Reading the Forested Landscape, by Tom Wessels. Landscape is much more than scenery to be observed or even terrain to be traveled, as this fascinating and many-layered book vividly shows us. Etched into the land is the history of how we have inhabited it, the storms and fires that have shaped it, and its response to these and other changes. An intrepid sleuth and articulate tutor, Wessels teaches us to read a landscape the way we might solve a mystery. What exactly is the meaning of all those stone walls in the middle of the forest? Why do beech and birch trees have smooth bark when the bark of all other northern species is rough? How do you tell the age of a beaver pond and determine if beavers still live there? Why are pine trees dominant in one patch of forest and maples in another? What happened to the American chestnut? Turn to this book for the answers, and no walk in the woods will ever be the same.
The End of Nature, by Bill McKibben. This impassioned plea for radical and life-renewing change is today still considered a groundbreaking work in environmental studies. McKibben’s argument that the survival of the globe is dependent on a fundamental, philosophical shift in the way we relate to nature is more relevant than ever. McKibben writes of our earth’s environmental cataclysm, addressing such core issues as the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and the depletion of the ozone layer. His new introduction addresses some of the latest environmental issues that have risen during the 1990s. The book also includes an invaluable new appendix of facts and figures that surveys the progress of the environmental movement.
Losing Earth: A Recent History, by Nathaniel Rich. This retrospective looks back to the scientists who first alerted humanity to the dangers of climate change in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Journalist Nathaniel Rich first reported the series for The New York Times Magazine. It details how a handful of researchers initially realized our own role in climate change. There were missed opportunities to stave off the coming storm along the way, to be sure. Still unanswered is the question about whether we’ll learn from those missteps, or blindly barrel toward an uncertain and perilous future.
The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan. On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno that jumped from treetop to ridge as it raged, destroying towns and timber in an eye-blink. Egan narrates the struggles of the over-matched rangers against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force, through the eyes of the people who lived it. Equally dramatic, though, is the larger story he tells of outsized president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester Gifford Pinchot. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less than create the idea of public land as our national treasure, owned by every citizen.
Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. Released in 1962, Silent Spring offered the first shattering look at widespread ecological degradation and touched off an environmental awareness that still exists. Rachel Carson’s book focused on the poisons from insecticides, weed killers, and other common products as well as the use of sprays in agriculture, a practice that led to dangerous chemicals to the food source. Carson argued that those chemicals were more dangerous than radiation and that for the first time in history, humans were exposed to chemicals that stayed in their systems from birth to death. Presented with thorough documentation, the book opened more than a few eyes about the dangers of the modern world and stands today as a landmark work.
American Women Conservationists: Twelve Profiles, by Madelyn Holmes. This collection of biographies describes twelve women conservationists who helped change the ways Americans interact with the natural environment. Their writings led Americans to think differently about their land—deserts are not wastelands, swamps have value, and harmful insects don’t have to be controlled chemically. These women not only wrote on behalf of conservation of the American landscape but also described strategies for living exemplary, environmentally sound lives during the past century. From a bird lover to a “back to the land” activist, these women gave early warning of the detrimental effects of neglecting conservation.
On Human Nature, Edward O. Wilson. The Pulitzer Prize winner in 1979, On Human Nature begins a new phase in the most important intellectual controversy of this generation: Is human behavior controlled by the species’ biological heritage? Does this heritage limit human destiny? With characteristic pungency and simplicity of style, the author of Sociobiology challenges old prejudices and current misconceptions about the nature-nurture debate.
Marion Stoddart: The Work of 1000, a documentary by Susan Edwards and Dorie Clark. In the 1960s, the Nashua River in New Hampshire and central Massachusetts was one of the 10 most polluted in the country, clogged with multicolored, toxic sludge from nearby paper mills. Around that time, housewife Marion Stoddart moved to the area with her family, so close to the river they could smell its noxious fumes. At a low point in her life, she decided to fight her own emptiness by taking on the biggest challenge she could find – cleaning up the Nashua. Marion’s efforts helped get the Massachusetts Clean Rivers Act passed so that companies weren’t allowed to pollute rivers like the Nashua anymore. In the process, she won a United Nations award, was profiled in National Geographic, and had a widely-read children’s book written about her. Her secret? An ordinary person can do extraordinary things when they refuse to give up.
A River Ran Wild, by Lynne Cherry. In this children’s book, ages 6-12, Cherry tells the true story of the history, the polluting and the clean-up of the Nashua River, led by Groton’s own Marion Stoddart.
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
Nature’s Best Hope, by Douglas W. Tallamy. Nature’s Best Hope shows how homeowners everywhere can turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. Because this approach relies on the initiatives of private individuals, it is immune from the whims of government policy. Even more important, it’s practical, effective, and easy—you will walk away with specific suggestions you can incorporate into your own yard.
The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonders of Observing the Natural World, by Temple Grandin. In this book, Dr. Temple Grandin, an inventor and world-renowned scientist, introduces readers to geologists, astrophysicists, oceanographers, and many other scientists who unlock the wonders of the natural world. She shares her childhood experiences and observations, whether on the beach, in the woods, working with horses, or gazing up at the night sky. This book explores all areas of nature and gives readers the tools to discover even more on their own. With forty projects to give readers a deeper understanding of the world around them, from the depths of space to their own backyard, this is a perfect read for budding scientists, inventors, and creators!
The Invention of Nature, by Andrea Wulf. Before Charles Darwin, before John Muir, before Henry Thoreau, there was Alexander von Humboldt. More than a biography of Alexander von Humboldt; this is a natural history adventure through the incredible travels and observations of an eighteenth century cosmographer. He was so widely regarded for his published works, that Darwin, Muir and Thoreau among others annotated their own copies of von Humboldt’s books.
Life List, by Ken Janes. Former Groton resident Ken Janes, a lifelong naturalist and amateur photographer, retired from a career in surgery in 2011. He and his wife Sandra moved to Kennebunk, Maine, where bird watching became part of a daily routine. Recording and photographing the birds of the beaches, fields and rivers of the area, Ken has created a journal documenting the rich diversity of bird species found along the coast of southern Maine.