Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Ones I Can't Live Without: Favorite Nature Books

If all else failed, these are the books I would want in hand, these invitations to explore and savor nature.

Louise J. Halle, Spring in Washington (NY, Atheneum, 1947)-- chief among them. Halle was a young State Department employee in
1945, when he slipped out daily before sunrise, swooping through city, riverside and marsh on his bicycle, observing with relish the progress of spring along the Potomac. An especially keen birder, his writing is fine and nimble, from the scientific to the philosophic and lyrical, with a dash of humor. Such a pleasure! What I perhaps most admire is the quiet independence of his preoccupation, his solitary choice to spend each dawn in the natural world.

To snatch the passing moment and exaine it for signs of eternity is the noblest of occupations.

Edwin Way Teale, A Walk Through the Year (NY, Dodd, Mead & Co, 2978). In the winter of 1998 - 1999, I was bedridden for 2 ½ months (sounds rather Victorian) and survived thanks to my family, meditation, and this book. For 18 years, I had been a landscape designer, and enjoyed daily contact with the out-of-doors. This book was like water to the parched-- a daily sojourn through the seasons, with Teale recording daily observations of natural life on his Connecticut farm.

From his entry for May 9:

Out in the meadow I look up High above me two red-shouldered hawks spin in an updraft. Just as I get my glasses focused on one of the soaring birds, it sweeps back its wings, tilts steeply downward, and like an arrowhead, streaks in a long plunge toward the earth. I follow it down and down. I see it near the ground, open its wings, check its descent and begin climbing upward again. A hawk sporting in the air of spring.

Get's me every time.

Marie Winn, Red-Tails in Love (NY, Pantheon Books, 1998). Switching back from countryside to town--Marie Winn, nature columnist for the Wall Street Journal, tells a tale of love and high drama along with the inside scoop on the Central Park world of New York naturalists, the Regulars, as they are called. Delightful!

And lastly, favorite field guides, trusty companions:

Roger Tory Peterson, Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Birds (I'm sure there are more up-to-date editions than mine). My mother recorded every bird she ever saw in her copy, and I consult this more than any other single volume in my library. Though I still haven't figured out which kind of hawk used to soar by my office window last spring...

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Irresistible. The chocolate-brown butterfly with blue spots I saw on Huntington Street on March 6 was, I learned, a Diana.

A Golden Guide to Insects. "Full-color," the cover helpfully states, "Easy-to-use". No truer words were ever written. See bug, can find. And, after all, there are more of them than there are of us, so it's kind of nice to know their names.

Happy trails!

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