The Last Winter

by Porter Fox

Published by Little, Brown on November 2, 2021

 

“Winter is not a weather event.  It is, in part, the result of an ancient astronomical collision.”

Porter Fox loves winter and skiing has been a major part of his life.  He wants to ensure that his children will be able to experience winter throughout their lifetime.  He’s not sure that will be possible and sets out to investigate. 

Fox’s book is sometimes labeled as a travel adventure.  He does take us along on a journey.  Each section describes his personal exploration to understand the evolving climate’s impact on winter.  To learn what is happening and why, Porter interviews geologists, glaciologists, indigenous people, and others who have specialized knowledge or affection for snow and ice.  These are not mere conversations in brightly-lit labs and cozy restaurants.  Instead, Fox joins the experts in the field and participates in their studies.  

As Fox works with the field teams, they explain why the loss of winter will increase forest fires, flood coastlines, and will create other disasters.  More impactful than reporting just the data, these teams are involved in monumental efforts to document and communicate their findings.  Fox conveys their concern, their haste, and their determination.  Even for someone reasonably aware of the looming climate disaster, Fox’s findings add to the distress.  

Despite this, the deft prose carries you forward. The writing is strong in part because of its honesty and vulnerability. He speaks a truth that we know in our hearts but somehow we cannot face.

“It was pleasant on the plane.  Warm.  Safe-feeling, even.  The sedating effect of modern convenience made it seem like everything was going to be all right, like someone would figure everything out…Maybe there would be a technological Hail Mary…Maybe the planet would mend itself…That would be nice, I thought.  Then I reached for the screen and searched for a movie, a football game, a comedy, any possible distraction.”

Climate change is a frequent topic in the news these days, as it should be.  Unfortunately, for many audiences, the realities of climate change seem distant, both in where it is happening as well as when it will occur.   Fox shows that climate change is real, it is now, and the consequences impact all of us.  Whether we like winter or not, we need it and so do our children.

 

Why you should not miss this one:

  • Real people, real stories, real impact
  • Porter Fox’s writing feels like he is speaking directly to you, almost as if he is sometimes breaking the fourth wall
  • This will likely become a classic in environmentalism literature

Thanks to NetGalley, Little, Brown, and the author, Porter Fox, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #TheLastWinter @PorterFox

New England’s Roadside Ecology:  Explore 30 of the Region’s Unique Natural Areas

by Thomas Wessels

Published by Timber Press on September 14, 2021

Attention hikers of all skill levels!  Have you ever wondered about the landscape and plant life you see around you?  What stories would they share if you could read their messages?

If you live in New England or plan to visit, Thomas Wessels offers an indispensable guide that deciphers those messages.  Wessels has identified 30 short hikes (no longer than 4 hours) each with distinctive flora and features.  You will learn, for example: 

      • how to recognize a pillow and cradle;
      • where to find one of the largest bearberry patches in New England;
      • where the Fibonacci sequence is hidden in nature;
      • where to find a krummholz;
      • what a border tree is;
      • where to find the cave that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Several of these hikes are not typically highlighted in other guidebooks.  Furthermore, they represent fragile or unique landscapes within the region.  As such, Wessels gently reminds the reader to stay on the prescribed paths.  Bravo!

New England’s Roadside Ecology is likely to become a perennial reference for years to come, as long as we don’t destroy the very attractions we seek.

Why you should not miss this one:

  • Who knew there was so much ecological diversity in New England?
  • The many captioned photos enrich the stories even if not hiking.
  • If you already have Reading the Forested Landscape and Forest Forensics, both by Tom Wessels, this book seems to complete a trilogy. 

 

Thanks to NetGalley, Timber Press, and the author, Thomas Wessels, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #NewEnglandsRoadsideEcology

The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us

by Meg Lowman

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on August 10, 2021

“The easy solution, according to Hal, was to visit the local pubs with a slingshot and tell a few good tree-rigging yarns.”

As this quote attests, this is a humble memoir of understated accomplishment.  As you learn about her work as a scientist, field biologist, educator, and conservationist, you also uncover not only the scientific challenges but the many gender-based obstacles she needed to overcome in order to progress in her career.   And did she ever.  Most people would declare a career successful with one of her discoveries or contributions, but not Dr. Lowman.  (Yes, I am calling her Dr. Lowman because although ‘Canopy Meg’ seems very approachable, after reading her story, I believe she deserves as much respect as we can show including the use of her honorific.)

As Lowman systematically studies the world’s canopies, she must define the scientific questions, develop study methodology, design new equipment, deal with disrespectful faculty, raise a family, educate the masses, encourage young women to enter the sciences, improve access for the disabled, and tackle climate change.   Why hasn’t this woman won a MacArthur Genius Grant?

Anyone interested in science, the environment, innovative thinking, or women’s history will not only admire her grit but also enjoy her story.

I have read Dr. Lowman’s previous books, Life In the Treetops and It’s a Jungle Up There.  If you have as well, you might recognize some of the narratives but this does not detract from this tale’s freshness.  It might even give you the sense that you are visiting an old friend that you haven’t heard from in a while.  

Dr. Lowman ends her memoir with a call to action regarding climate change.  She knows that her beloved trees are threatened.  As I write this, I cannot stop looking at the treetops outside my office window. I wonder about their health and what kind of insects reside within the crown.  If Dr. Lowman intends to make us care about trees, I believe she has succeeded extraordinarily well.  

Why you should not miss this one:

  • No matter how well-versed you are in the subject of trees, you will effortlessly learn something new
  • Dr. Lowman’s story is a masterclass in ingenuity, perseverance, and inclusiveness
  • If you’d like to know what is likely to be the most common creature that lives in the tree canopy, you need to read the book.  The answer may surprise you!

Thanks to NetGalley, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and the author, Dr. Meg Lowman, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #TheArbornaut @canopymeg

The Art of Patience:  Seeking the Snow Leopard in Tibet

by Sylvain Tesson

Translated by Frank Wynne 

Published by Penguin Press on July 13, 2021

“You could invest all your energy into exploring the world and go right past the living.” 

Sylvain Tesson offers us an uncommon narrative.  Unlike a traditional American nature adventure or natural history, it doesn’t dwell on the scientific details of the quarry nor the heart-pumping derring-do of a chase.  To best appreciate this book, read it the same way it was written.  Read with stillness and with expansiveness. Read with the mind of a philosopher and the heart of an artist. 

Tesson’s story is not just about the snow leopard but about the region’s many creatures and their interactions, including those with and between humans.   He delves into topics as diverse as whether or not there is an animal morality. Elsewhere in his story, he considers the Chinese Taoism principle of seeing the unseen.

Tesson states that he is not typically patient. Consequently, the waiting, the trek, and the unaccustomed environment stimulate some deep reflection. Even where the prose felt as jagged as the landscape, I highlighted many passages to prompt my own consideration.  Frequently, these philosophical bits make one feel uncomfortable with their truth.

“After ten days, encountering such animals now seemed commonplace.  I resented myself for growing accustomed to these apparitions.”  

How often do I experience the same diminishing sense of appreciation after repeatedly seeing an extraordinary sight?

The Art of Patience is more than a book about a journey to see an elusive creature and capture its essence through photography.  Savor the descriptions and ponder the messages.

Why you should not miss this one:

  • stretch yourself beyond the familiar format of American-style nature adventures
  • reflect on some philosophical lessons presented by nature
  • if you’ve ever wanted to photograph a secretive species in a challenging habitat, this story will spotlight the dedication necessary to succeed

Thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Press, the author, Sylvain Tesson, and the translator, Frank Wynne, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #TheArtofPatience  #SnowLeopard  @Terribleman

Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration

by Sara Dykman 

Published by  Timber Press, Inc. on April 13, 2021

“Surely if a butterfly with nothing more than instinct and orange wings could navigate three countries and the chaos of humanity, then I, with my stubborn will and a continent’s worth of hospitality, could too.” 

If you have ever cared so much about accomplishing something, no matter how improbable success may be, Sara Dykman’s story will resonate.  Dykman’s mission is to educate as many people as possible about the continuing threat to the monarch butterflies, their habitat, and ultimately, the world at large. She decided to bicycle from their winter location along their migratory flyway through the US and into Canada, then back again.  Along the way, she represented the voice of the butterflies, telling their story to one school, one family, or one person at a time. 

Along the way, she trusted her instincts, relied on the kindness of others, and followed the science.  Challenges occurred yet Dykman persisted with determination and a strong sense of purpose. 

Dykman cares deeply.  Her feelings, whether anger or pleasure or something in-between, are palpable in her narration.  Saving even one caterpillar from a mower did not require too much effort. Instead, it signaled her commitment.  If one individual could change the course of extinction through sheer will, Dykman would succeed.

As you read this book, you realize this is not just a travel memoir based in science but also a model for persuasive outreach and education through personal connection and heartfelt storytelling. 

As Dykman states, “humans keep taking, and wildlife keeps trying to make do.”  Go ahead and read the book, then join your voice with the others. “Do it for the monarchs.”

Why you should not miss this one:

  • easy pace, easy reading
  • monarch facts are woven into context
  • whether you are a bicycling enthusiast or concerned about monarch butterflies, the story is inspirational

Thanks to NetGalley, Timber Press Inc., and the author, Sara Dykman, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #BicyclingwithButterflies  #MonarchButterflies  

Just Like Us: A Veterinarian’s Visual Memoir of Our Vanishing Great Ape Relatives 

by Rick Quinn 

Foreward by Jane Goodall

Published by Girl Friday Productions on April 6, 2021

“If I were willing to listen to my inner voice this time, it could be rewarding.”

Have you ever read an article or seen a video that so moved you that you knew you wanted to do something even though it seemed a bit outrageous?  If so, then you are in good company with this memoir/travelogue.

Dr. Rick Quinn, a practicing veterinarian, felt such a stirring after a chance reading of two magazine articles about great apes.  He wanted to do something to contribute to their conservation.  With limited species knowledge but specialized ophthalmology experience, he and a colleague volunteered to provide some training to the Gorilla Doctors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

The trip was transformative. As a result, great apes became the focal point for his charity project. This became not only his passion but also his vocation. 

Quinn uses a self-deprecating tone and supplies enough description to create the atmosphere of being along on his journey.  The story evolves as he learns more and takes greater risks.  He wonders about whether or not gorilla habituation to humans is good or bad for the species.  (The answer depends on the situation.)  He researches how orangutans ended up in Sumatra and Borneo when their closest relatives are in central Africa.   He witnesses the impact of civil wars, deforestation, poverty, human displacement, and the almost inevitable toll these have on habitat and wild populations. 

The stories can sometimes be deeply sad but the accompanying photos will surely lift your heart. Look into the eyes of these apes. You will be captivated.

Quinn’s charity, Docs4GreatApes, receives all the proceeds from this book.  The charity recognizes that wildlife conservation efforts often must align with humanitarian ones to relieve human poverty and suffering.  It promotes a “One Health” concept, a holistic approach connecting the health of animals, humans, and the environment.

Why you should not miss this one:

  • The photos! The photos! The photos!
  • The story reminds you that small steps can lead to great outcomes.
  • All the proceeds support a worthwhile cause.

Thanks to NetGalley, Girl Friday Productions, and the author, Rick Quinn, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #JustLikeUs   

Here are some nature-focused and natural history titles that you might want to read during the next winter storm.  Happy reading!

Douglas Fir

The Story of the West’s Most Remarkable Tree

by Stephen Arno

Published by Mountaineers Books

One of the iconic symbols of the West Coast is the majestic Douglas Fir.   This short book summarizes the trees’ role in building the West into a commercial powerhouse. Also highlighted is the role of fire in determining the trees’ success and how it helps them to establish such towering heights.  The book includes historical photos and illustrations. 

 

Pollinators and Pollination 

by  Jeff Ollerton

Published by Pelagic Publishing

This book was written by one of the world’s leading pollination ecologists.   It explains what pollinators are, how their interactions with flowers have evolved, and what those relationships mean.  Written with an accessible approach, it is personal and informative. 

Includes color photos.

 

 

Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation

by  Edward O. Wilson, Jim Ottaviani and C.M. Butzer (Illustrator)

Published by Island Press

This is a graphic interpretation of the 1994 memoir of this influential naturalist and biologist.  You will get a good sense of what is the true nature of this man, his passion for his work, and his gentle nature.

The first time I heard a deer vocalize, I was observing her from my second-story window.  She and the other adult females that traveled together were protecting their offspring from a coyote that had dared to venture too close to their little family.   Until that point, I didn’t know that deer could vocalize.  The wheezy screams sent an undeniable message.  I was both stunned and amazed.  What other sounds had I been missing?

Shortly after that event, I saw a posting for this book and knew I wanted to read it.  It was everything I expected and more.

Earth’s Wild Music 

by Kathleen Dean Moore

Published by Counterpoint Press on February 16, 2021

“Sometimes sounds turn me almost inside out with longing.”  

Kathleen Moore, a seasoned essayist, brings us a collection of both new and previously published works. These are her reflections on the presence and joy of song in nature, the tragedy of lost songs, and finally our obligation to save what we can and how we should proceed.  

Each essay is filled with detail and emotion.  “We must understand,” she writes, “that we do not have the luxury of living in ordinary time…” You can feel her emotional restraint entwined with her plea for urgency and action.

While there is some despair, she never dwells there too long without holding forth the chord of “active hope” for a different future.

There have been many calls to action to find a more sustainable way for humans to live on the Earth.  The plea isn’t new yet Moore’s essays still feel vital.  More than just about song, this is also about listening. She encourages us to listen to the truth that is playing out around us, a truth that we have so far mostly ignored.  Perhaps using song as a vehicle will stir something in the hearts of those who have been otherwise unmoved thus far.

Why you should not miss this one:

  • this is an important addition to the genre, introducing another reason for action;
  • Moore’s timeline of hope is so on point;
  • the writing is accessible and relatable, even if you are not an experienced nature lover.

Thanks to NetGalley, Counterpoint Press, and the author, Kathleen Dean Moore, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #EarthsWildMusic   

I must confess when I first saw this book I immediately thought, “Oh, another nicely illustrated, densely detailed survey of plants.  I’ll just thumb through it.“ I didn’t really think I’d be writing about it for this blog. That was until I really looked at the first set of pictures and knew this one was something different.  This one is something special.   

Wonders of the Plant Kingdom:  A Microcosm Revealed

by Wolfgang Stuppy, Rob Kesseler & Madeline Harley

Published by University of Chicago Press, February, 2015

If you do nothing else with this book besides marvel at the pictures, it would still likely be an education.  The authors, two botanists, and an artist used a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to capture incredibly detailed, high-resolution images of seeds, flowers, pollen, and other botanical components.  

The sheer variety and ingenuity of these creations amaze.  

For some odd reason, I kept thinking that if the prosthetic makeup artists on the competition TV show Face Off need inspiration, this would be a great source.   Nature here truly exhibits radical creativity.  But I digress…

While the photography definitely steals the show, the text describes each feature and function in clear, accessible language.  

Why you should not miss this one:

  • even though several years old, this is still a state-of-the-art work,
  • just when you think you might be starting to know a thing or two about nature, this will recalibrate your thoughts.

How’s the weather where you are?  Here in Northern New England, it’s both cold and snowing. Perfect weather to curl up with a good natural history book!  Here are some to consider:

 

Abalone

The Remarkable History and Uncertain Future of California’s Iconic Shellfish

by Ann Vileisis

Beautifully woven stories result in a comprehensive overview of the history of the abalone fisheries, the impact of overfishing, and the attempts to restore their numbers.   This book sheds light on abalone’s deservedly mythical image.

 

 

 

A Furious Sky

The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes

by Eric Jay Dolin

Combining meteorology, marine history, sociology, and personal narrative, Dolin brings a fresh perspective to these storms.  

 

 

 

 

Fragile

Birds, Eggs and Habitats

by Colin Prior

Explore the incredibly diverse world of bird eggs. The eggs photographed for this book belong to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of bird eggs. Each egg is presented alongside a photograph of the bird’s habitat. Prior carefully captured each at a time of year when the dominant landscape colors most closely resemble those of the egg, resulting in a remarkable work of art.