Featured Book Review
One of the most persistent challenges I’ve faced as a naturalist is in how to pursue my field interests while also fulfilling all my responsibilities as a husband, father, and most recently care-giving child to an elderly, dementia-afflicted parent. Then, of course, to all these as also daily added the constant and seemingly ever-increasing demands of the job I hold that helps make it possible for my family to survive. I rarely have much – if indeed any – time to get out into the field just for my own purposes. And even when I do find a hole in time through which I can crawl and steal a few hours away, the entire time I’m gone, I’m plagued with guilt that I should be giving that time back to my family, from whom I am already stealing other hours in order to tend to my job or care for my mother. Needless to say, it gets me down.
It also makes me feel very lonely and isolated. After all, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are chock-a-block with uncountable nature enthusiasts living, as they say, “their best lives.” Don’t they have families to care for; job responsibilities demanding their attention? I often find myself asking “Why am I the only one to be so overwhelmed by the demands of life; why can’t I even enjoy the time when I can finally go afield, even if only for a short while? ” Then I read Caroline Greville’s Badger Clan; My Badgers and Other Family, from which I most thankfully learned very clearly that I’m not alone. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
It was during a walk near Radley Lakes with my friends Jo and Chris that I first suddenly took notice of the isolated curious brown stalks with the odd curling bits all around their tops. We had been stooping our way through what was once a water meadow but of more recent use as a potash disposal area, examining the assorted flora and fauna that clearly had a decided preference for staying low to the ground, when these spindly tall, decidedly withering brown spikes suddenly began to become more numerous. “The orchids have certainly finished blooming this year” I recall Jo saying, to which I replied something at least similar to, if not exactly “Orchids? What orchids?” And so it was that my eyes were opened to the fascinating world of British orchids – albeit in perhaps at not the most picturesque moment of their life cycle. Keep reading…
Of all the problems facing the United States that I have, as an American, over the course of my life seen to be the most trouble-inspiring, are a profound misunderstanding of history and an over-abundance of nostalgia for the imagined past that this misunderstanding creates. An insufficient, and commonly over-simplified, initial education in our own history is made worse by a pervasive anti-intellectualism, coupled with a wide-spread preference for being entertained over being intellectually stimulated, has over the decades yielded a sizable portion of the population that takes more of what they “know” about American history from the oft-reinforced tropes of popular films and television programs than from carefully researched books and accredited historians. Keep reading…
At the Society for the Protection of Birds’ sixth annual general meeting in 1896, Miss Julia Andrews, a fifty-eight year old spinster and local secretary for the Society’s branch in Teddington, rose to ask a very uncomfortable question to all the good and the great – as well as the more middling sort such as herself – there gathered: how, if they were to be a society for the protection of birds, could they avoid opposing the shooting of pheasant, grouse, and partridge for pleasure? It was a question she had asked at the Society’s three previous annual meetings, and one, given that a not insignificant portion of her audience was made up of members of the landed gentry who not only profited from the hunting on their lands, but took active and enthusiastic part in such hunts themselves, that was received with, as Tessa Boase describes in her new book Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, “an awkward silence.” Keep reading…
As Glenn Shorrock both wrote and sang in Little River Band’s 1979 song Cool Change,
Well I was born in the sign of water
And it’s there that I feel my best
The albatross and the whales they are my brothers
It’s a song I’ve long felt described me remarkably well. I was born in a hospital less than one hundred meters away from the lower Columbia River, to a family who for generations had made its living from that river and the Pacific Ocean just beyond its mouth. I was helping my father with the nets by the time I was eight, and could pilot a boat long before I could drive a car. The water and the fish that lived in it were not just our livelihood, they were our life. Keep reading…
Mark on Sundays
I remember – I doubt in fact I shall ever forget – my first visit to the Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre at Cley; it rendered me speechless. As an American, I am perpetually in awe of the astonishing wildlife reserves I have the privilege to visit in the UK, but this one truly was like nothing I had seen before, even among all the other jewels of the British wildlife reserves.
For years we’ve been hearing story after story about the importance of conserving honeybees – specifically the European Honeybee, Apis mellifera. Then on 26 January 2018, Science magazine published “Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife” by Jonas Geldmann and Juan P. González-Varo, in which the authors reported that “managed honey bees can harm wild pollinator species.”
Newly Noted Books
It didn’t take long for news of the forthcoming publication by Little Toller Books of Peter Marren’s “Emperors, Admirals and Chimney-Sweepers; the Naming of Butterflies and Moths” to spread across the land like a flock of migrating Monarchs.
Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees” was a book that made a very deep and lasting impression upon the way I view forests. His “The Inner Life of Animals” gave me additional reasons to suspect that many of the ideas I’ve long held about animal cognition are indeed correct.
In his still-growing “To the Last Smoke” series, Stephen J. Pyne has ranged across North America with volumes dedicated to the history, dynamics, and management of wild land fires from California to Florida, and from the Northern Rockies to the Southwest and places in between. For any interested in learning more about how fires behave and affect these various regions, it is difficult to imagine more authoritative works to which one can turn.
As my dear friend Mr. Grey is fond of saying at the beginning of sentences, “If I’m honest…” I’m not all that familiar with the Cambridge Philosophical Society. However as 2019 marks the bicentennial of its founding “by Adam Sedgwick and John Stevens Henslow as a place where university graduates could meet to discuss current […]
It was Aristotle, in the first book of his “Nichomachean Ethics,” who wrote, “For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy” to conclude his point that the cultivation of virtue takes prolonged effort and a great amount of time.
Of all the poets whose works I admire, Dante Alighieri is foremost in my personal pantheon. And of all his works, “Inferno” is my unquestioned favorite. The beauty of Virgil’s explanation in Canto 2 of Beatrice’s charge to him to aid Dante in his journey, concluding in “Why do you delay, when three such blessed ladies care for you in the court of Heaven?” always brings tears to my eyes. However something has long puzzled me about the poem – the astronomical references in it.
It happened in the way these things ordinarily do with me. I had taken down from my shelves Stefan Müller-Doohm’s biography of Jürgen Habermas titled Habermas A Biography and had not read very far into it before learning of Habermas’ affiliation with The Frankfurt School and Max Horkheimer. Not being even passingly familiar with Horkheimer I put down the book and spent a little time researching him and his work. From this I discovered that Horkheimer was deeply influenced by, and much of his work was infused – either as material to build upon or to critique – with the ideas of, Hegel, Marx, and Freud. While I can claim to be at least conversant in the ideas and works of the latter two of these, Hegel was another matter entirely.
Now at this point you may be wondering,”So what; you don’t need to understand the ideas of all these people simply to read a biography of someone.” Actually, I do; or at least I need to at a level to which references to them are not lost upon me. For how can I claim to understand the ideas of someone for whom these very ideas are the principal reason for their notoriety if those ideas are a direct result of the ideas of their own teachers, mentors, or intellectual inspirations without being at least somewhat familiar with the ideas of these people themselves? And to that matter, how can anyone truly consider themselves well-read without a familiarity with the significant writers of the past, particularly those whose words literally changed the intellectual climates of societies, the fates of nations, and the course of world history? Keep reading…
The Well-equipped Naturalist
When it comes to astronomy, let’s just say that I’m still learning. I’ve made some good progress with the Moon, and I’m learning to identify the brightest stars, but when it comes to anything much more complex than that – variable stars, nebulae, deep anything – I’m, as they say, “not quite there yet.”
For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
As most naturalists do, I like to stop for at least a few moments on anniversaries of particular scientific significance in order to acknowledge and contemplate what or who that anniversary commemorates and where we would be had that thing not happened or that person not been born. Such a day is 12 February, the date on which Charles Robert Darwin, FRS FRGS FLS FZS was born.
Given the popularity of such recent books as Britt Wray’s “Rise of the Necrofauna” and Beth Shapiro’s “How to Clone a Mammoth,” as well as the publication of the most recent addition to the still growing body of literature taking the topic as its subject, Ben Minteer’s “The Fall of the Wild,” it shouldn’t be surprising that Intelligence Squared U.S. gathered together four people with quite different views on the matter for one of their Oxford-style debates.