Being and Nothingness, it’s no wonder my young adulthood was heavy with angst. Fifty years wiser, I no longer aspired to be cool but assumed my brain chemistry would always trip me up in my quest for an enduring state of happiness. Contentment during good times, strength to cope with life’s ups and downs, and more consistent freedom from depression were what I sought but felt little hope of attaining.
Thanks to modern medicine, we were grateful to have Mom around for another 13 years, until the age of 92. Which brings me to the topic at hand – gratitude and its effect on mental health. Having teetered on the edge of the abyss of mild depression for a lifetime, I feel well-qualified to tout the nearly miraculous healing power I’ve discovered in an exercise so simple it seemed ludicrous to a skeptic such as myself. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon the idea that an attitude of gratitude can reset one’s thinking, that simply noticing things we are grateful for as we go about our day can help us focus and live in the moment. I ordered one of the many gratitude journals available online and started noticing.
A well-stocked refrigerator. A cozy bed. Fall foliage. A good haircut. Snow flurries over the lake. Good friends. A great book. My husband’s spaghetti sauce. My girls. I took note and recorded these things in my journal.
In his Psychology Today blog post entitled “The Grateful Brain: The Neuroscience of Giving Thanks,” neuroscientist Alex Korb writes that “Gratitude, particularly if practiced regularly, can keep you healthier and happier.” He cites four studies that found that gratitude can help you exercise more, sleep better and be happier, while he draws a distinction between gratitude and the habit of comparing oneself to those less fortunate. The latter can be a first step in the process, acknowledging, for example, how fortunate one is to have a roof over one’s head, unlike the homeless person you just saw on the street. But true gratitude is not the same as comparison. It is simply noticing and actively appreciating something such as the warmth of your home or the comfort of a bed. Keeping a gratitude journal, even a weekly one, provides structure, helping you develop the gratitude habit and reap its benefits.
The benefits are many, including greater optimism, fewer aches and pains, reduced depression and reduction in sleeplessness. Better sleep patterns, in turn, lead to lower anxiety levels. A study by the National Institute of Health described the changes in brain chemistry resulting from the expression of gratitude: higher levels of activity in the area that controls eating and sleeping and increased levels of dopamine, often referred to as the “feel good” chemical. This is the same chemical that gives runners a high, but in this way far less strenuous to attain!
As I write this article, the pessimist in me nags “why bother writing what no one will read?” The newish me, the one with “the attitude of gratitude,” replaces that thought with a feeling of gratitude for the friend who encourages me to write, for retirement for providing me with time to pursue my passions, for the online thesaurus that helps my aging brain find just the right word.
I now distance myself from friendships with people who believe that life somehow owes them and cultivate friendships with those who acknowledge their good fortune. One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from none other than Willie Nelson: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
I have not morphed into a Pollyana-type nor have I abandoned my reality-based outlook. I will never view the world through rose-colored glasses. I’ve simply begun to seek out and pay more mind to that which sparks joy.
Keeping my commitment, I use my journal to jot down three things for which I am grateful each day. It’s astounding how quickly and easily I’ve become caught up in a positive cycle that appears to have resulted in the longest depression-free stretch of my adult life. Granted, correlation is not causation and my personal experience is decidedly unscientific. Furthermore, merely keeping a gratitude journal is not a prescription for treating serious clinical depression. But each time my thoughts start to nosedive toward a guilty obsession or an unfixable regret, I instead visualize them swooping upward and landing on the simplest of daily pleasures. A sense of well-being invariably follows and I feel grateful for the discovery that an attitude of gratitude is good for our health.
A native Bostonian, Liz had a lengthy career as a public and school librarian in Massachusetts. Upon retirement in 2016, she and her husband Jim moved north to their lake house in St. Albans. Liz loves having time to devote to non-fiction writing, volunteering at the Hartland Public Library and participating in multiple book clubs. She has also been delighted and grateful to discover the Maine Senior College Network!