Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Curl Up with a Great Green Book

We are what we take in. We are the food we eat, the water we drink, the words we listen to, the sentences we read. Though the weather may be dreadful outside, you can still bring nature into your mind and into your self by curling up with a great green book. (You'll be too green for words if you get the book from the library or second hand - it's better for the environment and much better for your wallet!)  Here are a few of my very favorites to add to your reading list:


Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver - her description of my beloved Appalachian mountain ecosystems is lyrical and the characters and their stories are compelling.  Barbara Kingsolver has written a number of books and essays;  I highly recommend them all, especially her most recent book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. 

The full works of James Herriot - guaranteed feel-good reads about being a country vet.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London - a classic.

The poetry of Robert Frost - If you want to immerse yourself in the nature of New England or nature in general, Frost's poems will get you there.


A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold - his thoughts on the history of a tree that he is currently sawing through leave me in awe every time I read them.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey - I was never interested in the desert until I started reading this book.   Abbey's descriptions are vivid and his take is very rough, very real.  He also wrote a number of fiction pieces and other non-fiction.  I've loved everything of his that I've read.

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson - Should be required reading for all parents.  For all people, come to think of it.  Best to read this short book when you can go outside immediately afterward, take a deep breath, look around, and let the ensuing wave of gratitude sweep you away.

Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart & William McDonough - The "cradle to cradle" concept is considered revolutionary, but it shouldn't be.  Of course we should design products this way - it's the slap-to-the-forehead simplicity of it that makes it genius.

The Foxfire Series edited by Eliot Wigginton - These collections of essays written by high schoolers on nature and tradition in the Appalachians are as good and straightforward an education in natural science as anyone could wish for.

A Country Year by Sue Hubbell - This one was a gift from my mother.  She loves books that take you to a wonderful, beautiful place and then tell you interesting stories.  Great mom, great taste, great book!

365 Ways to Save the Earth by Phillipe Bourseiller - A great book for any coffee table, it features stunning photography, amazing facts, and helpful suggestions on being green through small, feasible actions.  You can pick this book up at any time, flip through it, and learn something new.  Additionally, the pictures will inspire you to save the planet before all of the beauty in it disappears.

Essays  and One Man's Meat by E. B. White -  Writing this good doesn't come along every day, or every decade for that matter. 

Books for Children

Hoot by Carl Hiassen - They made this into a major motion picture but, as always, the book is better.

On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier - This book is a wonderful gift for new parents.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss - A conservation classic, good for kids ages four through 104.

The Wump World by Bill Peet - I found this book when I was looking for something good to help explain air pollution to children.  It did the trick nicely.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein - Explains very nicely why we should ALL be tree huggers.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White - Helps children understand that food isn't magically made at the grocery store in a gentle way.

Books for Parents

These books all have great information and/or fun, fast, and cheap activities that will help you introduce your child to the wonders of nature while having some serious fun yourself!

The Kids' Nature Book by Susan Milord

EcoArt!  by Laurie Carlson

The Handy Science Answer Book compiled by the Science and Technology Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

A Mother's Manual for Summer Survival by Kathy Peel and Joy Mahaffey

Well, that's a start, anyway.  I hope you'll check out these books and truly enjoy them.  If you've got a favorite green book (or two) that I've missed, please share your recommendations with us!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Season of Love

Well folks, welcome back to the season of love. Though most folks will have their sense and senses overwhelmed by greeting cards and bouquets for the next couple of weeks, here in the south the best shows of love are in the trees right now: it’s courting season for the animals!

Here in the south, temperatures are on the rise and so are the libidos of our ardent avians. Whether you’re writing sonnets or capturing the beauty of flight in oils this season, take a minute to look out your window at the amazing adventures of our winged Romeos. The courtship rituals and displays of our songbirds are the best show in town. A few lessons in love from our fine-feathered friends:

Eat Like A Bird

This may be the best lesson my mother ever taught me about dating and marriage. Before a female cardinal will accept a male suitor as a mate, the male bird is expected to bring her food for a number of days. In this way, the female makes sure that the male is healthy enough and committed enough to take care of her and, hence, the chicks they will raise together. He literally has to show that he can bring home the bacon (or black-oil sunflower seed) reliably before she’ll invest the energy in helping him reproduce. Apparently courtship feeding is also the habit of many other species, including gulls, American Kestrels, Northern Harries, and Snowy Owls. Not so bird-brained after all, eh?

Give Gifts That Are Better Than Chocolate

House wrens build nests that females then judge and choose from. The best nest gets the girl. Bowerbirds build even more elaborate structures, complete with colored trinkets and that they find, to attract females. Life may be like a box of chocolates, but marriage is more like a house (or nest) – one that is built to be strong takes work, dedication, and upkeep; one that is weak will fall out from under you or down on top of you at the worst moment.

Do A Little Dance

There’s nothing like a little display of “the goods” to attract a mate. In the bird world, it’s usually the males in the spotlight, while the females get to play wallflower. Then, when a female spots a dapper dancer that just steals her birdy heart, she’ll go out to join her John Travolta in some couples dancing. I suppose the lesson we could all take from this is that in the game of love you’ve got to take a risk to get a big return – a little vulnerability and a lot of courage can get you a dancing partner for life. There’s no guarantee that you won’t step on each other’s toes, but at least you’ll have someone to shake your tail feathers with.

**This piece was originally published in the February 2009 issue of Moonshine, the online creativity magazine. View the entire magazine at**

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chilling Facts About Cold Weather

Okay, so hopefully you're snuggled up in a blanket and drinking a hot beverage, the warmth of which will help you appreciate the winter temperatures outside and how very "cool" cold can be:

1. If you pour a cup of water out of a window when it's -40 degrees Farenheit, the water will freeze before hit hits the ground. (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA)

2. Snow forms in six basic shapes: columns, needles, plates, dendrites, columns with plates, and "irregular". (Source: Winter Snow Facts and Records,

3. Between 32°F and 25°F snowflakes form as thin, six-sides plates. Between 25°F and 21°F long needle shaped snowflakes are formed. When the temperature is 21°F to 14°F columnar snowflakes are formed. Between 14°F and 10°F snowflakes form as six-pointed stars. Finally, at temperatures of 10°F to 3°F dendrites are formed. The colder it is outside, the smaller the snowflakes that fall. (Source:

4. One inch of liquid rain is equivalent to ten inches of snow! (Source: NOAA)

5. You don't need clouds for snow; ice cyrstals can form and fall from clear skies when temperatures are less than 10 degrees Farenheit. (Source: NOAA)

6. All forms of frozen water on the Earth's land or sea surfaces and permafrost (perennially frozen ground) are grouped together and referred to as the Earth's "cryosphere". (Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC)

7. Approximately 10% of the surface of the Earth is covered by glaciers or ice sheets. (Source: NSIDC)

8. Antarctica is the largest single mass of ice on the planet; it comprises 70% of the Earth's fresh water. Buried beneath this ice sheet is Lake Vostok, a body of water that has been cut off from the rest of the planet since before humans walked the Earth. (Source: National Geographic Channel)

See? Cool, huh?