Nature Obscura: Book Review

Sunday July 10, 2022

By Ellen Arnstein

Looking at my bookshelf, most of my science books are chronicles of everyday people observing their local environments. Ranging from philosophical to poetic to pedantic, these authors fall in the footsteps of Goethe and Thoreau, Carson, and Potter. Here are some of my most recent reads.

Published in 2020, Nature Obscura by Kelly Brenner is one of the latest natural histories. Based in Seattle, Brenner is founder of the Nudibranch Appreciation Society tweeting facts and photos of the colorful mollusks. Her book, however, spans the animal kingdom from tardigrades and fly larva to crows and muskrats — all of which she finds in local parks and botanical gardens. As a relatively new resident of the Pacific Northwest, it was especially fun to learn that there is a crow roost in my office parking lot and that there is a local variety of the three-spined stickleback fish in Lake Washington. A lovely book about some of my favorite natural haunts in Seattle, I found the book less precious and more practical and scientific than some other similar books.

 

 A lovely book about some of my favorite natural haunts in Seattle,

I found the book less precious and more practical and scientific than some other similar books.

 

If you do tend towards the spiritual though, Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science Nature and Spirit might be a good choice. The book connects nature with mindfulness and religious thinkers from all traditions.  If you connect with Haupt, which admittedly I found difficult, her Crow Planet is also interesting if more focused on the singular corvid.

For the philosophical, The Pine Island Paradox by Kathleen Dean Moore explores the separation of human from nature, of the sacred from the mundane, and of physical space and shows us that the natural world is the perfect place to forge connection. It’s beautiful writing with just enough philosophy to make you think but not so much to overwhelm. (And published by Milkweed Editions so you know it’s excellent.)

Read in the Dark Days of April 2020, The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell offered an incredible reflection on nature as Haskell returns to a specific spot in the Tennessee forest and recounts how it changes over time. Each chapter focuses on a new ecological concept and provides an in-depth look at the physics of xylem, herbivory, food storage, decomposition and more. I recommend that you read this book very slowly – maybe over a year in your own outdoor sit spot. I also recommend seeking out one of Haskell’s speaking engagements; he is a lovely and enlightened/enlightening scientist.

But most importantly get out there and observe your own local environments! Check out the National Phenology Network for resources and ways to get involved!

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Ellen Arnstein was an Environmental Education volunteer in Bolivia from 2007-08. She is now a certified arborist working for a Pacific Northwest conservation district. In her spare time, she plays the ukulele poorly, runs slowly, and reads a ridiculous amount of books (mostly about trees).

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