Featured Book Review
One of the activities I frequently enjoyed as a boy was “playing in the dirt.” I’d flip rocks, rummage in leaf piles, and make a host of other explorations that caused the knees of my dungarees to become stained with soil and grass pigments that drove my mother to distraction every wash day. As I saw it then – and still continue to today – stained trousers were a small price to pay for such important investigations.
When it comes right down to it, exploring the wonders to be found on the ground requires, well… getting right down to it. Hands and knees are the order of the day if a good look at things is to be obtained. Of course, once things are seen, learning a bit about what they are is also important. As adults, we run to keys and field guides. Children, however, have a few more options available to them (better options quite often, if we’re honest), including the unapologetic application of poetry and fanciful pictures to the task. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
One of the challenges of being a general naturalist – particularly a self-taught one – is that of establishing a sturdy foundation in all, or at least most, of the major areas of nature study. For those who undertake any formal, institutionally guided study in one of the fields, such a foundation is provided in the required, hierarchically structured first and second year courses that lead to increasingly advanced – and specialized – areas of study. But for those of us “going it alone,” despite reading dozens of books on entomology, botany, or what-have-you, we often don’t have the experience of that one course of study to lay the comprehensive groundwork on which to build higher levels of understanding – hence our structures are most always riven with gaps and lack sufficient robustness to rise past a certain height. Keep reading…
Consider the following story:
A young man, born and raised in the backcountry of Northeast Oregon, one day decides to leave his family and set out on foot in search of adventure. Over a period of months that stretches into years, he crosses the entire state, eventually crossing from Oregon into Northeast California. Roaming the forests in the shadow of Mt. Shasta on his own for quite some time, he eventually meets a mysterious dark-haired woman. They fall quickly in love and eventually start a family.
Meanwhile back in Oregon, the young man’s aging mother dies. His old father remarries a physically disabled woman and the two eventually have two children of their own. However one day the father and his new family are accused of a crime for which the evidence is only circumstantial. Without any trial, the father, his wife, and their two children are pursued by the authorities, and eventually shot and killed in cold blood. Keep reading…
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
Thus said the Lorax, making his own introduction to the rapacious Once-ler in the classic 1971 book named for its title character by Theodor Seuss Geisel – Dr. Seuss. It’s a book I suspect most readers of The Well-read Naturalist have read. Indeed, I suspect it’s the most widely read book on the subject of the importance of conservation ever published. Its message is simple, direct, and remarkably memorable – and so effectively presented that ever since its publication various groups, commonly those with ties to various extractive industries or assorted apologists for such, fearing its power to evoke action in its readers have sought to have it removed from libraries and classrooms across the United States. Keep reading…
The feeling was really more of being struck the being stung. Standing on the hillside behind our Oregon home, I must have been 15 or 16 years old. I was performing some chore my father has set me to – clearing weeds most likely as I was using hoe when the incident occurred. I remember standing up from a stoop with the hoe in my left hand when suddenly something struck the back of my right with a perceived force that I swear knocked it backwards. My first thought was that I had been shot (we lived in the country) but looking down and seeing no blood, I was perplexed. It was only when the burning sensation and swelling began that it dawned on me that I had been stung. Keep reading…
Mark on Sundays
For his pick this week, Mark takes up the forthcoming “A Shadow Above; the Fall and Rise of the Raven” by Joe Shute. Considering the book from his own perspective as a tireless campaigner for persecuted birds of prey, Mark brings attention to a number of aspects of the book that others – myself included – might well have missed.
Newly Noted Books
“Local people know a lot about managing tropical forests, and they are much better at it than we are.” So writes Charles M. Peters in his new book “Managing the Wild; Stories of People and Plants and Tropical Forests.”
After covering such subjects as beetles, frogs, eggs, caterpillars, and even orchids, the University of Chicago Press’ Life-Size series is finally showing signs of going to seed – well, “seeds” actually (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
In a world that seems to be changing so rapidly – indeed changing in ways that often seem entirely out of control and beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend – it is reassuring to have a tangible reminder that someone, somewhere is indeed making a valiant attempt to keep at least some of the larger changes in our world under observation and publishing an annual record of what they have noticed.
I could spend paragraphs explaining how significant the recent publication of “Plants of the World; An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Vascular Plants” is to the history of the literature of botany; how it’s “the first book to systematically explore every vascular plant family on earth,” and how it’s “organized in a modern phylogenetic order [with] detailed entries for each family.”
When the intellectual legacy of Charles Darwin is discussed, more often than not, the focus is on his “Origin;” however as anyone who has spent even a little time examining the life of this great Nineteenth Century polymath quickly comes to learn, his curiosity led him to inquire into a vast number of mysteries over the course of his life – and early among these was geology.
“Malthus? Really? How is he in any way related to natural history?”
Cast your mind back to Darwin’s “Origin.” What were the two books known to have been among the – if not indeed the – most significant influences on Darwin’s thoughts when writing it? Sir Charles Lyell’s “Principles of Geology” and Thomas Malthus’ “An Essay on the Principle of Population.”
As a native Oregonian with family roots in both commercial fishing and logging, I cannot remember a time I did not know of the importance of the CCC – the Civilian Conservation Corps – to the state’s history. So many of the iconic places, such as Rim Village at Crater Lake and Malheur National Wildlife […]
Whenever I get the opportunity for a vacation, my family and I invariably head north to one of the many idyllic towns and villages along the Salish Sea. Thus when a copy of the recently published “Views of the Salish Sea; One Hundred and Fifty Years of Change around the Strait of Georgia” arrived on my desk, you can imagine how delighted I was.
This just in! Melissa Harrison’s new novel “All Among the Barley” will be published this autumn by Bloomsbury.
I know, I know; I don’t review much fiction here in The Well-read Naturalist – primarily because I haven’t been all that impressed by most of the contemporary fiction I’ve read, and because few contemporary authors I’ve found seem to have any genuine understanding of the natural world, much less incorporate it into their work.
As those who follow The Well-read Naturalist’s Twitter or Instagram feeds will likely already know, I make a regular habit of reading from the collected essays in Melissa Harrison’s Seasons quartet of anthologies from Elliott & Thompson. However what most likely don’t know is just how regular this habit is, or why I do it. It’s easy enough to assume that I find the essays, poems, and diary extracts enjoyable and inspiring; Ms. Harrison’s exquisite editorial taste assures that nothing less would have been included. However even more than these collections being superb assemblies of writings about nature, in then I have found something more than I originally expected that has been of deep and lasting value to me, for which I am deeply grateful to all those whose works are included as well as to their remarkable editor, that perhaps may well be of similar help to others, hence I take somewhat of a personal risk by explaining it here. Keep reading…
The Well-equipped Naturalist
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.
On the day this article is published, it will be exactly one month until the day of the 2017 North American Solar Eclipse; an event that is expected to cause tens of millions of people to stop what they are doing and turn their eyes (properly protected, it is hoped) skyward to witness one of […]
My dear Galileo,
Each evening for weeks now I have carried my telescope to the top of a nearby hill and pointed its 70mm objective lens toward the clearly visible bright dot in the sky that I have learned to identify as Jupiter. Bringing it into focus, its 17.5x magnification – more than your early 8x model but less than your eventual 20x one – shows me clearly that what I am seeing is not a star but a planet; a planet with tiny illuminated dots seemingly nearby it.
The other day, my Twitter feed told me that I should download and listen to a podcast with which I was unfamiliar. As I have spent quite a lot of time and effort curating my Twitter feed so that it provides me with useful information, I took it’s advice and downloaded the most recent episode of “The Naturalist Podcast.”
…it was a refreshing breath of fresh air indeed to turn on the recently published Episode 477 of Astronomy Cast: “State of Exploration: Once and Future Moon” and hear Dr. Pamela Gay’s intelligent, insightful, and delightfully candid assessment of the history of lunar exploration.