Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nokobee: The Character and Characters of a Landscape (Chapters 2-14) by Bill Finch

We are introduced to many new characters in Section II of Anthill. But two of the most important aren’t formally introduced until the last half of this section. The first of those “characters” is the landscape of Nokobee, along with the plants and animals it supports. That swirl of wild creatures, that neighborhood of trees and meadows and lakes, seems at times to be an odd mirror of the communities of people Raff grew up with.

The second important character we’re introduced to here is “ a kind of ant” whose anthill colonies are “special to the history” being related in this novel.

Raff, at a young age, begins learning from his encounters with these characters. His attempt to shake hands with a cottonmouth leaves a deep impression on him, and the description of that meeting with the cottonmouth recalls his search for the Chicobee Serpent and his run-in with the Frogman. As Raff explores this world of Nokobee and its many characters, in particular the creatures of the anthill, it seems they’re already influencing how he sees the world of people he grew up with.

But at this point in the book, it might be just as interesting to ask whether Raff’s circle of human acquaintances, his experiences with people, may have influenced how he sees the wild world of Nokobee. How much of what he sees in ants is colored by the people and social circumstances he grew up with? How much of what you see of nature is affected by your dealings with people?

Is it useful to see the people and the wild species of Nokobee as similar, so that the actions of one can illuminate the actions of the other? Are there limits and cautions if we try to make these comparisons?


WILD READ Team said...

Bill, you are truly a citizen of the Alabaman wildlands as the Executive Director of the Mobile Botanical Gardens,longstanding weekly garden columnist for the Mobile Press-Register and the Senior Fellow for the Gulf of Mexico Region of the Ocean Foundation in the Restore Coastal Alabama program just as Raff is a “citizen of Lake Nokobee wildlands.” What is the concept of citizenship in this case and how does it compare to Aldo Leopold’s idea of citizenship and the cultivation of a land ethic? See this Encyclopedia of the Earth entry written by Nina Bradley Leopoldwho by the way passed away yesterday.

WILD READ Team said...

Correction: The Encyclopedia of Earth article entitled
"Aldo Leopold and Environmental Citizenship" by Susan Flader is one of a compendium at this site and not Nina Bradley Leopold though she does have an interesting article there entitled
"Aldo Leopold on the Path Toward Unity of Knowledge."

Nancy said...

Thanks for your insights, knowledge of Alabama's wild wonders and time spent with us!

I feel that so much of what we see in nature has been influenced by the people and social circumstances we grew up with. Yes, it can change over the years, but those first years can color our views. I reflect on Rachel Carson’s words on this “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

I also can look at the second part of the question in another way, not only how “what I see of nature is affected by my dealings with people”…but how my dealings with people are affected by what I see in nature. Nature is a teacher that I rely on to help instruct me to a better person on the earth. With the cycles, interdependence, the growth, being in the moment, the dark and light, the beauty, acceptance.

Jared Burton said...

These are intriguing questions. Without anthropomorphizing too much, I think it is valuable to see parallels in other species' behavior. Because they harmonize with their environments, it can be inspiring to us to also try to live in harmony with our environments.

From what I know, ants have very specific roles in their colonies. It seems the characters in the book, thus far, fit into specific roles also; all the while, we watch Raff grow into his own. As a "citizen of Nokobee", he seems destined to stay in Clayville -- or least nearby -- as the narrator in an early chapter alluded to. If so, his role will stay within his own "colony".

se15 said...

SE15 is amazing!
Anthill Questions
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?
Some of Raff’s childhood experiences that lead to becoming an ecologist are all the times he went to the woods and loved seeing all the animals, but hated it when people would harm the environment. Also when him and his friend went to the woods to look for a suspicious animal. He choose his final job because he wanted to help save the environment.
How is an ant colony a superorganism?
An ant colong is a superorgansim because it is not acting on its own. There are many things to do in the colony and each ant does something different. Therefore the ant colony being a superorganism, because one ant by themselves cannot survive.
How do a person’s worldview, spiritually and politics influence their interests in conserving nature?
A person’s worldview, spiritually and politics influence their interests in conserving nature because if they only care about their part of the world, then they don’t care about the environment elsewhere in the world. Spiritually, what they believe is right and wrong determines how they would treat the environment. Politics, because the government also has a say in what is right or wrong and they make the final decision in the environmental choices, so you will need to change their opinion before what anyone says even matters.

se13 said...


Raff’s Youth Experiences

Raff’s experiences at Lake Nokobee were important in developing his passion for the environment because they showed him things that could not be taught or told. For example when he was shooting at the lizards he felt power because he could take their life in one pull of the trigger. Some personal relationships that deeply affected him were the relationship with the yellow bird, when he killed the bird it changed how he felt about Lake Nokobee, it was now a “fragile entity, and today he had thoughtlessly disturbed its grace and beauty.” Another relationship that affected him was the relationship with his father. His father was tough on him but it showed him how much he wanted Raff to be a good man.

Conserving Wild Places

A person’s worldview, spirituality and politics greatly influence their interest in conserving nature. When a person is more prone to war they usually don’t care for nature to well. Hippies are very spiritual and love nature! And people that are all about politics care more about what the people want. An example would be Raff’s dad; his worldview was the South is better because they know how to get their own food. Ainesley would kill any animal in a heart beat, he doesn’t care about nature.


The characters in the book seemed real and believable. This family seems very relatable from Raff not behaving and lying, to the parents fighting about what is right for their child. I can relate to their predicaments because my parents fight all the time about my driving, my dad says I’m doing well and doesn’t criticize me. Mom on the other hand is so jumpy and doesn’t want to drive with me. Raff in a way reminds me of myself because I to have lied to my parents because I knew they wouldn’t let me do what I wanted. I am adventurous like him to, always watching and listening for animals in the woods.

se19 said...

Ecological and Evolutionary Biology
An ant colony could be referred to a super organism because of its large amount of ants. Another reason it might be called a super organism is because of how complex and smart ants are these days.
Conserving Wild Places
A person’s worldview spiritually influences their interests in conserving nature because they may have a soft spot or big feeling about nature. Their worldview on politics may influence their interests in conserving nature because if a group is lead by a big political leader they could bring a lot of attention to the subject and maybe help to improve nature.
In the book I think the characters seem real and believable. I can also relate to their predicaments. They remind me of myself because I’ve gone out into the woods and wondered around and looked at the wild life that lives in the woods.

se5 said...

Raff’s experiences at Lake Nokobee were very important in developing his passion for the environment. He learned many things on his own there about nature and the environment. He loved to explore and be curious about every little thing he came upon at Lake Nokobee. One personal relationship that affected him was his parents. They took him to Lake Nokobee for picnics and let him explore. Without them he never would have gotten to have the experiences with the environment at the Lake he was so fond of. Another important human relationship was with Uncle Fred. He taught him things about the environment and Raff liked to ask him questions about nature. Fred loved to watch Raff explore and learn new things and encouraged him to learn more. Raff also had a personal relationship with the environment itself. He was happy to be with the environment and liked to find new things. As it said in Anthill, he even wanted to map out the whole property even though Uncle Fred wouldn’t let him. Raff has a good connection with the environment that nobody else could understand except Uncle Fred.

There are many key species that are found I the longleaf pine forests. These include: bobwhite quail, spade foot toads, gopher tortoises, red cockaded woodpecker, and the indigo snake.
If the gopher tortoise disappeared, the indigo snakes gopher frogs, and many other kinds of species would suffer as well. The gopher tortoises dig long burrows that are ecosystems and homes to these species as well as the tortoise. Without these burrows in the ground, these species would have to adapt to another place to live and some could possibly die from no home to adapt to.
Fire is oddly the friend of the longleaf savannah. When lightning strikes it fires set off at frequent intervals and spread through the surface of the savannah. The natural ground vegetation needs the fires every several years to sustain growth and a dominant presence. The trees and shrubs are able to set seed and start to overgrow the original flatland ground vegetation. Then within a decade, the shrubs take over again with the trees also. The longleaf pine savannah has been renewed continuously for possibly millions of years.

A place that I can connect with is the softball field. I feel comforted there and it is a place where I can relax, enjoy playing softball, and have fun while competing to win the games; just like Raff connects with Nokobee. We both feel relaxed at these places and know that we can go there to do what we like to do best.

se14 said...

The word superorganism is quite the word to describe something as simple as an anthill. However, when you open up the idea and truly put some thought toward the hill, I can’t think of a better word to describe it. They all work together to make everything fall together like a puzzle of a life, as if each ant brought their own piece. These ants operate like the family in anthill (Semmes) they all operate in their own ways and create their own little habitat and give each other unconditional jobs, that we as people consider our everyday lives. But when it comes right down to it ants are better than us. Why? Its simple everything functions and everyone does their part as opposed to us where we compromise when things don’t get done. These simple minded creatures are really the superorganism together, and that’s what separates them from us.

Down in a little town in Kentucky, is a cabin. My father and his friends built it as a place to get away and I am allowed to go there openly when I please. It is quiet, chill, and as organic as any place I have ever been. It is filled with good people, good surroundings, and good memories. It has grown with me. As I return and leave something new happens to it. Whether it’s something as small as a new picture or something huge like a new porch, something always changes. The cabin, to me represents years of maturing age and hard work. Much like Raff connects to Nokobee he sees this place as a place to retreat and a great way to spend a day. Whether they are talking to “perverts” or looking for a mysterious serpent, his outlook and memories of the place is constantly changing.

When you write a book like the author of Anthill did some personal opinions will get voiced. Not clearly, and not spelled out for anyone. But they will seep through the words and paragraphs. For example, you can see that the author believes that man and nature has closer ties than people see. He relates the anthill to a family in a very unconditional way but the message is there. And it should be expected by all readers. This is a very opinionated book, no one will see the book in the exact same way as another person.

se1 said...

Through reading the prologue I have been contemplating what the quote "was is a genetic imperative". In conclusion the way I interpret it that all people and beings have to compete, with out "war" there would be no order. Everything has to compete imagine how over populated our world would if we didn't have natural selection. The population is controlled naturally by competition or as Wilson puts it as war.

There are many different ways that your views such as in politics or your spirituality can intervene with your own personal interests in conserving nature. All views have black and white. On one side of spirituality you have the very religious people that believe in doing everything it takes to keep our world clean there is such diversity. We have environmentalists who obviously put their best interests into making sure they do their part and spread the word to others so they will help to improve this world. On the other side of the fence you have people who are less informed or do not have a religion that is based or relevant to the world and its environment.

I do think the characters are believable there are some crazy things that have happened in this world and things Wilson talked about were legitimate. I honestly can relate to a specific issue described in the story. Although I do not agree with the way the characters reacted and perceived it. The encounter between Junior Raff and his dad where Raff didn't want to shoot the gun because he thought of it as a horrible machine that will destroy lives. I see a gun as being a valuable resource that should not be abused. Although people do abuse the luxury. That is my opinion on that incident.

SE3 Superman! said...

As a child Raff loved going to the woods and seeing all the colorful plants and animals. But he did not like the people that harmed the environment and the animals in it. He chose his final career because he wanted to stop people from harming the ecosystem and he wanted to save the environment.

An ant colony is a superorganism because individual ants cannot survive on their own, but together in a colony they thrive. In an ant colony each organism has a specialized job and the colony works together, getting food, like a fine tuned machine.

A persons worldview influence their interest in conserving nature because if you are more concerned with manufacturing and making money you are not going to be worried about the pollution factories are giving off. Spiritually, if you are strong in your faith you will be more interested in conserving nature and less about worldly things. Politically, Republicans are generally not going to want the government to spend money on conserving nature. While Democrats, in general, will be in favor of the government spending money to conserve nature.

se18 said...

Raff’s experience at Lake Nokobee helped him develop his passion for the environment because it makes him feel free and he knows a lot about that place. Chapter 2 describes how Frederick Norville, Raff’s mentor, is fascinated by Raff’s curiosity and knowledge of Lake Nokobee. When Raff was younger he collected several kinds of salamanders, chorus frogs, metallic-blue damselflies and giant lubber grasshoppers. With Raff not being distracted by playmates, television and other distractions he became curious by the mysteries of Nokobee’s natural environment. Personal relationships that deeply affected Raff were his relationship with Frederick Norville because at the time both were widely enthused in nature and insects. Another personal relationship of his was with nature itself because he felt free when he explored Lake Nokobee because it gave him a feeling of belonging.

In Chapter 11, we discover that the key animal species that is found in longleaf pine forests is a species of ants that builds its mound nests along the banks of the lake. Other significant species are the bobwhite quail, spade foot toads, gopher tortoises, red cockaded woodpecker, mole skink, the spider-egg eater ants and mound-building ants. Chapter 11 also describes that the gopher tortoises dig long burrows that are miniature ecosystems all on their own and are homes of indigo snakes, gopher frogs, and ants that eat eggs of subterranean spiders. If the gopher tortoises disappear this may lead to the disappearance of the other species that also live in those burrows because they would lose their homes and they will have to adapt to new living spaces and maybe even new living conditions. Fire affects the longleaf pine forest in a good way because they need the fire to help sustain growth and a dominant presence. When the fires are extinguished, the trees and shrubs set seed and start to grow over the original flatland ground vegetation.

In the book, Raff connects with Lake Nokobee as I connect with being at my grandma’s house. Raff grew up around Lake Nokobee. Lake Nokobee was a comfort zone for Raff. As a child he knew a lot about the place and the creatures that lived there. He could identify what was there and where to find them. As for me, I spent all my away time over at my grandma and grandpa’s house. I enjoyed going there because my grandma spoils me. I am her first grandchild and she always spoils me with gifts, movies and sweets. When I go to grandma’s, I know I am never ignored. Grandma’s house is like a second home to me. When I need to get away from the stress of school and home, I know I am always welcomed with opened arms.

se17 said...

Raff's childhood experiences that led to his final career could have been any one of his adventures around Lake Nokobee. In all the time he spent there, Raff probably had many good experiences with the flora and fauna, discovering things he hadn't seen before. Even the bad experiences, such as almost being bitten by a cottonmouth, could have caused Raff to want to become an ecologist. By becoming an ecologist, Raff would learn more about the animals in his favorite childhood place and would enjoy the good the more, and be less afraid of the bad things.

I think that, in the prologue, when it says that war is a genetic imperative, it is referring to natural selection. War kills many people, which cuts traits out of the gene pool. The less favorable traits are cut, and the more favorable traits remain. Since humans usually survive no matter what traits are received, war is the only real “predator” that weeds out unfavorable traits. The way the Semmeses look at this is that their ancestors had good traits and were therefore good people. Since these traits were passed down, the current Semmeses want to continue passing them down and keep their family name alive.

A person's view of the world, their spirituality, and their political views greatly affect their interest in conserving nature. As an example, Raff grew up without electronics and very little children his age to interact with. This almost forced him to spend most of his time outside. Since Lake Nokobee was nearby and was a good place for a child to entertain himself, Raff ended up spending his time there. He is attached to that place and gained a respect for nature from his experiences. On the other hand, if someone is brought up in a city with no natural areas around them, they would likely care less about nature.

se4 from seneca east high school said...

When Raff is at Nokobee he feels like he is in his own World and is relaxed. He is 'in his element.' He was in Boy Scouts which allowed him to be more prepared and knowledgable about the things in Nokobee. For me, a special place like that is the basketball court. When I am on the basketball court I am relaxed a just do what I love to do. I work hard on the court at practice so that I am relaxed and ready to perform on the court during the games.

A superorganism is a social unit where there are individuals with seperate jobs or tasks. The unit would not be able to survive if the individuals stopped doing their tasks. An ant colony is seperated into units. In each unit, the ants have a special task that they are to do. In doing these tasks they are helping themselves and the at coloy to survive. Therefore, making an ant colony a superorganism.

Raff's experience at Lake Nokobee was important in developing his passion for the environment because it taught him lessons about life. By watching the insects, Raff discovered different types of organisms and what they had to do inside and outside their habitats to survive. His relationship between himself and Frederick Norville all began at Lake Nokobee. He taught Raff what to look for in animals and what he could do with all his knowledge of animals. Another relationship that affected Raff was the relationship between him and the animals. When he shot the bird with his gun he felt bad letting the animals suffer, so he did he right thing and put it out of it's misery. His relationship with both the wildlife environmet and Frederick affected how is life would turn out and both played a very positive role in his life.

se9 from seneca east high school said...

Some of Raff’s key childhood experiences include him being able to go and find animals and match them to pictures in his book and his own experience of killing animals with his gun. Raff loved going to Lake Nokabee and being able to explore the nature around him. Also in chapter 13 Ainesley, Raff’s father, gives Raff his first gun. It is only a BB gun and his father insists it cannot hurt someone severally. However, Raff takes his gun to Nokabee and ends up killing many animals such as lizards and birds. After Raff kills the yellow bird he feels guilty later that night and he thought about how easy it would be for someone to kill part or all of the wildlife at Nokabee if they had a bigger gun.
Raff chose his final career because of his love for nature and he understood how easily nature could be taken away. At the end of chapter 14 it says “In time he understood that nature was not something outside the human world. The reverse is true. Nature is the real world, and humanity exists on islands within it.”
ant colony is a superorganism because the colony works as a unit. They do everything by interacting with each other. They are interdependent organisms and are considered very social because of how they work together. In chapter 11 on page 114 it says that the colonies built mound nests. This information tells us that the ant colonies work together to build their anthills.
The author thinks the best way to effect wildlife conservation is for humans to take some responsibility. Humans should not go out and try to kill off a species, while humans do not try to do this on purpose, they are just thinking of themselves. Also, sometimes humans just need to stay out of the way, the author talks about fires being needed to keep the forests under control. Wilson says that the fires need to happen naturally without the help of humans. Therefore, the author thinks that people need to do their part in effecting wildlife conservation.

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