Friday, September 11, 2015

The Triumph of Seeds

We are now heading into late summer and plants are setting seed. One of the things I most enjoy at this time of year is marveling at the variety of forms produced by seed bearing plants.
August and September's book selection is Thor Hanson's The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. 
"Spanning the globe from the Racoon Lodge--Hanson's backyard writing hangout cum laboratory--to the coffee shops of Seattle, from flower patches to the spice routes of Kerala, this is a book of knowledge, adventure and wonder, spun by a writer with both fireside charm and hard-won expertise. It is a worthy heir to the grand tradition of Aldo Leopold and Bernd Heinrich and essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow."
For more on seeds see my blog post here:

Friday, May 8, 2015

From Frost to Flowers: Three Books for May June July 2015

In Wily Violets and Underground Orchids, Peter Bernhardt takes us on a grand tour of the botanical realm, weaving engaging descriptions of the lovely shapes and intriguing habits of flowering plants with considerations of broader questions, such as why there are only six basic shapes of flowers and why the orchid family is so numerous and so bizarre. Everyone from amateur naturalists and gardeners to plant scientists will find  this book a lively guide to botanical lore.

In The Rose's Kiss, Peter Bernhardt presents a fascinating and wide-ranging look at the natural history of flowers—how they look, what they do, and their often hidden interactions with the surrounding environment and other living organisms upon which they depend for their survival. You'll discover why flowers are so colorful, how they evolved, and how insects exploit them for their nectar. This is a book for all flower lovers, from naturalists and gardeners to poets and botanists.

In Anatomy of a Rose, Sharman Apt Russell eloquently unveils the "inner life" of flowers, showing them to be more individual, more enterprising, and more responsive than we ever imagined. From their diverse fragrances to their nasty deceptions, Russell proves that, where nature is concerned, "wonder is not only our starting point; it can also be our destination." Throughout this botanical journey, she reveals that the science behind these intelligent plants--how they evolved, how they survive, how they heal--is even more awe-inspiring than their fleeting beauty.

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.