Friday, January 18, 2008

Winter Reading

Nature Watch
January 18, 2008

By Susan Benson
Director of Education
Cable Natural History Museum

“Winter darkness shuts off the far view. The cold drives you deep into your clothing, muscles you back into your home. Even the mind retreats into itself.”

So writes Barry Lopez in Arctic Dreams, which is one of my favorite books, in part because it is a celebration of snow, ice, cold temperatures, and a far northern place. Re-reading Lopez, I began to think about some of my other favorite “winter books,” those set in winter and that delve into the joy of living in cold places. This is my Top 10 list, but in no particular order.

10. The Way Winter Comes by Sherry Simpson
Born and raised in Alaska, Simpson writes about what it means to live in a northern land where “heat always yields to cold.” She uses some of the north’s characteristic animals – moose, ravens, wolves, and bears – to explore various perspectives on wilderness and our place in the natural world.

9. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
A classic piece of nature writing that explores the cultural and natural history of the Arctic and includes a generous mix of spirituality and adventure.

8. Winter Sign by Jim dale-Huot Vickery
A former Park Service ranger in the Apostle Islands, Vickery offers this meditation on life, death, change, and beauty during a winter in Ely, Minnesota, a season that “hunts us with its cold and haunts us with its beauty.” Over the course of this difficult season, he shows how signs, if we remain open to them, can help us to see and understand these great mysteries.

7. Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch
A collection of 30 essays and poems that help the reader to see winter not as “a time of postponed activity and of shoveling snow, navigating ice, and trying to keep warm,” but as “a time of shoring up, of purity, praise, delight, and play.”

6. The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbrecht and Patricia Rasmussen
This is the first in what has become a series of books by Libbrecht that showcases stunning photography of the graceful and delicate snowflake. This is a non-technical book that discusses the science behind the beauty, using hundreds of photos to illustrate structural characteristics of snow crystals.

5. Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
This is a wonderful children’s book about real-life scientist and pioneering snowflake photographer, Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931). Bentley took over 5,000 snowflake photographs in his lifetime and published two books on the subject. This book, illustrated with colorful woodcuts, tells a story of determination and beauty.

4. Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale
The final installment in Teale’s American Seasons Series, this book chronicles a 20,000-mile auto tour by the author and his wife, beginning on December 21st (the Winter Solstice) on the Silver Strand of San Diego Bay, California, and ending in March at their Hampton, Connecticut, home, just as spring is beginning.

3. Sigurd F. Olson’s Wilderness Days by Sigurd F. Olson
Though this whole book is not about winter, it is a collection of Olson’s essays arranged by the seasons and illustrated with color photographs from Olson’s beloved Quetico-Superior region. The essay titles alone (“Coming of the Snow,” “Northern Lights,” “Dark House”) conjure beautiful images of winter in our northern region

2. Shadow of the Hunter: Stories of Eskimo Life by Richard K. Nelson
This glimpse into the life of Eskimos living in Wainwright, Alaska, is told in a series of monthly stories that revolve around hunting walrus, polar bear, and seals. My favorite is the chapter about November (“Nippivik Tatqiq: Moon of the Setting Sun”), a tense story about survival by a group of Eskimos who become stranded on pack ice that has drifted free of the mainland.

1. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
This is my most favorite children’s book. It is a beautiful story about a little girl who goes into the winter woods with her father in search of owls. The little girl’s father teaches her to imitate the call of a Great Horned Owl, and together they experience the excitement of “talking” with an owl and having it come to them in the darkness.

It seems necessary to read or re-read some of these books in this age of global climate change. Even today, as I sit down to write, there is news about an increase in melting ice in the Antarctic. These times may leave some of us yearning for those winters of our childhood when snow fell from October through April, gathered into mountainous drifts, and left us with warm memories of skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and ice skating. But winter is also a time for reading, so maybe you will find some new adventures in these books.

Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 43570 Kavanaugh Street or on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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