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)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Song of Trees by David Haskell

Summary (Amazon): David Haskell has won acclaim for eloquent writing and deep engagement with the natural world. Now, he brings his powers of observation to the biological networks that surround all species, including humans. Haskell repeatedly visits a dozen trees, exploring  connections with people, microbes, fungi, and other plants and animals. He takes us to  trees in cities (from Manhattan to Jerusalem), forests (Amazonian, North American, and boreal) and areas on the front lines of environmental change (eroding coastlines, burned mountainsides, and war zones.)  In each place he shows how human history, ecology, and well-being are intimately intertwined with the lives of trees.
Scientific, lyrical, and contemplative, Haskell reveals the biological connections that underpin all life.  In a world beset by barriers, he reminds us that life’s substance and beauty emerge from relationship and interdependence.


1. Listening to Trees: Alex Metcalf:
2. TED Talk: Trees, People and Interconnection: We're All Made from Relationships:
3. Stories Happen in the Forest:
4. Nature Moments: The Song of Trees:

(Ceibo, Ecuador)


(wikipedia - Red-bellied Woodpecker)


Author's Site

(Sabal palms on Catherine Island from Author)

Discussion Questions: (This will include last month's book, Buzz, Sting, Bite and also Haskell's book for our discussion due to the pandemic and change of format. We will be meeting via Zoom - if you are interested in participating, please make a comment below for an invitation to join in. If you are a member, you should have received an invitation via email.)

After reading Buzz, Sting, Bite, which facts and stories surprised you and how did they change your perspective about insects?

As described in both books, humans are having major impacts on every aspect of life on earth. Discuss how these changes affect both insects as well as trees including, excess light, insecticides, climate change, plastics, salt, etc.

Haskell emphasizes that life is about relationships and a living network, but that there are tensions that exist between them. Discuss the human relationship with “nature” as well as reflecting on your own concept of what nature means to you. (See pp. viii, 179, 186)

In the Songs of Trees, which stories resonated with you and why?

We read The Forest Unseen by Haskell previously, and this is the second “Haskell” reading for our group. Discuss his style and organization of this book. Are there any excerpts that you especially liked or not? Which book did you like more?

Which aspects of the world are you attuned to and tickle your senses? (see page 191-)


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insect by A. Sverdrup-Thygeson

Summary: (Amazon) Insects comprise roughly half of the animal kingdom. They live everywheredeep inside caves, 18,000 feet high in the Himalayas, inside computers, in Yellowstone’s hot springs, and in the ears and nostrils of much larger creatures. There are insects that have ears on their knees, eyes on their penises, and tongues under their feet. Most of us think life would be better without bugs. In fact, life would be impossible without them.

Most of us know that we would not have honey without honeybees, but without the pinhead-sized chocolate midge, cocoa flowers would not pollinate. No cocoa, no chocolate. The ink that was used to write the Declaration of Independence was derived from galls on oak trees, which are induced by a small wasp. The fruit fly was essential to medical and biological research experiments that resulted in six Nobel prizes. Blowfly larva can clean difficult wounds; flour beetle larva can digest plastic; several species of insects have been essential to the development of antibiotics. Insects turn dead plants and animals into soil. They pollinate flowers, including crops that we depend on. They provide food for other animals, such as birds and bats. They control organisms that are harmful to humans. Life as we know it depends on these small creatures.

With ecologist Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson as our capable, entertaining guide into the insect world, we’ll learn that there is more variety among insects than we can even imagine and the more you learn about insects, the more fascinating they become.

(NY Times)


Monday, January 27, 2020

Two Books this Month: A Bright Future by J. Goldstein and S. Qvist and No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

Summary for A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow (from Amazon):
As climate change quickly approaches a series of turning points that guarantee disastrous outcomes, a solution is hiding in plain sight. Several countries have already replaced fossil fuels with low-carbon energy sources, and done so rapidly, in one to two decades. By following their methods, we could decarbonize the global economy by midcentury, replacing fossil fuels even while world energy use continues to rise. But so far we have lacked the courage to really try.
In this clear-sighted and compelling book, Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist explain how clean energy quickly replaced fossil fuels in such places as Sweden, France, South Korea, and Ontario. Their people enjoyed prosperity and growing energy use in harmony with the natural environment. They didn't do this through personal sacrifice, nor through 100 percent renewables, but by using them in combination with an energy source the Swedes call kärnkraft, hundreds of times safer and cleaner than coal.
Clearly written and beautifully illustrated, yet footnoted with extensive technical references, Goldstein and Qvist's book will provide a new touchstone in discussions of climate change. It could spark a shift in world energy policy that, in the words of Steven Pinker's foreword, literally saves the world.

Reviews of A Bright Future:
1. NY Times:

2. Kirkus Review:


Interviews for A Bright Future:
1. Nuclear Focus:

2. Video - C-Span:

Website for A Bright Future:

 + + + + + + + + + + +  + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +  + + + + + + + + +  ++ + + + ++

Summary for No One is Too Small to Make a Difference: This small book includes the speeches that Greta to the United Nations.

Reviews for Greta's Book:
1. Video:

2. teenvogue:

3. Kid's Rights:

Greta's TED Talk

Time's Person of the Year 2019

Our local student activist groups and actions and others:
1. Bscape:

2. Bscape Website:

3. Article:

4. Article:

Local Event: Everything Eco: An Inconvenient Summit: Feb. 23, 2020, 12:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Discussion Questions: (Donna will be leading the discussion and using some of these questions, that John composed)

1.  How is Greta Thunberg creating awareness of the urgency of preventing global climate change?

2.  Thunberg says that Sweden has one of the worst records of carbon dioxide generation.  Is this statement at odds with the “A Bright Future” authors?  She also states that we already know how to prevent climate change but need to implement the changes/technologies required?  Is she right?  Is this consistent with “A Bright Future” also?

3.  What is the role of activism in combating carbon dioxide emissions?  What are some of the ways activism has been successful?  How has activism likely also detracted from its goal?

4.  Of the three major categories of energy usage responsible for producing most carbon dioxide (electricity generation, transportation, heat for buildings and industrial processes) why did the authors focus on electricity generation?

5.  Why is switching from coal to methane (natural gas) not enough to prevent catastrophic global warming?

6.  Why doesn’t meeting the Paris Agreement targets for maintaining carbon dioxide emissions at current levels not enough to prevent climate change?

7.  What country has already reduced carbon dioxide generation by ~50% while increasing energy production by 2X?  How was this accomplished?  Name several other countries that have made significant carbon dioxide reductions?  What do they have in common?

8.  Why do the authors conclude that increasing nuclear power usage is critical for avoiding /limiting global warming?  What are the limitations of solar and wind power which, while important alternative to fossil fuels, require a role for nuclear power?

9.  In what ways did Germany and France respond differently to the catastrophic earthquake/tidal wave that led to nuclear plant closures in Japan?  What were the implications of their reactions?

10.  Compare the waste generation resulting from coal-based power plants with nuclear plants in terms of types of wastes, quantities, disposal, environmental and health impacts.

11.  What effects did nuclear plant accidents and diasters (TMI, Chernobyl, Japan) have on nuclear power development and reliance?  What lessons were learned and not learned?

12.  How does Russia currently promote expansion of nuclear power?  Why and how may China and India participate in the future? 

13.  What makes new generations of nuclear plants different from those we grew up with? 

14.  How do the terms we use to describe energy sources ascribe some bias to how we perceive them, e.g., “natural gas” vs. methane and “nuclear power” vs. “nuclear bombs”?

15.  Do electric cars make things worse by increasing electrical usage? 

16.  Has this book changed your opinion or perception of nuclear power?  If yes or no, why?


Monday, November 25, 2019

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Summary: (Amazon):
It is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

NY Times:

The Atlantic:

Washington Post:

Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
Shortlisted of the 2018 Man Booker Prize
New York Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book and a Washington Post, Time, Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews and Amazon Best Book of the Year

Author's Website

1. Climate Fiction: Can Books Save the Planet?:

2. The Novel Asks: What Went Wrong with Mankind:

3. How could the Overstory be considered a book of the year:

4. The Secrets That Help Some Trees Live Over 1000 Years:

1. Shakespeare and Co, :
2. Chicago Review of Books:
3. NPR:
4. New York Botanical Gardens:
5. Waterstone Interview:
6. Sierra Club:

Old Growth Forest Network:
Note: Doylestown Township's Central Park's and Heritage Conservancy's Hart's Woods has been recently designated as a forest that has the characteristics of an old growth forest

The Overstory Podcast from Sierra Club: Not about the book but interesting and relevant. Thanks Ann for sharing.

Forest Bathing Opportunities at Bucks County Audubon's Honey Hollow Environmental Education Center: April 11 and May 30, from 9-11:30. 2877 Creamery Rd. in New Hope, PA

Inspirations for Discussion Questions:
a. Litlovers:

b. PBS:

Our own Discussion Questions: (some from the above sources and some of Heidi's own, who will be leading the discussion)

1. What were your experiences with trees as a child and now as an adult? Have trees shaped your life in any meaningful way? Do you have a favorite tree?

2. What might the title, Overstory, signify?

3. The Overstory is split into four sections: Roots, Trunk, Crown, and Seeds. How do those sections reflect the thematic numerous concerns of the novel—that human development (in the micro and macro) mimics growth in the "natural world," that human beings are deeply, intimately bound to nature? What are the significances of these sections? Were you surprised when the storylines intertwined?

4. Of the novel's nine opening stories, which do you find most engaging? Is that because you find the characters more compelling …or the storyline itself … or can the two be separated?

5. There are many wonderful passages and poems throughout the novel. Do you have any favorites?

6. How does the author treat eco-warriors: are they the novel's heroes? Does he seem sympathetic to their causes … or impatient with their stridency? What is your attitude toward eco-warriors, both the ones in the novel and the ones in real life?
7. Some reviewers claim that characters in The Overstory  are short-shrifted, that they are subsumed by the book's ideas. Others say the book's characters are convincing and invested with humanity. Which view do you agree with? Do the characters come alive for you, are they multifaceted, possessing emotional depth? Or do you see them as fairly one-dimensional, serving primarily as the embodiment of ideas?

8. This novel is considered part of a new genre, Climate Fiction or cli-fi. What do you think about it? Does it reinforce what people already think or change opinions?

9. We have read many books about trees in this group including, The Hidden Life of Trees by P. Wohleben and The Forest Unseen by D. Haskell along with your own readings. Has the book changed the way you look at trees in any new ways?