By Kathy Salisbury, Director, Ambler Arboretum of Temple University
(Environment) Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn
Any book by an author Mary Roach describes as a “freewheeling, goofball Rachel Carson” is one for my bookshelf. If you are a person who watches all of the nature in your backyard closely, with curiosity, without repulsion you have found a companion in Hannah Holmes. She spent a year exploring the nature in hers. Bringing in regional experts to help her understand what she is seeing under her field microscope and befriending a chipmunk, Hannah describes the everyday drama of her yard. Detailing the interactions of plants, insects and mammals her writing is funny, accurate and accessible. While this is a book I recommend to the casual home gardener and amateur naturalist if only to show them they are not alone, rest assured even the most knowledgeable can learn something new and enjoy a good laugh within the pages.
(Environment) This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader
Joan Dye Gussow
After I lent this book to my neighbor she was transformed and inspired. She now cans and stocks her basement shelves and freezer with sauces and soups made from the local harvest, whenever it is ready. She thinks a lot about her family’s food and where it comes from. Her young daughters now do too. Joan makes you want to think more thoughtfully about your food, inspiring you to want to grow your own, despite the honest descriptions of set-backs and challenges in her own small garden. The book is dotted with recipes highlighting the bounty of each season between garden instruction. Joan also acknowledges the challenges presented by the climate and conditions of the northeast and offers her solutions to balancing her want to eat as locally and organically as possible and needing to eat healthy and diverse meals even in the winter months.
(Environment) Coming Home to Eat
Gary Paul Nabhan
Described as one of the first books in the local food movement, Gary Paul Nabhan writes about what many of us from the east coast may think of as impossible – growing vegetable in the desert. Documenting his effort to eat only foods “grown, finished, or gathered within 220 miles of his Arizona home.” The important message in this book is to think about what we consider food differently. With this experiment Nabhan explores what food can be. With our global consumer culture we are able to get green peppers, bananas, blueberries and nearly anything else any time of the year. We want it – we can go to the grocery store and get it. What Nabhan explores is regional foods, local foraging and gathering traditions and the impact of their loss in our culture, and redefining food as we think of it now. He finds lost foods, examines local food traditions, makes his own pasta while visiting and learning from all types of people involved in the burgeoning local food movement of the time.
(Trees) Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe
Eating Dirt is the most perfect title for this book. Charlotte Gill’s description of her nomadic life following behind timber and utility companies planting tiny tree seedlings replacing the giants conglomerates took down leaves you feeling like you need to floss soil from your smile. Reading this I felt gritty and sandblasted. I felt her aches – muscle and heart. Who knew there were teams of men and women, mostly men, going around being paid by the seedling to replace what has been removed. Moving from location to location with alternating stunning views of the pacific northwest and decimation of forests, Gill invited you into this little-known world of transient tree-planters. Old growth forest decimation, the soldier-like stands of second growth forest, the stumps of recent harvests and the tiny root masses of new trees are their own characters described in such detail you think maybe your boots are dirty because you were out there with her.
(Environment) Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer
A tiny abandoned plot in Oakland, CA produces clean nutritious food despite being in an area known for how ‘rough’ it is. Novella Carpenter doesn’t see the limitations that others do when they hear where she is trying to garden, she only sees limitless potential in this tiny plot – as we all should in each of ours. And she doesn’t only grow plants. She wants fresh, clean chicken to eat she orders them and figures out how to grow and harvest them. She deals with successes and backyard tragedies all the while teaching her neighbors about the value and work in local food . She meets like-minded people in her area, learning from them, sharing in their bounty and knowledge and excess bringing home seeds and even a bee swarm. This is a funny, inspiring book reminding us that with community, determination, enthusiasm and understanding we can produce produce just about anywhere, no matter how outsides may describe the potential of the space.
(Environment) Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers
I love getting flowers as much as anyone and have spent some time helping out in a flower shop. My major in college was floriculture where I had a few classes in floral design, in high school I took evening classes with my mom at the local community college earning a certificate in floral design. As a high school teacher I taught floral design. During my career I have ventured into many cut flower wholesalers Not in any of these experiences did I think too much about where these flowers come from, how they got here, who grew them and how. If I did think of it at all it was to realize that flowers from South America are cheaper than those form the US or from Holland and that if I need something next day I can almost always get it. Amy Stewart dives into the world of cut flowers exploring south American greenhouses and fields, talking to the women and men, mostly women, who grow the flowers. She looks into pesticides, genetic modification, worker safety and rights as well as floral trends and traditions. She challenges us to think as much about this luxury item as we do about our food systems. A bouquet that brings us so much joy, whether we receive it or are just walking past a shop full of colorful flowers, has a tremendous environmental and humanitarian footprint that should be considered in each purchase. Is it as easy as simply deciding to support the local cut flower growers and floral CSAs that are more prevalent now? I am not so sure, there are thousands of jobs, small town economies and national budgets dependent on this system and our participation in it. Who knew a bouquet of roses could mean so much more than ‘I love you?”
(Environment) Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of our Own Backyards
Though this books dates back to 1998 I still recommend people read it. What I love about it is its accessibility. It is realistic, has real-world suggestions and Stein takes great care to describe her mistakes, her corrections and her reasoning. Most importantly she acknowledges that some of her initial endeavors into gardening and landscaping may have had a negative impact on the environment but builds on knew knowledge as she gains it. Making changes in her landscape, solving problems, understanding her role is part of a larger system and does not just revolve around her small plot of land. Sure, we all may know this and understand it, but what I think this book does is help give us a way to talk with people who do not undertsnad this or who have maybe never thought about it. This work, which was part of the inspiration for Doug Tallamy’s first book
(Environment) Winter World: The Ingenuity of Winter Survival
Transformative. That is the one word I would use to sum up this book. It changed the way I look at everything. Dubbed the modern-day Thoreau, Heinrich is a nature writer extraordinaire. Don’t let the nickname fool you. I find his writing immensely more readable and entertaining than Thoreau. I cannot take a walk in the woods or fields without thinking of this book. His specific accounts of sneaking inside beaver dens and of the heartbeats of the smallest birds who manage to make it through northeast winters are scientific and delightful. His own drawings of his field observations appear throughout the book. Naturalist and curious through and through, Heinrich walks you through the long New England winter describing the survival strategies of all the animals and connects their lives to the life cycles of plants and of course, to our own being. I guarantee this book, and likely every other one by Bernd Heinrich will make you appreciate winter even in on the coldest, darkest, snowiest days.
(Tree) The Overstory
"Like a flea hugging it's dog" is how Richard Powers describes a human hugging a redwood tree. I just happened to pick up and read this book immediately after returning from my first visit to the Redwoods. There could not be a better quote to describe the experience than that one. This winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction is a must read for any tree hugger. Though it is a work of fiction the book addresses complex social and environmental issues following 9 different characters as they learn to value to importance of trees in the setting of the Redwood forests of California.
(Tree) The Wild Trees
Coastal redwood trees can have thirty foot wide trunks and grow more than 30 stories tall, making them some of the largest living organisms on the planet. More is known about ocean floors and moon surfaces that what is living in those trees high up in the air where they create their own ecosystems. Learn about the unique environment in the tops of these trees with the author who follows scientists into the canopies, discovers insects that live only in these spaces and how the trees create their own weather.
(Trees) The Trees in My Forest
Sometimes described as the modern day Thoreau, Henrich describes with words and with sketches the life in his Maine woods. Through observations he describes the interconnectedness of all life in the woods in an easy to read and entertaining way. His curiosity and wonder make you curious and wonder and I guarantee after you read this book or any of Heinrich's many others you will be getting outside and looking at nature differently.