Exploring the intersection of animal and human

  • Visitors to the Monterey Bay Aquarium view a hammerhead shark in a million-gallon tank.

    Stuart Isett
 

Survival Skills
Jean Ryan
197 pages, paperback: $15.95.
Ashland Creek, 2013.

Early in Jean Ryan's debut collection of stories, a woman in a wetsuit strokes an octopus' head while it caresses her face with the tip of one arm. The scene illustrates one of the author's favorite themes: We're at our best, we humans, when we allow ourselves to interact intimately with the natural world –– even if it's just a matter of hanging out in, say, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Ryan, a Northern California author who describes herself as a "horticultural enthusiast," has long been interested in what she describes as "the vulnerability and interdependency of all living things." The intersection of flora, fauna and humanity informs the stories in Survival Skills; one narrator finds solace in Palm Springs' citrus and eponymous trees, while another meditates on the resiliency of stinking orchids. Ryan's prose particularly shines when she's describing animals – whether beagles, hummingbirds or tattletale parrots – and their relationship to people.

Her first story, "Greyhound," parallels a rescued race dog's recovery with that of the narrator's girlfriend, who is afflicted with an angst that explodes into eczema. The rash disappears as the dog is rehabilitated, but the narrator is wise enough not to take either for granted: "How long this state of grace will last," she says, "is a question we don't need answered."

These are stories about relationships – heterosexual and gay – told by patient narrators, often in their 40s and 50s. They've learned to look past the dramas of divorce and infidelity for the kind of comfort offered in the flash of a moth's wing under moonlight, or in a spider rescued from a sink. In "Migration," a newly divorced woman finds healing in the form of a Toulouse goose that shows up at her Lake Tahoe cabin for a daily walk. The narrator in "Paradise" looks to a parrot for insight into a doomed relationship. Resignation informs many of these tales, but –– just as powerfully –– so does redemption.

"There were countless mysteries," Ryan writes, "observed or missed, unfolding every instant." Survival Skills reminds readers of these mysteries, of how meaningful relationships extend beyond the romantic and the human. We can bond with a charismatic goose, with an enigmatic octopus, even with an irritating bird, and our life will be richer for it.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...
  • WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBER
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) wilderness crew members work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to monitor wilderness characteristics, conduct trail work, and...
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (TEMPORARY, FULL-TIME POSITION)
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill a temporary, full time, Assistant Director position in the Outdoor Program. The Outdoor Program provides professional outdoor recreational and...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    We find groundwater, reduce excavation costs and determine your IBC site class for a fraction of drilling costs.