Once upon a time, I only fixated on one book at a time. Start to finish, one focused gulp. However, the pandemic has put a squeeze on the pile of newspapers, real estate catalogs and free mags I’d usually pick up in our travels. My regularly-scheduled coffee reading material has been pinched by a reduced travel radius. So, now I read two books in one go.
Morning coffee reading is reserved for educational stuff, awkward books (in weight, not content) and/or precious books that aren’t bathtub-friendly. Borrowed books fall into this category too. Kim and I down coffee at the same time just a bar stool apart, which means I often act as an audio book app with no “mute” function, reading passages aloud while she Googles South African destinations, slow cooker pulled pork recipes and DIY videos on how to build an outdoor wood-fired cowboy tub. Luckily, she can multi-task and multi-listen.
The book: Earth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray Whale by Ted Williams (Storey Publishing)
The beer: Seaforth, Ontario’s Half Hours on Earth is the shoo-in sipper for this book. They were Canada’s first certified carbon neutral brewery and the feel-good, taste-good company plants a tree for every mail order delivery. “On Some Faraway Beach” is an oak-aged peach strawberry rhubarb sour and an appropriate tonic for these wonky times on earth. If you lean towards comfort food as the mercury dips, “Lifetime Piling Up” is a cherry cheesecake sour, meaning you can have your cake and drink it too.
The bonus: Add a few sensual drops of Forest Alchemy №1 Winter’s Tale essential oil from Dragonfly Dreaming to your bathwater. I can attest to this: “it’s a crisp winter forest for your olfactory senses!” The blend of English peppermint, camphor, eucalyptus, spearmint and white birch is a guaranteed Rocky Mountain high—thanks wholly to Beth Lischeron, the dreamer and founder of the forest-to-jar company based in Cobble Hill, BC. For a simulated walk through a verdant Vancouver Island valley of skyscraper cedars, cypress, pine and fir, try Forest Alchemy №2 Winter’s Green. Either way, you need to check out Dragonfly Dreaming’s Solstice Sale before the earth tilts again!
The who: For distracted and concentrated readers alike. This book can be read in one immersive sitting or in bite-sized chunks throughout the year as the almanac is divided into seasons. Spring ahead or stay seasonal. The Earth Almanac is designed for anyone who believes reality TV is found in the woods, not on the screen. For nature maniacs, manic birders, poets, wanderers and everyone who fell under the twinkly spell of Walden Pond.
The part you’ve been waiting for: Ted Williams wrote a seasonal natural history column (“Earth Calendar”) for Audubon magazine. His sensitive observations morphed into the Earth Almanac, an unhurried and restorative tribute to the harbingers of each season. It’s chill-out homework for the rattled and pure escapism for those land-locked in urban settings. Really, it’s literary smelling salts that will revive your senses in just a few sentences. Bonus: the illustrations by John Burgoyne provide a enchanting gallery walk en plein air.
As Williams suggests, “few prescriptions are more curative than loon music.” The Earth Almanac soothes like a kitten’s purr and enlightens like Peter Jennings. The companionship of coyotes and badgers in the wild will stun and amuse as much as the comical courting rituals of fiddler crabs. It’s flora and fauna and a lot of Jeopardy! intel in one tidy package. Did you know that horny toads can squirt streams of blood from the corners of their eyes? Or, that male wrens will build seven potential nests for females to consider? The weary architect will guide his potential mate on a flying house tour of his creations allowing her to choose the ideal home for their brood.
Yes, I’m the type that says “wow” about 100 times during any David Attenborough (or David Suzuki) episode, and this same knee-jerk reaction came into play while reading the Earth Almanac. I feel like I need an external hard drive to download all that I’ve taken in. In no particular order:
Scorpions glow under UV light.
Crawdads are also called “ditch bugs.”
Kingbirds will ride upwards of 100 yards on the backs of crows and eagles to defend their territory.
Mountain beavers (yes, there is such a thing) can have as many as 30 exits and entrance holes to their tunnels. And, they will eat their own scat, but just once, to make their high-fibre diet more digestible.
Hepatica (liverwort) was used by Native Americans to treat the bites of mad dogs, sunburn, bleeding lungs, recurring snake dreams and also, surprise! To help straighten crossed eyes.
The tail bands of cedar waxwings are now discernably orange. A change in diet has caused their typical yellow bands to turn an atypical orange from increased honeysuckle pigment intake. (*Personal observation: I have also changed in colour since September due to my increased intake of Kettle Brand New York Cheddar chips.)
Here’s the clincher: Williams rolls his pen like Atwood–the imagery is nearly edible. His description of a long-tailed weasel? A “kielbasa-sized package of energy.” Of puffins he notes: they “emerge from the sea with fish draped neatly from their beaks like socks from a clothesline.”
The author’s street cred as an investigative environmental reporter is evident. One wonders how many years he has spent prone observing “doodlebugs” (antlions) and “bunny buttons” (rabbit scat). Certainly, he inspires the “art of looking” and transforming blind walks into genuine expeditions.
From “sound dogs” (I can’t give everything away) to candlefish to witch’s butter and the not-so-secret language of chickadees, this book is a beautiful romp through the meadows, woods, streambeds, deserts and mountains of North America. Please, go for a walk with Ted Williams.
If you love the Earth Almanac, check out these symbiotic books:
How to Catch a Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in Nature by Marc Hamer (Greystone Books)
It was my favourite book of 2019. If you don’t adore it, I’ll send you a bag of New York Cheddars. And then some hate mail.
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold (Oxford University Press)
My grade 12 English teacher gave me a copy of this book in an attempt to guide my writing from a white-water rafting expedition to a smooth paddle on a calm lake. Thank you, Joan! First published in 1949, it’s a timeless and sacred legend.
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden (Top That! Publishing)
Holden’s nature notes were originally scribbled (probably by quill) in 1906. Her posthumous publication didn’t happen until 1977, but we’re all grateful for her watercolour whimsy and yesteryear charm. Thanks to my neighbour, Anne, for the lend!