Wild Ideas: New nature books at Rapp library offer insights and challenges  

In talking with me a while back about how Rappahannock Nature Camp evolved, Lyt Wood, its founder and director, suggested some books for broadening our understanding about nature. Most of these have just been added to the Conservation Collection at the Rappahannock County Library.

In developing the collection years ago — with the help of funders, library manager Dave Shaffer, and nature experts who recommended titles — my goal was mainly to acquire great references on local and regional ecology. But I also wanted the collection to go beyond primers and field guides to dive deeper into the science and philosophy of nature. Lyt’s list includes a bit of both but leans more toward the latter, with the work of philosophers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Rudolf Steiner factoring into some of those books.

“The Sibley Guide to Trees” by David Sibley (2009): This fabulous guide is a great companion to Sibley’s famous bird guides. At 8 by 6 inches, it is more likely to fit into a day pack than a pocket, but the format enables Sibley to group his wonderful illustrations of the parts of a species and the various forms they can take, on the same page or page spread. Lyt, who is a professional arborist, says “it outclasses every other book on tree ID that I have seen.”

“Invention of the Clouds” by Richard Hamblyn (2002): More than 200 years ago, Luke Howard, a British amateur meteorologist, developed a taxonomy — a naming system — for clouds, just as Carl Linnaeus did for organisms. Lyt, a passionate cloud spotter himself, describes Hamblyn’s book as “a fascinating account of Luke Howard’s ingenious creation of a language of the sky, urgently needed in 1803 and still in use today.” This is a great companion to “The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds,” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, also in Conservation Collection.

Understanding Mammals: Threefoldness and Diversity,” by Wolfgang Schad (2019). This two-volume, impressively in-depth take on mammals, is newly translated from the original German and heavily illustrated. The writing is “a bit dense,” Lyt acknowledges, “unless you are scientifically minded.” As the author writes in the book, “My purpose is to place in the absolute center of inquiry the direct perception of the animals most closely related to us — the mammals — as they live in their natural environment.” Lyt suggests starting with the introductory material and first three chapters, then reading up on any mammals that “suit your fancy.”

“Metamorphosis: Evolution in Action,” by Andreas Suchantke (2009): Set aside some serious time and brain space for this tome, which describes as “a great introduction, possibly the best, to what may be called a Goethean or participatory or phenomenological approach to evolution.” Ronald Koetzsch, in the spring/summer 2010 issue of Renewal: A Journal for Waldorf Education, writes that, while “challenging,” it is “for all enquiring minds . . . a valuable scientific and artistic resource and an invitation to a new level of respect and love for and wonder at the world of nature.” Beautifully illustrated, it is “an invitation to view the world of nature — plants, animals, and the human being — in a new way.”

New Eyes for Plants” by Margaret Colquhoun (2005): “If you’re trying to understand how something came about or get closer to something in Nature,” the author writes, “then you might start with the first impression of it . . . and then slowly, as you look at it, you come down through its life context . . . until you start to be aware of a life process within the physical.” Lyt describes the heavily illustrated book as “a workbook for plant study through the seasons, from an artistic perspective” and “a good introduction to Goethe’s theory of plant metamorphosis.”

Redemption of the Animals” by Douglas Sloan (2015): “Sloan’s explorations are based on personal experience and wide-ranging research into the work of Rudolf Steiner and others, including scientist students of the inner life of animals and committed defenders of animal well-being,” according to the publisher. Lyt adds that Sloan offers a “highly recommended, courageous, much-needed, long-overdue perspective of our relationship to our animal friends.”

Lyt also recommends two books that were already in the Conservation Collection: “Sibley’s Birding Basics,” by David Sibley, and “Flora of Virginia.” Visit the Conservation Collection, or use the keywords “conservation collection” to search the library’s online catalog to see what else is in the collection. Any patron of the Rappahannock library or others in the Blue Ridge Library Consortium can check out books from any of the library’s collections.

© 2019 Pam Owen

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By Pam Owen

The “Sibley Guide to Trees” is one of several books on the science and philosophy of nature just added to Rappahannock County Library’s Conservation Collection

Pam Owen
About Pam Owen 346 Articles
Writer, editor, photographer, and passionate nature conservationist living in Rappahannock County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Two favorite quotes: By E.O. Wilson, who coined the term "biodiversity," "Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”; by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”

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