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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Our selection for September 2013 is David Haskell's The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature.
Winner of 2013 Best Book Award from the National Academies
Finalist for 2013 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction
Runner-up for 2013 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
Winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award
Winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature

A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest
“…a welcome entry in the world of nature writers. He thinks like a biologist, writes like a poet, and gives the natural world the kind of open-minded attention one expects from a Zen monk rather than a hypothesis-driven scientist.” James Gorman, The New York Times

“Very much a contemporary biologist in his familiarity with genetics and population ecology, he also has the voracious synthetic imagination of a 19th-century naturalist. Most important, Mr. Haskell is a sensitive writer, conjuring with careful precision the worlds he observes and delighting the reader with insightful turns of phrase.” Hugh Raffles, The Wall Street Journal

“…focusing not on the showy megafauna but on the small and fundamental forest dwellers, from glimmering lichen to slow-moving slugs. He writes with a scientist’s meticulous attention to detail and a poet’s way with words. As he spins his tales of the tiny and the ordinary, we see the big picture issues, from evolution to climate change, unfold in the everyday world.” from the PEN/E. O. Wilson Judges’ Citation

“…a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry.” Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

“David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen is a ‘nature book,’ and a great one, but it’s also and less obviously a book about human nature. You can’t read its lyrical, tactile prose without confronting the whole question of our place in the natural order, and of what we’re doing here. If we want to last much longer on this planet, we’ll have to learn to think differently and more deeply about those things, and Haskell can be one of our guides.” —John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
“An extraordinary, intimate view of life… Exceptional observations of the biological world…”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review for “books of remarkable merit.”

The Forest Unseen was published on March 15th, 2012, by The Viking Press, an imprint of Penguin USA. The Penguin paperback edition was published on March 26th, 2013. A short introductory video is available on YouTube.

David Haskell’s interviews on The Diane Rehm Show and  To The Best of our Knowledge are now available online. Links to full reviews are here.

Members of PVNWG will attend an open house at Adkins Aboretum on September 29 to hear the author speak!

NOTE: PVNWG has suspended regular monthly discussion meetings. Comments about books can be made online using the comment feature. Personal book reviews may be submitted to for consideration to be posted on the blog. Original nature writing based on personal experience may also be submitted for inclusion on the REFLECTIONS page of the blog.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Due to difficulty in scheduling a date, time and place convenient for enough members, the June 2 PVNWG meeting to discuss Tom Brown Jr,'s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking is cancelled.  We did not choose a book for Summer Hiatus so Brown's field guide can serve as a  challenge for members to enlarge their experience in the next few months using his techniques. We hope to share some tales of wild naturalist adventures when next we meet. The best story wins a prize!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tracking Tom Brown, Jr. in May 2013

To sit down and write, one must first stand up to live. Henry David Thoreau
The tragedy in life is not what men suffer, but what they miss. Thomas Carlyle

This month our reading hours are minimal, as we "get out there." The goal is to immerse ourselves in nature by using our full complement of human capacities, especially those that are dormant and compromised by our comfort-loving modern ways of life.

Tom Brown, Jr. has made a career of mentoring others through this "deconditioning." Part I of his book Nature Observation and Tracking guides us through specific exercises and thought experiments--to fine-tune our senses, release our inhibitions, and break through our habitual blindness.
In the coming weeks, we each embark on a personal discovery following his path. At our next meeting we will report on our experiences and practice as a group some of the skills we have learned. This last book of the season also sets us up for a summer of diving deeper than ever into naturalist adventures.

Mr. Brown himself is a controversial fellow, a brief span of web surfing calls into question his autobiography as a bit of commercial mythmaking. Brown supposedly was mentored from childhood by an Apache elder named Stalking Wolf, from whom he learned his philosophy and wilderness acumen. Whether this is true or not, Brown's methods do have power if one has the courage to try them and the patience to develop them. Brown is a darling of the survivalist set, he has authored multiple works of fiction and nonfiction and draws participants the world over to his workshops in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and in California.

Two other authors should be mentioned here. Joseph Cornell was early in the vanguard of the nature awareness movement. His Sharing Nature With Children sold 500,000 copies in over 20 languages, sparking a worldwide revolution in nature education and becoming an instant classic. Cornell's books now serve as popular nature-education resources all over the globe. See some of his nature activities here.

Richard Louv, in The Last Child in the Woods, hatched the concept nature-deficit disorder, and spawned an international movement to reconnect children with nature. He is a tireless advocate for the crucial developmental impact of unfettered play and exploration in the natural world. His newer title, The Nature Principle, translates this effect to adults. Citing extensive research, he shows how we can tap into the restorative powers of the natural world to boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds.

Friday, March 29, 2013



PVNWG welcomes salamander season with our April author David Carroll's Swampwalker's Journal: A Wetlands Year.

From the Barnes and Noble site:
David Carroll has dedicated his life to art and to wetlands. He is as passionate about wetlands, and the creatures who live there, as most of us are about our families and closest friends. He has stayed in touch with individual turtles for twenty years, watching them dig into hibernation in the winter, greeting them as they emerge in the spring, following them as they breed, feed, and roam through the warmer months. He knows frogs and snakes, bears and beavers, muskrats and minks, dragonflies, caddis flies, birds, water lilies, pickerel weed, cattails, sedges, and everything else that swims, flies, trudges, slithers, or sinks its roots in swamp, marsh, or bog.

In Swampwalker's Journal Carroll shares his knowledge and passion with the rest of us, taking us on a miraculous year-long journey, illustrated with his own elegant drawings, through the wetlands, and revealing why they are so important to his life and ours - and to all life on Earth.

Boston Globe
But it is Carroll's gift of sensing the ecosystem while detailing egg mass or footprint that sets him apart. The fact that he can set this all in prose and finely crafted pen and inks and watercolors proved that he is of Renaissance caliber. His hungry eye devours all of life.
Entertainment Weekly
In the final volume of his "wet-sneaker trilogy" (following The Year of the Turtle and Trout Reflections), naturalist Carroll covers four seasons of wading through mashes, swamps, bogs, and fens. [His] eye for detail serves him well, whether he's spying on a tiny garter snake struggling to suck down a much larger wood frog or watching a raccoon savagely digging a turtle out of its shell.
Thomas Palmer
Though he presents his findings as an illustrated daybook, this is no simple record of facts, but a thorough account of the distinguishing features of swamps, marshes, floodplains, bogs, and vernal pools, indexed to aid reference....Carroll's quiet manner and effortless sensitivity to detail suffuse his wet-bottomed landscapes with a dreamlike quality shaded by knowledge of how quickly such places can disappear.
Christian Science Monitor
Kirkus Reviews
There is no greater wetland emissary than Carroll, who takes to the funk and spook of a swamp with avidity and returns to masterfully tell of its scarce-visited glories. "To have a bit of the landscape to oneself, to not be crowded in the landscape of the current epoch, one is almost obliged to withdraw to the swamp." Then again, Carroll  would venture there even if he were the last person on Earth, for he loves the place, along with vernal pools, marshes, floodplains, peatlands, fens, the whole nine freshwater-wetland yards. Here Carroll relates with enthusiasm, always gracefully pitched, the sheer pleasure to be had in visiting wetlands in all seasons. Nowhere else can you witness blue flag and red canary grass tipping the hand of an unmown pasture that is also a vernal pool come spring, complete with trilling thrush, drilling insects, five species of obligate salamanders, and a chorus of peepers that draws you in toward "a center of almost unbearable intensity

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gretel Erlich's The Solace of Open Spaces for March 2013

PVNWG members meet at a member's home on March 24 to discuss our impressions of Gretel Erlich's The Solace of Open Spaces

Born in 1946 in Santa Barbara, California, Erlich began to write full time in 1978 while living on a Wyoming Ranch, after the death of a loved one. In 1985, she drew immediate acclaim with The Solace of Open Spaces, a collection of essays.

From the publisher: Writing of hermits, cowboys, changing seasons, and the wind, Ehrlich draws us into her personal relationship with this "planet of Wyoming" she has come to call home. She captures the incredible beauty and the demanding harshness of natural forces in these remote reaches of the West, and the depth, tenderness and humor of the quirky souls who live there. Ehrlich, a former filmmaker and urbanite, presents in these essays a fresh and vibrant tribute to the new life she has chosen.
"Ehrlich's best prose belongs in a league with Annie Dillard and even Thoreau. The Solace of Open Spaces releases the bracing air of the wilderness into the stuffy, heated confines of winter in civilization." San Francisco Chronicle
Click here to read an interview with the author about her 2001 work Cold Heaven.
Click here for biography of the author.
Selected Works:
  • To Touch the Water, 1981,
  • The Solace of Open Spaces,  1985
  • Heart Mountain,  1988,
  • Drinking Dry Clouds: Stories from Wyoming, 1991
  • Islands, the Universe, Home, Viking Press, 1991
  • Arctic Heart: A Poem Cycle, Capra Press, 1992
  • A Match to the Heart: One Woman's Story of Being Struck by Lightning, 1994
  • John Muir: Nature's Visionary,National Geographic Society, 2000
  • This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland,  2001
  • The Future of Ice: A Journey Into Cold,  2004
  • In the Empire of Ice: Encounters in a Changing Landscape, National Geographic Society, 2010
  • Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami, 2013

  • Sunday, February 3, 2013

    A Season in the Wilderness with Edward Abbey

    For February 2013, PVNWG blasts away the chill with Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire. First published in 1968, the book became the focus of a nationwide cult.  Rude and sensitive, thought provoking and mystical, angry and loving, both Abbey and his book are all of these and more. The book vividly captures the essence of his life during three seasons as a park ranger in southeastern Utah--the silence, the struggle, the overwhelming beauty.  But it is also the gripping, anguished cry of a man of character who challenges the growing exploitation of wilderness by oil and mining interests, as well as the tourist industry.

    Edward Abbey was born in Home, Pennsylvania, in 1927. He was educated at the University of Mexico and the University of Edinburgh.  When Edward Abbey died in 1989 at the age of sixty-two, the American West lost one of its most eloquent and passionate advocates. Through his novels, essays, letters and speeches, Edward Abbey consistently voiced the belief that the West was in danger of being developed to death, and that the only solution lay in the preservation of wilderness. Abbey authored twenty-one books in his lifetime, including Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang, The Brave Cowboy, and The Fool's Progress. His comic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang helped inspire a whole generation of environmental activism. A writer in the mold of Twain and Thoreau, Abbey was a larger-than-life figure as big as the West itself.

    Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you --- beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

    For more on all things Abbey visit Abbey's Web.

    Sources: Cover, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, First Touchstone Edition, 1990; Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness, video, 1993; Abbey's Web,