Category Archives: Nature

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience in the 630’s

Farmer-philosopher Frederick Kirschenmann’s Cultivating an Ecological Conscience is a collection of thoughtful essays about the “ethical and practical principles” of developing a sustainable agricultural system.  Drawing on his experiences as a theologian and a farmer, he delivers a series of measured arguments that a shift to more sustainable agriculture is a necessary change.  As I mentioned in my Monday Musing, this was a welcome break from the rhetoric some other authors depend on.  It is clear that the author is a product of a true liberal arts education, with a gift for elocution (I would love to hear him speak!) and a deep knowledge of the classics.  I was at times astounded by the variety of sources he drew on to support his economic and agricultural theories – everything from Adam Smith to Machiavelli.  I think the fact that he has read such different works and thought about their connection to agriculture is truly indicative of his passion for the topic. Continue reading

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Silent Spring in the 632’s

There were two reasons I knew I had to read Silent Spring.  First, all of the environmentalist books I’ve been reading in the 630’s quote Silent Spring and a lot of them clearly aspire to be the next Silent Spring.  Second and more pragmatically, it was the only book my library had in the 632’s 🙂  Because all of the quotes I’ve read from Silent Spring have been emotional appeals, I was worried the book would be all poetic descriptions, poorly grounded in science.  Instead I found that, as the introduction claimed, Rachel Carson not only had a “lyrical, poetic voice” but also offered sound “scientific expertise” and an impressive “synthesis of wide-ranging material”. Continue reading

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Container Gardening in the 635’s

Finally, a book review!  Just for those of you who are new and were beginning to believe I don’t actually do those 😛  In fact, today I have several short book reviews for you, as I spent last week slowly absorbing information from a variety of books on container gardening.

The book I started with was Container Gardening for the Midwest, one of many books at my library which has caused me to be pleasantly surprised by the ability of even a small library to collect lots of region specific books.  This book followed a layout typical of the books I read, starting with general information about container gardening.  This included the benefits of different pot materials, different design elements (color pairing, shape, etc), how to plant your garden, and how to care for your garden.  Following the general care section was a section on specific plants.  Unfortunately, for gardening I think location north/south matters at least as much as what region of the US you’re in, so there was still some generality to this section.  I don’t think it’s fair to blame the book for that though when the only way to improve that would be an even more specific focus.  In fact, the plant specific section in this book was one of my favorites, because it had great pictures for every plant and I prefer to pick plants by appearance before determining whether or not I can really grow them.  I think it was a good book to start with, since it didn’t provide overwhelming details, and the long, picture-filled plant section made it the book I used most to make a to-be-shortened list of plants I might like to include in my own balcony garden. Continue reading

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Really Great Bookends – Part I

This week I have read two really great books, one non-fiction and one fiction, and I felt like they both deserved their own post.  So today, I’ll be posting my review of my non-fiction book and you can check back tomorrow for my fiction read. (Update: now available here)

Non-Project Non-Fiction

This morning, I finished reading The Eye of the Elephant, one of the extra books I picked up in the 639’s.  Although I occasionally think about the fact that I could be doing this until I die if I pick up multiple books for every number, I don’t think that would be so bad, especially if my digressions always lead to such great books!  As the subtitle says, this was truly “An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness.”  This story of Mark and Delia Owens’ efforts to save the elephants and other wildlife in a Zambian natural park was without a dull moment.  In the first few chapters, Mark had gotten lost in the dessert and both authors had encountered a cobra and a pride of lions.  The book continues with awe-inspiring encounters with wildlife and more frightening encounters with poachers.

Despite the action-packed nature of the book, both authors found time to describe the natural beauty and majestic animals surrounding them.  Their love for nature made these poetic descriptions incredibly moving.  Each chapter in the book was written by either Mark or Delia and I suspect their editor deserves a ton of credit because their distinct personalities come through without ever disrupting the flow of their narrative.

Even though the point of a book like this is to raise awareness of a problem, I really appreciated that they wrote the book at a point where most parts of the story have a happy ending.  While it’s definitely important to alert people to the plight of endangered animals, you get too close to specific animals they describe to deal well with an unhappy ending.  The struggle they face with corrupt officials is also incredibly frustrating, so it was nice to see that things were moving in the right direction at the end of the book.

Alison at The Cheap Reader was just discussing the pros and cons of having a happy ending, and I mostly thought about this in terms of YA books, where I favor happy endings because I like to feel happy after reading a book.  In the case of a book like this, I was still glad of a happy ending, but for a different reason.  I hate for a book discussing a big problem I care about to end unresolved because I don’t feel like I can do anything about it.  Unlike A Spring Without Bees which discusses a problem everyone can contribute to from their own bee-friendly, pesticide-free garden, poaching is not a problem I feel equipped to deal with.  But I think part of the message of this book is that that’s not true – it is possible for very few people to have a huge impact.  In that spirit, I’ve donated to The Owens Foundation already, to do my little bit for conservation, and I hope you’ll consider doing the same for them or for any other cause you care deeply about.  Even as poor college students, we can spare a little 🙂

Summary

The Eye of the Elephant  – 5 stars – Great, action packed story with a positive message about conservation and the difference a few people can make.

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Iowa Bird Watching

As I mentioned in my Monday Musings, I’ve already started to have birds show up on my balcony!  In hopes of attracting more I’ve decided to prioritize getting a feeder up, although I don’t know if it will get much use until I have some plants out there to provide shelter for more cautious birds.  This week’s book, Iowa Bird Watching, was a great introductory resource for a beginning Iowa bird-watcher or for someone like me who is mostly hoping to watch birds from home.  The book includes lists of the best places to go birding and of the top ten must-see birds in Iowa.  In addition, there are beautiful pictures provided for the 100 most common birds in Iowa.  The sections I found most helpful were the bits on what to feed different birds and a list of bird-friendly plants. Continue reading

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Bookends About Conservation

Non-Project Non-Fiction

After reading about ways to attract wildlife to the garden earlier in the week, I was ready to dive into a book about an actual conservation project – Nature’s Second Chance by Steven Apfelbaum.  In this book, Apfelbaum chronicles his thirty years working to restore the pre-farming ecosystem at Stone Prairie Farm in Wisconsin.  As the introduction points out, this isn’t a book about homesteading but does include a lot of the same elements.  In particular, the author learns about the wood on his property used for the construction of his house and lives a very green, self-sufficient life style with his family constructing some of their own furniture, using solar power, and canning many of the fruits and vegetables they grow. Continue reading

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