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
  • UTAH BEEF
    Grass-fed, grass-finished beef. Available in October. Reserve your beef now. Kate's Land & Cattle Boulder, Utah. [email protected], grassfedbeefbykatie.com
  • SECLUDED COLORADO HIDEAWAY
    This passive solar home sits on 2 lots and offers an abundance of privacy and views while being only 15 minutes to downtown Buena Vista....
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Introduction: Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with offices located in Kanab and Escalante, Utah. We are committed to the conservation...
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...