Thursday, April 1, 2021


 This blog exists only as a historical document of the activities of the Potomac Valley Nature Writing Group (PVNWG) , a book club that was associated with the Potomac Valley Audubon Society. The book club was disbanded so this blog is no longer being updated. To see current activities of the Potomac Valley Audubon Society:

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.

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.