Monday, January 2, 2012

Reading Green

     In January it's time to delve into plant and garden books. Reading is like organic fertilizer for the brain. You don't even have to follow the label to know how to apply it, just find a nice spot with a full-spectrum lamp, preferably near a window, but not too near that you get a bothersome chill. Also be sure to have something soft for your cat, a square pillow will do, because cats greatly appreciate the reading of a book and feel it is necessary to be part of the action.

Once you are comfortable, begin reading. (photo by Shane V.)

     This time last winter I was busy researching the world of honeybees in preparation for becoming an apiarist. I was utterly preoccupied with thinking about honeybees and how to care for them. This year I have a grand stack of new plant books, all of them gifts. Aren't I lucky to have such perceptive friends and family?
     I started with Richard Horan's Seeds (Harper Perennial). Horan is a lover of American lit, which he also teaches. Bewitched by a vagabond's life of bumming around the U.S. and visiting the homes and birthplaces of famous authors--Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller to name a few, a cotyledon sprouts in his brain. Wouldn't it be cool, man, to collect trees from the estates of great writers? 
     So far, I am a hundred pages into Seeds and enjoying it immensely. In the prologue, Horan indirectly admits he knows little about how to properly cultivate woody plants, which has me wondering what will happen to all that contraband DNA once he gets home and tries to make them sprout. My ex-coworker Mary Frein gave me this book as a going-away gift. I was deeply touched by her thoughtfulness, plus it helped us avoid a teary scene on my last day at the office.
      The Book of Leaves is a new reference from The University of Chicago Press, authored by Allen J. Coombes. I drooled over it at Borders when I was there with my friend Kevin Schalkofski and guess what Santa brought me?  The Book of Leaves is a treasure. Simple, elegant, exceptionally well-designed. I've already spent some quality time with this one and am thrilled to have it in my collection for future enjoyment.
     My sister Stacie gave me the following two books from my Amazon list. Weeds--In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants by Richard Mabey (Harper Collins). How can I not look forward to reading a book with a title like this? Paradoxes are a blast.
     Fifty Plant that Changed the Course of History by Bill Laws (Firefly Books). Since so many history books are about war, politics, or the economy, it's thrilling for me to access the past through subjects that fascinate me. This is an A-Z list. The plants chosen are mostly medicinal or edible, but of course the ornamental (tulip), the industrial (rubber) are included. Each selection is given two pages of text, inset with illustrations and interesting facts.
     Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo; Photography by Robert Llewellyn (Timber Press). I found out about this book at least six months ago and it's been on my wish list ever since. Thanks, mom. Seeing Trees covers ten trees in detail, and provides additional information on tree traits. I haven't yet read the copy, but the photographs are mind-blowing. Llewellyn devised a special approach to capturing the images by taking multiple shots of the buds, leaves, flowers and shoots and combining them digitally into a single image. The result is deep focus, with crazy wow detail. Now, if only Lasik could do that for my eyeballs.
     Finally, my friend Sue Stauffacher gave me the book Using Native Plants to Restore Community by Nancy Cutbirth and Tom Small. Sue and I are both idealists who fancy that the world can be saved with plants, so naturally we enjoy reading books by like-minded utopians. The authors, married, also teachers of English lit, began an important journey in 1995 to restore the native plant colonies of southwest Michigan. Using Native Plants to Restore Community combines personal observations of nature with advice on what to plant, and inspires the reader to engage in better stewardship of our precious land. Book sales go to the Kalamazoo, Michigan chapter of Wild Ones, a non-profit native plant group.

     Happy reading.

     Next month I will talk a bit about foot candles, little nubbins of wicked wax applied to the toes in the 1800's to keep the feet warm on a cold winter's night. 
     Just kidding! 
     (I will share with you some of the secrets of successful indoor northern hemisphere gardening).



Kayhosta said...

Thanks for the reading list. I have several of the books already. I will procure a couple of the others you suggested, particularly the one on ants.
Hope you are enjoying your winter.

Kayhosta said...

On Jan 24,2012 I will be attending one of the Calvin January Series lectures. The speaker will be Joel Salatin, a fulltime alternative farmer in Virgina's Shennandoah Valley. His topic will be "Dancing with Dinner". He writes regularly for ag. magazines, defends small farms and the right to opt out of the conventional food paradigm.

Shane VanOosterhout said...

Thanks for telling me. I know all about him. I'll see if there are tickets left.