There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human Soul
– Emily Dickinson
Top 10 Books for Nature Lovers
With long dark evenings and firewood in ample supply I gradually start returning to books. Much of what I read relates to natural history as well as to the intersection of nature and human culture. For this issue I tasked myself with selecting ten favourite books on the two subjects. My goal was to share as well as clarify for myself the books which have made a deep and abiding impression upon me as well as ones I turn to every few years simply for the pleasure of it. Excluded are favourite reference books and many acclaimed authors. It is very much a personal reflection and I hope one or two may make it to your winter reading list.
The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
The Song of the Dodo is part travelogue, part history and part the distillation of an enormous body of science from the field of biogeography – the branch of science dealing with the patterns of species distribution. (It is more interesting than it sounds.) Quammen follows in the footsteps of explorers and scientific giants such as Darwin and especially Alfred Wallace, as well as current researchers showing the trajectory of scientific insights. The writing is engaging and leaves me craving more.
Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver is a biologist and a writer. Highly acclaimed for her fiction she is also a writer of non-fiction with a social and environmental conscience, having written about miner’s strikes and various natural history topics. Small Wonder is a collection of essays on nature, family and social responsibility. One of my favorites is ‘Lily’s Chickens’ – a philosophical story about our connection to food.
A Year in the Maine Woods by Bernd Heinrich
Heinrich is a serious scientist working across disciplines of entomology, ornithology, botany and physiology. He writes clearly and with attention to the little details of nature. This book covers a range of topics including animal hibernation, beetle life cycles and forest succession. It was difficult to pick between Heinrich’s books. Perhaps his best-known books are Mind of the Raven and Ravens in Winter.
Cultures of Habitat by Gary Nabhan
The title comes from Nabhan’s interest in observing the long histories of interaction among human communities and the habitats they reside in. In this wide ranging collection of essays he examines the relationship between cultural diversity, ecological diversity and community sustainability.
Second Nature by Michael Pollan
Second Nature is the book Pollan wrote before becoming famous and one which deserves greater recognition. In my opinion this is his best book. Pollan uses his gardening experiences as a means to explore the question of how to provide for our needs without diminishing nature.
Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer
A beautiful lyrical collection of essays on mosses as engaging as any writing I have ever experienced. I had difficulty putting it down. Read this and be prepared for a transformation in how you view that most ordinary part of our environment.
At Nature’s Pace by Gene Logsdon
Logsdon is a farmer and a writer who sees a link between the ecological and economic crises, which threaten land, and human communities. He critiques conventional agriculture as well as points to hopeful signs and ways to remedy our relationship with the land.
A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane
A small charming book with pen and ink sketches by the author mostly about the wood culture of early North American settlers. It shows clearly the reliance of the settlers on the natural environment, as well as the tools and techniques in use over time.
Alder Music: A Celebration of our Environment by Gary Saunders
In these short meditations Saunders shares the joy (with hints of sadness) of living in one place and the ties that bind him to nature and society. It is not a “head in the sand”, “everything will be okay” book, but it does remind us to embrace the simple joys and pleasures.
Earth in Mind: on Education, Environment and the Human Prospect by David Orr
In this collection of essays, Orr finds links between our education and economic systems and the environment; exposing contradictions and as well as pointing the way to new possibilities. “What is Education For?” is a must read for students and teachers. In university I took to leaving a copy on my professor’s desks.
Nature is a not just a pleasing backdrop to our lives and a place for recreation. It is home. It sustains us – it provides ecosystem services and materials, promotes physical and psychological health and provides an endless source of wonder and joy. Season’s Greetings!
Jay Rastogi is a naturalist, horticulturalist and educator living in Yellow Point. ecoforestry [at] gmail [dot] com