Bookworm: A little something for every ‘Bald Eagle’ watcher

Read ‘Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff’ if downsizing, cleaning up or out, you want to spring clean right

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"The Bald Eagle: The Improbably Journey of America's Bird" author Jack E. Davis.

“The Bald Eagle: The Improbably Journey of America’s Bird”

  • By Jack E. Davis
  • c. 2022, Liveright
  • $29.95, 418 pages

Imagine your house from up higher. From 5,000 feet, it would look like a small brick or scrap wood. Your vehicle, like a toy car. Trees, like stalks of broccoli and you, like a tiny scuttling insect running about. Imagine the breeze at 5,000 feet, a patchwork land beneath the clouds, and the awesome expansiveness of it all. Then let “The Bald Eagle” by Jack E. Davis take you higher.

America does not have a “national bird.”

We have a national mammal and a national tree but, officially speaking, there is no national bird because nothing’s been passed into law or proclamation. But that’s not the only indignity that a dignified bird like the Bald Eagle has endured...

"The Bald Eagle: The Improbably Journey of America's Bird" by Jack E. Davis.

Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin wanted a turkey to be a national symbol but that’s likely a myth, says Davis. Ben was probably joking, although it’s true that he wasn’t too impressed with the eagle. In the end, that’s okay – others were, eventually, almost by accident.

It’s hard to believe that having the eagle on our nation’s seal was ever even a question: before the Colonists came to North America, the eagle was a powerful, important symbol in Native American culture, and many of the bird’s seven thousand plumes were used in “a language of feathers” and other rituals. As for those Colonists, the eagle’s majesty and its hunting prowess were both widely admired. Still, there was controversy, and our country was independent for years before the seal design was approved and with it, the eagle-as-symbol.

Eagle-watchers know that love wasn’t always given to the bird, however. Not once, but twice in American history, the eagle was almost driven to extinction; in fact, there was a time when they were brutes and thieves to be destroyed. Live eagles were “inducted into service” during wartime. Eagles were stolen, stuffed, and studied; honored, revered, and despised, all within the last two hundred years. And today – finally – the eagle is protected.

Back in 1932, the debut of the quarter coin featuring George Washington caused a kerfuffle: did the back of the coin feature a golden eagle or a bald eagle? That story, and the differentiation, are just a small part of what’s inside “The Bald Eagle.”

Indeed, author Jack E. Davis has a little something for every bald eagle watcher, from taxonomy to etymology, cultural ideals to scientific facts to shocking tales from a time when eagles were prey of the most dangerous predator of all. Those latter pages are hard ones to read – as are the tales of near-extinction – but Davis doesn’t let readers turn away from the harshest realities of history; to balance them, you’ll be glad for the tiny pebbles of distracting minutiae and trivia that are scattered about.

This is the kind of book you’ll want to read, and then place on your shelf for later consultation. It’s shareable, discussable, and very, very fascinating. If you keep a To-Be-Read list, you’ll want to put “The Bald Eagle” a little higher on it.

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“Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff”

  • By Matt Paxton with Jordan Michael Smith
  • c. 2022, Penguin Portfolio
  • $24, 310 pages

The carpet in your living room is brown. At least that’s the way you remember it. You haven’t seen it in a few years because you’ve got stuff from corner to corner, held down by furniture you don’t sit on, anchored by things you don’t use. Time for a major clean-up, and it can start with “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff” by Matt Paxton with Jordan Michael Smith.

Clean-up specialist, “Hoarders” expert, and Legacy List creator Matt Paxton wasn’t always a guy who deals with clutter.

Back when he was a new college grad, he was “Selfish and self-indulgent” and was fired from his first job, so he moved back in with his father. Sadly, months later, his father died of cancer and it was left up to Paxton to clear out the family home. Shortly after that, an elderly lady from church asked for help cleaning up. And then there was another request, and another and Paxton learned each time. Soon, he had a better way to declutter – one that works.

"Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff" by Matt Paxton with Jordan Michael Smith.

The first step is to “uncover the stories behind the stuff.” Have someone nearby to listen to why you kept something, to honor its role in your memories. Surprisingly, that makes it easier to relinquish items you don’t need anymore.

Are you selling, moving, tossing, or just tired of a mess? Decide why you’re decluttering and what your “finish line” will look like. Be sure to measure the space where you’ll put the things you’re keeping, and “be smart about” using storage units.

Next, tackle the clutter in 10-minute increments, and promise yourself that you’ll do that every day. Know where to ask for professional help; in fact, accept help, period. Get rid of any guilt you might be feeling. Learn how to get eliminate paper, including extra pictures. Learn how to build a Legacy List. Embrace the beautiful power of donating. And know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Says Paxton, “A new, simpler, and better life awaits you when you do.”

Unless you’re a dedicated minimalist – a movement that author Matt Paxton says he’s recently embraced – you probably have too many possessions and too much clutter. And too little time and too much confusion, which is where “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff” comes in.

In a gentle way that’s respectful and forgiving, Paxton (with Jordan Michael Smith) guides readers through more steps than one would expect to make decluttering and purging seem do-able. He also shows how getting rid of stuff can be soul-freeing, which could be attractive to even the most dedicated collector, and for anyone who’s reluctant to even think about emptying a home or storage unit.

If you’re downsizing, cleaning up or out, you want to spring clean right, or you’ve just become the recipient of parental belongings, this book helps you take the first tiny steps toward a clean, clutter-free existence. “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff” is a book you want in your corner.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.