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"Today, vegetatively propogated clones of blue agave make up more than 99 percent of the 150 million agaves growing in Jalisco. If ever there was an easy target for any infestation, tequila monoculture is it."

Gary Paul Nabham

"The countryside always unveils a new handful of surprises with the coming of each season. As the weather changes, rising humidity awakens the slumbering citizens of the soil. Fireflies, those apparitions of the evening, mysteriously flash their lights on, then off again. Armies of ants labor long hours, alerting us to the oncoming thunderstorms. The blooms of bugs we call mayates had a way of proliferating in our midst, teaching us to anticipate the rhythm of the rainy season."
Ana Valenzuela-Zapata

"There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists."

"It became clear that this book had to be different. If I were to be honest, it could only be a cry of outrage, a lamentation, and at the same time a love story about that which is and that which was and is no longer. It would have to be about the potential for life and love and happiness we each carry inside but are too afraid to explore."

"It is now possible to generalize that tree-roosting bats typically select tall trees that are in the early stages of decay and are less cluttered than random wildlife trees. Although the species of roost tree may differ from forest to forest. general attributes are similar, resulting in higher densities of roosting bats in older forest stands."Conservation Ecology of Bats

"Not only does sugaring help us remember that spring is coming, it also gives us a reason for desiring that it not progress any faster. Once we have awakened to it, we long to dwell in this protracted in-between. This time for standing in the warm, sticky sugarhouse, witnessing the alchemy of air and water into gold."

"The final week of a late sugaring season, when musical excitement fills the nights and there is still untainted sap to boil down, is thus referred to, in a phrase at once celebratory and elegaic, as "the frog run." That phrase captures for me the ludicrous urgency of the peepers' moment -- and the human moment, too. It expresses the fact that we must soon relinquish this harvest we have only recently learned to claim. Focusing all the more intensely on the process as it nears its end, we remember the softening snow that signaled its onset and anticipate the cleanup and battening down of the sugarhouse for another year."

Ahab's whale is not imagined, nor is it strictly discovered, but is found, by him, which suggests that it has an existence separate from his but also that it depends for its coherence on something extra he supplies, some conception of his own, which makes sense of things.

Groundwater is essentially nonrenewable in the arid west because the economies that exploit it cannot abide a low rate of use. By combusting nonrenewable coal and nonrenewable oil and nonrenewable natural gas, they have managed to lift nonrenewable water at incredible rates. By using water with abandon they can compete with more humid regions, where it is basically a free good. This extractive process... is the machinery behind the expression "conquest of nature"...

Once I put a bluntnose minnow from the creek in the pond. A bass gave chase immediately. The poor little minnow launched itself completely out of the weater in trying to escape, and when it came back down, the bass was there to swallow it. So far I have not seen a snapping turtle in the pond but am sure some will come when the proper food supply occurs. Snapper meat is a great delicacy.

 Comets don't cross the sky every day. Great, journal-worthy events seemed hard to come by at first. So I was forced to look hard and close and long at everyday things to fill those pages. And you know what? The closer I looked, the more journal-worthy entries I found. Take Carolina Wrens! As documented in the pages of my journal, they sing every month of the year. Take Carolina Wren nests. Did you know that the birds use paper and snake skins and string and feathers in the construction?. a birder may overlook these things, but not a bird watcher and certainly not a bird watcher who keeps a journal -- the most important book I own."Earl's Journal"

Was this, then, indeed, the Mississippi, that wild giant of nature, which I had imagined would be so powerful, so divine, so terrible? Here its waters were clear, of a fresh, light-green color, and within their beautiful frame of distant violet-blue mountains, they lay like a heavenly mirror, bearing on their bosom verdant, vine-covered islands, like islands of the blessed.Fredrika Bremer 
The Homes of the New World: 
Impressions of America

The paradox is that to see clearly, you must learn to see obliquely.  You must look ahead, and, at the same time, widen your peripheral vision so that it extends not just in great arcs around your head, but over the edge, into the margins where the visible and invisible, dreams and reality, land and water, emptiness and profusion mingle.  The sublime is like poetry; it will not be caught or chased down.  It exists at the edge of things -- in the vast margins . . . The imagination loves freedom first, and then form.  And there is an odd kind of freedom in the fringes that comes, in part, from jettisoning our love of function. . .  lack of function in our culture means lack of value.  "What's it for?" we want to know.  "What does it do?"  . . . . But what kind of cultural enlightenment will it take for us to freely say that we value this or that because it is beautiful, or because it nourishes the imagination, because it is good for the soul? (pp. 13-14)

Day after day that first summer I traversed the alder thickets, the red-maple woods with its skunk-cabbage-and-fern-bordered brook and spotted-turtle backwaters, the ditches along the train tracks, and especially the Old Swamp. With an eye out for turtles, I kept closely to wet places, but I was also fascinated by toads, salamanders, and snakes, and I took to field and forest to find them at times. Every meadow or wood, and especially any stream or pool, all of these theaters of summer taken together, held no end of spellbinding forms, colors, and patterns, moving in a seasonal rhythm of life habits I was only beginning to decipher. And these places they lived in—places of water, stone, and plants; sunlight and shadow; water lilies, reeds, and ferns; mossy hummocks, grassy swirls, and blackberry tangles; woods and shrub thickets with drifts of leaves; grassy fields—all joined to create one great landscape. I entered, came to know, the design of this living landscape before I knew any of the specific definitions of that elusive word “design.” And as I moved through it I felt myself part of the pattern, or at the very least a witness to it. The sheer joy of being there, of simply bearing witness, continued to be paramount.

"A beaver pond?!" I exclaimed.

Forgetting about harmony and peace and abandoning my ecological ideals, I was now ranting. I wanted a forest, but a clean forest with a sparkling creek and not one with stagnant waters and trees lying around every which way and across the creek. I had no use for shavings all over the forest floor to absorb our footsteps! I did not pay top dollar for a beaver pond!

In the right hands, almost any notebook or blank book will perform as a nature journal. But for those intimidated by empty pages, this "guided journal" can help jump-start their journaling with inspirational quotes, exercises, tips and suggestions. Clare Walker Leslie provides the introduction and advice, along with a back-of-the-book illustrated field guide to basic families of trees, insects and birds.

When he awoke, the grass was covered with
Morning dew. It looked like a mirror
Broken into a thousand fragment
Wildly reflecting the full blaze of the rising sun.
Through the glare a mist, Henry was
Astonished to see a large moose
Entering the forest.

The moon rose silently.
Millions of stars appeared in the endless sky.
Holding close to the warmth
Of his small crackling campfire
Henry carved the handle of his staff
Until it fit perfectly in his hand.

That Thoreau's attempt to speak a word for nature finally ends with him also speaking a word, however backhandedly, for a kind of cultured naturalism should not come as a surprise: to sustain the position of purity, as in the summit experience of Ktaadn or in the opening lines of 'Walking' itself, is finally too fatiguing -- and unattainable besides.

As critics -- and this will be the stumbling block for many in the ecocritical community -- we must be concerned with the observation of the observation, not the observation itself, and we should be asking questions like "What would it take to square an economically inflected version of nation with an aesthetic one?" and not, as if too often the temptation, questions like "What does nature teach us?"

Two mallards arrow down
upon the mirror pond,
the water rolls the arrow-wake
in liquid silver for a moment,
smoothes reflected birches.(March 23)

On this blue-sky bright December day,
sprinkled like huge peppercorns
amid tree trunks on the white floor,
twenty wild turkeys crouch on snow, 
heads tucked into feather down,
black wings folded large.
They all face north, source of bitter cold,
backsides to the winter sun,
blacksides to the winter sun.(December 11)
Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History, by Gary Paul Nabhan and Ana Valenzuela-Zapata. 160 pp. The University of Arizona Press, 2004.

Like the wines of Burgundy or Chardonnay, the word Tequila is largely derived from the place of its origin in the Jaliscan highlands of central Mexico. Tequila is a town, a municipality, a valley, and a prominent mountain overlooking its collateral toponyms. It is also a species of agaves (tequilana) that are commonly used to brew the intoxicating tequila beverage.

Celebrated nature writer and plant preservationist Gary Paul Nabham collaborated with botanist and agave specialist Ana Valenzuela Zapata on this personal and very readable survey of tequila history, lore and cultivation. 

The chapters of this book include descriptions of agave farming traditions ("Tillers and Tale-Tellers"), the natural history of the plant ("The Wild Origins and Domestication of Mescal de Tequila"), an introduction to tequila lore and traditions ("Distilling the Essences, Blending Two Worlds"), and a critical look at the mass production of cheap tequilas and the plague it has encouraged ("When the Epidemic Hit the King of Clones"). 

"Tequila and its kin, at least in the eyes and mouths of U.S. citizens, has changed its image from a generic liquor or 'firewater' to a drink of the elite," the authors point out. This has generated a "tequila boom," resulting in sales increases of 15 percent annually for the past three decades and pricing for premium tequilas that has eclipsed some champagnes.

The effects of these changes among the jimadores who harvest agaves, the tequileros who consume tequila, and the cultivated plants upon which the tequila industry relies are examined and critiqued in this mesh of cultural and natural histories.

A Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen. 412 pp. Chelsea Green, 2004.

This is a book about the worlds that we inhabit, both the external and natural worlds and the internal and imaginary worlds, and how they inform and shape each other. It is related in the form of a memoir, deep and personal and disturbing and revelatory, in the hope that the individual experience can help illuminate the universal. 

Ten years ago the author was raising chickens and losing many of them to pillaging coyotes. Finally, in frustration, he begged the coyotes -- calling out to one that he caught sight of leaving the coop -- to stop killing his chickens. Remarkably, the killing stopped and the coyotes, still ever-present, settled for the scraps from the author's butchering. 

Thus inspired to write a book about animal communication, Derrick Jensen instead confronted the question of why experiences like this are discounted in our culture and even silenced. Connections between people and the environments they inhabit, the creatures they share them with, and even their fellow humans are dismissed as unimportant or secondary to the business of producing wealth.

 "How and why do we numb ourselves to our own experiences? How and why do we deafen ourselves to the voices of others? Who benefits? Who suffers? Is there a connection between the silencing of women, to use one example, and the silencing of the natural world?"

As he does in most of his works, Jensen writes poetically, emotionally and confronts difficult and troubling issues with informed arguments and probing questions. This book won't necessarily teach the reader how to hear or interpret the "language older than words," but it does make one aware that it's out there waiting to be heard.

Bat Ecology, by Thomas H. Kunz and M. Brock Fenton. 784 pp. University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Not since the 1982 publication of Ecology of Bats has anyone produced a comprehensive work on bat ecology. This book, written primarily for professional ecologists and conservation biologists, focuses on important discoveries made in the intervening two decades.

The editors of this volume, Thomas H. Kunz and M. Brock Fenton, are both biologists with other books on bats to their credit. Here they have included contributions by 28 separate researchers, reflecting not only the diversity and complexity of bat ecology, but also a growing interest in studying the flying mammals.

Organized into three major sections, the book successively covers "Life History and Social Biology," "Functional Ecology" and "Macroecology." Within these sections are arranged 15 individual chapters disclosing recent research findings in specific areas, from bat-insect interactions and ecomorphology to bat migrations and the ecological diversity of bats.

"Few would disagree with the assessment that Chiroptera is a diverse group of mammals," write Nancy Simmons and Tenley Conway. "With approximately 1,100 extant species recognized worldwide, bats are second only to rodents in terms of total numbers of species." Their report on the "Evolution of Ecological Diversity in Bats" describes bats as a textbook case in mosaic evolution and admits that the current understanding of geographical patterns of diversification are sketchy at best.

A growing recognition of the importance of bats in many ecosystems has led to increased scrutiny of the animal's role in insect control, pollination and seed dispersal. Papers on these issues are collected primarily in the section on Functional Ecology, where authors discuss the relationships between bats and insects, flowers, and fruit.

Certainly a "state of the field" collection of current inquiry, this volume will be of great benefit to students, resource managers and conservationists as well as professional scientists.

The Frog Run: Words and Wildness in the Vermont Woods, by John Elder. 160 pp. Milkweed Editions, 2001.

In the Green Mountains of Vermont, author John Elder combines his passion for literature and his affection for the outdoors with his love of family. The essays in this brief book reflect on loss and redemption, deforestation and reclamation, the Bible and the environmental ethic.

Composed of three essays, followed by a profile and bibliography, this book showcases Elder's nature writing and literary bent. The title of the essay "Aji" comes from a Japanese word meaning "lingering taste," a term used in the game of Go for apparently dead playing pieces that suddenly regain life and influence. He applies the concept to "the surprising reemergence of wilderness from the cutover landscape of Vermont."

In "Starting with the Psalms: A Reader's History," Elder reflects on his literary lineage beginning with the Bible's rich and beautiful 23rd Psalm, which inspired a love of poetry that grew into a broader passion for literature and an abiding interest in nature writing.

"Sugaring Off," the third essay in the collection, describes the history of New England sugaring as the Yankee farmers learned it from the Abenaki people. Together with his sons, he constructs a sugarhouse in the woods and reflects on the sweetness of life's seasons. "Weeks pass when winter has lost its grip but nothing new has taken its place," he writes. "Watching the temperatures' courtly dance around the freezing line suddenly becomes exciting, however, when maple syrup is the culmination. Amid the half-frozen, half-sodden fields and the late snowstorms, the pulse of sap turns us towards the present's wavering shore."

In the final pages of the book, Scott Slovic contributes a biographical profile of Elder and bibliography of the nature writer's published works.

Whale!, by K.L. Evans. 162 pp. University of Minnesota Press, 2003

"If a lion could talk, we could not understand him."  -- Ludwig Wittgenstein

This unique work combines literary criticism and philosophy in an attempt to show that Hermann Melville's "Moby Dick" is more than an allegory about man's confrontation with nature, but rather a statement about and perhaps a prescription for connecting with and comprehending the world.

"The 'meaning' of the whale is not a property of the whale so much as a way for the people who involve themselves with the whale to come to terms with it," Evans explains. "The whale would survive without these terms, but the people wouldn't."

Evans employs Melville's text and Ludwig Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations" to advance the notion that to truly understand whaling, or any creature or activity for that matter, one must be immersed in the subject and vulnerable to its idiosyncracies. 

"The public aspect of the whale is the concern of Moby Dick," Evans proclaims. Captain Ahab requires the participation of his public, the crew, to find his whale. "Once readers are clear that they, too, should look in the direction of the whale, they can abandon the traffic in explication and put their minds to investigation what manner of creature they imagine themselves."

Killing the Hidden Waters, by Charles Bowden. 206 pp. University of Texas Press, 2003

"The only time we truly learn something is when we are wrong, and so in the quarter-century since this book was published, I've been treated to a first-class education," writes Charles Bowden in the introduction to this new edition of his classic critique of resource management and water consumption in the American West.

Bowden's wise and scholarly book, first published in 1977, suggested that water consumption in the West would be curbed by rising water rates and that resource scarcity would eventually limit the region's population growth. But just as consumers have responded to higher gas prices by shifting to large gas-guzzling SUVs, the American culture seems determined to devour as much as it can as quickly as possible.

"I think over time this small tract will prove accurate, regardless of my own misbegotten hopes in the past," Bowden explains. "And by this claim I mean that the finite nature of resources will come increasingly into play and limit our ambitions and appetites."

Focused on the arid Southwest, the book contrasts the European cultures of the last 150 years that have based their civilizations on the ability to "mine" the aquifers with the O'odham and Pima Indian cultures that have managed to live sustainably in the Sonoran Desert with its unpredictable and rare water flows for centuries. What will become of these cultures when the aquifers are finally drained? Will the Europeans pack up and move on as they have in the past?

The Pond Lovers, by Gene Logsdon. 163 pp. University of Georgia Press, 2003.

From his Ohio farm in Upper Sandusky, Gene Logsdon writes lovingly of ponds and the people who adore them. His affections are focused not on wild lakes or water holes, but on backyard and pasture ponds that slow erosion, recharge groundwater, provide habitat for waterfowl and recreation for humans.

Logsdon says he started to write this book as sort of instructional manual, but turned instead to describing pond-loving people and their relationships to their ponds. This includes his father and several close neighbors, as well as his personal experience with the pond he constructed and maintains on his own land.

"To appreciate the full worth of a pasture pond, I visualize it as part of the extended environment of the farm, which -- with the creek running through the lower pastures, the two vernal pools in the upper and lower woods, and the second pond I hope to build between the first one and the creek -- becomes a watery balance to the meadows and woods," Logsdon explains. "Such a farm can only continue to increase in self-sustaining animal and plant species, powered and operated almost totally by the sun. Here is all the paradise I desire, all the paradise I need."

Golden Wings: and Other Stories about Birders and Birding, by Pete Dunne. 136 pp. University of Texas Press, 2003.

Many of the essays in this collection concern birds and birders in New Jersey, where Pete Dunne is the director of the Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory. Others are more general pieces about the mechanics of birding or the motivations of birders. But none of them are what you'd expect from a consultant to the prestigious Peterson field guide series, that being accounts of birdwatching expeditions to distant corners of the globe for a brief glimpse of a rare species to add to his Life List.

 Instead, Dunne's witty pieces have more to do with the act of birding and the people who perform it than with the species and their habitats. While describing a particularly rainy bird walk, for instance, he reveals that he hates getting wet. "Hate it in a way that makes the hydrophobia of cats look like the aqua-equanimity of seals," he complains. "While others get to conduct their birding in places like southeastern Arizona and southern California, I seem always fated to forage in places like... Sitkagi Beach, coastal Alaska -- a geographic blotter that absorbs 160 incheas of rain, sleet, or snow a year (usually all three at once)."

The title essay, "Golden Wings," pays tribute to Dunne's mentor, the late birding legend Roger Tory Peterson, with a whimsical story about the famous birder's first day in heaven, where he gets his first set of wings. "He spread wings that would have put him well up in the record books," Dunne writes. "But though their length and breadth, and wonderful symmetry were impressive, what most delighted Roger was that when the underwings caught the radiance of heaven, they blazed with yellow shafts of light. 'Just like the flock on Old Swede Hill,' thought Roger."

Reading the Roots: American Nature Writing Before Walden, edited by Michael P. Branch. 424 pp. University of Georgia Press, 2004.

Literature professor Michael Branch, who specializes in environmental writings, compiled this unusual anthology of works pertaining to America's natural resources. His earlier publications include John Muir's Last Journey, Reading the Earth and The Height of Our Mountains

The writings in this volume span the better part of four centuries, from Christopher Columbus' log book of the 1492-93 voyage to Fredrika Bremer's The Homes of the New World: Impressions of America, published in 1853.

Arranged chronologically, from the earliest to the latest, the anthology's selections cover a wide range of styles, voices and authors of rhetorical nonfiction concerned with natural science, the environment, and the idea of nature in America. While Native American, African American and female writings are included in the volume, they are limited in comparison to those by the dominant white male literary culture. 

"The need to restrict this book to a length that allows publication as a single volume has made it necessary to omit scores of interesting and important early American writers whose work engages the natural landscape," Branch explains. A Further Reading section in the back of the book lists works by more than 100 writers that would have been included had space permitted.

Like a leisurely visit to a great library packed with volumes long out of print and rarely mentioned, this book offers readers many delightful surprises and unanticipated revelations. An excellent reference for environmental historians and scholars, certainly, it is also a fun read for general readers of natural history.

Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs and Human Imagination, by Barbara Hurd. 143 pp. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

The Finzel and Crandesville swamps of Maryland inspired the nine probing meditations on wetlands and their relationships with mankind that fill this fine collection of nature writing.

With a style similar to Annie Dillard, combining a naturalist's eye for detail with a poet's voice and a scholar's mind, Barbara Hurd examines murky regions shunned by most and scorned by many. "For centuries, so much in a swamp seemed useless -- all thus muck and dead trees and algae -- and lack of function in our culture means lack of value. What's it for? we want to know. What does it do? We can tick off their benefits on our fingers: they help control flooding or they filter toxic watse, both of which have to do with our physical and economic health," Hurd explains. "But what kind of cultural enlightenment will it take for us to freely say that we value this or that because it is beautiful, because it nourishes the imagination, because it is good for the soul?"

 Although the essays in this book are united by their moory matters, each one stands more or less alone as a separate outing in a muddy place with its own set of adventures and discoveries, from swamp gases and bog men to carnivorous plants and rare turtles. Together they offer unusual entry into forbidding places.

Self-Portrait with Turtles: A Memoir, by David M. Carroll. 181 pp. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

"I was alone when I found the first spotted turtle, and over the years I would need to be alone to achieve my greatest awareness of the turtles and their places and find my deepest sense of being there," writes nature writer David M. Carroll in this remarkable memoir of a life obsessed with turtles. After spending much of his first eight years indoors, 

From his earliest years in central Pennsylvania He writes about his early encounters with turtles, which led to a lifelong fascination with them and their swampy habitats, and about the high school teacher who told him that, contrary to everything he had been taught before, art is the only thing that matters, the only thing that lasts. During his years at art school in Boston, he got to know the turtles of the Fenway, including one giant snapper he wrestled to shore and carried to his studio for a portrait session.

The War Against The Beavers, by Verena Andermatt Conley. 167 pp. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Here's a familiar story: an urban couple seeking to "get away from it all" purchases a cabin and a hundred acres of forest, naively expecting to find peace and serenity in their private corner of the natural world. In this case, the author is a Swiss emigre who grew up reading adventure stories about the American wilderness and her husband is a native New Yorker and weekend outdoorsman. Their "away from it all" was two aging cabins on an acreage bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota

Verena Andermatt Conley is an unusual author for such a book, being a scholarly professor of French language and literature with texts like "Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture" to her credit. Her life on the edge of the wilderness, though, was more nature study and attempted appreciation than homesteading.

"I never found in the North Woods the long-sought adventures of my childhood heroes Chief Winnetou and Old Shatterhand," she writes. "I never found what I thought was the harmony advocated by more modern writers. I discovered, however, that every order is fragile and that harmony is fleeting."

The incoveniences and conflicts inherent in rural life are impediments to the tranqulity Conley expected to find. Wild beaver, hungry insects and irrepressible fungi challenge and rebuff attempts at human control, teaching her a valuable lesson: "In nature an unpredictable element would always reign." 

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. 224 pp. Storey Books, 2003.

Unlike a diary, which is primarily an introspective account of personal history, the nature journal is an outwardly directed record of natural history. Observations and perceptions of nature and the emotional responses they inspire in the human observer/participant are its metier. Some nature journals are filled with bird lists and weather charts; others include sketches, drawings or watercolor paintings. Poems, photographs, newspaper clippings, musical notations and stories are as appropriate to the genre as scientific record-keeping, mapping and research. The key element is the focus -- looking outward into the world.

Leading by example, this large and profusely illustrated guidebook provides "journaling" techniques to encourage nature observation and recording-keeping in many forms. Educational in its approach and content, it's an exceptionally good tool for teachers and students of many fields, from botany and biology to creative writing and sketching. The final chapters of the book are dedicated to teaching situations and there's even a suggested scale for assessing nature journaling skills.

"My life work has focused mostly on training teachers and youth leaders in natural history and helping foster basic environmental literacy among our citizens," write Charles Roth, who co-authored the text with Clare Walker Leslie. "Clare has stimulated hundreds of people to begin keeping nature journals; we have even taught some nature observation workshops jointly in the past. As a journalist I tend to be more writer than artist; for Clare, it's just the reverse." 

Leslie's wonderful nature sketches and artwork steal attention away from the textual elements in thise guide, and it's difficult to imagine any reader not being tempted to try at least a few of the drawing exercises. The second edition (2003) includes a 32-page color portfolio of Leslie's work that almost any nature journalist will want to emulate. Beside the drawings and the excerpts, often inserted as sidebars, are tips on setting up a nature study, keeping naturalist records, conducting biological research or identifying plants and wildlife.

Walking With Henry: Based on the Life and Works of Henry David Thoreau, by Thomas Locker. 32 pp. Fulcrum Publishing, 2002.

This marvelously illustrated storybook for young readers follows the naturalist Henry David Thoreau on a solitary journey through a 19th century wilderness that greatly resembles the Hudson River Valley. Along the way, we learn details about the flora and fauna of Massachusetts, and about Thoreau's prescriptions for living in harmony with nature.

Author and illustrator Thomas Locker creates luminescent landscapes to complement his spare and evocative text, which ably captures the essence of the Transcendalist and conveys it to a new audience. The following lines, for example, succinctly express Thoreau's faith in wild nature's divine perfection:

At dawn Henry picked up his stick.
It wasn’t too short or too long.
It wasn’t too thick or too thin.
Like the wilderness, it was the way it should be. 

Environmental Renaissance: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Systems of Nature, by Andrew McMurry. 288 pp. University of Georgia Press, 2003.

The author of this work of ecocriticism says his aim is to evoke a dialogue about how human societies make waste of their environments, and their seeming inability to do otherwise. Considering our ecologically perilous times, how can we rhapsodize about nature and pick at the finer points of aesthetics when the very infrastructure upon which the natural world -- and our lives -- depends upon is being sullied and endangered? Are we smelling the roses while Rome burns? 

"Our current environmental vocabulary seems to exude a confidence in environmental praxis we have never -- I repeat, never -- earned: sustainability, conservation, renewability, cleanup are the high-toned markers in this lexicon. Words like these might prompt one to suppose that a regime of positive environmental health actually exists or is on the horizon. But despite what we may hear about the improving state of the environment, on the scale that counts (the planetary one), nothing is truly sustained, conserved, renewed, or cleaned up," Andrew McMurry explains.

With humanity rapidly outstripping the planet's capacity to support life, is there anything that ecocriticism can do besides conduct genteel, specialized conversations about the history and aesthetics of environmental literature? McMurry expresses his doubts, but nevertheless produces a work that tracks literary apprehensions about the precariousness of the natural world and its uncertain future through the past century and a half in a manner not so gentle or exclusive. Employing theories of autopoesis and social systems, he seeks to recast the nature philosophies of Thoreau and Emerson in a contemporary and potentially apocryphal light.

Both challenging and erudite, McMurry's call to arms pushes at the boundaries of environmental literature and demands a criticism that's more relevant and effectual.

Morning Earth: Field Notes in Poetry, by John Caddy. 100 pp.  Milkweed Editions, 2003.

John Caddy's daily poetry journal, published here as a collection of poems from September 4 through August 31, aims to inspire immitation. He encourages his readers to carry their notebooks out into the world and to make daily entries in prose, poetry or whatever form the words decide to flow. "Writing is a physical act; it is not a thought process," he points out. "Do not wait around for inspiration. Decide to write an entry a day, then do it. Decision is a way to gather energy."

The poems in this collection were written during Caddy's "daily daybreak practice" and emailed to readers/subscribers around the world on his email distribution list who are interested in what he calls "Earth Journaling" -- writing about nature and sharing the results "without pause" because, he explains, "the elevated mystiuque around creating poetry is a barrier to many who would like to write but have been sold a lot of nonsense. So my daily emails are presented warts-and-all."

Trail Guides

The third edition of Traveling the Lewis and Clark Trail by Julie Fanselow (Falcon, 2003), updated for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, details where to find historic sites and natural areas relating to the 1804-06 Corps of Discovery. Bicycling the Lewis and Clark Trail by Marion Tinling (Falcon, 2003) the routes and riding conditions for cycling the Lewis and Clark Trail in 40 daily rides ranging from 45 to 113 miles in length.

The unique geologic features of Central Oregon, including the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, are covered in the Insiders' Guide to Bend and Central Oregon by Leslie Cole and Jim Yuskavitch (Insider's Guide, 2002), now in its second edition. 

Field Guides

101 Trees of Indiana: A Field Guide by Marion T. Jackson (Indiana University Press, 2004) provides all the information need to identify trees in the Hoosier State during any season of the year.

Mixing botany and history, Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by H. Wayne Phillips (Mountain Press Publishing, 2003), serves as both an identification guide and a historical record of the wildflowers, shrubs and trees sketched and described by the explorers 200 years ago.

Revisions to the new edition of The Natural Gardens of North Carolina by B. W. Wells (University of North Carolina Press, 2002) include new line drawings and color photos along with changes in spelling and nomenclature; otherwise, the document stands pretty much as it was first printed in 1932.

"Birds of Belize" by H. Lee Jones (University of Texas Press, 2003) is the most complete identification guide to all 574 of the Belize birds. Grouped by families, the species are presented with details useful for field identification: size, plumage, voice, habitat and distribution. Range maps are included for species that are not found throughout Belize or are not widespread migrants. Artist Dana Gardner contributed the color illustrations throughout the text.

Birding columnist and author Pete Dunne has compiled his best advice in Pete Dunne on Bird Watcing: The How-to, Where-to, and When-to of Birding (Houghton Mifflin, 2003).

Natural Histories

Playas of the Great Plains by Loren M. Smith (University of Texas Press, 2003) surveys the state-of-the-field in Great Plains playa ecology and conservation. In The Natural West Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains (University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), Dan Flores examines his adopted environs in the Rocky Mountains, looking for man's place in an environment that he suspects would be better off without him.

Growing conflicts between fish-eating birds and the fisheries managers trying to prevent them from depleting their stocks compelled the International Fisheries Institute at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom to sponsor a special symposium and workshop in 2001. Papers analyzing the impact that the birds are having on fish populations, and the role of habitat and mitigation efforts, are collected in "Interactions Between Fish and Birds: Implications for Management," edited by Ian G. Cowx (Blackwell Science, 2003). 

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