Sunday, May 22, 2011

Life in a Strange Place (Chapters 2 - 14) by Bill Finch

The title of Section II, The Citizen of Nokobee, is a little odd.

Raff, after all, is a citizen of the cities of Clayville and later, Mobile. Much of this section revolves around his relationships with the people of those communities — his family, their rituals, and the peculiar rules, customs and beliefs of the people there.

And yet, the title celebrates Raff as the citizen of a very different kind of community, the community of the wild land known as Nokobee. Nokobee is a fictional place, but it appears to be a condensed portrait of a real place, southwest Alabama, in the area of the country known by that half spooky name, the Deep South.

Think back on all the things you’ve heard before about Alabama, its people and its places. Jot those thoughts down, in the order you think of them. We’ll come back to them.

When we think about places we don’t know a lot about, we often nurture overly simplistic impressions of those places. So if you say "Florida" to people who only visit there, they might think of beaches and orange juice. But folks who live in Florida know it is far more complex and interesting than white sand and orange groves.

We may also harbor the suspicion that people in other places aren’t quite like us, that they may experience life in a way we don’t.

"Tell me about the South. What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all?" a character asks in Faulkner’s novel, Absalom, Absalom, another famous story about the Deep South. The character who asks those questions sounds like he has just discovered a strange new species of insect running across his floor, and is amused and perhaps a little annoyed by the creature’s mysterious rituals and behavior. I imagine Raff engaged in a very similar discussion when he went to Harvard.

Did these chapters of the book confirm your impressions of Alabama? How would you have felt or reacted, growing up in those communities where Raff was raised? Would it have changed the way you see things? How do the people and customs and beliefs of Clayville and Mobile resemble the people, customs and beliefs of your own community? How do their prejudices and assumptions and beliefs differ from your own?


Karen Leggett said...

I believe the most important issues addressed in Anthill generate similar opinions in Alabama, Maryland or Alaska: protecting wilderness and natural areas versus developing these areas economically to “serve” the population. Many National Wildlife Refuges in all parts of the country have found demands for development encroaching on their boundaries (or hoped-for boundaries) – and there are people in each community who would agree with Raff and others who would be voting for the next housing or industrial development. Raff’s choice of a solution is unique but could theoretically be replicated to some degree in any state.

Harper said...

I have never been to Alabama. One of my impressions of that State is Governer Wallace and segregation issues. I do live in a small town, however, so I think lots of what I read about Raff and Clayville are the same as where I live up north. We all know each other in my town and we know "gossip" and stories about each other as well. We appreciate what we have in our small town, and that is a belief we share. We like our little grocery store and our post office but some of us wouldn't mind a McDonald's coming into town. I wonder if you can give us readers an example of what prejudices and assumptions you are thinking of.

Ted Schmidt said...

I think that Wilson certainly described the "Alabama culture" but really the conundrum of balancing economic development and wilderness protection was his main reason to highlight the community that surrounds these issues. Surely certain cultures can sustain the conundrum better than others. Mr. Finch, how well do you think that Is that unithis Alabaman community dealt with the competing priorities? Is this unique to a southern U.S. culture?

Bill Finch said...

Ah, well, I try to be as open minded as possible when it comes to prejudices and assumptions. My guess is that we all have many different kinds, and I also suspect it's harder to see them in ourselves than it is to see them in others. The important question for science or for living is whether we're aware of those prejudices and assumptions, and whether they affect what we see and what we are capable of knowing.
Ted, I'm not absolutely certain that there IS a southern U.S. culture. I think there is a conspicuous culture of consumption that unifies much of the modern South, but I'm not sure that's too different from what we see over much of the developed world. Beyond that great unifying force, there appear to be MANY cultures within the south, and the book suggests that there may be many cultures even within Mobile and Clayville.
You have made a good point that much of the book focuses on finding ways to balance economic development and wilderness protection, and this subject is as important to me as it is to you! In this section, I think I noticed some other themes emerging. Part of the interest of Anthill is, I believe, they way it encourages us to compare and contrast behavior within and across cultures and communities, whether those cultures and communities are human or insect, whether they're located in Clayville, Ala., or Cambridge, Mass. It also raises some interesting questions about what what happens when two cultures intersect, particularly when one of those cultures doesn't know a lot about the other.

Ted Schmidt said...

Conservation of our wildlands and wildlife refuges relies heavily on how we intersect culturally- across geographic and ethnic boundaries - and in maintaining diversity and perhaps making compromises. Do you think calling attention to our differences breeds intolerance and does this work against a unified conservation community?

Heather said...

As far as stereotypes in the book, I found it highlighted with Raff's family and his uncle's firm. They seemed to follow very stereo-typical caricatures of how we look at southerners (note: I'm a Yankee)...the lack of ambition in his father, the reliance on family history/name in his mother, etc. I found the overall issues and themes of the story, though, to apply everywhere. As the human populations continues to expand, it demands more living space, in conflict with preserving that space for other creatures. Although I would change some of the characters if I moved it elsewhere, I could place this same main storyline anywhere in the country. I think the most important thing to take away from it is that despite the stereotypes involved, the problem is throughout the country and his solution CAN BE utilized everywhere. The thought that there are compromises to be made on both sides seems to be rarely explored. You also see that stereotype in the conservationalists Raff meets at Harvard, particularly his girlfriend, who sees no room for compromise, which helps to drive home the greater issue of conservation.
To answer Ted Schmidt's question, I think it goes back to the fear of the unknown we talked about in the first segment. If we were not afraid of our differences, if we were not afraid of losing 'too much', afraid of what the other side might do, there could be a unified conservation community.

SE10 from Seneca East said...

Raff began his interest in nature in his outing in Nobokee and his experience hunting with his father made his want to protect nature. Raff became a environmental attorney.

The ant colony is a superorganism because as explained in the book the ants work in unity with one another instead of individuals it is merely the colony.

The role of groups like Gaia Force as described in the book have no influence in America because groups that intend to break laws and cause unrest tend to draw public scrutiny.

SE8IsHeadedToState said...

How is an ant colony a superorganism?
An ant colony is a superorganism because it is in between the level an individual organism and an entire ecosystem. All the individual ants work together to make what is like their own little habitat run smoothly. The tiny ants work together and make an anthill full of ants work well by doing different tasks. The ants are like the Semmes family in the book “Anthill”. They all work together and do their own part to make the family operations run smoothly. The ants work individually just like the cells in the human body. They each do their own small task to run something that is very large and impressive. By doing this, the ants in an ant colony become a superorganism.
How do a person’s worldview, spirituality, and politics, influence their interests in conserving nature?
A person’s worldview, spirituality, and politics greatly influence their thoughts and interests on conserving nature. All these different things lead to an influence on how you might feel about conserving nature. People may think very differently about the world. One person may feel one way, while another person does another. In the story, Raff was raised with a large part of his childhood being in the outdoors. This leads to him wanted to conserve and protect nature. He tries to learn about it and enjoys exploring it. His worldview was influenced by Ainesley teaching him as a young child. You are often influenced by the people around you just like Raff was. Religion and your spirituality may also effect on how you feel about conserving the environment. Certain spirituality may have you believe one thing, while another type has you believing another. Finally, politics may influence your ways of conserving nature. You could not care at all about conserving nature if you think politically one way, or care totally about the environment in a separate different type. All these different factors can have you believe about which way you care about nature. What you believe is often influenced by other people and these factors. A person’s worldview, spirituality, and politics can greatly influence about how you feel about conserving nature,
Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
Yes, I believe these characters are very real and believable. They could very possibly be actual people in the real world. This is how realistic these characters are. I can relate to some of their predicaments. Being in the woods like Raff and Ainesley usually are I can relate to them. When Raff got bit by the snake, it was just like the time that I was stung by a bee. I was back in the woods by myself at a young age and I was allergic to these bees. I am always in the woods just like Raff is. Raff’s father Ainesley could also be a very real character along with all the other characters throughout the book. He could be just like my father or grandfather who teaches many lifelong lessons and helps me learn new stuff in the woods. In the end, I believe greatly that these could be real characters with the same predicaments that remind me of myself and others that I know.

WILD READ Team said...

We love to see more comments from Seneca East High School. Your fresh perspectives add so much and we can tell that you are really thinking as you read this book. Since you are answering questions that appear in our Discussion Guide, it is a good reminder to everyone to check that resource out. It is a .pdf that you can download with supplementary questions, activities and weblinks. Click on "Anthill Discussion Guide" at the upper right column of this blog if you want to see it.
P.S. Good luck at States, Seneca...

se16 said...

How is an ant colony a superorganism?
An ant colony is a superorganism because there is a lot of hard work that goes into the colony. Every single ant does its job to work together to bring food to the colony and build the colony. They all have to work together to get things done. I think the ants are like the family in the book "Anthill", the family works together like the ants of a anthill, they all have their own task and duty to get things done.
Describe a special place you connect with, similar to the way Raff connects with Nokobee.
A special place I can connect with is the woods behind my house. Its so calm and peaceful there and I can go there just to get away from things or if I just need to think. Raff thinks the same thing about Nokobee, as a place that helped him, to think, to grow to the individual he is today.
Do the characters seem real and beleivable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
I do think the characters seem real and beleivable. They act like normal people would, thats what makes them so real. Yes, I can relate to thier predicaments because when Raff went into the woods with his Dad to shoot something he got scared and didnt want to shoot the gun. It reminds me of a time when I was little and my Dad wanted me to shoot a gun but I was too scared that it would kick back and hurt me. I also remembered it as being really loud and I didnt like that either.

se2 from seneca east high school said...

Q: What were some of Raff’s key childhood experiences that lead to his interest in becoming an ecologist and environmental attorney? Why did he choose his final career?
A: He did not watch TV and did not have playmates lead to exploration of Nokobee. His mom and dad allowed him to explore. Raff collected many bug treasures at Nokobee. He choose his final career because he loved doing it ever since he was little.

Q: How is an ant colony a superorganism?
A: An ant colony is a super organism because of a mutation in one of the colonies in Nokobee. The mutation came from a gene in the ants’ code of heredity. In the ant colony in the book the ants have many queens.

Q: Describe a special place you connect with, similar to the way Raff Connects with Nokobee.
A: A special place I connect with, that is similar to the way Raff Connects with Nokobee is my grandpa’s woods. I like hike and ride though the woods. It is a quiet place to go to when you want to get away from annoyances.

SE11scotty4250 from Seneca East High School said...

Q: What were some of Raff's key childhood experiences that lead to his interest in becoming an ecologist and environmental attorney? Why did he choose his final career?

A:I think Raff's major childhood experience that lead to his career choice was him growing up in the Nokobee. Raff grew up learning about all of the different animals living in Nokobee and without the distractions that modern day people have (television, cell phones), he really learned how nature worked and really became interested in it. This showed when he went on the hunting trip with his father and cousin. Raff had grown to respect nature and couldn't come to hurting it in any way.

Q:How is an ant colony a superorganism?

A:Ant colonies are a superorganism because every ant works as one. Each ant has a job. Some gather food and some build more tunnels for the anthill. Each ant contributes to the overall health of the colony. If something happens to one ant, that ant is replace. Ant colonies can almost be described as a country. A society within our own.

Q:Describe a special place yo connect with, similar to the way Raff connects with Nokobee..

A: For me there are several places that I'm connected with. The one that I go to the most would have to be the tree in my grandparents side yard. It's a place to go and think in the shade during the summer. The next place I would say that I have a good connection with would be my grandpa's woods. It is a quiet little woods where you can go and walk or ride an ATV through. In the woods there is a little pond that call a Frog pond because it is basically mud with water where a good number of frogs live. This pond however, is in the far side of the woods and it is always quiet and really a nice place to go when you want to be alone.

Anonymous said...


How do a person’s worldview, spirituality, and politics, influence their interests in conserving nature?
A person’s worldview, spirituality, and politics, influence their interests by changing your feelings of nature. A child could be raised to love and accept nature, while another could be raised with no concerns about nature, and therefore having no need to love nature or hate nature. Politically someone would have the view to fight for nature, and another to have no cares for nature, or maybe even hate nature.
Describe a special place you connect with, similar to the way Raff connects with Nokobee.
I have woods and a creek behind my house to connect with. I grew up there with my brother and sisters. I go there to be alone for awhile, like Raff with Nokobee.
How is an ant colony a superorganism?
An ant colony is a superorganism because the way ants all work together, like the limbs on our body. Theses ants apart from each other wouldn’t be able to survive, at least for extended period times, but together survive with far greater ease. They all work together to conquer one great task, and therefore become a superorganism.

Anonymous said...

Se12 From Seneca East High School

How do a person's worldview, spirituality, and politics, influence their interests in conserving nature?
They way people view, and their beliefs in nature all vary from each other. Some people's worldview sees the world with no problems, other's see it as we should be trying to save nature. One's politics may cause them to stand up and fight for nature, or fight against nature. Its just the different ways people feel about nature.

Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicament? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
Yes the characters seem very real and believable. I can actually relate to their predicament in the woods firing the gun. I've never fired a gun, but my father pushes me to do things that I am afraid to do, just like Raff's father. To an extent Raff reminds me of myself. When I was younger most of my days were also spent in the woods. I didn't quite know much about the creatures I would find, but it was my favorite thing to do.

What are some of Raff's key childhood experiences that lead to his interest in becoming an ecologist and environmental attorney? Why did he choose his final career?
Spending a lot of his time exploring the Nokobee was a huge factor to his interest in becoming an ecologist and environmental attorney. He choose his final career because it is something that he loves, hes know it since he was a child.