Good Nature Reading

Another crucial first step in cultivating the next generation of reformed environmentalists is giving them good nature literature to read. In line with my post on putting on outdoor camps, which is necessarily place-based, a good nature read will most certainly be focused on a narrow geographical area. I will break these reads into two categories: 1) non-fiction and 2) novels. Snow Falling on Cedars and East of the Mountains by David Guterson are excellent recent examples of place-based novels where landscape and ecosystems feature prominently. 

Scores of 20th century non-fiction works make the grade (far less in recent years). For my first recommendation I commend William Warner’s 1976 Pulitzer Prize winning Beautiful Swimmers. You can listen to Chapter 1 here. Warner is a student of both the working crab fisher (watermen) and his quarry. He gives a thorough treatment of the Bay’s geography and intertidal ecology. His main thrust however is the lifestyle and culture of the watermen and a very detailed life history of Callinectes sapidus, the sweet and savory blue crab. 

The main reason I commend this work, other than it being well-written, is the fact that Warner intentionally includes man in this work that would otherwise be considered a conventional ecosystem exploration. We are necessarily a part of the ecosystem we inhabit. Odum, acclaimed and prescient ecosystem ecologist, makes this point well.

As Christians, to exclude people from any ecosystem consideration should be a non-starter. Even uninhabited islands and stretches of pack-ice bear our imprint. We are after all  creatures, part of Creation, and we have an important role (dominion-taker, garden-tender). Ecologists are on the right track when they refer to us as a hyperkeystone species. Bob Paine coined this phrase. The Atlantic did a fair piece on the concept and Paine in 2016. We are certainly more than just a hyperkeystone species, but I think this ecological designation can be helpful in thinking about the dominion mandate in the ecological realm. 

Careful, this book will have you longing for a summer day, picnic table spread with newspaper, buckets of freshly steamed blue crabs, corn on the cob, and plenty of soft butter. It might even convince you of the need take a paddle in an estuary somewhere. Dig in and enjoy.

Beautiful Swimmers Chapter 1 pdf

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