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 1six 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 observedincluding familiar groups such as irises, asters, and lilieshave 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.
"At the beginning of this book, Barilla, who teaches creative nonfiction and environmental writing at the University of South Carolina and formerly worked in wildlife research and management, describes the process by which his yard received certification from the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife-friendly habitat. Fortunately, relatively little of this book deals with local phenomena. Barilla goes very far afield to look at such fauna issues as the 'monkey menace' in New Delhi, India, the attempt to contain the growing bear population in and around Northampton, Mass., the work of urban beekeepers in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the struggle for survival of marmosets in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In a chapter on a possible infestation of his home by rats or squirrels, Barilla relates his very human desire to contain such 'night visitors' and describes the traps used to eliminate rodents. More often, though, his focus is on the 'zooopolis': the intersection of, and uneasy accommodation between, the human and animal realms. Barilla is a fine stylist his writing is thoughtful, colorful, and sometimes wittily self-deprecating who helps us to better understand the unfamiliar natural world near our homes and to realize how many habitats coexist on Earth. Agent: Wendy Strothman, the Strothman Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
andldquo;James Barilla is a gifted story teller . . . a modern Gerald Durrell. . . . I have never been so enthralled with the notion of a zoo in our backyards.andrdquo;andmdash;Margaret Lowman, author of Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology
and of Itandrsquo;s a Jungle Up There: More Tales from the Treetops
and#8220;This is carefully researched, up-to-date, and above all readable work that explores the relationship between humans and other species by considering the pros and cons of and#8216;invitingand#8217; (or at least tolerating) the presence of wild animals in urban (and even domestic) spaces.andnbsp;James Barillaandnbsp;interweaves personal narrative, philosophical considerations, urban planning concepts, and wildlife biology in a graceful, playful way reminiscent of Barry Lopez and Christopher Cokinos.and#8221;and#8212;Scott Slovic, University of Idaho
andquot;With the fresh eyes of a curious child, Barilla takes us on a wonderful journey to discover, appreciate, and coexist with the diversity of lifeandmdash;the rare, common, regaled, despised, and feared animalsandmdash;in and around our homes.andquot;andmdash;John Marzluff, co-author of The Gifts of the Crow, Dog Days, Raven Nights, and In the Company of Crows and Ravens
andquot;In todayandrsquo;s world wildlife are burgeoning in unexpected places andndash; our urban centers.and#160; While few people are equipped or willing to accept these wild neighbors Barilla encourages them in his own backyard and pursues them through encounters leading from Brooklyn to Florida and Delhi to Brazil.and#160; The resulting tales are entertaining and insightful.andquot;andmdash;David Foster, author of Forests in Time, The Environmental Consequences of 1,000 Years of Change in New England
and#8220;Barilla is a fine stylistand#8212;his writing is thoughtful, colorful, and sometimes wittily self-deprecatingand#8212;who helps us to better understand the unfamiliar natural world near our homes and to realize how many habitats coexist on Earth.and#8221;and#8212;Publishers Weekly
and#8220;Ultimately, Barillaand#8217;s gripping and provocative dispatches confirm that in our time, human and wildlife coexistenceand#8212;a formula for awe, danger, and controversyand#8212;is a complex process of trial and error.and#8221;and#8212;Donna Seaman,and#160;Booklist
and#8220;Barillaand#8217;s ultimate message is both simple and powerful: To work toward coexistence means setting aside all notions of species-ism and cultivating an open, ecologically aware mind. Intelligent and quietly provocative.and#8221;and#8212;Kirkus
and#8220;My Backyard Jungleand#160;is a fascinating exploration for anyone interested in wildlife and the humanand#8217;s role in the great circle of life.and#8221;and#160;and#8212;Jen Forbus,and#160;Shelf Awareness
Won Honorable Mention in the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival for the General Non-Fiction category, given by JM Northern Media LLC
“Determined to help the public understand global warming, Primack decided to search for evidence of climate change in Concord, Massachusetts, home of Walden Pond, made famous by pioneering environmentalist Henry David Thoreau. Primacks plan was to compare field notes of the past with new information about the same plants in the same places, but he despaired of finding reliable old records until he learned about Thoreaus unpublished, little-known tables precisely documenting the annual flowering dates for more than 300 plant species. Primack also struck gold in the form of invaluable nature journals kept by modern-day citizen scientists. He now tells the deeply instructive story of the challenges he and his dedicated graduate students faced during the past decade as they identified the many plants that have disappeared since Thoreaus time and those which “are flowering earlier in successive years” as spring temperatures rise. Primack shares striking tales from the field and elucidates from an unnervingly close-to-home perspective the dynamics and impact of climate change on plants, birds, and myriad other species, including us.”
“Primacks book brings the issue of climate change down to earth in a focused approach without hard science; recommended to students of environmental studies as well as to general readers active in the study of the subject.”
“This is an important book that should be required reading for everyone who cares about the future of our planet, and especially for those who remain skeptical about the threats of climate change. What better place to chronicle the effects of global warming than in the cradle of the American environmental movement—Thoreaus Walden Woods.”
“Thoreau, in Walden, proposed a ‘realometer to filter out prejudice and delusion. This eloquent new book fills that role for us, reminding us that global warming is not an abstract future proposition but a very profound current reality.”
“Primacks elegant and eloquent scientific memoir shows how todays science is advancing thanks to Henry Thoreaus mid-nineteenth-century observations as recorded in his journal and in his almost completely unknown because unpublished charts containing years and years worth of data on first flowering, bird arrival times, and much else happening in Concords natural world. Primacks book is important in three ways: it is a report on what global warming has already done to a much-loved bit of American space—Walden Pond; it is a detailed warning about what we are now facing; and it is a stirring call to arms, especially to young Americans and students about how they can help. Emerson told Thoreau to keep a journal. Primack is urging people, especially young people, to keep Thoreauvian journals, not for personal reasons, but to advance our knowledge of what happens and when in the natural world we all share. This book is a grand gift, a bracing and appealing take on a difficult and complex problem. I wish I had read it when I was nineteen.”
"This book is more than a clarion testament to the real and present effects of climate change. It is an exhortation to become more engaged in the natural world whether through citizen science or observation, and, in so doing, recognize and limit our own impacts on the earth. A constant presence throughout this book, Thoreau would be pleased to read this volume, which weaves together science, nature, ethics, and human action as part of a single whole."
“Each chapter of this book documents alarming change: the flowering of the pink ladys slipper orchid has begun three weeks earlier; wild apple blossoms have advanced by two to four weeks; wood sorrel by six weeks. . . . [Walden Warming] show[s] compellingly how a place and its ecosystems can alter dramatically in the face of climate change.”
“The book tells the story of Primacks struggle to replicate Thoreau and find changes in flowering times, but soon broadens into a hymn to citizen science. Primack finds many others who are not conventional scientists but keep careful records of myriad things, from the times that migratory birds arrive to the date butterflies emerge and ice melts on ponds. It is these extraordinary people who make the book a rich, rewarding read. And there is also the inspiring message that anyone with a keen eye for nature can make a difference, with an afterword on how to become a citizen scientist.”
and#8220;Barillaand#8217;s gripping and provocative dispatches confirm that in our time, human and wildlife coexistenceand#8212;a formula for awe, danger, and controversyand#8212;is a complex process of trial and error.and#8221; and#8212;Donna Seaman, Publishers Weekly
"Primack’s story is worth telling, and Primack is a worthy storyteller. . . . Primack clearly demonstrates the value of several non-traditional forms of historical observations for documenting change, including personal journals, butterfly club observations, and fishing lodge records. Perhaps most importantly, Primack clearly demonstrates that our environment is changing rapidly, and this is undoubtedly due to anthropogenic climate change."
The captivating story of an urban family who welcomes wildlife into their backyard and discovers the ups and downs of sharing habitat
Building on the experience of creating a wildlife habitat in his urban backyard, James Barilla visits various cities where bears, monkeys,and#160;and other creatures reside and along the way discovers how people and animals might coexist in our increasingly urban world. Not since Gerald Durrell penned My Family and Other Animals have readers encountered a naturalist with such a gift for story-telling and such an open heart toward all things wild.
For James Barilla and his family, the dream of transforming their Columbia, South Carolina, backyard into a haven for wildlife evoked images of kids catching grasshoppers by day and fireflies at night, of digging up potatoes and picking strawberries. When they signed up with the National Wildlife Federation to certify their yard as a wildlife habitat, it felt like pushing back, in however small a way, against the tide of bad news about vanishing species, changing climate, dying coral reefs. Then the animals started to arrive, and Barilla soon discovered the complexities (and possible mayhem) of merging human with animal habitats. What are the limits of coexistence, he wondered?and#160;To find out, Barilla set out across continents to explore cities where populations of bears, monkeys, marmosets, and honeybees live alongside human residents. My Backyard Jungle brings these unique stories together, making Barillaand#8217;s yard the centerpiece of a meditation on possibilities for coexistence with animals in an increasingly urban world. Not since Gerald Durrell penned My Family and Other Animals have readers encountered a naturalist with such a gift for storytelling and such an open heart toward all things wild.
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.
About the Author
A conversation with James Barillaand#160;Q: What have been the most enjoyable and least enjoyable aspects of watching your yard andldquo;go wildandrdquo;?and#160;A:and#160;The most enjoyable aspect has been seeing new plants and creatures find their way into our yardandmdash;that feels like validation. Probably the least enjoyable aspect has been having creatures show up that we struggle to live withandmdash;right now, there are two yellow-jacket nests flourishing in our front yard by the sidewalk, and I have to figure out what to do about them.and#160;and#160;Q: In your expeditions and trips, you investigated tensions between humans and animals in many different contexts. What was the greatest surprise to you?and#160;A: What surprised me most was the degree to which people in Delhi were willing to put up with the bad behavior of the monkeys living in the city. These are animals that have learned to invade homes and are potentially violent toward people. Yet the people there tolerate a degree of menace and inconvenience that I find hard to imagine at home.and#160;and#160;Q: Stepping back from your yard and its specifics, what are the larger andldquo;lessonsandrdquo; you hope readers will take away from reading My Backyard Jungle?and#160;A: We can think of habitat far more broadly. A surprising number of creatures can inhabit what we tend to think of as inhospitable landscapes, the city being a prime example. The question is whether we can figure out ways to live with them. That ongoing process of learning to live with other species is hopeful, I think.
Table of Contents
1. Borneo to Boston
2. A Hard Rain
3. Thoreau, Scientist
4. Phantom Plants
5. Wild Apples and Other Missing Flowers
6. The Strife in Loosestrife
7. The Message of the Birds
8. Birds in the Mist (Net)
9. Bees and Butterflies
10. From Insects to Fish to People
11. Clouds of Mosquitoes
12. The Frog Chorus
13. Running in the Sun and Rain
14. A New Earth
Afterword: Citizen Science
Append: Species Mentioned