Monday, March 5, 2018

The Urban Bestiary by Lyanda L. Haupt

Summary: (from Amazon):
"In THE URBAN BESTIARY, acclaimed nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt journeys into the heart of the everyday wild, where coyotes, raccoons, chickens, hawks, and humans live in closer proximity than ever before. Haupt's observations bring compelling new questions to light: Whose "home" is this? Where does the wild end and the city begin? And what difference does it make to us as humans living our everyday lives? In this wholly original blend of science, story, myth, and memoir, Haupt draws us into the secret world of the wild creatures that dwell among us in our urban neighborhoods, whether we are aware of them or not. With beautiful illustrations and practical sidebars on everything from animal tracking to opossum removal, THE URBAN BESTIARY is a lyrical book that awakens wonder, delight, and respect for the urban wild, and our place within it."

(Credit to Tom Furtwangler) 

Author's Site:

Boston Globe:

Wall Street Journal:


At Words, Writers and West Seattle:

Discussion Questions:
1. The author writes that “observation is a lovely overlooked word. It seems to indicate separation; one thing observing another. “ (p. 19) The word evolved from the Medieval Latin observare and means not to just watch but also “to attend”.  How do you “view” our community animals? Has reading this book changed how you “watch”?
2. From Haupt’s descriptions, enlightening stories and anecdotes about different mammals and birds, which stories or observations did you find surprising, such as the playful coyote, territorial moles, dreaming, intelligent opossums, ticklish rats, counting pigeons, the chickadee’s varied language and leadership, and/or the tool making crows, etc.?
3. What personal experiences have you had with the many animals that surround us and share and are a part our community?
4. The author often starts each chapter with a myth, such as the Romanian creation myth about the mole, or the Navajo myth about the coyote or the Ratatoskr squirrel creature of Norse mythology, creation of the hummingbird by the Mayan Great God, etc.. Which stories did you find intriguing?
5. Thoreau wrote, “When I know the name of a creature, I find it difficult to see.” whereas the author states, “I think that such knowing is a kind of gracious hosting, one that enriches not only our own lives, but also the lives of birds. “ What is your experience and opinion about this?
6. The author encourages us to learn the five most common birds around our homes and would most likely include: house sparrows, robins, crows, house finches, starlings and perhaps chickadees. Then, she suggests, learn the next 20 most common birds. Which birds do you think that includes for our area? Do you keep a personal list of bird sightings?

7. “House sparrows, European starlings and rock pigeons form a triumvirate of ubiquitous and disdained nonnative urban birds”, (p. 174), however the author goes on to describe many amazing and interesting attributes of these birds for us to consider. What is your opinion about their presences in our community before and now after reading this chapter? Also, discuss the impact on the physiology of animals living in urban settings.
8. How do you feel about the author including trees and humans in the bestiary? What do you think about the concept of prosthetics by Dr. Catton? (p. 298)
9. If were to write your own Bestiary, which animals and other life forms would you include?
10. What are your daily habits or ways that you personally connect with the natural world around you? Do you keep a journal, save trees, bake bread, or watch birds?


Friday, January 26, 2018

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Summary (from Amazon):
"Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?"

New York Times, "For the Love of Potatoes":

The Guardian: "Power to the Potato":


Study guides:


Discussion Questions: (Donna wrote these questions and will be leading the discussion.)
1. Does this book about domesticated species fit into our nature lover’s book selections, or not?

2. What are a few examples of coevolution right here in our neck of the woods, meadows, or backyards? Or in other books we have read together like “Beak of the Finch” , “Forest Unseen”, etc.?

3. What do you think about Pollan’s premise that we humans are part of the coevolutionary process?  Scientists and farmers have been artificial selectors for hundreds of years, what is the difference between artificial selection and coevolution..? or is there one?  What did Darwin argue?

4. On page xxiii of the introduction Pollan writes “Indeed, even the wild now depends on civilization for survival.”  Let’s talk about how this fits some of our previous discussions.

5. What was your favorite and/or least favorite chapter? Why?

6. Let’s talk about the storied 10,000 year history of Cannabis and the discovery of cannabinoid receptors in the human brain?  How is marijuana different/similar to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs?  Should it be legal?

7. What are some other plants, foods, animals Pollan (or other authors) could use to illustrate his thesis?

8. In your opinion, are GMOs a net plus or minus for our U.S. food system?  What about malnourished countries?  Is spraying chemical insecticides different than putting natural insecticides directly into a plants’ genes? Why or why not?

9. Talk about biodiversity versus monocultures on our farms, on our dinner plates, in lumber tracts, etc.

10.  Do we control plants or do they control us?   On page 187, “Everything affecting everything else” is not a bad description of what happens in a garden, or any ecosystem.  


Friday, December 8, 2017

The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams

Summary: (from Macmillian Publishers)
"America’s national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why more than 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge and the beloved memoir WhenWomen Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, an exploration of what they mean to us and what we mean to them.
From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and more, Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America."

Arcadia National Park


"Our national parks are our breathing spaces."

"Our public lands - whether a national park or monument, wildlife refuge, forest or prairie - make each one of us land-rich. It is our inheritance as citizens of a country called America.” 

“This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care. That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little, that we will recognize wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent and complex history - an unfathomable wealth that should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent.”



2. Experience Life Mag - Behind the Scenes with the author: (**Be sure to watch this**)

>The National Parks Series by Ken Burns with Terry Tempest Williams introduction:

Vermillion Flycatcher (

Author's Website:

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Discussion Questions: (Heidi wrote these and will lead the discussion)
1.     Which national parks have you visited and what are some of your memories, from your visit, which make you ‘swoon’ as Maine does for our author?

2.     After reading this book, are there any parks that you want to visit more than ever now?

3.     Do you have ’place’?  A land or space that you feel tied to?

4.     To describe Wind Canyon’s terrain in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, she uses the verbs, “break, erode, collapse, slide . . .”  (p. 80) Which verbs would you use to describe Bucks County?

5.     Our author writes, “Again and again, we find the common story of the establishment of our national parks: a handful of people fall in love with a place, see it threatened, want to protect it for the future and have the passion and patience to attract the necessary fund and political clout to make it happen.” (p. 105) If you had the ability, time and money to protect and save a parcel of land, where would you choose, how small or large and why?

6.     There are numerous wonderful passages, poems and quotes in this book. One of my favorite is from Laurance Rockefeller: “ How we treat our land, how we build upon it, how we act toward our air and water, in the long run, will tell what kind of people we really are.” (p 28) What are some of your favorite quotes and why?

7.     What do you think of Roosevelt’s vision of “democracy of experience” having created the carriage roads in Arcadia? (p. 92)

8.     Williams’ writing style is beautiful, descriptive, visual, and poetic. She includes letters to friends, sections from her notebooks, and shares struggles with her family. How do you react to her style and does it enhance the stories she’s telling? Also, discuss her letters presented in the Canyonlands chapter. (p. 256)

9.     Our federal parks are not only places of beauty and rejuvenation, but also often used for extracting resources, as our author shares of the situation at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Canyonlands National Park. She asks, “How might we begin a different kind of conversation so that our public lands are seen as our public commons, instead of the seedbed of rancor, violence and greed?” What can we do to protect and support our national parks? Consider pages 264, 271, 297, 308, 326.

Big Bend National Park 

Koan Boxes