Thursday, June 27, 2019

Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies by Sara Lewis

Summary (Amazon): For centuries, the beauty of fireflies has evoked wonder and delight. Yet for most of us, fireflies remain shrouded in mystery: How do fireflies make their light? What are they saying with their flashing? And what do fireflies look for in a mate? In Silent Sparks, noted biologist and firefly expert Sara Lewis dives into the fascinating world of fireflies and reveals the most up-to-date discoveries about these beloved insects. From the meadows of New England and the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains, to the rivers of Japan and mangrove forests of Malaysia, this beautifully illustrated and accessible book uncovers the remarkable, dramatic stories of birth, courtship, romance, sex, deceit, poison, and death among fireflies.
The nearly two thousand species of fireflies worldwide have evolved in different ways―and while most mate through the aerial language of blinking lights, not all do. Lewis introduces us to fireflies that don't light up at all, relying on wind-borne perfumes to find mates, and we encounter glow-worm fireflies, whose plump, wingless females never fly. We go behind the scenes to meet inquisitive scientists who have dedicated their lives to understanding fireflies, and we learn about various modern threats including light pollution and habitat destruction. In the last section of the book, Lewis provides a field guide for North American fireflies, enabling us to identify them in our own backyards and neighborhoods. This concise, handy guide includes distinguishing features, habits, and range maps for the most commonly encountered fireflies, as well as a gear list.
Author Site and Blog




PA Firefly Festival: June 22, 2019:

Discussion Questions:
1. What did you know about fireflies before reading this book? Experiences?
2. What are some of the behaviors males use to get an advantage for finding a mate?
3. Discuss the complicated affairs of sex amongst fireflies and other animals including nuptial gifts and love darts and why they are used.
4. What Umwelt would you like to journey to?
5. Discuss some of the chemical and biological mechanisms of how the firefly lights up, turns its light on, synchronizes and why. What happens next, once the female shows up? (p. 98)
6. Discuss some of the interesting biologists, who studied fireflies and their stories and research including: Raphaël de Cock, Buck, Lloyd, Eisner and his bird Phogel (Vogel = Bird in German) and Meinwald.
7. Fireflies are such complex and not so gentle creatures with an amazing arsenal of chemical weapons and a “thrilling mix of poison, treachery and thieves”. Discuss what their multifaceted defense strategy entails.

8. Discuss the impacts on their populations here in the US and beyond. Living in the Anthropocene era now, what can be done to help protect fireflies for years to come?

Monday, May 27, 2019

John James Audubon: The Making of An American by Richard Rhodes

Summary (Amazon):
John James Audubon came to America as a dapper eighteen-year-old eager to make his fortune. He had a talent for drawing and an interest in birds, and he would spend the next thirty-five years traveling to the remotest regions of his new country–often alone and on foot–to render his avian subjects on paper. The works of art he created gave the world its idea of America. They gave America its idea of itself. 

Here Richard Rhodes vividly depicts Audubon’s life and career: his epic wanderings; his quest to portray birds in a lifelike way; his long, anguished separations from his adored wife; his ambivalent witness to the vanishing of the wilderness. John James Audubon: The Making of an American is a magnificent achievement.

The New York Times:

The Economist: Birds on a Wire:

Penguin Book's Site for book:

Videos and Films:
John James Audubon: The Birds of America:

PBS: The Masters: Drawn from Nature

Audubon: The Film


John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove - new center open and with an Exhibit of his work:

National Audubon Society

Local Chapter: Bucks County Audubon Society at Honey Hollow Environmental Center

Interesting Articles:
So big it needs its own furniture:

Going for $10 million:

Our Namesake and Inspiration:

New York Historical Society:

On Display in Chicago at the Field Museum from now until Dec. 1, 2019:


Discussion Questions: (Heidi will be leading)
1. Discuss and describe who Audubon was, his complicated background, talents, appearance, family life, bird collecting, extensive travels, successes and failures. See pp: 4, 11, 18, 21-, 95, 114-, 124-, 230, 233, 253, 298, 329, 341, 418-, 432

2. The early 1800s were a fascinating and challenging time period with the expansion into the west, the development of the steam engine, Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, July Revolution of 1830, Industrial Revolution, passage over the Atlantic, disease, etc. Discuss how these impacted Audubon and affected his life. See pp: 21, 121, 132, 136, 338, 343-

3. The Panic of 1819 was the first major economic crisis and depression in America and had a profound affect on Audubon’s life. Discuss these impacts including the loss of his business, his marriage and family life, relationships, his mental health and work. How does the 2nd crisis affect him in 1837? See pp: 138- , 249, 400.

4. In 1816 was the year without a summer and communities turned to nature to survive. Discuss the story about the Passenger pigeons, which are now extinct, but were plentiful during this period.  See pages: 112, 127-130. Discuss other destruction of the environment, that he sees during his life. See pp. 337, 384

5. Audubon was a colorful character and had many adventures, including pirates, quicksand, earthquakes, fights, traveling the wild Mississippi, a mysterious naked woman, years apart from this family, alligators in FL, etc. Discuss these and see pages: 85, 96, 116, 140, 169, 180, 302, 361-

6. There were many fascinating men and women who lived and achieved greatness during these times, including Mary Shelley, Humboldt, Darwin, Bartram, Peale, etc. Discuss who he met and was greatly influenced and impacted by, including Alex Wilson, Charles Bonaparte, Berthoud, Syme, Nuttall, Vanderlyn, Bachman, Thomas Sully, Sir Walter Scott, Henry Clay, Rathbones, Andrew Jackson, President Houston, etc. See pp: 144, 150, 166-167, 186, 215, 219-221, 224, 252-, 276, 283-285, 305-, 352, 396-

7. Creatures were still being discovered, collected and named. Discuss and can you identify some of the different names used for the birds and animals we know today, including: mosquito hawks, tufted ducks, black bellied darters, swallow tailed hawk, white headed eagle, great footed hawk, carrion crows, red breasted thrushes, etc. See pages: 158, 178.

8. Discuss Audubon’s painting and his processes which evolved over the years and the challenges from destructive wood rats to losing them, watercolors and oils, finding time and money to realize his dream as well as the men who handled his engravings (Lizars and Havell) and how he sold and developed his famous work, The Birds of America. See pp: 116, 163, 169, 210, 217, 261, 273, 285, 293-294, 299-304, 341, 345-, 403-


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken

Summary (Amazon): "The 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world."

Website for the Book:

Event: September 24, 7:00 - 9:00 for Climate Week in NYC:

NY Times:

The Guardian:

Kirkus Review:

Ted Talks:
1. Chad Frischmann:
2. Katherine Wilkinson: How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming:

The Green Deal, House Resolution 109

Group Discussion: (This will be led by Donna.)

 The logical way to read this book is to use it to identify how you can make a difference. How each person thinks and perceives his or her role and responsibility in the world is the first step in any transformation - the base upon which all change depends. (p. 216)

Keeping this in mind, read what is of interest to you. Keep some notes and write up some of your own questions and observations to share with the group and what you find inspiring.

Also, please read the beginning including Origins, Language and Numbers (x-xv) and also the end An Opening, Methodology and What the Numbers tell us (p. 216-225)

1. Which solutions for drawing down carbon dioxide emissions struck you as the most:

interesting?    surprising?     feasible?               far-fetched?            controversial?

2. How can we make some changes in our own lives to help drawdown CO 2  levels?

3. How might government agencies affect and/or promote various solutions proposed in Drawdown?

4. Have you read The Green New Deal yet?  If not, what have you heard about it?   

5. Who might you give this book to, a recent graduate? A candidate? A neighbor, friend, or business person?   

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Grass, Sky, Song by Trevor Herriot

Summary: Published to wide acclaim, this beautiful meditation on the fate of grassland birds has been praised for its profound wisdom and lyrical grace. Herriot, in a narrative that is at once intimate and informative, argues for the essential nature of these tiny creatures. He invites us into the unique world of dedicated scientists, passionate naturalists and such historical figures as 19th-century botanist John Macoun, the last naturalist to see the Great Plains in its pre-settlement grandeur.
Grass, Sky, Song is a blending of personal experience, history, philosophy and scientific research. Filled with evocative “sidebar” descriptions of threatened birds, from the sharp-tailed grouse to the chestnutcollared longspur, this graceful book demonstrates why Trevor Herriot is regarded as one of Canada’s finest non-fiction writers.

Eastern Meadowlark 

Reason for reading this book:
Several local organizations came together to create awareness of our local ground nesting birds, to be found in the Pine Run Reservoir. Local ground nesting birds include: Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallow and Eastern Bluebird. This book was recommended by several folks involved in the project and I thought it would be fun to celebrate this collaboration by reading this book.

Check out the recently installed informational sign near the bike path: 


Marsh Wren

Savannah Sparrow 

Trevor Herriot's Blog, Grass Notes:; Check out Feb. 2009 for blog entries referring to this book.

Important Conservation Groups for the Prairie:

>American Prairie Reserve, National Geographic:

>Northern Great Plains Joint Venture:

Discussion Questions:
1. What knowledge and experience do have with grassland birds?  Who are they,  their appearance, songs, habitat, etc.

2. Which species did you enjoy reading about?

3. What impacts have humans had on the grasslands?

4. Discuss the causes for decline of grassland birds in the Great Plains of Canada and US.

5. What does the author suggest for ranchers, farmers and consumers to do to restore the grasslands?

6. What kind of links can one make between his wife’s illness and the plight of birds?

7. Piping Plover are a personal favorite and I was surprised to learn that this bird has 3 different populations, including living in the Great Plains.  Please look over their status now and discuss:

8. Written already 10 years ago, Herriot shares a bleak picture of many of the bird species. Where are they now? Are there any success stories?  Please visit and discuss:

Piping Plover

Lark Bunting

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The World is Our Classroom by Cindy Ross

Summary (from Amazon): "Cindy's story begins in the Rocky Mountain wilderness on a unique and extraordinary journey: two parents leading their young children 3,100 miles on the backs of llamas. This Canada-Mexico trek illustrated to Cindy and her husband what experiential education can do. Inspired by the experience, they went on to create a new way of supplementing their children?s education, focusing on two arenas for learning: the natural world and travel.

In this age of world connection, it is important to raise broad-minded and empathetic children who are knowledgeable about other cultures. To accomplish this goal, Cindy chose an unorthodox approach: she orchestrated learning opportunities for her children, Sierra and Bryce, in twelve countries. The family traveled the world, moving about on foot and bicycle, living simply and intimately. But just as important, and more accessible for many parents, were the opportunities for learning closer to home.

These adventures brought intangible gifts: values--such as compassion, empathy, resilience, self-reliance, and gratitude, among others--not always fostered in a traditional curriculum but crucially important to raising children.

By sharing her story, along with honest insights from her children about the importance of their unusual education, Cindy aims to empower parents to believe they can be their children's best and most important educators. It is for parents who are seeking inspiration, who love a good story, and who are looking for an unorthodox way to raise the happiest, healthiest, and brightest children they can."

American Trails:

WDIY-88.1 Radio interview:
Rolf Potts:
The People's Chronicles:

Author's Website

Resources: Here are just a few of the many wonderful resources and websites shared by the author, especially from the Nut and Bolts section of each chapter:


PA Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC):

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary:

PA Conservation Leadership School:

Bauen Camp:

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms):

Volunteer Forever:

Family Tree Magazine:

Discussion Questions:

Please Note: The author, Cindy Ross, will be joining us for our discussion and also giving a presentation. These are just a few questions to consider and to spark a conversation. Please bring your own questions to ask as well.

1. What experiences and adventures have stretched or challenged you as a child? Adult? Parent? Grandparent?
2. What did you find surprising in this book?
3. Which adventures did you especially enjoy reading about? Do any of them inspire you to consider a future trip for yourself or family?
4. Discuss the development of traits such as empathy, empowerment, appreciation of nature, curiosity through traveling and adventure, etc. as shared in the book.
5. Each chapter begins with a thoughtful quote. Which one did you especially like and why?

6. What skills do you believe are needed to deal with the “alligators and grizzlies” of life? (p. 184) Can these skills be achieved at any stage of life?