Hannah Holmes, Suburban Safari

I really, really enjoyed Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn, by nature writer and science writer Hannah Holmes. It's a thoughtful, well researched, kind of fun almanac about the changes Holmes' in garden and lawn throughout what amounts to a typical Maine year in the first decade of the 21st century (and I do love an almanac). You'll come away charmed by Holmes and her compatriots, animal, insect, and plant, and you'll learn plenty of small details that you'll wish you'd always known.

Mind you, I weep for a world where anyone, even the benightedly unintelligent Entertainment Weekly, could possibly provide blurb fodder like the offensive and patently absurd equation that "Holmes is a Rachel Carson for 21st-century suburbia." I'm not the only one objecting, at least, so that dries my tears a bit, and that's from someone else who genuinely appreciated the book. Rachel Carson and Hannah Holmes are both American women whose books are about environmental issues: that's no reason to equate them, even if it's a reason to connect them.

Don't hold this against Holmes or Suburban Safari, though. I've been too busy in recent weeks to read consumingly anyway, but it has been one of those times where I've chosen to slow down in order to prolong my time in the mental space that the book provoked. My intentions are good, but there's so much about my local ecology that I don't know, so much about my own garden and lawn that's either invisible to me or subject to terrible management, that it has been inspiring to spend time with someone acting on her intentions and becoming genuinely, carefully knowledgeable about her own place in the world.

Plus it's the kind of book where you're constantly learning terrific "hey, did you know…" facts perfectly suited for dropping into conversation:
  • Earthworms are, in almost all parts of North America, an invasive species rather than a native species (pp.90-91), and they're killing forests.
  • A person living in the Sonoran Desert could gain sustenance from at least 375 different plants (p.129).
  • Trees can smell the chemical signature of other plants being under stress (such as through insect attack), and will produce chemicals resisting the stress before they're stressed themselves (pp.157-159).
  • "A fungus scholar once told me that rain causes fungus spore-pouches to burst and release kazillions of spores into the air, and that the smell of baby fungi is mistaken for the smell of clean air" (p.169)

Very enjoyable, very informative, and a baseline for how environmentally aware left-wingers and liberals really ought to be about urban nature (though it may also have a logical home among Stuff White People Like...).


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