Oldest Independent U.S. Journal of Nature Writing
Book Notes Wild
Fall 2002
by Michael Hofferber

Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City,  by Anne Matthews. 207 pages. North Point Press, 2002.

Exploring New York City by night in the company of amateur and
professional naturalists, ecologists and urban planners, author
Anne Matthews discovers a hidden bestiary of flora and fauna that
will surprise even native New Yorkers. 

A contributing editor for Preservation magazine, Matthews writes
with a preservationist's slant and skillfully blends field
observations with environmental history and public policy to
create pieces of literary journalism in the style of John McPhee.

"For years, I had looked at Greater New York and seen only what I
expected: a profoundly unnatural landscape; a competitive maze; a
wonder of money and art that seemed a thrilling human triumph on
some days, and on others, a declensionist's delight," Matthews
explains in her introduction. "Yet above, around, behind, below,
I began to find another New York, suppressed or silent in
daylight, exceedingly lively from twilight to dawn."

Matthews' quest for nocturnal wildlife takes her to Wall Street
to collect or rescue migrating birds that have collided with
skyscrapers, to the East Sixties to visit a peregrine falcon's
nest, and to the Brooklyn shore to find horseshoe crabs. These
first person accounts provide the best moments in this book,
which also dwells on the history of New York's development and an
apocalyptic view of the future.

Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us, by Alexandra Morton. 320 pages.  Ballantine Books, 2002.

Schooled by the controversial dolphin researcher Dr. John Lilly
and 25 years of first-hand experience with wild whales and
dolphins, Alexandra Morton is one of those radical free-thinkers
who believes that the ocean's mammals are not only intelligent
and communicative, but worthy of our respect and attention.

This memoir follows the development of Morton's career as one of
the world's most prominent killer whale researchers, from her
early days with Lilly's language experiments to her own studies
of the language and habits of orcas along the coast of British
Columbia. For more than 30 years the fishing hamlet of Alert Bay,
British Columbia, was the center of the world for wild orca
researchers and Morton flourished as a prominent expert in
acoustical communication. She writes movingly about the idyllic
life she led there with her husband, photographer Robin Morton,
and their baby boy until Robin died tragically in a diving

"Robin, Jarret, and I went out in the Zodiac every day,
determined to encounter and identify every whale that came
through the archipelago. We had no idea of their travel patterns,
so we covered as much water as we could. Freezing cold didn't
slow us down; only a real storm kept us in for the day," she

Morton's memoir follows the course of events chronologically,
from her 1950s childhood in Connecticut to her present-day
struggle to stop fish farms from poisoning and infecting whales
with pollution and virus-infected salmon. Both the story of a
determined woman with a passion for interspecies communication
and a natural history of wild orcas, this book provides a
portrait of a unique relationship between a woman and whales:

"I'm constantly listening and looking for whales. As I wake my
six-year-old daughter, cook breakfast, brush my teeth, talk on
the phone, my ear remains cocked to the speakers. My eyes
constantly scan the water for the misty plume of a whale blow."

Messages from the Wild: An Almanac of Suburban Natural and 
Unnatural History, by Frederick R. Gehlbach. 256 
pages. University of Texas Press, 2002

Thirty-five years of nature walks and journal entries contributed
to this personal and detailed account of the climate, topography
and life forms of a semi-wild ravine in suburban Texas. Beginning
in the mid-1960s, naturalist Frederick Gehlbach began recording
biological events like the date of the first frost, the laying of
eggs by screech owls, the number of growing days and even the
first day the air conditioner was turned on in his home. These
records provide a unique baseline data set from which he
discusses, in this book, how the natural cycles in the ravine
have been affected by local and global events. 

"Our wooded property borders a ten-acre nature preserve shared in
a homeowners association and adjoins additional private acres,
mostly wooded backyards, that comprise the ravine," Gehlbach
writes. "The land is in various stages of recovery after human
impact, so there are overgrown remnants of pasture and cropland,
old cattle tanks, a small public park, and some steep rocky
slopes immune to commercial land gobblers. For me, this place is
a small part of prehistory and a much larger exhibit of how
humans change living landscapes."

An inspiration to anyone who keeps a nature journal, Gehlbach's
book combines eloquent accounts of his daily interactions with
the natural environment with the factual data he has
painstakingly collected. The result is a fine correspondence
between the personal and the objective, the emotional and the

Attending to messages from the wild is critical to our survival,
both as individuals and as a species. "Nature tells us what has
worked or not over the long history of life -- how our natural
heritage still operates or doesn't," Gehlbach points out. "The
messengers do not hoard resources unnecessarily, because the
costs exceed benefits, but interact in ways that allow
reciprocity, because that's the only directive for survival.
Their messages imply that the longer we wait for reconciliation
and reconnection with the natural word, the fewer options we'll
have, because we'll have cut too many lines from the script and
eliminated too many actors." 

Cedar Mesa: A Place Where Spirits Dwell, by David Peterson. 75
pages. University of Arizona Press, 2002.

Located high on the Colorado Plateau in southeast Utah, Cedar
Mesa is a desert wilderness of slickrock escarpments, natural
bridges, hidden springs and pre-Columbian Indian ruins. It is a
wild and remote place and, for those who know it well, frequently

Teaming up with photographer Branson Reynolds, nature writer
David Peterson presents a vivid and personal portrait of Cedar
Mesa in a series of brief essays that tell the human and natural
history of the place, emphasizing its spiritual importance and
the need to preserve its wildness. The writing is complemented by
Reynolds' black-and-white photos of wildlife, plants, artifacts
and rock formations.

This book, Peterson says, "is intended to honor, celebrate, and
in whatever measure possible help to protect one of the most
palpably spiritual natural places on the American continent." He
hopes to inspire support for preservation and protection of the
place without encouraging overuse and exploitation. 

"Cedar Mesa is a place for adventure," he explains. "For getting
lost and finding your way out (or not). For following footprints
in the sand and pebble cairns across long stretches of
undifferentiated slickrock. For self-discovery. I thank the
canyon gods that the BLM doesn't share the Forest and Park
service's compulsion (or, more likely, their budgets) for
pampering a dilettante public and insulting the scenery with
'More signs, please!'"

Borealis, by Jeff Humphries. 104 pages. University of Minnesota
Press, 2002.

Lumbering satyr
grazes near the shore; may sink
entirely out of
view when swimming, then emerge
like Bottom, bestial
fairy-charmed dream of the lake
enfleshed: flatulent,
slack lipped, sad-eyed, receding 

The poems in this collection by Jeff Humphries express the primal
nature of life in the "North Country" of northern Minnesota, a
place inhabited by moose and frogs and beaver and wolves, and the
occasional voyageur. Aptly illustrated with woodcuts by Betsy
Bowen, each verse illuminates the essence of an animal or plant
or human event.

Like the North Country itself, this collection is mostly made up
of poems about wild creatures, rare and common, like martens and
lake trout and song sparrows and porcupine. There's also a longer
poem, "The Drowned Man," which is not so much about a tragic
event as a tale about a fisherman losing himself in the deep,
cold waters of wild introspection:

    This is nothing but
    the skin of the instant, time's
    pelt, and we, he thought, 
    are nothing but its entrails,
    but he was so wrong,
    for there is nothing within
    it, no in to its
    out. He leaned, to see himself
    better, and fell in.

The Call of the Mountains: The Artists of Glacier National Park,
by Larry Len Peterson. 143 pages. Settlers West Galleries, 2002.

Larry Len Peterson, an award-winning author of biographies 
of western artists like Charles M. Russell and Philip 
R. Goodwin, profiles major authors, artists and photographers who
interpreted the glories of Glacier National Park to the public
through their art. The authors who wrote about its natural
wonders include naturalist George Bird Grinnell, adventure book
writer James Willard Schultz, ethnographer Walter McClintock and
newspaperman Frank Bird Linderman.

Dominated by its profiles of artists and over 200 full-color
images of their work, this large-format limited-edition volume
documents an impressive body of work by men inspired by "Glacier

City Wilds: Essays and Stories About Urban Nature, edited by
Terrell F. Dixon. 311 pages. The University of Georgia Press,

American Nature Writing 2002, selected by John A. Murray. 224
pages. Fulcrum Publishing, 2001.

This Incomparable Land: A Guide to American Nature Writing, by
Thomas J. Lyon. 277 pages. Milkweed Editions, 2001.

God's Country or Devil's Playground: The Best Nature Writing from
the Big Bend of Texas, edited by Barney Nelson. 321 pages.
University of Texas Press, 2001.

In Nature's Name: An Anthology of Women's Writing and 
illustration, 1780-1930, edited by Barbara T. Gates. The 
University of Chicago Press, 2002.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing, edited by Natalie
Angier. 309 pages. Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

America's concern about the natural world and man's role and
influence upon it has never been greater, as evidenced by the
volume of writings about nature being published and anthologized.
Whereas as one or two anthologies of "nature writing" were being
published just a decade ago, now there are several collections
competing for a growing audience of readers interested in the
natural world.

This year's crop includes a volume of selections from a century
ago -- "In Nature's Name" -  when Victorian and Edwardian Britain
experienced a similar spurt in nature literature. Writers like
Beatrix Potter and Anna Sewell and Isabella Bird are featured
with lesser-known authors in Barbara Gates' anthology.

The newly revised and updated version "This Incomparable Land" by
Thomas J. Lyon surveys the breadth of America's nature writing
tradition, providing a chronology of the literature and an
annotated bibliography of writers and writing from Edward Abbey's
"Abbey's Road" to Donald Worster's "The Wealth of Nature"
environmental essays.

"City Wilds," edited by Terrell F. Dixon, collects pieces that
confront the nature found in urban environments -- rivers, parks,
vacant lots -- by such writers as Rick Bass, Richard Brautigan,
Joy Williams and Leslie Dick. "God's Country or Devil's
Playground," edited by Barney Nelson, narrows its focus to
writings about the desert landscapes of the Big Bend country of
Texas near the Mexico border. Writers in this collection include
Aldo Leopold, Mary Austin, Roy Bedichek and Frederick Olmsted.

The 2002 edition of "The Best American Science and Nature 
Writing, " edited by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Natalie
Angier, includes works by Barbara Ehrenreich, Anne Matthews,
Malcolm Gladwell, K.C. Cole and Gary Greenberg. "American Nature
Writing 2002" offers nature writing by emerging and lesser-known
writers like Suzanne Ross, Dale Herring and David Petersen
selected by John A. Murray.

Trail Guides

Destinations for serious naturalists as well as casual family
outings are included in "Georgia Nature Weekends: Fifty-two
Adventures in Nature" by Terry Johnson (The Globe Pequot Press,
2002). Day-hikes through the geologic and ecological wonders of
Baja California peninsula are detailed in Markes E. Johnson's
"Discovering the Geology of Baja California: Six Hikes on the
Southern Gulf Coast" (University of Arizona Press, 2002). Written
for backpackers seeking long hikes in solitude, "Long Trails of
the Southeast" by Johnny Molloy (Menasha Ridge Press, 2002)
reports on seven lengthy trails in eight states crossing close to
600 miles.

Fifteen miles of the river running through Marble Canyon in
Arizona are detailed for fly fishermen in "Fly Fishing Lee's
Ferry, Arizona" by Dave Foster (No Nonsense Fly Fishing
Guidebooks, 2002). Directions to hikes in the Cascade Mountains
as well as the High Desert are included in the "Insider's Guide
to Bend and Central Oregon" by Jim Yuskavitch and Leslie D. Cole
(The Globe Pequot Press, 2002). For the winter traveler, Tyson
Bradley's "Backcountry Skiing in Utah" (The Globe Pequot Press,
2002) supplies information on 65 tours throughout the state from
the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City to the remote Tushar
Mountains in its southwest corner.

Field Guides

Fifty natural areas on public lands and 33 distinct types of
natural communities in Wisconsin are mapped and described in
"Wisconsin's Natural Communities: How to Recognize Them, 
Where to Find Them," by Randy Hoffman (University of Wisconsin Press,
2002). More than 100 plant families and over 700 genera are
described and illustrated in the fourth edition of "Botany in a
Day: Thomas J. Elpel's Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families"
(HOPS Press, 2000).

From Ansel Adams and the Adirondack Mountains to Yosemite Valley
and Zion National Park "Wilderness A to Z: An Essential Guide to
the Great Outdoors" by Rachel Carley (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
documents the places and features and personalities central to
the history of wilderness in America in this practical reference.

Natural Histories

"Deep Cuba: The Inside Story of an American Oceanographic 
Expedition" by Bell Belleville  (University of Georgia Press,
2002) explores the fascinating natural history of an underwater
region little known to most Americans with a research team of
marine biologists. Innate and learned behaviors of Brown
Pelicans, Long-billed Curlews, Northern Mockingbirds and more
than 400 other species of birds are explored and explained in
"The Behavior of Texas Birds" by Kent Rylander (University of
Texas Press, 2002). 

The role of fire in modifying the landscape of pre-European
America is analyzed in a critical assessment of recent
environmental history titled "Fire, Native Peoples and The
Natural Landscape," edited by Thomas R. Vale (Island Press,
2002).  The effects of fire on the natural landscape, as well as
the interior human landscape of art, music, religion and
philosophy are explored in the essays compiled in "Encyclopedia
of Fire" by David E. Newton (Oryx Press, 2002).

"The Sonoran Desert Tortoise: Natural History, Biology and 
Conservation," edited by Thomas R. Van Devender (University of
Arizona Press, 2002) provides a comprehensive summary of the
current knowledge on one of the most recognized animals of the
American Southwest. The evolution and fate of another popular
turtle is examined in "North American Box Turtles: A Natural
History" by C. Kenneth Dodd, Jr. (University of Oklahoma Press,

The cooperative relationships between columnar cacti like the
saguaro and organ pipe and bats, birds, bees and humans are
examined in "Columnar Cacti and Their Mutualists: Evolution,
Ecology and Conservation," edited by Theodore H. Fleming and
Alfonso Valiente-Banuet (University of Arizona Press, 2002).
Unlike other fishing guidebooks, "Seasons of the Metolius: The
Life of a River Seen Through the Eyes of a Fly Fisherman" by John
Judy (No Nonsense Fly Fishing Guidebooks, 2002) describes the
natural history of the Metolius River in Oregon in detail while
incidentally providing fly fishing location information.

A natural history of the horseshoe crab, combined with the story
of its exploitation by humans and its troubled prospects for the
future, is presented in "Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs,
Bioterrorism, and Human Health" by William Sargent (University
Press of New England, 2002). The fate of the Colorado River
Delta, its animals and plants and political realities, is
illuminated in "Red Delta: Fighting for Life and the End of the
Colorado River} by Charles Bergman (Fulcrum Publishing, 2002).

Return to Snowy Egret
Wild Nights
Wild Nights

Listening to Whales

Messages from the Wild
Cedar Mesa
Cedar Mesa

City Wilds


American Nature Writing 2002

God's Country or Devil's Playground

This Incomparable Land

In Nature's Name

Georgia Nature Weekends

Discovering the Geology of Baja California

Long Trails of the Southeast

Wilderness A to Z

Deep Cuba

Columnar Cacti and Their Mutualists

Red Delta


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Snowy Egret