Friday, January 23, 2015

Robert Frost, Poet Author for January through March 2015

The author for January through March 2015 is Robert Frost. Frost is renown for the nature imagery in his poetry. I have not studied his work in depth, but have found his nature descriptions breath-taking in their masterful simplicity and evocation of the feelings that natural scenes and phenomena can induce in us.  (The only other sound's the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.)  However, some critiques are quick to point out that Frost is not a "nature poet" as were the Romantic poets of England, for example, Wordsworth:

[The] contrast between man and nature is the central theme of Frost's nature poetry. Whereas Wordsworth sees in nature a mystical kinship with the human mind, Frost views nature as essentially alien. Instead of exploring the margin where emotions and appearances blend, he looks at nature across an impassable gulf. What he sees on the other side is an image of a hard, impersonal reality. Man's physical needs, the dangers facing him, the realities of birth and death, the limits of his ability to know and to act are shown in stark outline by the indifference and inaccessibility of the physical world in which he must live.

Thus Frost sees in nature a symbol of man's relation to the world. Though he writes about a forest or a wildflower, his real subject is humanity. The remoteness of nature reveals the tragedy of man's isolation and his weakness in the face of vast, impersonal forces. But nature also serves to glorify man by showing the superiority of the human consciousness to brute matter. In this respect, nature becomes a means of portraying the heroic. There is a fundamental ambiguity of feeling in Frost's view of nature. It is to be feared as man's cruel taskmaster, scorned as insensible, brutish, unthinking matter; yet it is to be loved, not because it has any secret sympathy for man - "One had to be versed in country things/ Not to believe the phoebes wept"- but rather because it puts man to the test and thus brings out his true greatness.  The Pastoral Art of Frost

Over the next few months I will be reading Frost and putting this idea to the test. I will blog about my own perceptions. Whatever his poetry seems to say about nature, there is no doubt that he loved the rural life and living close to nature.  Click here to read A Walk with Robert Frost. It describes his love for botanizing.
I  visited one of Frost's homes decades ago--a farm where he stayed during his summer sojourns at the Breadloaf Writer's Conference near Middlebury, Vermont. I seem to remember peering in the window of his writing cabin or even walking through and seeing the comfortable chair he favored, where he wrote with a board across the armrests.  But I think I must be imagining that. Although A Walk with Robert Frost alludes to a Morris chair. Perhaps I didn't imagine it after all.
Poet Robert Frost (shown here circa 1915) made his first foray into teaching at Methuen’s Second Grammar School. The 1893 attendance register at right was handwritten and signed by Frost. Restoration work on the document (below) is nearly complete.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Snoring Bird Will Keep You Awake All Night

The selection for October through December 2014 is Bernd Heinrich's The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through A Century of Biology. This is the fourth time we so honor Mr. Heinrich, he is at the top of his game as an author here. Don't be intimidated by the book's sheer size, you won't want it to end!

From Amazon:
Although Gerd Heinrich, a devoted naturalist, specialized in wasps, Bernd Heinrich tried to distance himself from his "old-fashioned" father, becoming a hybrid: a modern, experimental biologist with a naturalist's sensibilities.
In this extraordinary memoir, the award-winning author shares the ways in which his relationship with his father, combined with his unique childhood, molded him into the scientist, and man, he is today. From Gerd's days as a soldier in Europe and the family's daring escape from the Red Army in 1945 to the rustic Maine farm they came to call home, Heinrich relates it all in his trademark style, making science accessible and awe-inspiring.

“A remarkable story.” (Portland Press Herald)

“...beautifully written story of a man’s efforts to reconstruct posthumously the life of his father...” (Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse)

“...scientist and naturalist of the first rank and a nature writer of uncommon talent...” (Edward O. Wilson)

“...amazing saga, full of twists and turns...his magnum opus...vividly descriptive...he has produced his best book ever...” (Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Deep Economy)

“...I couldn’t leave its has joined the small collection of my most favorite book...” (Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, anthropologist and author of the bestseller The Hidden Life of Dogs)

“...extraordinary...a memoir of fun, daringness and intellectual curiosity, the heartwarming evolution of a modern biologist.” (Jean Craighead George, award-winning author of Julie of the Wolves)

“ one of the premier naturalists of our time...a splendid book, truly compelling, and bound to endure.” (Thomas Eisner)

“Heinrich’s stunning family saga...his magnum opus...vividly descriptive...he has produced his best book ever...” (Alice Calaprice, award winning editor; author of the Quotable Einstein books, The Einstein Almanac, and Dear Professor Einstein)

“...You will not want to put it engrossing and powerful narrative of human achievement...” (Samuel W.F. Wolfgang, author of German Boy and The War of Our Childhood)

“One of the finest living examples of that strange hybrid: the science writer.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“Heinrich, who combines his keen scientific eye with the soul of a poet, enthralls.” (New York Times Book Review)

“The Snoring[s] readers why the work of an observant field biologist still matters.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“Arguably today’s finest naturalist author...our latter-day Thoreau.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Some of Heinrich’s most lyrical writing...the future scientist as a footloose nature boy.” (New York Times Book Review)

“...brilliant...there is in Heinrich’s every page, wonderment.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“...splendid nature writing...a fascinating glimpse of the growth of one scientist’s mind. Heartily recommended.” (Library Journal)

Friday, July 4, 2014


Our gaze turns skyward to Carl Sagan's COSMOS, written to accompany the groundbreaking COSMOS television series. The book is the biggest selling science book of all time, surpassed only by Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Although some of the science explored in this book has since progressed to new insights, Sagan's personality, humanity and unique perspective makes this still a very worthwhile and illuminating read.  At the time it was written, the cold war and the prospect of nuclear annihilation permeated everyone's subconscious, and this theme is repeatedly touched on in the book. Now we face a different type of end time scenario due to climate change, so this may be a very timely selection to follow Apocalyptic Planet.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Singing in the Wilderness of an Apocalyptic Planet APR/MAY/JUN 2014

For April, May and June, we combine voices from the past and present.  Our selections are The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson and Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth by Craig Childs, winner of the 2013 Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. For information on Mr. Olson, one of our most revered authors and environmentalists, check out The Listening Point Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving his wilderness retreat and advancing his legacy of wilderness education. See Mr. Child's website here for details on his book. It will be interesting and to contrast these two writers and their perspectives.

Note: Google now will not allow me to upload photos unless I download their improved surveillance browser Google Chrome, so until that time, this blog will be unadorned with images, unfortunately. Please go to the websites listed for images of the authors and their books.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


“Jon Young is one of the heroes of the new nature movement, an expansion of traditional environmentalism.
With What the Robin Knows, he opens a door to a universe that overlaps modern life, a world lost to most, but found by some—because of teachers like Jon. This elegant book will deepen the kinship between humans and other species. It decodes our common language.”
—Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods
“Here is the ancestral wisdom passed down from Apache elder Stalking Wolf to renowned tracker Tom Brown to Jon Young himself, who in turn passes on to the reader the art of truly listening to the avian soundscape. With all senses more finely tuned, you’ll find yourself more aware of your surroundings, slowing down, and reconnecting with a native intelligence and love of the natural world that lies deep within each of us.”
—Donald Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds and Birdsong by the Seasons
What the Robin Knows is a fascinating introduction to nature study beyond putting names on what we see, not just a guide to paying attention outdoors but full of tips on how to do it. It should help us discover the world of nature around us, often glimpsed but too often overlooked. This is less a book to read than one to use, one that will enrich our hours outdoors.”
Thomas R. Dunlap, author of In the Field, Among the Feathered
“Jon Young knows birds, and you will, too, after reading his marvelous book. You’ll discover a universal bird language that will speak to you wherever you go outdoors. Every nature lover should read this book.“
Joseph Cornell, author of Sharing Nature with Children and John Muir: My Life with Nature.
“This book turns us inside out, opening our minds onto the wider mind of the land itself. It’s a brilliant work, born of a lifetime of listening, teaching, and tracking what really matters. By waking our animal senses, Jon Young’s work replenishes our humanity.”
David Abram, author of Becoming Animal and The Spell of the Sensuous
“Naturalist Young (co-author: Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, 2008) explains how to understand the language of birds.
Trained in anthropology at Rutgers, the author’s passion for bird-watching began in the salt marshes of southern New Jersey where he was raised, but he attributes his real learning to a series of mentors who trained him in Native American traditions.
Young believes that native and scientific knowledge about nature are complementary, and that animal communication is “never just the robins communicating with other robins”—they transmit information to other species, which follow their calls. In his wilderness-training classes, Young teaches students how to listen and understand these communications. However, he notes, it’s a skill that can be practiced by anyone in the backyard or a local park, by choosing a “sit spot” and quietly observing what is happening in the same area every day.
Young stresses the need to sit quietly, allowing the birds to accept our presence; after first flying away in alarm, they will return to their territory. “If we learn to read the birds…we can read the world at large,” he writes.
“The types of birds seen or heard, their numbers and behaviors and vocalizations, will reveal the locations of running water or still water, dead trees, ripe fruit, a carcass, predators, fish runs, insect hatches, and so much more.”
This information, shared by all the birds and animals living in a habitat, was crucial to the survival of hunter-gatherer societies. A trained tracker can learn to recognize how the variations in birdcalls and their behavior when alarmed can identify different predators such as hawks, crows and cats.
A sophisticated guide for amateur bird watchers and a door-opener for newbies.”
-Kirkus’ Reviews

Thursday, November 7, 2013


I have started reading our last selection of 2013, Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson. Its one of those books that I want to savor since there is so much information, so many exciting ideas, presenting a multi-faceted perspective of the subject, and all written in a very engaging and often humorous first person.  It even has illustrations! So I'm dedicating both November and December to give the book the attention it deserves. Hanson's book
is critically acclaimed, and won the John Burroughs medal, one of the highest honors in nature writing. Here is the back cover copy:

A sparkling history...popular natural history at its best. NEW SCIENTIST

 Feathers are an evolutionary wonder: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. From flying dinosaurs to showgirls on the Las Vegas Strip, their story spans hundreds of millions of years--yet has never been fully told.  In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history of how feathers have been used to soar, attract, and adorn through time.  Enlivened by the author's field experience and wide-ranging research, Feathers is a captivating account of the human fascination with this most enchanting subject.

An illuminating study of an evolutionary marvel  THE ECONOMIST
A winning book about the extraordinary place of feathers in animal and human history WALL STREET JOURNAL
An impressive blend of beauty, form, and function.  NATURAL HISTORY
Thor Hanson's storytelling is enchanced by his infectious excitement...Feathers is a compelling introduction to one of nature's wonders.  NATURE

Dr. Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group.  His books include The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda and Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle.  In addition to the John Burroughs Medal, Feathers was nominated for The Samuel Johnson Prize.  It also received the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize and a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award.  His many media appearances have included NPR's Fresh Air, PRI's The World, and The Current on CBC.  Hanson lives with his wife and son on an island in the Pacific Northwest.  See his website:

Thursday, October 3, 2013


October is the peak of the autumn raptor migration in the Appalachian flyway.
Beginning in early September we climb to overlook sweeping vistas of ridge-valley terrain, where updrafts of warm air lift the wings of a  fierce procession: broad-winged, sharp-shinned, red-tailed and rough shouldered hawks,  kestrels, ospreys, peregrine falcons, golden eagles and others.  One of the best places to view the phenomenon is Hawk Mountain in the Blue Ridge of eastern Pennsylvania. The area includes 13,000 acres of protected private and public land, including the 2,600 acre Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, where a short hike brings you to incredible scenic views. The site was formerly a killing field, where hunters gathered annually to shoot hundreds of birds of prey, then considered to be pests.

The Sanctuary was incorporated in the late 1930's. The transformation of public awareness about Hawk Mountain and the success of its conservation mission is owed in large measure to Maurice Broun and his wife Irma, the first guardians of the sanctuary.

Broun's book Hawks Aloft: The Story of Hawk Mountain is our October 2013 selection. Members of PVNWG, field glasses at the ready, will also visit the sanctuary which has an 8-mile trail system, visitor center, bookstore, and  interpretive programs.
We give honorable mention to another author Scott Weidensaul. His Raptor Almanac is a compendium of raptor lore and images that provides hours of fascination.