It’s been nearly 40 years since the first Earth Day, and unfortunately we’ve recently taken a lot more steps backward than forward.
Still, we humans have taken a lot of great steps forward since the 1970s. There’s a lot to celebrate about our planet, and so many ways to help it survive and thrive. We founded Ashland Creek Press to raise environmental awareness through literature … this combines two of our passions: stories and taking care of our planet. There are myriad ways to help out the planet, and to make every day Earth Day in your own life.
Immerse yourself in environmental literature! We love books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and Ann Pancake’s Strange As This Weather Has Been — each is a stunning work of eco-lit, each in such a different way. Naturally, we also love every one of our Ashland Creek Press titles, from eco-fiction to veg lit to books about animals.
Take action. Clean up a beach or a park; step up your recycling; plant a new tree, bike or walk instead of driving; eat vegan for a month (or more) … there are so many small changes we can make that become regular habits and definitely make a difference.
Get political. Of course, don’t neglect to vote for candidates that believe in climate change and want to do something about it — but you can also write letters, sign petitions, march, and otherwise make your opinions known…every voice does matter.
Get kids involved. It’s clear that today’s young people are the ones who are going to change the world, and they’re realizing they need to do this for their own survival. Help them out, whether it’s by giving them books about environmental issues, spending time with them outside, volunteering with a nonprofit to clean a beach or maintain a hiking trail, or taking them to an animal sanctuary. Show them what’s at stake being out in nature.
Support organizations that do good work. From conservation to animal rescue to protecting the oceans, there are a lot of great organizations that need support to do what they do. Be sure to investigate nonprofits carefully to be sure your money is used wisely and that the organization is truly environmental (you might watch Cowspiracy before making donations). Here are a few organizations we feel are worthy of our support via the Ashland Creek Press Foundation.
We wish you all a very happy Earth Day, and here’s to much more progress to celebrate in years to come!
Wildlife Spectacles is divided into three major sections: Great Migrations (migrating animals on land and in air and water), Spectacles of Love (breeding habits and mating rituals), and Everyday Spectacles (how animals hunt, play, and otherwise spend their days).
Author and photographer Vladimir Dinets has focused Wildlife Spectacles on the wild animals of North America, noting: “Some of the most amazing wildlife spectacles in the world, such as mass migrations, mating dances, and predator-prey interactions, occur in North America, but the information on them is often scattered and difficult to find, and many are virtually unknown to nonspecialists.” Dinets not only offers information about and insights into these incredible events—such as the section “How Do Birds Know Where to Fly?”—but he also includes “Viewing Tips” at the end of each section for readers who wish to seek out and witness these spectacles for themselves. The tips include such details as location and the best time of year to visit.
As Dinets notes in his introduction, “North America has seen its share of horrible abuses of the environment, and there are still powerful political forces bent on sacrificing every last living thing to so-called business interests, which is a politically correct euphemism for greed.” In so many ways, this book makes a powerful argument for protecting the wildness we still have left. The desolate beauty of many of Dinets’ photographs make it possible to imagine “a time when the world was free of fences, highways, sprawling cities, pesticide-laden farms, shipping lanes, dams, and miles-long driftnets”—and certainly will inspire readers toward conservation, if they are not conservation-minded already.
In the first section—alongside photographs and maps showing the migrations of animals by land, sea, and air—are fascinating facts and anecdotes about various creatures. Once, Dinets witnessed a pack of orcas attempting to attack a sea lion herd when they were interrupted by humpback whales who surfaced between them, trumpeting and spouting—three different times, the whales interfered as the orcas tried to attach different packs of sea lions. In addition to such stories are the more depressing facts of human impacts on wildlife, beginning with the very first humans and gaining momentum in the eighteenth century, when “modern technologies and market-oriented hunting arrived in North America, and massive slaughters of everything that moved began anew.”
From the oceans (whose animals, even though better protected from overfishing, are still killed by boats, fishing gear, plastic, and climate change) to the plains (where only fifteen thousand years ago roamed such animals as mammoths, mastadons, camels, giant sloths, and wild yaks) are stories of species gone extinct and otherwise suffering at the hands of humans—and perhaps this is what makes those creatures who still exist so important to witness. Dinets photographs and writes about the migrations of animals from bison and elk to the tiny Mormon cricket and the montane vole. His descriptions add so much to the photos, as if to invite readers into the scene; of the sounds of caribou herds, he writes, “They make a lot of noises, but the most unusual and persistent one is the loud clicking of their knee and elbow joints.”
No animal is too small to be included here. Among the more unusual migrations covered are those of butterflies, beetles, dragonflies, and ladybugs. No book on waterway migrations would be complete without mentioning salmon, but also mentioned here are grunion, turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders, eels, and crabs.
Similarly, in the next two sections of the book, Dinets showcases not only the mating and predatory rituals of large animals like seals, sea lions, and elk but also those of termites, ants, and fireflies. The book is peppered with wonderful details about courtship rituals; for example, birds are not the only species to sing while courting: so do insects, whales, alligators, and crocodiles. Among those to use dancing to attract mates are birds, fish, butterflies, spiders, and slugs.
And despite the challenges of living in today’s world—“Diseases, predators, and particularly parasites often make it totally miserable…the amount of innocent suffering in nature is impossible to fathom”—animals do play, and “watching them can be pure joy.” Polar bears, elephant seals, crocodiles, fishes, and even insects are among those who have been observed in play—and species have even been seen mingling in play, such as fox cubs playing with domestic kittens, or an alligator with a river otter. Crows and ravens are “uncommonly playful.”
Wildlife Spectacles opens our eyes to the worlds we don’t see often enough, if ever, in North America, and it’s a book that engages not only visually but emotionally and intellectually. A wonderful gift book for anyone who loves animals and nature, it’s also a book that we should all have on our shelves to remind us how precious—and how vulnerable—our wild places are.
Jonathan’s most recent book is the New York Times bestseller What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins, an extraordinary journey underwater that reveals the vast capabilities of fishes. He is also the author of the books The Exultant Ark, Second Nature, Pleasurable Kingdom, and The Use of Animals in Higher Education.
Jonathan has three biology degrees, including a PhD in ethology (the study of animal behavior) from the University of Tennessee, and has published more than 50 scientific papers on animal behavior and animal protection. Formerly department chair for Animal Studies with the Humane Society University and senior research scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Jonathan is currently Director of Animal Sentience with the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy in Washington, DC. Learn more at jonathan-balcombe.com.
This year marks our fourth annual Siskiyou Prize, and we are delighted to be offering a $1,000 prize and a four-week writing residency thanks to the generosity of our amazing prize partner PLAYA. All manuscripts submitted for the prize will be considered for publication by Ashland Creek Press.
Please visit the Siskiyou Prize website for complete details about the prize — submissions open September 1, 2017. We look forward to reading your work!
Florence Williams is a journalist and Fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature who often writes about the connections between people, health, and nature. She is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, and she also writes for the New York Times, National Geographic, Slate, Mother Jones, High Country News, and other publications.
In her latest book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative (W.W. Norton 2017), Williams sets out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to groves of eucalyptus in California, she investigates the science at the confluence of environment, mood, health, and creativity. Delving into completely new research, she reveals the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships.
Where and when did you develop your love for the outdoors?
I grew up in New York City. My parents were divorced, and every summer my father took me on long wilderness vacations to Canada or out West. From an early age, I learned that forests and rivers and big landscapes provided fun and excitement, as well as peace and reflection. As a teenager, I sought out pockets of green in the city. I spent tons of time in city parks, biking, running, and hanging out with friends. We felt like we owned the parks, which is how city parks should make us feel.
Your book examines natural environments all over the world, but you’re American. How does the way people in other countries engage with nature compare to people in the United States?
I think some other countries are way ahead of us in terms of understanding how valuable nature can be for mental health. I think we have a lot to learn from how Asian and Northern European countries incorporate nature engagement into everyday life, from house plants to recreation to preschools to medical treatment. Our healthcare establishment is largely driven by drugs and profits, whereas a lot of other countries take preventive health more seriously, but I think there is growing awareness of that here.
America has had a long literary relationship with the outdoors, from Thoreau to Bill Bryson. Where do you see yourself within this long tradition of American nature writing?
I don’t really consider my work nature writing, which can lean a bit too romantic for my taste. I have a journalist’s eye, and I like finding connections that are sometimes obscure. I’ve always been interested in the intersection of humans and the environment. I like putting people into the equation, and I like to think I bring a balance of humor and serious science and social questions about why we feel and think the way we do.
An extended excursion into nature is a privilege that many people living in cities don’t often have access to. How can civil and state governments adapt existing urban environments to enhance them and make them more nature friendly?
That’s a really important question as we become an ever-more-urban species. I was surprised to learn that most large cities in the U.S. have pretty decent park and natural resources. The problem is making them accessible to everyone and then reducing the hurdles to using them. These include cultural hurdles, perceptions of safety, and finding plain old time. I’d love to see schools and civic institutions promote programs that help urban populations feel more comfortable in nature from an early age. The more we use the parks, the safer they’ll feel, both physically and culturally.
Much of the environmentalist discourse of the twentieth century has been founded on scientific principles, but you cite Wordsworth in addition to scientific research. Why?
Actually, I would argue that not enough discourse is founded on science. I think we are still very much living out the Romantic legacy, which became the basis of the American environmental movement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Romantic poets taught us how to see beauty and even divinity in the world apart from the way organized religion did, and they understood that time in nature was critical to humanity. In a lot of ways the Romantics inspired and anticipated the neuroscience we see now. But not everyone can relate to the Romantic discourse, and often it didn’t make allowances for, say, native populations or the realities of conservation. Science can really help us there. For example, there is more biodiversity in cities than we think, and we should be putting resources into coexisting with nature where we live as well as protecting it “out there” in the backcountry.
You say that “a 15-minute walk in the woods causes measurable changes in physiology.” Have you found that different natural environments yield different physiological and psychological benefits?
Definitely. Humans are primed to love the natural world, but we still have to cultivate it, and cultivate it early. Because of how and where we do this, I think there’s a lot of variation in what people respond to emotionally. For some, it’s the ocean. For others, the ocean freaks them out and it’s a sunset over a city skyline. Because of where I grew up, my heart starts to sing when I enter Central Park. I also love the desert and a big river rolling through it. Think about where you were happiest outside as a child, and chances are you will feel joy in landscapes that are similar.
Did you find, while you were doing research and working on The Nature Fix that your engagement with the natural world had a direct effect on your writing?
I think the natural world inspires me to be a better person and to care about the communities I live in, and that in turn drives my journalism. On a more logistical level, writing a book is like running a marathon. Because I was aware of the nature-creativity-productivity axis, I did make an effort to go for regular walks in the woods and parks. I positioned my writing desk so that I could see the trees in my yard, and I was fortunate to spend some nice chunks of time in the wilderness. I’m convinced all of these things helped me stay sane under deadline as well as give my brain big and little rests to help me think. These are all things I will continue doing as long as I can, which I hope is a long, long time.
How can one balance a modern, digital life with a life that’s also connected to the natural world?
With increasing difficulty! We are all distracted and time crunched. We work longer hours and spend dramatically more time inside. I think the first step is to just notice this, and then it may begin to naturally self-correct. Beyond that, parents need to foster the connection to nature in their children’s lives so that it will always be there on some level. In the same way as we are coming to value exercise as part of a healthy daily routine, I think we will also come to appreciate time in nature as a critical part of the mix that keeps us going. It’s not a luxury; it’s essential to who we are and who we want to be. Because it’s joyful, spending time outside, in whatever way you love, doesn’t feel like a chore.
Is there an activity that you do that makes you feel particularly connected to nature?
My own weird eccentric habit is that I crumble leaves in my hand as I walk, even in the city, and take in the scents. I’ve always done it, but after writing this book I understand better the power of these substances in the trees and shrubs, and sometimes I can imagine them boosting my immune system and lightening my mood. I feel like I’ve discovered that trees have a secret superpower.
Here are some of the books that were submitted to us over the past few months that are now available (or soon will be):
A Naturalist’s Guide to the Hidden World of Pacific Northwest Dunes
Author: George Poinar Jr.
Publisher: Oregon State University Press
Description: From Northern California to British Columbia, coastal dunes and beaches provide a unique habitat for plants, animals, and insects. With A Naturalist’s Guide to the Hidden World of Pacific Northwest Dunes, hikers and beach walkers on the Pacific Coast will discover a teeming metropolis of life in what may seem a barren landscape to the inattentive eye.
About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Description: Cathryn and John Sill provide a thoughtful first glimpse into the world of marine mammals in this latest installment of the acclaimed About… series.
An Ecology of Elsewhere
Author: Sandra Meek
Publisher: Persea Books
Description: Following her mother’s death, nearly twenty years after her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, Sandra Meek, a writer of “dazzling, intimate poems” (Library Journal), began traveling frequently through southern Africa. During this same period, she and her sister traveled the American Southwest with their declining father, confronting and healing from a difficult family history before his death.
WILD ROOTS – Coming Alive in the French Amazon
Author: Donna Mulvenna
Description: Love, adventure, triumph and torment, this book will forever change how you see the natural world. What happens when you think you are joining your new boyfriend in France, but instead find yourself hacking through impenetrable jungle, being threatened by wild animals and canoeing along the anaconda infested rivers of the French
Author: Martin Rodoreda
Publisher: Odyssey Books
Description: Humans have finally laid waste to the environment. The once vibrant Earth is a desolate wasteland, and only the richest can live in comfort. When their meagre existence is threatened by the greedy and powerful mining dynasty, a band of renegades must fight for survival.
Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of U.S. Garden Writing
Author: Karen Fisk
Publisher UMass Press
Description: While Michael Pollan and others have popularized ideas about how growing one’s own food can help lead to environmental sustainability, environmental justice activists have pushed for more access to gardens and fresh food in impoverished communities. Now, Robert S. Emmett argues that mid-twentieth-century American garden writing included many ideas that became formative for these contemporary environmental writers and activists.
Author: L. G. Cullens
Description: An adventurous journey with contrasting cultures, natural world trials, physical and metaphysical experiences, and a roller-coaster of interactions, served up with a naturalistic style.
I grew up around cats, so it always struck me as odd when people didn’t understand what a cat’s purr signified.
Then again, I did not grow up around cows or goats or sheep and don’t understand their behaviors.
You have to learn how to live among animals. How to read the languages they speak through their body language and the noises they make. And since not all of us were raised in households with pets or by outdoorsy parents, how do we learn how to peacefully coexist with animals when we don’t have much practice?
This book provides a great start.
What I liked about this book:
Stewart advocates for adopting dogs from shelters and not buying them (Adopt Don’t Shop).
She sings the praises of pit bull and black cats (black cats are considered lucky in countries like Italy and England).
She encourages readers to support the wildlife they share their yards with — and not just bees and butterflies, but snakes and spiders. Even the much-derided mole gets some compassion.
She includes plenty of craft ideas for getting your kids involved in interacting with your pets and exploring the nature outside.
I appreciated “The Hurtless Hunt” – a section on naturing that doesn’t require killing nature to take it back home with you.
Stewart is an active supporter of animal sanctuaries and provides ways to help that go behind simply writing a check.
The most significant section is about farm animals. I was impressed to see Stewart explain why she doesn’t eat meat — and then explain just how special cows (and all farm animals) are: The sorrowful sounds a cow will make when separated from her calf. The personalities of each of her adopted flock of sheep, with accompanying illustrations. For Stewart, dogs and cats are not any more deserving of affection than goats and sheep and pigs; they all are equally deserving.
Stewart writes that she and her husband have a mixed marriage — he eats meat and she does not, and the children get to choose their diets. But much has changed since this chapter was written — her husband, Jon Stewart, no longer eats meat.
Despite the strong messages included in this book, it is by no means preachy. Stewart has a warm, welcoming voice that encourages all readers to simply take a moment to see the world through the eyes of animals.
The book is loaded with illustrations and interesting asides. It’s a fun read and can be reused by readers referring to the numerous craft ideas they can put to use with their children.
If your family plans to adopt animals or simply wants to better appreciate the nature outside your front door, I recommend this book.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the title of the book derives from the golden rule — a rule that we should apply not only to how we treat our own species but all species. The world will be a far better place when we do.
For it is insects, in all their weird and wild ways, that keep this planet, and us, alive.
The book tells the story about the author’s adventures after having purchased a French farm in disrepair and his efforts to preserve much of this disrepair — as this is where the insects thrive. Chapter by chapter we discover through his eyes the many different species of butterfly, beetle, and fly that he shares his farm with.
You will learn much from this book and you won’t have to work for it. Goulson has a warm and witty style that ushers you through pastures and time periods, interspersed with interesting little nuggets of science and history, such as:
A death-watch beetle can spend its entire life inside a dead tree or wood beam, slowly munching away. It was death-watch beetles that nearly caused the collapse of the roof of Westminster Hall.
A “detritivore” is a creature that lives off dead organic matter (I love learning new words).
My only quibble with the book is a narrative device he uses of opening chapters with diary entries of his morning runs, something that I soon began skipping over.
The book heads towards a conclusion that, sadly, too many books about nature inevitably arrive — the loss of diversity of insects, the loss of numbers. Goulson invests a good deal of time on bees — and comes down forcefully against the use of neonics (neonicotinoids), the nasty chemicals used in insecticides — based not just on other research but his own. He notes that in parts of China farmers have since resorted to hand-pollinating pear and apple orchards because the bees are gone. We are quite literally poisoning bees — and countless other insects — to death. Every time I see someone spraying Roundup on a lawn I cringe.
And he concludes with a history lesson that questions whether humans ever lived “as one” with nature. He doesn’t think we ever did, and I agree.
But perhaps one day we can get there. This book will certainly help.