The May long weekend is the beginning of gardening season and outdoor living. Here are five new books that celebrate the natural world.
Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene, Tim Dee
Tim Dee is a member of a sub-group of bird watchers called larophiles, a fancy way of saying he and his ilk watch gulls, a largish family that in recent years has migrated from sea to land in search of food — often at dumps and landfill, which is why some disdain gulls as scavengers. For urban birders, gulls are an ideal passion because they’re right here among us. Landfill is an erudite meditation on these former seabirds — in literature, science and culture — and their symbiotic relationship with us within the natural world.
The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000-mile journey into the Alaskan Wilds, Caroline Van Hemert
Feeling stale in the lab, biologist Caroline Van Hemert and her builder husband, Pat Farrell, embarked on this daunting, almost entirely uncharted trip. They began in Bellingham, in Washington state, in March, and ended six months later in Kotzebue, Alaska, just before the Arctic winter closed in. Remarkably, the 4,000-mile journey was powered entirely under their own steam — by rowboat, ski, foot, pack-raft and canoe. If you’re looking for vicarious adventure, this could be your ticket.
Conversations With Trees: An Intimate Ecology, Stephanie Kaza, Illustrations Davis Te Selle
A former professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont, Stephanie Kaza is an unapologetic tree hugger. This collection of 27 essays — meditations about trees and their place in our lives and ours in theirs — was published 25 years ago as The Attentive Heart, before climate change had risen to global emergency. Its republication, Kaza writes, is “a call for reflection, for clear seeing, an invitation to intimacy… I am looking for a better future for human-tree relations.” Yes, it’s touchy-feely, but we need that occasionally.
Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound, David Rothenberg
David Rothenberg is a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He’s also an “interspecies musician,” which is to say he jams with other creatures (specifically, whales, bugs and birds) in their natural habitat. Nightingales are fine collaborators because their songs are inspired by the sounds around them, “an eclectic assortment of chirps, whirs, trills, clicks, whistles, twitters and gurgles.” Berlin is home to a large colony and Rothenberg’s experience playing his clarinets with them is compelling.
The Not-So Great Outdoors, Madeline Kloepper
The little city girl who narrates this picture book doesn’t understand why her family wants to “venture into the great outdoors,” as her parents put it. There’s nothing there, no electricity, no playgrounds, nothing. Finally, she looks around and comes to appreciate the natural world: “I suppose catching a bus doesn’t exactly compare to catching a fish,” she says. Writer and illustrator Madeline Kloepper lives in Prince George, B.C.
Sarah Murdoch is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: [email protected]