Turn The Page On Nature With Wild Reads

by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Before you know it, you’ll be toes in the sand, listening to the gentle ebb and flow of waves at the Jersey Shore. Naturally, you’ll need a good book to read. Or maybe you’re a parent looking to engage your teen in reading. There’s no time like the present to launch your summer reading list, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s America’s Wild Read program can help.

Actually, America’s Wild Read is more than a reading list. It’s a new “virtual book club” aimed at encouraging readers to connect with nature. You don’t have to read outside, but you might be inspired to do so!


The virtual book club, which uses a blog format, begins with “Anthill” by Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard professor and noted ecologist who coined the term “biodiversity.” “Anthill” is a coming-of-age tale that traces how a deeper understanding of nature shapes the future of a boy following a summer in rural Alabama. It draws on Wilson’s systematic study of ants and their behavior.

In addition, America’s Wild Read will examine two essays: “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold, an early founder of the land conservation movement, and “Once and Future Land Ethic” by Dr. Curt Meine, senior fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. “Thinking Like a Mountain” is a chapter from Leopold’s classic book, “A Sand County Almanac.”

Online discussions will be moderated by conservation writers, scholars and poets. Check out the virtual book club’s website, www.AmericasWildlife.org/WildRead, for more details.

The program will culminate during the week of July 10, when the National Wildlife Refuge System will unveil a new 10-year vision, “Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation,” at a conference near Aldo Leopold’s family home in Wisconsin. A live Wild Read discussion will be held, for readers who attend in person or online.

Whether or not you join the virtual book club, start your summer nature reading now! Here are some ideas:

Rachel Carson’s wonderful book on the ocean, “The Sea Around Us,” is perfect beach reading. Carson is best known for “Silent Spring,”  a groundbreaking work about the side effects of pesticides that led to important changes in environmental law. Written in a style often described as poetic, “The Sea Around Us” fosters an appreciation for the ecosystems within and around the world’s oceans and seas.

Another great book is “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. If you are looking for a compelling story, this tragic tale of the American West will not disappoint. It is rich in reminders that people and land are connected, and severing those connections can have dire consequences indeed.

For the financially concerned, try “The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability” by Paul Hawken. The false idea that business has to choose between profit and environmental protection is reinforced over and over in today’s political climate. Hawken proposes a new, sustainable business model that is already gaining traction at corporations like Nike.

“The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” by Janisse Ray is another must-read. It’s a fascinating story of growing up as the daughter of a junkyard owner in southern Georgia’s longleaf pines, and the relationship between families and nature.

These are but a few of the many works of fiction and non-fiction with a focus on ecology. Ask your local librarian or search the internet for more ideas, and launch a summer nature reading program of your own!

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

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