Waking Up in Eden: In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island

Waking Up in Eden: In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island

by Lucinda Fleeson
     
 

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Like so many of us, Lucinda Fleeson wanted to escape what had become a routine life. So, she quit her big-city job, sold her suburban house, and moved halfway across the world to the island of Kauai to work at the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Imagine a one-hundred-acre garden estate nestled amid ocean cliffs, rain forests, and secluded coves. Exotic and…  See more details below

Overview

Like so many of us, Lucinda Fleeson wanted to escape what had become a routine life. So, she quit her big-city job, sold her suburban house, and moved halfway across the world to the island of Kauai to work at the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Imagine a one-hundred-acre garden estate nestled amid ocean cliffs, rain forests, and secluded coves. Exotic and beautiful, yes, but as Fleeson awakens to this sensual world, exploring the island's food, beaches, and history, she encounters an endangered paradise—the Hawaii we don't see in the tourist brochures.

Native plants are dying at an astonishing rate—Hawaii is called the Extinction Capital of the World—and invasive species (plants, animals, and humans) have imperiled this Garden of Eden. Fleeson accompanies a plant hunter into the rain forest to find the last of a dying species, descends into limestone caves with a paleontologist who deconstructs island history through fossil life, and shadows a botanical pioneer who propagates rare seeds, hoping to reclaim the landscape. Her grown-up adventure is a reminder of the value of choosing passion over security, individuality over convention, and the pressing need to protect the earth. And as she witnesses the island's plant renewal efforts, she sees her own life blossom again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

An admitted news junkie, journalist Fleeson imagined she would die in the Philadelphia Inquirer's newsroom with a half-written story in her computer. But as the newspaper business began its cataclysmic shift in the late 1990s, she started to feel stymied and leapt at a fund-raising job with Hawaii's National Tropical Botanical Garden. Arriving on the island of Kauai, she discovered that Hawaii's native plants were becoming extinct at an alarming rate, with two-thirds in danger of disappearing by the end of the current century. Fleeson delves into conservation efforts-the history of the garden's benefactors, two gay men with a passion for exotic plants and even more salacious parties during the years after WWII. She spotlights a full-time bartender who attempts to cultivate rare plants with basic greenhouse equipment. Finally, she shadows Kauai's own "Orchid Thief": the Robin Hood of Hawaii known for picking endangered plants in national forests and turning them into prized specimens on his own preserve. An artful and lively tale of flora and fauna illustrates their complexities and serves as a reminder of the need to nurture both. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Fleeson fashions a new life for herself at a Hawaiian botanical garden. When the bean counters took over the Philadelphia Inquirer, the author knew her days were numbered. She nipped a potential midlife crisis in the bud by accepting an out-of-the-blue job offer to become a fundraiser for the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) in Kauai, Hawaii. Gardening had always been a passion of hers, and here was a chance to make an impact. As her new boss and friend, colorfully irrepressible botanist Dr. Bill Klein, said, "It's the nature of gardeners to take these disasters and improve on them." He might have been speaking of Fleeson's life, but he was actually referring to their task of getting the NTBG back on its feet after many moribund years and a devastating hurricane. Fleeson sets forth in appealingly bald language the events of her days: learning the ropes at work, delving into the history of the botanical garden, maintaining her love life, pursuing the island's more telling stories. She downplays her emotions but doesn't scant the intimacy of her role as participant, chronicling missteps aplenty while she negotiates her way through the cultural pitfalls of both her new job and Hawaiian society. Fleeson's descriptive talents come to the fore as she summons the pungent dilapidation of her surroundings and the drama of the landscape, "a fertile universe, primordial and undisturbed." She shows finesse in making vest-pocket stories of her investigations: the controversy over native vs. exotic species, Isabella Bird's Hawaiian sojourn, the role of plate tectonics in Hawaii's geology, profiles of the men whose estate became the NTBG and island biogeography and extinction.Additional subjects include death, politics and eating mangoes in the nude. A surviving-middle-age story that artfully blends the intriguing world of natural science with the theater of human foibles.
From the Publisher
"Fleeson’s descriptive talents come to the fore as she summons the pungent dilapidation of her surroundings and the drama of the landscape . . . A surviving-middle-age story that artfully blends the intriguing world of natural science with the theater of human foibles."—Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565129443
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
06/16/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
937,619
File size:
2 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"When the few remaining individuals of an endangered plant species are too few to have much chance of survival in nature, we must intervene; the same is true when our own lives reach a level of sameness at which they seem to lose purpose. In this engaging book, Lucinda Fleeson tells us how she found new meaning for her life among the plants and fascinating people of the tropical paradise that is the beautiful island of Kauai in the Hawaiian islands. Highly recommended." – Peter H. Raven, President, Missouri Botanical Garden. St. Louis

"Part history, part personal confession, part cautionary tale about environmental preservation...[An] impeccably researched, beautifully told tale of how America's most exotic locale transformed the life of an urban journalist." —Gioia Diliberto, author of The Collection

Meet the Author

Lucinda Fleeson is director of the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. She was a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer for many years and has been awarded an Arthur Rouse Award for Press Criticism, a McGee Journalism Fellowship in Southern Africa, a Knight International Press Fellowship, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. Before settling in Washington DC, she lived in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Budapest, Botswana, and, most notably, Kauai.


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