Imagine that you’re kidnapped, knocked unconscious, and twelve hours later wake up alone in the forest. Do you know enough about the natural world to be able to guess your general location? Let’s make it easier and say that you know you’re in the United States. Could you figure it out then? If it turned out you were only 30 minutes from home, would you be able to recognize that as so?
This is a scenario I heard posed years ago, that has remained with me. While far from being a nature expert, I like to think I’d at least be able to recognize the type of woods found in our region. When I was a child, my mom would take me for nature walks and if I could identify ten different things by name, I would get a treat. The number rose as I got older, yet remained an effective technique.
As an adult, much of my nonfiction reading revolves around travel, nature, and science topics. The two books described below are by women who would definitely know where they were if dropped in the woods near their home, as both have incorporated a careful observation of their surroundings into their daily lives.
Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods by Julie Zickefoose: Author, illustrator, and naturalist Julie Zickefoose lives on 80 acres in Ohio’s Appalachian region. Arranged seasonally, Letters from Eden is a compilation of essays paired with gorgeous pencil and watercolor illustrations. Delve in and get personal with songbirds, deer, turtles, snakes, turkeys, and a sparrow eating frog!
The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas: The failure of the year’s acorn crop, prompts author and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas to begin feeding the white tale deer who live on her New Hampshire land. A year of careful observation of the local population follows, as Thomas seeks to understand the family structures, motivations, and survival strategies of the deer. In addition to an intimate look at the deer, the reader is also treated to stories of black bears, a massive rat, and a singing mouse.