Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Nature Books of 2012

Every year we scan the book awards for the year and share titles that have some relationship to the things we write about at the Natural Capital. As usual, I found a couple I'm excited to add to my reading list, one we already really enjoyed...and a couple of books that look like great kid gifts, to boot.

In the National Outdoor Book Awards:

The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Natureby David George Haskell

"One square meter. That’s what Forest Unseen is about: one square meter of a Tennessee forest. But in George Haskell’s able hands, that’s all that is needed to reveal a world of wonder and magic. An engaging and poetic writer, Haskell takes us on a journey through the seasons, documenting the changes in an old growth forest and describing the many ecological processes occurring there. Through Haskell's words, the forest comes alive and seeps gently and unobtrusively into our conscience. Haskell has done it masterfully — writing with a quiet humility and a deceptive simplicity that mirrors the life in his small patch of the natural world."

For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Peggy Thomas and illustrated by Laura Jacques

"For the Birds is a delightful biography for children from 7 to 11 years of age. Who is it about? Why . . . none other than “Professor Nuts Peterson.” Professor Nuts, who might carry a snake in his pocket or a bird’s egg in his hat, is the American artist and passionate bird lover who created the Peterson Field Guides. His guides weren’t designed for scientists and specialists. Rather, they were for everyone, making it easier for adults — and kids of all stripes and ages — to identifying birds, animals and plants. Author Peggy Thomas quite handedly describes Peterson’s life from his childhood, to his success as an illustrator, and to his work as a conservationist. Fitting winningly with the text are bright and cheery illustrations by Laura Jacques."

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History by Carol Gracie

"Spring Wildflowers is as elegant as the flowers found within its pages. That’s due to the multi-talented Carol Gracie who is a writer, a botanist and a photographer. In the book, she describes a host of Northeastern plants, but she doesn't stop at the usual botanical boundaries. Unique among plant guides, she goes on to include what species pollinate each plant. She further firmly places each plant into the context of its habitat, what animals consume it, how it has been used as a medicinal plant. Gracie’s book is a noteworthy achievement and quite effectively broadens our thinking about plants to include their many-sided relationship with all aspects of the ecosystem." (We received a copy of this book and I can vouch for its beauty and depth: each plant description is extensive and the photographs are wonderful.)

AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography: Creating Great Nature and Adventure Photos by Jerry Monkman

"If you’ve been prospecting for just the right book on outdoor digital photography, look no further. You’ll strike pay dirt with this new Appalachian Mountain Club guide. Accomplished photographer Jerry Monkman who has worked for a variety of national outdoor and wildlife magazines, nicely elaborates on the subject in one easily readable and visually instructive book. The book covers equipment, lenses, lighting, composition, exposure, and processing software. The text is supplemented with case studies and expert advice. This is outdoor photography after all, and Monkman doesn’t leave out suggestions on taking photos in adverse weather. You’ll find plenty to be mined from this fine reference, and you won’t even need a pick and shovel."

From the San Francisco Green Book Festival:

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature
by Nicola Davies

(Ages 3-7) "Reading poetry may seem an activity for the winter-bound and introverted, but this lovely collection, organized by season, urges children to dash outside, slamming the screen door behind them. Unlike so much poetry geared toward children, not all the verse here rhymes, introducing readers to poetic language outside the predictable cadences of Dr. Seuss. Mixed-media illustrations, with an emphasis on woodblock and silhouette, offer plenty of beauty to contemplate." —The New York Times

From the Nautilus Book Awards:

The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age by Richard Louv


"In this sanguine, wide-ranging study of how humans can thrive through the "renaturing of everyday life," Louv takes nature deficit disorder, introduced in his seminal Last Child in the Woods, a step further, to argue that adults need nature, too. "A reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health," he writes, asking, "What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in electronics?" Louv's "Nature Principle" consists of seven precepts, including balancing technology excess with time in nature; a mind/body/nature connection, which Louv calls "vitamin N," that enhances physical and mental health; expanding our sense of community to include all living things; and purposefully developing a spiritual, psychological, physical attachment to a region and its natural history. The book presents examples of these precepts, from studies of how exposure to a common soil bacteria increases production of serotonin in the brain to designing shopping malls inspired by termite mounds. Although lightweight for longtime nature lovers, the book may be just what our high-tech, urban culture needs to bring us down to earth." -- Publishers Weekly

Also see our lists from 2011, 2010, and 2009

What have you been reading lately? What would you add to this list?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Things to look for in December

It's been hard to believe it's December with the warm weather we've been having, but the plant and animal world have slowed down on schedule. I'm hoping for a little cold weather to make us appreciate our family trip to Florida -- but not so much that it keeps everyone inside! Here are some of the things we like to look for in the greyer world of winter.

Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco by ehpien
When the cold whether does come, I tend to get grumpy about it. It's good to remind myself of the junco -- who comes down from Canada to enjoy our (relatively) balmy winter. At least we're not in Canada, I say. Plus, they're cute little birds.

squirrel nest in my back yard
Squirrel nest by Heart Windows Art
Meanwhile, the squirrels have built their nests for the winter and are hunkering down. Cute alert: this post includes BBC footage of baby squirrels.

Berry Pretty 3
Holly by Kevin H.
The garlands of greenery went up in my office building last week, just like clockwork. But the tradition of bringing holly inside at this time of year pre-dates Christmas. And there's plenty to celebrate about these berries -- and the birds they attract -- even if you're not decking the halls.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Christmas Fern by K.P. McFarland
Christmas ferns were also once used as holiday decorations, for the same reason -- they stay green all winter.

Eastern Hemlock
Hemlock by Mr.Mac2009
While you're out and about enjoying the winter sunshine, try your hand at identifying some trees. It's a lot harder without the leaves! We made a quick guide to ten winter trees that often catch our eye.

Ben's breath
Ben's Breath by nordicshutter
Your breath is often visible around this time of year. Look at it as a measure of temperature and humidity, or enjoy the visible reminder of the breath of all life.

And, for those of you who tend to feel a little house-bound as it gets colder and colder outside, last year we also wrote a Southerner's Guide to Staying Warm Outside in the Winter. Now get out there and explore!