Appalachian Winter

At last, Appalachian Winter is here!

I don’t mean the season. I mean the book.


This completes the tetrology my mother began in 1991 with Appalachian Spring. Each of the Appalachian volumes is a synoptic nature book: that is to say, it takes the form of a journal in which every entry is a true account of a real day, but the book combines entries from multiple years. The personal and geopolitical events of a single year are used to provide an over-all sense of continuity.

Because of their journal format, their attention to the details of a single place, and their frequent engagement with local, national and planetary issues, this book and its companion volumes should appeal to anyone who enjoys reading blogs. I realize anything I say here is going to sound a bit biased. But let me at least make clear that my mother and I are very different people, though we do draw plenty of inspiration from each other. Marcia Bonta is an exceedingly down-to-earth writer – you won’t find much wool-gathering or flights of fancy such as I indulge in here, though she does like to quote poetry and the classics from time to time. Instead, she has in spades something I am quite deficient in: real, in-depth knowledge of the natural world. She has an enormous nature library and keeps up to date on all the latest discoveries in the scientific journals. And in fact, scientists are among the biggest fans of her writing, because they recognize her ability to popularize their findings and theories without distorting them. So expect to be educated as well as entertained.

Regular readers of Via Negativa who want to know more about the mountain I live on (and even a little more about me) should be interested in Appalachian Winter. My mother even stuck in a poem I wrote for this blog last winter, “In the Ice Forest.” (Thanks, Mom!)

But enough of my blather. Here’s part of the description at the publisher’s website.

Winter is the season that most tests our mettle. There are the obvious challenges of the weather–freezing rain, wind chill, deep snow, dangerous ice–but also the psychological burdens of waiting for spring and the enduring often false starts that accompany its eventual return.

On the surface, perhaps, winter might seem an odd season for a nature book, but there is plenty of beauty and life in the woods if only we know where to look. The stark, white landscape sparkles in the sunshine and glows beneath the moon on crisp, clear nights; the opening up of the forest makes it easy to see long distances; birds, some of which can be easily seen only in winter, flock to feeders; and animals–even those that should be hibernating–make surprise visits from time to time.

Appalachian Winter offers acclaimed naturalist Marcia Bonta’s view of one season, as experienced on and around her 650-acre home on the westernmost ridge of the hill-and-valley landscape that dominates central Pennsylvania. Written in the style of a journal, each day’s entry focuses on her walks and rambles through the woods and fields that she has known and loved for over thirty years.

Along the way she discovers a long-eared owl in a dense stand of conifers, tracks a bear through an early December snowfall, explains the life and ecological niche of the red-backed vole, and examines the recent arrival of an Asian ladybug. These are but a few of the tidbits sprinkled throughout the book, interwoven with the human stories of Bonta’s family, as well as the highway builders and shopping-mall developers that threaten the idyllic peacefulness of her mountain.

This is the fourth and final volume of Bonta’s seasonal meditations on the natural history of the northern Appalachian Mountains. Her gentle, charming accounts of changing weather and of the struggles faced by plants, animals, and insects breathe new warmth into the coldest months of the year.

This will be my last post until Monday.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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