Bookworm Digest

These are the books that keep on giving. They stand in my library like elders, ready to teach again and again.

"How to Read Water" by Tristan Gooley

"Try scanning your eyes slowly from one riverbank to the other to see if you can find the area where the shift takes place from looking at only reflections - the far bank - to being able to see into the water..."  - Tristan Gooley

I've looked at many a river without once pondering what color it was and why. After picking up the book "How to Read Water" and opening it up at random to an entire chapter on the color of water, I now see the blues, grays and browns in every puddle, river or sea. That is the beauty of Tristan Gooley's books on reading nature. Read just a paragraph, or the whole book, and find yourself surrounded by fun clues on how to navigate, be a better mariner and forecast weather. This book is a gem for nature nerds.  


"Bringing Nature Home" by Douglas W. Tallamy

The viceroy butterfly develops as a larva on willow leaves. Photo by Benny Mazur from Toledo, OH

Douglas W. Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home," shares his passion for native plants and insects as the base of the terrestrial food web. Want to support birds, butterflies and bees? Plant a variety of native plants in your yard and they will come. With habitat loss threatening species small and large, Tallamy offers a solution through restoring native plants to our yards.

His experience as an entomologist and gardener include intriguing and inspiring stories on gardening with native plants to support insects, the majority of whom are adapted and highly specialized to specific families of native plants. Insects in turn feed 96% of all terrestrial bird species. In short, more native plants leads to more insects, which leads to more animals and ultimately a more biodiverse, healthy and resilient community. For those worried about insect predation of their favorite plants he outlines how, "In a balanced community, with rare exceptions, no one member of the food chain dominates another, and if one species in an essentially sound system does start to run rampant, it is soon brought back into equilibrium by the other members of the community." - Douglas W . Tallamy.

The book is packed with photos of moths, butterflies and larva that are so beautiful and intriguing that I'm inspired to plant their food sources just to have a chance to see them. With a detailed list of which plants support which beneficial insects, I'm looking forward to gardening as fodder to support my wild neighbors.

"Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Trained as a biologist I have spent many an hour peering at biological phenomena such as barnacles, seaweeds and juvenile salmonids. While hiking out to a field site at 3am in order to monitor sea creatures at low tide was an experience I treasure, I lost sight of the purpose and thus my motivation when expected to quantify things that aren't truly quantifiable. Studying complex ecosystems challenged my western view of the world as discrete, objects that can be understood by their component parts. I spent a year and a chunk of change for a Masters in Holistic Science to begin decolonizing my training in western science, but author and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer takes us there in a beautiful 384 pages of her experience connecting "indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants." Braiding Sweetgrass is a remarkable story that illustrates science in relationship to scientist, culture and subject. Her view of science through her life's work as discovery, connection and story gives me hope that humans will join the world yet, not as  separate, objective viewers but as interconnected, awake participants. 

Excerpt (p. 6): "...One otherwise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate their understanding of the negative interactions between humans and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were third-year students who had selected a career in environmental protection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and land. The median response was "none." I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day - brownfield, factory farms, suburban sprawl - truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. how can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?..." - Robin Wall Kimmerer