23 August 2019

Any Nature Book Readers Out There?

Any nature book readers out there?

Over the last 20 years I’ve had a growing interest in nature and ecology. It’s generally been a
slow burn, sometimes doused by work demands or family demands. But it has never been
extinguished, and in recent years, has really caught fire. With that in mind, my reading (and
audiobook listening) has taken a turn away from business and head-on into the entire spectrum
of “outdoor books” - natural history, nature literature, field journals, and nature travel.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorites from the last few years, and hopefully hear
what my friends have been reading and recommend as well. Let me know your favorites!

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Phillip Connors (2011)
Fire Season is an account of a banker-turned wilderness fire lookout. While loosely chronological,
Connors weaves in ecology, history, accounts from the ‘masters’ like Aldo Leopold and Jack
Kerouac (who also spent a season as a fire lookout). Fire Season does an excellent job
introducing the complexities of forest and fire management.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (1968)
Abbey recounts a season as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah, as well as an
adventure boating down Glen Canyon before the canyon was destroyed by the eponymous
Glen Canyon Dam. Themes of the book range from the ecology of the high desert, challenges
of managing public lands, and intended and unintended impact of  development, and touches
on the history of the area.

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)
Another classic that I finally got around to reading this year. This book is often described as
natural history meets poetry and philosophy.  The book is a collection of essays and a monthly
account of aspects of his corner of Wisconsin. The seminal essay “Thinking Like a Mountain”
is taught in environmental studies around the USA, outlining his conclusions around the
importance of predators over the long term. My favorite chapter was “February - Good Oak”,
where he recounts natural and human history of the region through the felling of an Oak as
the sawyer and his crew battle their way through the oak trunk, ring by ring.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014)
This book strays a bit from core natural history and more into the realm of “memoir”. Macdonald
recounts the year after the death of her father, where she dives deep into falconry, purchasing
a Northern Goshawk to train. While there is much to be learned about the Goshawk and its
environment and needs, the book equally pulls you into Macdonald’s story, and some diversions
into TH White (author of The Sword in the Stone, and would-be falconer).

The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and
Conservationists by Peter Laufer (2010)
Laufer delves into all-things butterflies, from their natural history and “purpose” in the world,
investigation of some specific butterflies, the illegal and lucrative criminal underground of
butterfly collecting, butterflies in culture, and more. 

The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers by Adam
Nicolson (2018)
With the undercurrent of a 70% decline in global seabird populations, this book delves deeply
into 10 types of seabirds - birds that generally spend all of their time away from land (aside
from nesting, which is typically on isolated islands). Nicolson looks at the ecology and
adaptations of each bird - ranging from Puffins to Shearwaters to Albatross.  The book is
packed full of interesting facts as well

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben (2016)
Did you know trees communicate with each other? That they care for their family? This book
provides a very readable review of the biology of trees and their ecosystems, and challenges
the concepts of learning, speaking, communicating as humans relate to them by showing how
trees have evolved their own methods.

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah
Strycker (2018)
Strycker provides a chronological account of his global travel quest to see as many bird
species in one year as possible. Part travel adventure, part natural history, this book is also
touches on the cultures and people in the remote areas he visited in Africa, South America,
India, and more.

A Bonus Book:
Coming into the Country by John McPhee - a thorough coverage of all things Alaska - the geography,
ecology, politics, wilderness, and survival.

Books I’m Reading Now:
Basin and Range (John McPhee); When Mountain Lions are Neighbors (Beth Pratt-Bergstrom)