Join us to read and discuss Pulitzer Prize winner The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
In a story for the New York Times, former Vice President Al Gore said, “Over the past decade, Elizabeth Kolbert has established herself as one of our very best science writers. She has developed a distinctive and eloquent voice of conscience on issues arising from the extraordinary assault on the ecosphere, and those who have enjoyed her previous works like Field Notes From a Catastrophe will not be disappointed by her powerful new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker, reports from the front lines of the violent collision between civilization and our planet’s ecosystem: the Andes, the Amazon rain forest, the Great Barrier Reef — and her backyard. In lucid prose, she examines the role of man-made climate change in causing what biologists call the sixth mass extinction — the current spasm of plant and animal loss that threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all living species on earth within this century.”
Learn more about Green Reads. Everyone is welcome.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, Sy Montgomery, The Sixth Extinction
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, climate change, Katharine Hayhoe, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World
I see many messages on social media these days to leave the leaves. While we’re at it, we can also leave flowers such as the spent purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) because the Goldfinches love the seedheads. We could leave the winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) for the Eastern Bluebirds who eat the berries in the winter. Cleaning our yards has suddenly become considerably less arduous as word gets out that what we have regarded as a mess is part of nature’s cycle of life and death and we are the ones who don’t need to mess with it.
Societal norms don’t disappear overnight and HOAs still have outdated guidelines so there’s a middle ground while we adjust to healthier practices. If some of us have some front yard flower beds that we’d rather have a bit neater and a section of grass we’d like to see without leaves, we can focus on cutting back those spent flowers to about 12-18” for hibernating bees and put those errant leaves in the flower bed as mulch for the winter. The wildlife will appreciate it. Then, come April when the temperatures are consistently in the mid-fifties, we can resume that clean up we’ve become accustomed to doing in the fall.
Our group read A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future by Benjamin Vogt. This book is a beautifully written, strong directive to adjust how we garden. He presents a moral imperative to see that the plants we have around us need to benefit all of life, not just humans. For a plant to benefit the wildlife around us, it needs to be native to the area. While there is much discussion about what constitutes being native for a plant, Doug Tallamy describes a native as “a plant that has evolved in a given place over a period of time sufficient to develop complex and essential relationships with the physical environment and other organisms in a given ecological community.” (p. 31)
Native plant gardens give us access to the biophilia that we most recognize. When we watch with awe at the masses of bees feeding on the mountain mint or the monarch butterfly hatching from her cocoon at the stem of the milkweed, we know on some level that we are connected inter-beings. And then, to have the responsibility to plant something, we glimpse our potential as humans to contribute meaningfully to the natural world. Choosing natives like the Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) that the black swallowtails use as a host plant to beautify our gardens is the important recognition that our gardens are not just there to look pretty in an anthropocentric way. We change our culturally-learned mindset of what it means for a garden to look pretty to be inclusive of all the life around us.
Cooperating with nature will benefit us all. We have the most control over what is in our yards. What a powerful statement of cooperation if each of us chose to dedicate the millions of acres of lawn to become a biodiverse ecosystem instead! I can only imagine that once we were to realize biodiversity in our immediate surroundings how that might reverberate and evolve into desires for other changes that would benefit the environment.
Our next book is Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World by Katharine Hayhoe. We will be meeting in our usual hybrid fashion on Monday, December 6 to discuss it. Please contact me if you’d like to join us.
about the Annapolis Green Reads book club
Tags: A New Garden Ethic, Annapolis Green Reads, Benjamin Vogt, bookclub, doug tallamy, gardening, native gardens
Tags: A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future, Annapolis Green Reads, Benjamin Vogt, book club
“We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be.” – John Holdren, a Harvard energy expert, as quoted in the book, The End of Ice.
The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail was a challenging read for many of us. There were no reassurances that all will work out for the environment and for humankind. Jamail wrote about what he has seen on his global adventures of the disruption to the environment caused by the climate crisis and he supports his observations with facts. With such a well balanced book, denial is not an accessible space for us to embody. Instead, he calls for an acceptance and an appreciation of what is still here in the present moment. There is a spiritual aspect to his perspective which some of us in the group found comforting. We also found it a stark and stunning wake up call and thought that many more people should read this book to recognize the level of degradation of the environment.
As Jamail says on page 216, “No one knows if the biosphere will completely collapse. Our future is uncertain. Given the fact that a rapid increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere coincided with previous mass extinctions and that we could well be facing our own extinction, we should be asking ourselves, ‘How shall I use this precious time?’ Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us of the value just in being present with what is happening to the planet: ‘When your beloved is suffering, you need to recognize her suffering, anxiety, and worries, and just by doing that, you already offer some relief.’”
Thich Nhat Hahn, the renowned Buddhist monk, addresses suffering in many of his books. He referenced the environment a bit in his book, The Art of Living, and offered this lovely sentiment: “Mother Earth is always doing her best to be as beautiful and fresh as she can be, to be as accepting and forgiving as she can be… And we, who are children of the Earth, can learn from her. We can learn to be as patient and tolerant as she is. We can live in such a way that we cultivate and preserve our freshness, beauty, and compassion.” His writings have been very helpful to me as I move from hope toward acceptance. From a place of acceptance, I can feel motivated to act with clarity and not feel quite so devastated by the harsh reality around me.
Our next book is The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, a science fiction novel. We will discuss it on Monday, September 27 at 7 pm. If you would like to join our discussions, please contact me.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, climate change, Climate Disruption, Dahr Jamail, Paolo Bacigalupi, The Art of Living, The End of Ice, The Water Knife, Thich Nhat Hahn
On July 17 we went on a field trip to Ard Brac Acres, a small regenerative farm in Pittsville, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. The inspiration for checking out a regenerative farm came from reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma where we were introduced to the methods of Joel Salatin. We were curious about how the operations might differ from a typical farm. Amanda, the owner and operator of the farm, with the help of her husband and two sons, is juggling multiple roles and responsibilities.
She kindly took the time to give us an extensive tour of their small operation. This is just the fourth year for them at their current location, so they are still getting established and growing. We all felt that we benefited from seeing a young farm as their processes are still being worked out and they are still discovering new possibilities.
They are growing a varied selection of fruits and vegetables including strawberries, blueberries, three kinds of kale, onions, shallots, cabbage, tomatoes, corn, squash, and pumpkins. Amanda is currently planning another crop of strawberries. The chickens provide eggs, and their litter fertilizes the fields as the farmers move the chickens from field to field in large, moveable crates they call chicken tractors. Other chickens are slaughtered on the farm and Amanda showed us the mechanics of their process.
Adorable little chicks are living safely in the greenhouse until they are old enough to join the others. A couple of “intellectually challenged” turkeys hang out with the chickens until Thanksgiving.
They have started the endeavor of raising goats that are entertaining to watch.
The pigs are raised for slaughter. We saw six large ones that have become food aggressive and were destined for the slaughterhouses within days while there is a separate area for the younger ones who can’t compete with the older pigs for food. They are fed both purchased feed and anything in the fields that can’t be sold. Overall, all of the animals seem to be treated as humanely as possible since they are not contained in an industrial agricultural setting.
However, this experience provoked my discomfort by recognizing the lack of connection that we generally have to the animals we eat; I inch even closer to a fully vegetarian diet. Not everyone in our group shared by my thoughts in this regard.
The soil looked great, and the produce looked and tasted fantastic. Our group enjoyed tasting the blueberries and kale and felt fortunate to purchase freshly picked blueberries, eggs, pork, chicken, and scrapple before departing. Amanda maintains a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture – a case of available food supplied weekly as a subscription) for those who are local and also has a market and a street-side stand on Sundays.
We all thought that a side trip when traveling to or from the beaches would be a detour well worth making to stock up on all that she offered. Amanda’s entrepreneurial spirit should serve her well in making Ard Brac Acres a success. If you happen to be looking for sustainably harvested food on the Eastern Shore, we would recommend that you stop at this small business along the way. More about the farm.
Our next book, for July reading, is Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. This book of fiction is an entertaining summer read. Although our Green Reads “gang” isn’t up to much mayhem, if you’d like to join our environmental book group, please contact me.
about the Annapolis Green Reads book club
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, Ard Brac Acres, book club, green reads, regenerative farming
Our book for April is Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Published in 1962, the book is said to have inspired the modern environmental movement. What wisdom can we glean from this classic?
To join our group, click here to learn more.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, environment, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
The book for January is Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by E.O. Wilson
Half-Earth proposes an achievable plan to save our imperiled biosphere: devote half the surface of the Earth to nature. In order to stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet, says Edward O. Wilson in his most impassioned book to date. Half-Earth argues that the situation facing us is too large to be solved piecemeal and proposes a solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: dedicate fully half the surface of the Earth to nature. More about the book.
More about the book club.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, E.O. Wilson, extinction, Half-Earth, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life
Do you ever find yourself envying the koala for its singular diet of eucalyptus or the monarch caterpillar for its love of milkweed? At the extreme end, maybe you envy the flora that, with photosynthesis and good soil, just needs to reach to the sun to grow and flourish. To be human takes those food sources ‘off the table’ but we have so many other options!
Our book group met and shared a meal recently (via Zoom) and discussed The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. We were all impressed with the book that had been written back in 2006 and includes an afterword added ten years later. We actually made progress toward healthier food choices in that decade! We’d heard years ago that the book contained the message, “Eat food (not nutrients), not too much, mostly vegetables,” so figured that we’d gotten the gist without spending time reading the book. It turns out that this book is so much more; the most important message is about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices as it relates to food. The omnivore’s dilemma is wondering what to eat when we’re hungry. As omnivores we have many choices. Do we swing by McDonalds or get food from Safeway? Or Whole Foods? Do we incorporate weekend visits to the farmer’s market into our routine? Do we grow and harvest our own carrots and peppers? Do we want to eat meat or seafood? We ask ourselves these kinds of questions at least three times a day every day.
Most of us are not growing our own food. Pollan explores the question “Where does our food come from?” and the answers are truly eye opening. Pollan writes with narratives that make for easy reading of a non-fiction book. We really appreciate the insights he provides about industrial agriculture, the organic and sustainable food business models, and the need for greater transparency of where our food comes from. Why is the public not allowed onto killing floors of CAFOs? What does it mean to treat animals humanely before they are slaughtered? Why is it acceptable that cows are fed an unnatural diet of corn? How is it that you likely consume more corn than any other food even without eating an ear of corn?
With great satisfaction in being responsible for his own food and being able to trace its origins, Pollan also shares his experience with foraging and hunting for a meal. Some in our group found that part inspiring to read about while others developed a greater appreciation for farmers markets and grocers!
We felt like this book was impactful as well. One group member shared that this book is taught in high schools to help kids learn about the consequences of the choices they make. Because of this book, I paid attention to news that came out recently about the Farm Bill to be renewed in 2023. Is there a role I/we can play in ensuring that our health and the health of the environment is adequately addressed?
In some good news, an article in the Washington Post reports that consumer trends are already starting to move the food industry toward increased transparency, healthier choices, and environmental stewardship.
Our next book will be Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson. We will discuss it on Tuesday, January 26 at 7 pm via Zoom. If you would like to join our discussion, please contact me.
about the Annapolis Green Reads book club
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, food, Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
Join the Annapolis Green environmental book club by Zoom to discuss the book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Questions, comments, want to join? Contact Karen Grumbles, our Green Reads leader, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
by Karen Grumbles
I am looking out the window into my backyard at the marcescent light brown beech leaves all uniformly fluttering in the rain. The view comforts and entrances me. ‘Marcescence’ became one of my favorite words in the last few years when we planted a young beech sapling in our yard and I wondered why its leaves clung onto the branches in the autumn when all the other trees rather dutifully shed their leaves. Marcescence is seen on young beech trees (also on some oaks) and is believed to be the action of the leaves to hide and protect the new buds. The trees seem to be saying, “hold on there.” The leaves do it every year, have for millenia, and now we can do it too. What an appropriate message for these challenging, turbulent times.
My beech trees’ message reminds me of some messages that Richard Powers’ The Overstory conveys. The Overstory is a rambling epic of interconnected fables and narratives with the main protagonists being the forests themselves. This is a somewhat unique novel as a man vs. nature story and won the Pulitzer Prize for Powers’ excellent grasp of the natural world that becomes a call to action on behalf of trees. The trees are communicating among themselves and, in a way, with us. The multiple characters in the book each have a unique relationship to a tree. If you are looking for a novel to compel a greater awareness of the nature around us and the importance of forest conservation and biodiversity, our book group agreed that this was a great one to read. We think that there should be many more stories written to engage the layperson on environmental issues. Maybe some should be a wee bit shorter in length though!
As Richard Powers writes: “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” We recommend this one.
If you’d like to order the book, support Old Fox Books by ordering from this locally owned, independent bookstore.
Our book group is discovering that we are developing a sense of continuity with our book selections. Although we choose a variety of environmental issues to read about, there is an emerging stream flowing. If you would like to join in our trip down this waterway, let me know with an email.
Our next book is The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. We are each going to prepare the same meal (recipe provided) and enjoy a virtual dinner together at the end of the month while we discuss the book.
“Hold on there” and stay well!
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, Richard Powers, The Overstory, trees
by Karen Grumbles
You know the experiences where you are walking through a nature area and you hear the sounds of many birds, see all the different bugs skittering around on the ground and the strikingly beautiful butterflies fluttering around above the shrubs? We all tend to gravitate to places like Quiet Waters Park and Jug Bay Natural Area just for those kinds of experiences. Annapolis Green Reads Book Group picked Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants for its October read so that we can all learn how to bring that wildlife to our own yards and community spaces.
Doug Tallamy talks about how we need many more of those spaces and that they need to be all around us in order to truly have a healthy, functioning ecosystem. He is a scientist, a specialist in entomology, with some important knowledge to impart.
He has studied the relationship of particular plants to insects, caterpillars, and butterflies to see which ones use the plants for food and for habitat. The insects as food source then beckon the birds and reptiles and other mammals to take up residence. He introduces us to a variety of native plants that are best for this ecosystem and even identifies “keystone” plants, those that benefit the largest variety of critters. As one member of the group said, “Everybody should have at least one oak tree in their yard.”
A memorable lesson from the book is that plants that are not native are frequently useless to the insects that we need for a healthy ecosystem. The reason that the beautiful Crepe Myrtles stay looking so pristine all year round is because no insects are using them for food. Ditto for the Norway Maple and the Bradford Pear tree. Why would we want to give our precious yard space to plants that serve no purpose in the environment?
The obvious response is that they are pretty. As we think through this some more, it starts to get really interesting because as the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” We start thinking about who decides what constitutes ‘pretty’ in our urban and suburban yards? Is there a native plant that might be just as attractive as the non-native one we’ve been thinking about getting? We could even ask, ”Does the wildlife see these non-native plants as attractive?” because we really aren’t a keystone species for sustaining a healthy environment, other than fixing what we’ve broken.
In our book group, we all seem to have an appreciation for Tallamy’s perspective on the ecosystem. Humans have destroyed natural spaces and he provides the fundamentals for how to bring those spaces back and build a healthy ecosystem by starting with planting natives.
The second half of this book is a useful reference resource with native plants matched to the insects they attract. We discussed whether landscape gardeners are educated on this approach and what other resources are available*, that incentives for communities to plant natives might make a difference, and the importance and challenge of removing invasive species such as the dreaded phragmites and Japanese stiltgrass.
Tallamy has a new book out entitled Nature’s Best Hope that gives some practical steps on how to improve the spaces around us with native plants as a grassroots effort. It’s on our list of possible feature reads.
If you’d like to be included in our book group, please contact me. We would like to meet at Old Fox Books and support a local business but for now, because of COVID, we’re meeting via Zoom. Our November book is the 2018 Pulitzer winning novel The Overstory by Richard Powers.
*Annapolis Green sells a reference book that I am planning to ask for as a Christmas gift entitled Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for Eastern U.S.: The Guide to Creating A Sustainable Landscape by Tony Dove and Ginger Woolridge!
Learn more about our book club, Annapolis Green Reads.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Douglas Tallamy, Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for Eastern U.S.: The Guide to Creating A Sustainable Landscape, Ginger Woolridge, Karen Grumbles, native plants, Nature's Best Hope, Tony Dove
Join the Annapolis Green environmental book club to discuss the book, The World is Blue: How our Fate and the Oceans are One by Sylvia Earle.
Questions, comments, want to join? Contact Karen Grumbles, our Green Reads leader, at email@example.com.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, Sylvia Earle, The World is Blue
Our book club about the environment
The book for August, Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift, will take us to the water before the summer ends and is entitled We’re hoping that we might be able to make a field trip to Tangier Island as well.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book, bookclub, Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Requiem, Earl Swift, green reads, Tangier Island
Our environmental book club, Annapolis Green Reads, is designed to grow your appreciation for the environment while benefiting from the collective wisdom of many authors who write about our natural world and to connect with others!
All you need is an interest in reading books (or listening to the audio version) about our environment and our place in it. No expertise on these issues is necessary, although we welcome those who have some to participate and contribute.
This month’s book is To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger – “in a captivating account of how her [the author’s] life led her to these illuminating and crucial ideas, she shows us how forests can not only heal us but save the planet.” More about the book.
For the moment, our club will meet virtually on Zoom. However, we are going to try for an in-person meeting on the State House lawn at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, June 24!
If the weather is too hot or rainy, we’ll go back to a virtual meeting. Our club leader will make the call and let book club folks know.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, environment, To Speak for the Trees