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Blessed "Pests" of the Beloved West: An Affectionate Collection on Insects and Their Kin
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb and Terril L. Shorb, Editors
Prescott, Arizona: Native West Press, 2003
144 pp., $9.95, paperback
ISBN 0-9653849-3-4

"Look how closely they stick to us,
whining at our noses,
buzzing at our toes, ready to impose
themselves upon our briefest
exposure of flesh or sweat:
those striped bees whose
     very breath hums
underneath our breath or a
     tiny, delicate
mosquito droning in our ear...".
("Insects," Philip Miller, p. 16)
"Going organic, saving habitat, wildly abandoning prejudice
     as you go,
you can make the world a fitter place for children and
As ever, tolerance is its own reward."
("High Crimes and Caterpillars." Robert Michael Pyle, p. 60)

This interestingly diverse collection of poems and essays is filled with love: love for momentary encounters with creatures we "love to hate" as well as love for "this strange and mysterious condition we all share called life." (Introduction, p. 9) After acknowledging that some insects and their kin do cause disease, crop destruction and economic hardship, editors Schnoeker-Shorb and Shorb challenge their readers to take another look at the world and at these "pests."

Everything about this slender volume, from the cheery cover with its painting of a grasshopper's green big-eyed head offset by tiny nature photographs, to the orderly play on words in the chapter headings, to the selection of works by western poets, artists, entomologists and other backyard scientists, is meant to facilitate an understanding of the interconnectedness of humans with insects and their kin. It is the editor's hope that we ponder the affects of an unbalanced environment and, more importantly, stop launching an uninformed, all-out "war on bugs."

My first approach to this collection was to browse, stopping occasionally to read poems which looked interesting. "Yellow Jacket/ flies/ so close/ back/ and forth/ fans/ my sweaty forearms" by John Sullivan (p. 74) seemed simple enough and true to my personal experience. Similarly, Kenneth Pobo's "Gnats" reminded me that "(s)ome living things excell at/ annoying." Gnats annoy, and also people, such as neighbors who keep "their German Shepard out 24/7." (p. 76). Other poems, small dramas, gave me fresh images to ponder, such as in "Night Music" by Boo Heisey in which a woman goes to a pet store to purchase crickets for night entertainment (p. 53) and in Dianalee Vilie's "Epiphany," where we see a narrator cringing as a fly circles the lipsticked rim of a Pepsi can, "landing in jubilant victory." "Twice," Vilie writes, " I watched her drink/ Twice I watched the fly disembark..."

"I pictured little fly feet
coated with the red
warning of her lipstick
and the danger of E. coli,
Egyptian encephalitis,
and other deadly, insect borne
afflictions. Continually shooing
the fly away, she laughed.

In that epiphany,
I recognized I had forgotten how."
p. 81

At this point, also laughing at my own serious stance, I began to see that while each individual piece in Blessed "Pests" of the Beloved West is full of information and delight, it is the arrangement, the accumulation of personal essays and poems, which makes this a persuasively eye-opening book. In the first section, "In Order That We Understand," a variety of authors speak about housekeeping, spring migrations, bugs and dread. In her narrative "The Little People of the Green Things," Joanne E. Lauck, an environmental educator, writes of the relationship of aphids to roses and how she worries about larger ecological issues as the aphid population declines. In "The Ecology of Sacred Spaces," Jeffrey A. Lockwood, a professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, challenges readers to reconsider what "sacred space" might mean for non-human creatures because, as he states, " All species have stories of suffering and sanctuary in ecological and evolutionary time." (p. 35).

The remainder of this delightful book includes more than 40 written pieces and 15 black and white photographs and drawings divided into sections named "On Insects -- In a Particular Order," "And Their Kin--In No Particular Order," and "A Small Order of Whimsey." Contributors from New Mexico and Arizona include biologist Harley Shaw, who writes about the dangerous "kissing bug," Jay Udall who considers ants and spiders, Patricia Woodruff who lauds the armor-plated Vinegaroon, and Elizabeth Bernay who describes the Horse Lubber grasshopper's survival based on its seemingly poisonous diet.

Blessed "Pests" of the Beloved West: An Affectionate Collection on Insects and Their Kin, is worth exploring as much for the information about creatures we "love-to-hate" as for the cumulative affect of the editors' sense of pacing and balance.

Other titles offered by Native West Press include Javelina Place: The Controversial Face of the Collared Peccary, Least Loved Beasts of the Really Wild West: A Tribute, and The Spiders and Spirits of Petunia Manor.

— Jeanne Whitehouse

Order from:
Native West Press
P.O. Box 12227
Prescott, AZ 86304

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"Some people in the community were behind mining, [they] thought, mining is good for money. Some Navajo families were compensated for [past] mining on their lands. They were rich for a while. But it seems like to Navajos or native people, it's not good for us. As of today, I've seen these families suffer; many are gone from alcoholism, and [many] didn't spend the money in the right way. There's nothing there, now they're suffering again. This is almost where we're headed again. In the long run, I think it's not made for the native people to be so rich off the Earth. Uranium mining, it's like it's an omen."

--Mitchell Capitan,
Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining

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