"A memoir that reads like a mystery" -- Elle
"FAMILIES ARE SO MIXED NOWADAYS. INDEED, AS A RULE, EVERYBODY TURNS OUT TO BE SOMEBODY ELSE." --Oscar Wilde
When I began investigating the supposed murder of a family member in the Amazon, I had no idea how applicable Wilde's quip would prove to be.
I grew up being told that Walter Lindberg, the man who raised my father, had been killed in the late 1920's while exploring the Amazon, looking for gold and making maps. Many years later, my search for the truth behind the story would reveal more about the family members I thought I knew than the supposedly exotic one I'd never met.
I hope that "The End of the Rainy Season" will give heart to anyone who has ever wondered about a family secret. Go find the truth. Better yet, speak openly and honestly within your family before emotional pain turns to harmful secrets. John Quincy Adams said that secrecy stimulates "the passion of curiosity." Curiosity is fine, but when secrets cause later generations to act out the shames of their forbears, the results can be tragic.
Through my work with an international environmental organization, I have learned that just as secrets within families often emerge later in anger or disguise, so, too, do nature's "truths" resist efforts to bury and silence them. In Brazil, destruction of the Atlantic Forest is a big reason why the major coastal cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have water crises. Worldwide, the increase in extreme weather events due to the climate crisis is another ominous example of how nature is the most powerful avenger of them all.
My new project concerns someone else's family. (Sigh of relief.) The story took me to many places, from Plum Island, NY, to Iowa, Cuba and the Philippines, as I examined the life of Major Benjaming M. Koehler. Never heard of him? That was the Army's plan when it tried to squelch the scandal involving his alleged gropings of subordinates in 1912 and 1913 while commander of Fort Terry in eastern Long Island Sound.
In the early 1910s, the federal government was just starting to target homosexuals, primarily in the immigration context. As a respected officer with 17 years of experience, including life-saving actions in the Philippine War, Ben Koehler challenged the emerging profile of a sexual "pervert" as shiftless and effeminate. He refused to resign, claiming the allegations were lies orchestrated by men he had disciplined. My book examines his fascinating case, and illuminates the links between antipathy toward stronger women and the rise of discrimination against sexual minorities. The working title is "Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused."
At at time when violence against members of the LGBTQ community is on the rise, Ben Koehler's compelling story is a timely reminder of the ways in which ignorance and fear can turn people who seem different into fictional beings. I look forward to sharing "Scandal on Plum Island" with readers in 2020.