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The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature
Synopses & Reviews
In his meticulous notes on the natural history of Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau records the first open flowers of highbush blueberry on May 11, 1853. If he were to look for the first blueberry flowers in Concord today, mid-May would be too late. In the 160 years since Thoreaus writings, warming temperatures have pushed blueberry flowering three weeks earlier, and in 2012, following a winter and spring of record-breaking warmth, blueberries began flowering on April 1—six weeks earlier than in Thoreaus time. The climate around Thoreaus beloved Walden Pond is changing, with visible ecological consequences.
In Walden Warming, Richard B. Primack uses Thoreau and Walden, icons of the conservation movement, to track the effects of a warming climate on Concords plants and animals. Under the attentive eyes of Primack, the notes that Thoreau made years ago are transformed from charming observations into scientific data sets. Primack finds that many wildflower species that Thoreau observed—including familiar groups such as irises, asters, and lilies—have declined in abundance or have disappeared from Concord. Primack also describes how warming temperatures have altered other aspects of Thoreaus Concord, from the dates when ice departs from Walden Pond in late winter, to the arrival of birds in the spring, to the populations of fish, salamanders, and butterflies that live in the woodlands, river meadows, and ponds.
Primack demonstrates that climate change is already here, and it is affecting not just Walden Pond but many other places in Concord and the surrounding region. Although we need to continue pressuring our political leaders to take action, Primack urges us each to heed the advice Thoreau offers in Walden: to live simply and wisely.” In the process, we can each minimize our own contributions to our warming climate.
"Over the course of a year, University of the South biology professor Haskell makes frequent pilgrimages to a meter-wide spot along a slope in an old-growth Tennessee forest. During his visits, he peeks beneath the leaf litter, shivers at the howls of coyotes, and watches the light change as he gazes up at the green canopy of July or November's bare twigs. Turning the patch of forest into his own natural laboratory, he reveals the science behind these moments of beauty, delighting in the resourcefulness of spring wildflowers and musing on the ecological partnerships that sustain lichens and other creatures. Throughout, Haskell shows the complexity and interdependence of the natural world, in which even the golf balls thwacked from a nearby green play a role. The Buddhist art of the mandala becomes a central reference point for the project, which contemplates the importance of close observation of the world around us. In the end, Haskell finds that even this tiny scrap of woods contains a teeming soup of life beyond the comprehension of our limited human senses. Yet for him, this awareness of his own 'ignorance' is a joyful one, the web of life for him transcendentally tangled. This informative and inspiring meditation will give curious readers a few new things to pay attention to when walking through the woods. Agent: Alice Martell, the Martell Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Thoreau’s incredible eye and appreciation for the natural world have rightly led to his reputation as one of the first American ecologists. Before he could turn his botanical records into a book, Thoreau succumbed to tuberculosis, and his copious, arguably obsessive writings on the natural world languished for some time, Emerson noting that “Thoreau had squandered his talents on the woods” and had become “the captain of a huckleberry party.” But his writings have since been revered by many, and are now part of the canon of conservation biology and climate change. The meticulous notes Thoreau kept on flowers in Concord have in the hands of Richard Primack and his students evolved from charming and detailed records to actual data sets.
Thoreau would no doubt be saddened to learn that 27 percent of the plant species he documented have disappeared, and another 36 percent are in such low numbers that their disappearance is imminent. Concord's mean annual temperature though has climbed by 4 degrees, and the flowers and trees each spring awaken far earlier than they did 150 years ago. Climate change is wreaking havoc on Walden, as it is the world over, and in this wonderful tour of Thoreau’s data points Primack shows us how history informs the past, and how backyard natural history is one of the most important areas of scientific contribution, as it has been for centuries.
A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest
Written with remarkable grace and empathy, The Forest Unseen is a grand tour of nature in all its profundity. Biologist David George Haskell uses a one-square-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest as a window onto the entire natural world. Visiting it almost daily for one year to trace nature's path through the seasons, he brings the forest and its inhabitants to vivid life. Beginning with simple observations—a salamander scuttling across the leaf litter, the first blossom of spring wildflowers—Haskell spins a brilliant web of biology, ecology, and poetry, explaining the science binding together ecosystems that have cycled for thousands—sometimes millions—of years.
A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest.
In this wholly original book, biologist David Haskell uses a one- square-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest as a window onto the entire natural world. Visiting it almost daily for one year to trace nature's path through the seasons, he brings the forest and its inhabitants to vivid life.
Each of this book's short chapters begins with a simple observation: a salamander scuttling across the leaf litter; the first blossom of spring wildflowers. From these, Haskell spins a brilliant web of biology and ecology, explaining the science that binds together the tiniest microbes and the largest mammals and describing the ecosystems that have cycled for thousands- sometimes millions-of years. Each visit to the forest presents a nature story in miniature as Haskell elegantly teases out the intricate relationships that order the creatures and plants that call it home.
Written with remarkable grace and empathy, The Forest Unseen is a grand tour of nature in all its profundity. Haskell is a perfect guide into the world that exists beneath our feet and beyond our backyards.
About the Author
David Haskell is a professor of biology at the University of the South and was named the Carnegie-CASE professor of the year in Tennessee in 2009. In addition to his scholarly work, he has published essays and poetry. He lives with his wife in Sewanee, Tennessee.
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