Saturday, February 6, 2021

Two nature books reviewed by Ann Gray

A Short Philosophy of Birds by Philippe J. Dubois and Elise Rousseau

HarperCollins 2019. Available from Chapters here or through your local independent bookstore here.

Imagine an ornithologist and a philosopher meet at a cafe on the banks of the Seine. They share a table and debate long into the night about life and nature over a bottle of Bordeaux.  This book, A Short Philosophy of Birds could be the result.    

 Delightfully vivid descriptions of bird behavior are transformed into thoughtful lessons about our own choices.  Come learn how to enjoy life from the humble hen who purrs as she gives herself a dust bath.  Consider the morality of survival from the perspective of the nest-stealing cuckoo. Watch as a crow and a vulture vie for power and see that the top of the hierarchy might not always be the wisest place to be.  

From the nature of freedom to tenderness of love, each of the twenty two chapters in this book offers a glimpse into the secret lives of birds but also the corresponding mysteries of the human heart.

Nature Where We Live by Don Scallen

Knotty Toad Press, 2020. Available from Loops and Lattes (here). While you’re at Loops and Lattes, also check out Nicola Ross’s various hiking guides here.

Do you think you have to be in the wilds of Algonquin Park to enjoy the great outdoors?  Don Scallen’s book, Nature Where We Live will motivate you to find the many unusual and fascinating creatures that are much closer than you might think. 

Local woodlands and ponds magically come to life as Don affectionately describes  spotted salamanders gleaming against the moss in spring and the “ exquisite packages of promise “ that are butterfly chrysalides.  Dancing fairy shrimp, trilling toads and glistening spider webs beckon the reader to come and explore.   Even the timberdoodles ( woodcock) get a chapter, with an explanation of  when and where to go to watch and listen as these chunky  feathered clowns tumble out of the sky in their effort to attract a mate. 

Each activity is presented in a separate chapter, with clear instructions on  what gear to bring and  how to venture  out safely and non destructively.  A month-by-month calendar shows when to plan each adventure, showing that even in February, there is a reason to go outdoors.    

Full of scientific facts and beautiful photographs, Nature Where We Live is a fun read for even a seasoned naturalist, but would also be a great resource for someone looking to introduce school aged children to the great outdoors.   

And yes, although I had not heard of Knotty Toad Press, be warned there are some very naughty toads in Chapter 4.


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Ann Gray is a retired microbiologist, who is now looking at the bigger issues of life.  She is an enthusiastic birder and occasionally writes short pieces for local nature publications. Anne is currently writing a historical fiction based on events during the cholera epidemic of 1832 in Kingston, Ontario.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding online and in-person writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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