Spring has well and truly sprung, and all around us we see reminders of why we live in this beautiful corner of the world, chock full of amazing biodiversity. Over the past few weeks, as I’ve watched the trees leaf out and gardens fill with flowers, I’ve felt the itch to explore coming on. Conveniently, the library’s spring programming theme is Read Outside, and if you, too, are eager to get out and enjoy the season, book in hand, JCLS has a wealth of resources for you. We can help you read up on local outdoor adventures or suggest a book to bring along on a hike, camping trip, or picnic. The Library of Things even has equipment you can borrow to make that camping trip, fishing excursion, or outdoor get-together more fun.
Let’s take a few paragraphs to celebrate the great outdoors together. Since Earth Day was just last week, it seems like an especially appropriate time to deepen our appreciation of the natural world. That can look like a lot of different things, whether you go for long hikes to discover hidden waterfalls or you sit on a bench while you’re waiting for the bus and enjoy the birds hopping in the tree across the street. We sometimes think that we have to go somewhere far from people to be in nature, but really nature is all around us, ready to be reveled in, whatever our mobility level or transportation options. We don’t exist separately from the natural world—we are part of it. Much of the time, appreciating it is about remembering to notice. And of course, like so many things, the more you look at something, the more you see. If you sit and observe something in nature—be it a tree, a tidepool, or a garden—you will find more and more details to marvel at.
If you’d like to make a point of connecting with nature, it can help to develop some habits around observation. In addition to reminding yourself to sit quietly and look, a notebook for jotting down interesting things you notice or making some sketches can be a good tool to hone your skills of observation. Taking photos can also help you develop a habit of keeping an eye out for details you might otherwise overlook. There are a number of nature appreciation groups that can be connected to via social media, and plenty of smartphone apps that help you identify trees, wildflowers, and so forth. If you prefer using print resources to pick out a hike or learn the names of local flora and fauna, you could check out some of the books on this list.
If you want to immerse yourself in nature before heading outside, reading the work of nature writers is an excellent way to learn about the natural world. There are classics of the genre, like Thoreau’s Walden, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, and Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Each of these have shaped the way nature lovers and conservationists think about wild places. Important and influential as they have been, they were published in 1854, 1949, and 1968, respectively, and were all written by white men. The authors’ viewpoints are limited by their eras and life experiences. Fortunately, as the field of nature writing has grown, the voices we have heard from have increased and diversified. The genre is still dominated by white men, and there are complex historical and cultural factors that discourage some people of color from feeling welcome in the great outdoors (see Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces for more on that topic), but in the last couple of decades we’ve seen a modest boom in nature writing, and with it, new books from increasingly diverse voices. A popular example is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which was the focus of last winter’s Rogue Reads celebration. Kimmerer’s perspective as both a scientist and an Indigenous woman introduces many readers to a way of living and thinking that deepens their understanding and appreciation of their place in nature.
In honor of spring, Earth Day, and our Read Outside theme, I’ve pulled together a list of Nonfiction Nature Writing. Those classics are included, but the focus is on newer books and writers. Feel free to browse this list, request some titles, and be inspired. If you’re looking for ways to share the wonder of nature with children, you could explore this list of books full of facts, stories and activities to share.
The mountains are calling! So are the rivers, the gardens, the marshes, and woodlands—and we must go! Grab your notebook, your walking shoes, and your library card, and celebrate the glory of spring in Southern Oregon.