Monday, December 31, 2012

A Winter in The Outermost House

The world to-day is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water welling from the earth, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot."  --Henry Beston

For December and January, our group has chosen The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston. Beston is one of the deities in the pantheon of classic nature writers. His chronicle of a solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach was written in longhand on the kitchen table in a little room with windows overlooking the North Atlantic and the dunes. Capturing the vividness of each event as it is seen and felt, the author describes the wonder and mystery of nature--the migrations of shore and sea birds, the ceaseless rhythms of wind and sand and ocean, the pageant of stars in the changing seasons. Permeating these pages is his perception of the relation of man to the cosmic picture.

In a 1964 ceremony on the dunes, the house itself was officially proclaimed a National Literary Landmark.
For more about the author and his work, see the excellent site developed by the Friends of Henry Beston.
We meet on January 27th to discuss the author and The Outermost House. Details, see "Next Meeting" in left hand column.

Friday, November 30, 2012


PVNWG members are reading Amy Minato's work Siesta Lane for November 2012, to be discussed at our meeting on December 2. Several of our upcoming books document a highly personal Thoreauvian experience. Here is info from the inside cover:

Part of me knows that it would be easy to go back to my busy familiar life where I am marginally successful and known to others, if not to myself.
But not to myself.

Amy Minato decided to abandon a life of consumption for one year.
She moved from the busy streets of Chicago to a quieter, slower, simpler, and more natural existence in the pristine countryside of Oregon.  The community she discovered, called Siesta Lane, became her very own Walden Pond.
Amy's experience there--in a group of like-minded men and women, all living in tiny cottages without electricity or running water--changed her forever. Like her reader, she challenged herself to see the bigger picture through a smaller lens.

Amy Klauke Minato is a poet, writer, and teacher. She holds advanced degrees in creative writing and environmental studies from the University of Oregon. 

Bernd Heinrich: A wonderful story of resilience and courage.  It touches the soul.
Publishers Weekly: Minato's lyrical prose tosses off beguiling evocations of the landscape and flora around her...
Robert Michael Pyle: A treat...we could all learn something we need to know: live simpler, live better.
Diana Abu-Jaber: Siesta lane is a beguiling story of self-discovery filled with the enchantments of the land and the body.

To join the discussion on December 2, email pvnaturewriters@gmail for details.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


The month of October 2012 we are devoting to Roger Tory Peterson. Members may read All Things Reconsidered, a collection of his previously published Birdwatcher's Digest columns selected by his publisher Bill Thompson III.  Click here for a review from the Seattle Times.
Also of interest is the biography Birdwatcher by Elizabeth Rosenthal which has earned much praise. If that is too much to chew, the site of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History has a short biography page and a nice collection of quotes. A sampling:

 “Birding, after all, is just a game. Going beyond that is what is important.”
The Daily Reflector, Greenville, NC Nov. 6, 1988

“A naturalist must always be a realist.”
New York Alive, Jan-Feb, 1988

“Butterflies fly too; they are elegant and vibrant, but they don’t sing. And flowers, lovely though they may be, are rooted to the earth. To me, as a youngster, chafing under the regimentation of the classroom and the demands of a stern father, birds seemed to have it all. They are attractive, they sound off with spirit, and they can fly wherever they choose, whenever they choose. Ever since that day in April, well over sixty years ago, birds have dominated my daily thoughts, filled my dreams, and dominated my reading.”
A speech to the NYS Legislature, Albany, NY, June 17, 1987

“Reluctant at first to accept a straitjacket of a world I did not comprehend, I finally, with the help of my hobby, made some sort of peace with society.”
Used in US News & World Report article, Aug.12, 1996

“Watching birds has sharpened my senses, made my hearing far more acute than most, my eyes more perceptive, my reactions quicker. This awareness has radiated far beyond the birds, embracing nearly everything that is alive, from my fellow humans to the least beetle or cricket.”
A speech to the NYS Legislature, Albany, NY, June 17, 1987

“Birds, with their high rate of metabolism and furious pace of living, demonstrate perhaps better than any other animals the life forces. They are indicators, quickly reflecting changes in the environment that we all share. They are sort of an early warning system, sending out signals when things are out of kilter.”
A speech to the NYS Legislature, Albany, NY, June 15, 1987

“It is inevitable that the perceptive person who watches birds, or mammals, or fish, or butterflies, becomes an environmentalist.”
A speech to the NYS Legislature, Albany, NY, June 15, 1987

“I am first a teacher.”
At the 10-12-96 RTPI Board of Trustees meeting Virginia Peterson stated that RTP often said this.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Our meeting on September 23 to discuss John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra also included a quick vote for upcoming titles. The results:
October 2012: Roger Tory Peterson and Bill Thompson III, All Things Reconsidered (This is a collection of columns by Peterson published in Bird Watcher's Digest and selected by the publisher, Bill Thompson III.)
November 2012: Amy Minato, Siesta Lane
December 2012/January 2013: Henry Beston, Outermost House
February 2013: Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
March 2013: Gretel Erlich, The Solace of Open Spaces
Apri 2013: David Carroll, Swampwalker's Journal
May 2013: Tom Brown, Nature Observation and Tracking

Monday, July 2, 2012

John Muir and My First Summer in the Sierra

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.

-- My First Summer in the Sierra , 1911, page 110.

Our Summer Read is John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra. Muir needs no introduction here. As famous as he is, and as pervasive as quotes from his writings are, I suspect many people have never read those writings. My First Summer in the Sierra is one of his best. The text is available online at the magnificent tribute site compiled by the Sierra Club, which also includes photos, illustrations by Muir, biography and other resources. We will meet to discuss Muir and his superlative summer journal in September, date to be determined. Watch this site!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Beatrix Potter: A Life In Nature

Why Beatrix Potter? One of the most beloved writers and illustrators of children's books was also an amateur naturalist, a skilled scientific illustrator, a country farmer, and a highly successful conservationist who saved whole areas of the British Lake District for posterity. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, the in-depth biography by Linda Lear is our choice for May 2012. Due to the size of this work and conflicting events, we will not meet to discuss the book until June 24.
The critics weigh in:
Winner of the 2007 Lakeland Book of the Year Award
"Read Beatrix Potter by Linda Lear and you sense a woman poised between late-
Victorian constraint and the promises, intellectual and amorous, of liberation."
--Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
"Lear paints an appealing, revealing picture of an independent, accomplished and loving woman who used her art and research to educate herselve and a host of readers."
"Lear is not only an impeccable historian but a grand storyteller...a magisterial and definitive biography, a delight in every way."
--The Horn Book
"As an appreciation of a life well-lived and a talent almost accidentally nurtured, Beatrix Potter, tells an absorbing story well worth reading."
--Christian Science Monitor
"Potter was a famously close observer of the world around her, and Lear is an equally close observer of her subject. The result is a meticulously researched and brilliantly re-created life that, despite its length and accretion of detail, is endlessly fascinating and often illuminating. It is altogether a remarkable achievement."
--Booklist, *Starred Review*
"In this remarkable biography...the author's meticulous attention to detail is obvious throughout, not to mention her elegant writing and exceptional scholarship. Highly recommended."
--Library Journal
"Potter's witty journals, with their close observations of people, animals, objects and places, serve as the basis for Lear's engrossing account, which will appeal to ecologists, historians, child lit buffs and those who want to know the real Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Benjamin Bunny."
--Publishers Weekly
"The great achievement of this book is the way it knits together Potter's lifelong activities in art and science and shows how they are all part of an extraordinarily integrated life: how her feeling for plants and animals and her finely detailed observations of the natural world were the foundation stones of her children's books as well as her land management skills and environmental awareness."
--The Australian
"An in-depth biography of Beatrix Potter is long overdue and here Linda Lear fills that gap with a thoroughly well-researched and compelling book."
--Judy Taylor, author of Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Next up is Kim Todd's first book Tinkering with Eden, A Natural History of Exotics in America. Her other books are Chrysalis and Sparrow.
Todd's articles and essays have appeared in Orion, Sierra Magazine, California Wild and Grist, among other places. She has taught environmental and nature writing at the University of Montana, the University of California at Santa Cruz extension, and the Environmental Writers Institute. She currently teaches at Penn State, The Behrend College. Todd is a senior fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program.Todd has given talks at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the New England Aquarium, the Getty Museum, the Commonwealth Club, Yale University, Bowdoin College, Wellesley College, the University of California (Davis), and many other venues. She has an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction and an M.S. in environmental studies, both from the University of Montana, and B.A. in English from Yale. The following information is from the author's website:

Tinkering with Eden is that rare thing, a profoundly important cautionary tale that is at the same time, both illuminating and entertaining."--William Kittredge, author of Nature of Generosity

Since Europeans started settling North America, exotic species have flooded in, becoming so prevalent that many Americans can't tell which species are native and which are not. Tinkering with Eden tells the stories of seventeen of these species, from the starling, introduced in 1890 by a man who wanted to bring all the birds mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare to New York's Central Park, to the gypsy moth, imported by a naturalist who was trying to breed a silk worm that would survive New England winters. The book details the disasters unleashed with many exotics, as well as the few success stories, like the Vedalia ladybug from Australia that saved the California citrus industry.

The New York Times Book Review You really can't fool Mother Nature, as Kim Todd vividly shows in her fascinating, cautionary first book.

Booklist Imagine the common birds of city and suburb, the ones we all see daily as they perch on phone wires and peck for crumbs on the sidewalk. The three most numerous species in our imaginations—starlings, pigeons, and house sparrows—are all exotic, non-native birds that were deliberately introduced to North America from Europe. In this fascinating history of the introduction of exotic species, Todd gives the reader the story behind the initial introduction of each species as well as its status today.

The New Yorker The pigeons fluttering in public spaces, nutria in Southern swamps, gypsy moths across New England -- all these are the thriving, abundant relics of abandoned experiments, most of them well meant.

Grist Magazine Todd weaves 17 tales of past and present exotic organisms that have staked their claim in North American soils -- abetted, of course, by their human companions. With a healthy dose of sympathy for her human characters, Todd clarifies the complicated, wonky world of Exotic Pest Plant Councils and feral animal eradication.

Bookpage Tinkering with Eden -- a fascinating narrative enhanced by Todd's far-reaching research and rich story-telling abilities -- explores nature and humankind's relationship to it. A former newspaper reporter, the author has a fresh voice, an inquisitive mind and the instinct to ask questions about ordinary things the rest of us take for granted. Her book will interest any caring observer of our environment or lover of mystery.

On Earth—Magazine of the National Resources Defense Council Author Kim Todd has chosen a small selection of these stories to tell, each a short but richly detailed narrative of how and why a particular species has come to be considered American. Readers will get reacquainted with common pigeons (from France), honeybees (from England), and brown trout (from Germany). They'll also meet lesser-known transplants, like blood-sucking sea lampreys, colonies of monkeys, and orange-toothed nutrias.

Outside Magazine Reaching back to the original farmers, crackpots, and scientists who opened this biological Pandora's box, Todd uncovers a Greek tragedy of human heedlessness....[B]eautifully written natural history.

California Wild Todd eloquently explains how one man single-handedly brought European starlings to New York’s Central Park, why brown trout (Salmo trutta) arrived in 1883 as a generous gift from Germany, and how gypsy moths (Bombyx dispar) were imported into Massachusetts to try to jumpstart the country’s silk industry. In all cases, Todd weaves myth, fact, and humor into interesting stories that enlighten us about our everyday surroundings.

The Austin Chronicle Kim Todd's Tinkering With Eden provides a clear, objective harbinger of how much the introduction of exotic species in America has changed the landscape since Christopher Columbus first set foot this side of the Atlantic.

Discover Magazine Todd re-creates the all-too-often neglected human dramas— and sometimes farces— that attended the arrival of nearly a score of exotics, including Canadian mountain goats in Washington State, Chinese pheasants in Oregon, and the European gypsy moth in Massachusetts.

Click on Kim Todd's website link at top to read an excerpt. We meet on April 25 to discuss. Email pvnaturewriters@gmail for further information.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bernd Heinrich is a Triple Hitter in March 2012

We devote March 2012 to our third selection by Bernd Heinrich: The Trees in My Forest. Here's what the publisher has to say:

Winner of the New England Book Award Best Nonfiction Award

and the Franklin Fairbanks Award of the Fairbanks Museum
In a book destined to become a classic,

biologist and acclaimed nature writer Bernd Heinrich takes readers

on an eye-opening journey through the hidden life of a forest.


"He richly deserves the comparison to Thoreau." — Washington Post Book World

"He writes with a graceful attract many general readers of natural history." — Wall Street Journal

"He writes with a graceful attract many general readers of natural history." — Wall Street Journal

"Heinrich has neatly grafted art to his science giving us a lovely and intimate portrait of the Forest of Adam Hill." — James Prosek, author of Trout and Joe & Me

"In Heinrich's hands, the lives of trees are as noble and dramatic as the lives of men." — Washington Post

"The Trees in My Forest is a celebration of observation--an introduction to the mysteries and wonders before us." — Sue Bender, author of Plain and Simple and Everday Sacred

"The Trees in My Forest is a celebration of observation-an observation to the mysteries and wonders before us." — Sue Bender

"The Trees In My Forest is an engaging primer on the complex biological economics of the woods themselves...It's a quiet walk in stately woods...In Heinrich's hands, the lives of trees are as noble and as dramatic as the lives of men." — The Washington Post

"These passionate observations of a place 'where the subtle matters and the spectacular distracts' superbly mix memoir and science." — New York Times

"These passionate observations of a place where the subtle matters and the spectacular distracts superbly mix memoir and science." — New York Times

We meet to discuss this book on Sunday, March 25, at a member's home. Email pvnaturewriters@gmail for further information.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Our discussion of Arctic Dreams is postponed until the February 2012 meeting. Date, time place TBA This work has so much material that we need 3 months to do it justice! . Our January meeting was devoted to group business and selection of books for the coming season. See left for the winning works that we will be reading in 2012!