Like many people, I have a tendency to desire books, collect books, stack books, and not always finish them. But there are books, particularly about nature, that I connect to in myriad ways, and refer back to again and again. And that I want to share. From time to time I'll post a review here of just such books. In fact, I have a few to start with. And more to come, in time.
THE HOME PLACE
Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature
by J. Drew Lanham
I've had this book on my wish list for quite some time, as it was first published in 2016. I recently, finally, picked up a copy. I'm so glad I did. From the very start I connected with the author's love of nature. Growing up in rural South Carolina, during the 60's, J. Drew Lanham learned early in life the joys and conflicts born in nature, and in our relationship to it. And to hear him tell the tale in a voice so honest, and poetic, it was easy to get lost along with him in his exploration of the fields and woodlands of The Home Place.
Lanham does not shy away from the fact that he grew up in a segregated south, that he grew up into a world that still, sadly, struggles with these same issues today. But he also connects us to the very history, and love of the land that he grew up in. His love of birds, and all things wild, began as a child on a small family farm, and under the watchful, wise love and guidance of his grandmother, who lived across the field in her own ramshackle homestead. His parents, both teachers, also farmed The Home Place, growing crops they ate, and some they sold to supplement their teachers' pay.
There is a connection to The Home Place that he explores in telling the story of his parents, and his grandparents. In his search to learn more about his family history, his ancestors, his relationship to place. In the telling of his relationship with his siblings, and, in his desire to belong.
I loved going along with him on his explorations of the woods behind The Home Place, where he encountered everything from sparrows and blue jays, to snakes, rabbit, deer, and more. Here is a young boy observing the natural world with wonder and curiosity. A child who dreams of taking flight like the very birds he is fascinated with. And then a young man, who carries that fascination and reverence with him into adulthood, where he continues his love affair with nature, and belief in conservation, as a Professor of Ecology, birder, naturalist and writer.
You do not have to be a birder, a naturalist, or a conservationist to lose yourself in this tale, though it may give you insight into those who are. Just as it offers up the experience of a "Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature", it offers up the story of a bright and curious child in pursuit of his place on this planet called Earth.
This is a memoir, then, but it is also the story of an ecosystem – of some land, the lives lived on it, and the dreams that unfolded there.
THE URBAN BESTIARY
Encountering the Everyday Wild
by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
I have read many of Lyanda Lynn Haupt's books through the years. The Urban Bestiary is one of the first I read from her catalog, and one I return to again and again. Something about this book is so accessible, so simple. As someone who has lived in the city for much of my life, I appreciate her approach to introducing to the reader the surprising amount of wildlife that resides amidst city life. She also helps to dispel many of the fears we might have in encountering wildlife in our daily lives.
From house sparrows to opossum, chipmunks and squirrels to mice, raccoons and moles, rabbits and hawks, Haupt shares her experiences with these animals, profiles of their traits, and her appreciation for them as well. She also provides side notes of interest to a wide variety of subjects at hand - identifying the tracks of different species, dive-bombing crows, tricky hawk identification, nesting season, and the life within trees, to name but a few.
To live in the city does not mean to live absent of wildlife. The more we understand and appreciate the wildlife that lives among us, the more in touch with our own inner wildness we can be. We are a part of the urban bestiary after all.
RESTORING Prairie,Woods, and Pond
How A Small Trail Can Make A Big Difference
by Laurie Lawlor
RESTORING Prairie, Woods, and Pond is the tale of How A small Trail Can Make A Big Difference. In this book, written for readers age 10-14, and budding naturalists of all ages, Laurie Lawlor explores the experience of bringing back nature one helping hand at a time.
Throughout the book, she examines how community is key. How bringing together people from different backgrounds and working toward a common goal fosters a pride in community that's hard to find elsewhere. The transformation of a city-owned dumping ground into the Eagle Nature Trail is a perfect example.
Lawlor delves into the history of the land, reaching as far back as the glacial age, and then onward through generations of evolution and change, the advent of human inhabitants, bad weather, and the introduction of farming, modern civilization and more.
Surveys of the property uncovered native purple coneflower and hoary vervains among invasive thickets, and deep purple clusters of elderberries. Signs of long-ago lost prairie remained! More exploration uncovered an ephemeral pond, and frogs that make the pond home in spring.
Each season on the trail is represented, as well as the educational aspects of it as an outdoor classroom to the students at Eagle Elementary. The progress of the trail as it blooms with the return of native flowers, trees, and wildlife is a great illustration of how joining together as a community can restore some natural balance to the world, and how it can bring both young and old together as well.
It can, as the title explains, Make A Big Difference.
Trilling Chipmunks, Beckoning Blooms, Salty Butterflies and other
Sensory Wonders of Nature
by Nancy Lawson
Prepare for a sensory journey. Finding a way to appreciate, instead of fear, the wild inhabitants of our backyards, gardens, and other green spaces can go a long way towards brokering peace between us mortals and the animals, insects, birds, and unwelcome plant species in our midst. Nancy Lawson's Wildscape explores the organic and scientific connections between species in our landscapes, and the important habitat they share and support.
As a fan of The Humane Gardener, Nancy Lawson's first book, I was looking forward to the release of Wildscape. It's an ambitious, and deep dive into the surprisingly intricate wild worlds that exist just outside our back doors. There is some serious science in here. At least for a non-scientist like me. I still found it fascinating. I came away with a better understanding of the relationships between insects and plants than I have ever had. Understanding these relationships will benefit a gardener far better than any pesticide ever would.
Nancy Lawson has an engaging way of sharing her personal experiences in life, and drawing illumination, wisdom and comfort from the natural world. From familial loss to the magic of fireflies, noise pollution and its effect on birdsong, to the phenomenon of reclamation by wildlife that occurred when the world went quiet during the anthropause of the pandemic, Ms. Lawson weaves a thread of understanding and curiosity that connects us all together.
BRINGING NATURE HOME
How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
by Douglas W. Tallamy
Whether you're an experienced or novice gardener, it's a learning process. Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home, is a handbook of sorts. His focus is on ways to help to sustain the wildlife in our midst through use of native plants. Gardening is a lot of trial and error, there's a huge learning curve. In my experience, anyway. Just because something looks pretty at the garden center does not mean it will grow well in your yard.
I've made plenty of mistakes in the garden over the years, and am grateful this book came along to help. Tallamy explains the relationship between habitat, trees, plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife. Knowledge that can help to garner more success in the garden, and more benefits to the wild world (including humans), and the environment overall.
Through his own experience of creating a more diverse habitat in his suburban backyard, Tallamy shares what he learned along the way. Weeding out invasives, and replacing them with native plants, creates a more diverse ecosystem, and a healthier one as well. Chock full of photos, you'll get a good visual of the compatibility of what you plant to the wildlife it attracts. An appendix includes an extensive list of native plants by region. There's even a question and answer chapter based on some of the most common questions on the subject posed to Tallamy at workshops and garden club meetings.
If you're looking to understand more about the benefits of adding native plants to your garden, this book is a welcome resource.
THIS IS A BOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BIRDS
by Danielle Belleny
There are lots of bird guides out there. I own a few. But Danielle Belleny has done something a bit different with this book. It's a refreshing take on the bird guide. Whether you've been birding for a while, or are just getting started, as the title says: This Is A Book For People Who Love Birds.
Belleny starts off with a brief introduction on How The World Got Birds, and goes on from there. You'll learn how they came to be, their ancient (very ancient) ancestors, how they are able to sing, fly, and why they migrate. A brief history of birding, its struggles, evolution, and hopes for the future are included as well.
Birds are fascinating beings that are found in urban areas, rural areas, and deep in the wilderness across the world's landscapes. Belleny's focus is on finding birds wherever you are. From parking lots behind strip malls and grocery stores, to local parks, cemeteries (great birdwatching spots), landfills (yup!), and you're own yard and neighborhood. Birding is for everyone, and can be done just about anywhere.
The guide section includes colorful illustrations of selected birds of North America, which details the physical aspects of each bird, along with written descriptions of its flight habits, eating habits, nesting habits, range, songs or calls, and other notable traits. It's a fine addition to a bird watcher's library.
KEEP LOOKING UP
Your Guide to the Powerful
Healing of Birdwatching
by Tammah Watts
After years of birdwatching, whether from my backyard, or in local parks and preserves, the act of observing birds never gets old. The act of birdwatching can be awe-inspiring, exhilarating, a mystery in flight. Once that first spark bird happens, the drive to see more follows. To see the birds, identify different species, count as many species seen in a day as possible. To take photographs. Then even better photographs, For many it is a deep, deep passion.
But there is always room for more discovery, more connection. Sometimes it's good to take a step back. Put down the binoculars, the list, the camera, and just breathe, and observe. This is the beauty of wisdom shared in Tammah Watts new book: Keep Looking Up.
Watts introduces the act of bird observation as a healing balm to many ailments, physical and emotional. By way of her own personal journey, she shares the way in which the simple observation of a warbler through a kitchen window can help us to set aside the stress of life, our physical or emotional pain, and just be in the moment with a thing of beauty most profound.
Part memoir, part beginner's guide, Keep Looking Up is filled with reflections on Watt's personal experiences, and with tips and prompts for encouraging our own healing through observing birds in the wild, and from the view of our own kitchen windows.
She illustrates that no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you live, finding peace and healing through a connection with birds is a universal possibility. It's a lovely read as well.
THE SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING
by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
I confess, the title alone caught my eye. The story captured my heart. The onset of a sudden, debilitating illness leaves a woman bedridden and alone for the bulk of her days. A friend gifts her with a tiny woodland snail in a small flower pot filled with woodland violets. Once an avid gardener, she is intrigued, but unsure what she should do with it. How will she care for it, why not just return it to the woodlands where it came from?
But as the days pass by, she observes the snail. As exhausted as she is by her illness, the pace seems just about right. Over time she learns the habits of the snail, comes to understand its needs, how it eats, and what it eats. Eventually, with the help of her daily visitors, she is able to set up a terrarium for the snail so it has a more varied ecosystem to reside in. Thus, their relationship carries forward, and her fascination (and ours) with this tiny creature takes hold.
This sedentary, up close view into the life cycle of a tiny snail soon becomes an in-depth study of the creature. Books to read on the subject are brought in, notes are made on its habits, its appetites, its mating habits. The emotional attachment to it grows, too. This unlikely companion fills her long days of convalescence with an illumination on the natural world, and our connection to it. I learned just as much about the snail as I did the resilience of the human spirit.