Friday, October 23, 2020


Summary (from Amazon): "Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes. Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish―more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined―we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave. Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian―in other words, much like us.
What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favor, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives―a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel.
Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean."





1. NPR, Fresh Air:

2. World of Vegan:

Author's Site


1. Zoocheck:

2. TED Talks: "Most Eaten, Least Heard":



Discussion Questions: (Please check back)


Friday, September 25, 2020

Rosalie Edge: Hawk of Mercy by Dyana Z.Furmansky

Summary (from Amazon): Rosalie Edge (1877-1962) was the first American woman to achieve national renown as a conservationist. Dyana Z. Furmansky draws on Edge’s personal papers and on interviews with family members and associates to portray an implacable, indomitable personality whose activism earned her the names “Joan of Arc” and “hellcat.” A progressive New York socialite and veteran suffragist, Edge did not join the conservation movement until her early fifties. Nonetheless, her legacy of achievements―called "widespread and monumental" by the New Yorker―forms a crucial link between the eras defined by John Muir and Rachel Carson. An early voice against the indiscriminate use of toxins and pesticides, Edge reported evidence about the dangers of DDT fourteen years before Carson's Silent Spring was published.

Today, Edge is most widely remembered for establishing Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the world's first refuge for birds of prey. Founded in 1934 and located in eastern Pennsylvania, Hawk Mountain was cited in Silent Spring as an "especially significant" source of data. In 1930, Edge formed the militant Emergency Conservation Committee, which not only railed against the complacency of the Bureau of Biological Survey, Audubon Society, U.S. Forest Service, and other stewardship organizations but also exposed the complicity of some in the squandering of our natural heritage. Edge played key roles in the establishment of Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks and the expansion of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Filled with new insights into a tumultuous period in American conservation, this is the life story of an unforgettable individual whose work influenced the first generation of environmentalists, including the founders of the Wilderness Society, Nature Conservancy, and Environmental Defense Fund.




1. Audubon:

2. Million Trees:

Archive Catalog of Bird Lore written by Frank Chapman for NAAS

Pelican Island in Florida

History of National Association of Audubon Societies (NAAS)

Videos and Interviews with Author:

1. By her daughter:

2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

3. Hawk Mountain:

4. Wildlife Center in VA:

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Website:

Discussion Questions: 

1.  Discuss who Edge was and how she became a "citizen-scientist and militant political agitator".  What events influenced and "awakened"her?  Discuss her travels, writings, involvement with the suffragette movement, social life, marriage, children, etc.

2.  Discuss the origins and evolution of The National Association of Audubon Societies (NAAS) organization, "the nation's oldest, largest, wealthiest and most prestigious bird protection organization", including its early leaders such as Grinnell, Chapman, and Pearson.  Discuss NAAS' relationship with the AOU (American Ornithological Society), the American Museum of Natural History and Bureau of Biological Survey as well as the Winchester Arms Co. and the Vermilion Bay Hunt Club and the conflicts that ensured.  (p. 98-)

3.  What does "conservation" mean to you?  What does the term "sentimentalist" mean?  What does "preservationist" mean?

4.  In 1929, Edge received a package in Paris containing the pamphlet, "A Crisis in Conservation".  Discuss why it was written, what event provoked it to be written and who were the writers.  What impact did it have on Edge?  (p.88-, 106-)

5.  Discuss Edge's relationship and interactions with the NAAS Board including her writings and the various people she worked with including Hornaday, Van Name and Brant and even Peterson and how it led to her founding the ECC (Emergency Conservation Committee).  (p. 110-, 118-, 124)

6.  Why does Edge hire the cofounder and director of the ACLU, Roger Baldwin, to represent her in a lawsuit against the NAAS?  What is the result and impact?  (126-) Discuss further major events that she fought against including the Rentals of Sanctuary in the NAAS budget, (p. 138), Yellowstone's pelicans (p. 141), fur trapping, Bear Refuge (p. 140), and King's Canyon (p. 228-), etc.

7.  The term ecosystem was not readily used in the early 1900s but Edge evokes this concept at NAAS meetings and congressional hearings.  (p. 143-) What impact and vision did it provide?

8.  Edge kept her activist and social lives separate.  At the Colony Club though, she was once asked, "What do you do when you look at a bird?"  (p. 150)  How would you respond?

9.  Discuss Edge's creativity, advocacy work, and navigation of numerous relationships (Van Name, Secretary Ickes, Brant, Superintendent Thompson, etc.) from creating the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary to helping create the Olympic National Park and also saving the Yosemite Sugar Pines.

10.  What impact did Edge have on the conservation movement as a whole and which organizations and individuals continued the fight, who were inspired by her?


Monday, August 31, 2020

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Kimmerer

Summary: (from Amazon): As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as 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 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 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.




Black Ash basket making video:


Onondaga Lake Article:

(Onondaga Lake -

Author's Sites: 
Center for Humans and Nature:


Discussion Questions from others:
3. The Sustainability Club:
4. University of Utah with Bibliography: 

Discussion Questions: (These questions come from the sources listed above. Heidi will be leading the discussion.)

1. What themes or concepts resonated the most with you, e.g the gift economy, reciprocity, gratitude, etc.?

2. Kimmerer states that in the Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as "the younger brothers of Creation." (p.9) Do you agree that humans can learn from plants and animals? If so, how can we humble ourselves to "listen" to the wisdom of the plants?

3. The "Gift of Strawberries" (pp.22-32) introduces the concept "that the essence of a gift economy is at its root, reciprocity" (p. 28) How can "the relationship of gratitude and reciprocity that has been developed increase the evolutionary fitness of both plant and animal?" (p. 30)

4. 'Learning the Grammar of Animacy' (pp. 48-59) introduces the concept of communing with nature by getting to know more about plants and recognize that they are not inanimate objects. What can you do to start learning about the plants in your immediate environment" If you addressed the plants as something other than 'it', would that change your attitude? How?

5. In 'Allegiance to Gratitude' (pp. 103-117), the author shares the Thanksgiving Address used by the indigenous people to give thanks to the land. She states, " is the credo for a culture of gratitude." (p. 115) How does the this address support the concept of "our mutual allegiance as human delegates to the democracy of the species"? (p. 116) What does this mean to you?

6. In 'Putting Down Roots' (pp. 254-267), the author states, "Losing a plant can threaten a culture in much the same was as losing a language." (p. 261) Based on the discussion in this chapter, how can plants repeat the history of their people? (p. 262). What are some examples that she give to support her statement, "Reciprocity is a key to success'? (p. 262)

7. The chapter, 'Old-Growth Children' (pp. 277-292), captures the essence of sustainability and how we can learn from an old-growth forest. What tools do forest ecosystem have for "dealing with massive disturbance..."? What is the difference between industrial and sustainable forestry? What can our role be in the regeneration of these ecosystems? (p. 284)

8. The Onondaga people still live the precepts of the Great Law and still believe that, in return for the gifts of Mother Earth, human people have responsibility for caring for the nonhuman people, for stewardship of the land." (p. 319) What do you believe are the responsibilities of our government and our society in aiding the Onondaga Nation in its efforts to restore Onondaga Lake to a healthy state?

9. Reflecting upon Kimmerer's statement, "environmentalism becomes synonymous with dire predictions and powerless feelings." (p. 327) She reminds us that "Even a wounded world is feeding us . . giving us moments of wonder and joy." Do you agree that the environmental movement does not focus enough on the joy of the natural world? If yes, how can that be fixed? Also, what actions can you take within your community to bring about positive environmentalism and ecological restoration/preservation?

(Black Ash basket woven by John Pigeon)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Nature's Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy

Summary (edited from Amazon): Tallamy outlines his vision for a grassroots approach to conservation. 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.

Virginia Native Plant Society:
TPR Newsmedia:

Interviews and Webinars:
Away to Garden:
Land Conservancy:
Garden for Wildlife Series:
National Wildlife:

1. Smithsonian:
2. NYTimes:
3. Global human influence maps reveal clear opportunities in conserving Earth's remaining terrestrial ecosystems: Global Change Biology Half the Earth is Relatively Intact from Human Influence:

Convention on Biological Diversity:

Nature Needs Half

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
3. Plants for Birds by Audubon:

Discussion Questions: 


1.     What is your knowledge and use currently of native plants in your home landscape?


2.     Discuss the relationship of man to nature, how it evolved, and the causes of its breakdown.


3.     What conservation efforts and actions have been taken to try to save nature and threatened species and how effective have they been, including the national park system, Endangered Species Act, etc. (p. 30-)


4.     Occupying 1.9% of the surface of the US, turf is the single largest irrigated crop in the US and has led also to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Discuss the various cultural, ecological and evolutionary influences that have led to this situation. (p. 51-)


5.     “Carrying capacity is the ability of a particular place to support a specific species.” Discuss its relevance including impact of deer. (p. 85-)


6.     There are over 3300 invasive plants species in the United States alone. What is their impact on native plants, animals and the overall ecosystem? What are the ecological consequences?  (p. 96-, 111-)


7.     “Caterpillars are the mainstay of most bird diets in North America, particularly when birds are rearing their young.” Discuss why they are so important and what we can do to help their populations including which keystone plants to plant? (130, 168)


8.     Let’s not forget the bees and their role, including that they pollinate a third of our crops as well as pollinate 87% of all plants.  What are some steps we can take to support them?


9.     We’ve read many nature books and I’m always delighted to read yet another amazing story and learn about a new finding. What did you find surprising?


10.  Discuss Tallamy’s concept of a Homegrown National Park and what are the steps that he suggests we take to contribute to it?   (p. 205-)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Summer World by Bernd Heinrich

Summary (from Bookslut:
Summer World is a celebration of the warm seasons from chlorophyll and foliation to abscisic acid and fall. It’s a study of life and its adaptations, including mosses and larches, beetles and butterflies, grackles and phoebes. Like the book’s 2003 companion, Winter World, it is a survey, constructing a mosaic from snapshots, discussions, and investigations. It reads like a collection of themed essays on evolution and adaptation. Memories and observations culled from decades of the author’s journals lead to brief reflections on the methods of nature and the state of natural science today.

NY Times:
Kirkus Review:

Mud daubers and spiders

Birds and Hornets Building Nests: 

What's inside a Bald Faced Hornet's Nest and Yellow Jacket Nest Video:

Can you spot the caterpillar? and ID:

Interview on PBS:

Author's Blog: The Naturalist's Notebook:

Cowbird's egg in a Phoebe nest


Green Burials:
4. A death doula organization for training and information with a large directory 
5. Intro to what death doulas are
6. What deathbed planning is
7. A video of a natural/green burial for those that are curious to see what it is like

Discussion Questions: (Discussion to be lead by Heidi via Zoom. Please see your email for the Zoom Invite)
1. What are signs that mark the summer season for you? (p. 8-)

2. Heinrich discovers and also realizes many unique relationships and interconnections that exist between animals. Discuss, these including paper wasps and Vireos (p. 64), Mud Daubers and spiders (p. 70-), bird nesting materials (p. 69), blue azure butterfly and ants (p. 78-), sapsuckers and hummingbirds (p. 146-), etc.

3. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, our world is shaped by the changing seasons, each with its unique events and impact. In Summer World, Heinrich explores and questions various observations he makes in his wanderings. What have you encountered yourself during the summer that gave you pause?

4. Discuss the impact of heat on organisms from color, developmental patterns, (p. 98-), thermal warrior strategies, (p. 171-), cicadas, etc.

5. Discuss the checks and balances of predator and parasites in controlling populations from the wasp and moth to cowbird and phoebe, etc. (p. 54-, 112-113, etc.

6. Which observations and stories did you especially find interesting (handling hornets, wood frogs, caterpillars, moths, beetles, moss, human nakedness, etc.)?

7. Discuss burial traditions and what are your thoughts?

8. Written over 10 years ago, Heinrich address climate change a number of times and has an afterword as well, titled, “A World of Permanent Summer”. What are the issues that he discusses?

Moth drawings from Heinrich

Monday, June 1, 2020

2 Books: The Outermost House by H. Beston and The Outer Beach by R. Finch

Summary of The Outermost House (Amazon):

A chronicle of a solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach, The Outermost House has long been recognized as a classic of American nature writing. Henry Beston had originally planned to spend just two weeks in his seaside home, but was so possessed by the mysterious beauty of his surroundings that he found he "could not go."
Instead, he sat down to try and capture in words the wonders of the magical landscape he found himself in thrall to: the migrations of seabirds, the rhythms of the tide, the windblown dunes, and the scatter of stars in the changing summer sky. Beston argued that, "The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot." Seventy-five years after they were first published, Beston's words are more true than ever.


a. Summary of the book and its impact:

b. Outermost House History Walk:

c. Don Wilding Presentation:

(NY Times)

Life Span of Animals

Cape Cod Birds (blog):

(Cape Cod Times)

Summary of The Outer Beach (Amazon):
In a collection of essays, "Finch pays tribute to the Outer Beach’s impressive literary legacy, meditates on its often-tragic history, and explores the strange, mutable nature of time near the ocean. But lurking behind every experience and observation―both pivotal and quotidian―is the essential question that the beach beckons every one of its pilgrims to confront: How do we accept our brief existence here, caught between overwhelming beauty and merciless indifference?"


CS Monitor:

(Montclair shipwreck exposed in 2017)

WCAI- NPR: Cape and the Islands: Essays by Robert Finch:



A Cape Cod Notebook:

Visiting Cape Cod:

Visiting Cape Cod Virtually

Relationship between Beston and Finch and documentary film:

Discussion Questions (Heidi will be leading the discussion):
1.     Have you ever visited Cape Cod?  If yes, which beaches did you visit? What time of year was your visit? What did you see?

2.    As Beston’s daughter states in an interview about her father’s writing, “he was a slow and painstaking writer, revising and polishing every sentence, every turn of phrase --- sometimes taking an entire morning to complete one sentence”. How did you find his writing? Do you have any favorite passages?

3.    How do the authors compare in their observations, descriptions, focus, writing styles? Reflect on the quotes included at the beginning of Finch’s book.

4.    Finch evokes several authors, Thoreau, Richardson and but especially Beston (pp 59, 90, 105, 112, 126, 128, 131, 132, 139, etc.) How does he incorporate these other writings into his book? What was his relationship with Beston?

5.     How does Beston’s description of the beach compare to your own thoughts about the beach? Did Beston’s writing bring you to see it in a new light? How about Finch?

6.     During winter and now the pandemic, how do you spend your time? How did Beston?

7.     Both authors discuss often what one finds along the beach, during the night, after a storm, etc. What items have you found over the years? Which ones did you find interesting from the books? Shipwrecks, wreckage, phosphorescence, dogfish, wooden stones, etc. (Beston: pp 57, 122, 178; Finch, pp 61, 89-91, etc. )

8.     Discuss the many animals that both authors encounter on the outer beach, from birds, to skunk, skates, eel, etc.

9.     Discuss the origins and specially the everchanging landscape of the Outerbeach including intense erosion, every moving shoals, emersion of springs, cliftes, etc.  that both authors speak at length about. What are you seeing at the beaches you visit?

Monday, April 27, 2020

On Trails by Robert Moor

Summary (Amazon): From a talent who’s been compared to Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, David Quammen, and Jared Diamond, On Trails is a wondrous exploration of how trails help us understand the world—from invisible ant trails to hiking paths that span continents, from interstate highways to the Internet.

While thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Robert Moor began to wonder about the paths that lie beneath our feet: How do they form? Why do some improve over time while others fade? What makes us follow or strike off on our own? Over the course of seven years, Moor traveled the globe, exploring trails of all kinds, from the miniscule to the massive. He learned the tricks of master trail-builders, hunted down long-lost Cherokee trails, and traced the origins of our road networks and the Internet. In each chapter, Moor interweaves his adventures with findings from science, history, philosophy, and nature writing.

Throughout, Moor reveals how this single topic—the oft-overlooked trail—sheds new light on a wealth of age-old questions: How does order emerge out of chaos? How did animals first crawl forth from the seas and spread across continents? How has humanity’s relationship with nature and technology shaped world around us? And, ultimately, how does each of us pick a path through life?


Author's Website:


2. Conversation with Author:

Famous Trails and Walks:
A. 10 Famous Trails in the World:
1. Appalachian Trail:
2. Camino de Santiago:
3. John Muir Trail:
4. Shikoku Pilgrimage, Japan:
5. Pacific Crest Trail:

B. Six of the Best Trails in the US:
1. Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail:
2. Continental Divide Trail:

C. Historical Walks of the World

D. The Most Unique Walks in the World:

E. Virtual Hikes:
1. AT:
2. US Hikes:
3. World Hikes:

Discussion Questions from the San Miguel Big Read Group:

Discussion Questions: (Heidi will be leading the discussion)
1. Have you done some hiking? What recognizable trails or paths have you hiked? Have you hiked the AT in part or as a thru-hiker? If not, have you wanted to and why?

2. The author states in the Epilogue, that “from our first breath, there is a vast array of structures already in place – “spiritual paths, career paths, philosophical paths, artistic paths, paths to wellness, paths to virtue. . . How do we know which paths to choose?” How would you describe your life? Has it been a trail or a path? Hilly, meandering, straight, curvy, swampy, easy, moderate, challenging, etc. ?

3. The author also states, that “the tricky part is that while we are editing our trails, our trails are editing us.” In what ways have you experienced this?

4. In the discussion of the eons-old division between plant and animal life, Moor points to research that suggests that it is movement alone that began to differentiate the earliest organism on earth into plants and animals. What are your thoughts about this?

5. Moor spends a good deal of time in the book discussing animal behavior, especially their trail-making abilities. He cites the pheromones of the ant, sheep hierarchy, and the memory and ability to express grief of the elephant. Discuss your view about animals and their behaviors.

6. The author discusses the 3 oldest forms of cross-species communication, including watching, herding and hunting and that trails provide a portal into the minds of other animals. (page 94) What method have you used and discuss animal paths and trails, that you may have followed.

7. The term for “place-listing” is topogeny and is basically a list of names that “pull the mind across the landscape”. What would your list look like describing going from say Doylestown to Philadelphia? (Page 182-185)

(Precambrian period - Earth Chronicles)