Category Archives: Books

Book Review: The Sense of Wonder

I’d like to thank Rex Enoch and Shelley Green for introducing me to such a wonderful book.

This fall, Rex, Shelley, and I participated in a discussion course hosted by the Arkansas Earth Institute. Called A World of Health, the six-session course explored the connections between human health and the environment, and how we can sustain both. I found the course to be excellent and recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

One of the articles that we read discussed the connection between nature deficiency and the way we treat (or mistreat) the environment. If we don’t go into the woods, therefore suffer from nature deficiency, how do we gain appreciation for the natural world? If our children grow up with nature deficiency, how would they take care of the Earth?

That’s when Rex and Shelley mentioned The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson. Carson, noted environmental writer, penned the essay shortly before her death in 1964. In it, she urges parents to take their children to wild places to introduce them to the astonishing variety of life that exists all around us – birds, winds, waves, stars, trees, lichens, mosses and more. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,” Carson writes, “he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Carson understands the anxiety felt by parents to teach their child about nature:

Parents often have a sense of inadequacy when confronted on the one hand with the eager, sensitive mind of a child and on the other with a world of complex, physical nature, inhabited by a life so various and unfamiliar that it seems hopeless to reduce it to order and knowledge. In a mood of self-defeat, they exclaim, “How can I possibly teach my child about nature – why, I don’t even know one bird from another!”

Carson says not to worry. It is more important for a parent seeking to guide a child to feel than to know. “It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts,” she writes.

Carson encourages parents to start early. “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” Before a child loses his or her sense of wonder, Carson urges parents to take them to wild places.

The Sense of Wonder is an amazing book, and it’s a must-read for everybody. Check it out by borrowing a copy at your local public library.

Just Say NO to Plastic! Carry Reusable Produce & Bulk Item Bags

After watching the film No Impact Man and reading Colin Bevan’s book by the same title, I became inspired to make additional changes in my life to reduce my environmental footprint. I overcame my fear of biking on a busy street to get to work. I started carrying washcloths so that I wouldn’t have to use trees or energy to dry my hands. I also started carrying reusable produce and bulk item bags.

I can’t stand plastic bags, so I never use one to take home produce like apples and peppers. I must admit, though, some smaller items such as cherry tomatoes and mushrooms are more convenient in a bag. Some farmers at my market insist on bagging wet produce like lettuce and basil.

I’ve been thinking for some time on how to prevent plastic produce and bulk item bags from entering our house. That’s when I read about reusable produce and bulk item bags in the book No Impact Man. I knew I had to give them a try.

I bought the bags from several different vendors. Conclusion? They’re AWESOME!!! They work just like reusable grocery bags. You take them to farmers’ markets and stores, and you use them instead of plastic or paper bags to take home produce, grains, and bulk items. After you empty the contents, you throw the bags into your laundry hamper for washing and drying.

After testing bags made by several different vendors, my favorite so far are those made by ECOBAGS. ECOBAGS’ I Love Dirt bags are so lightweight that they add a minimum amount of weight when weighing them on a scale.

So, if you are like me and want to say NO to plastic and paper bags, give reusable produce and bulk item bags a try!

Book Review – Clean Water: An Introduction to Water Quality and Water Pollution Control

I’ve been thinking a lot about water lately. My work recently added water to the list of policy issues that I work on, so I’ve been reading up on it. One of the first books that I read, as a brand new water advocate, is a book called Clean Water: An Introduction to Water Quality and Water Pollution Control. Written by Kenneth Vigil, Clean Water is a great book for anyone concerned about this precious resource who wants to become better informed. In straightforward language, Vigil provides a comprehensive introduction to the many scientific, regulatory, cultural, and geographic issues associated with water quality and water pollution control. He also explains the broader approach of watershed management and suggests ways for citizens to apply what they have learned about clean water at home and in the community.

The book may be too basic for those with more advanced water knowledge, but if you are new to the water field, it’s an informative book. Check it out!

Support Independent Bookstores!

Photo by Nao Ueda

I normally shy away from buying books. Eddy and I have moved several times, and we learned the hard way that books make moving highly unpleasant. We try very hard to prevent a book from taking up residence at our home by borrowing them from our local public library. From time to time, though, you have to buy a book, and with some of them, you have to buy new. So, the other day, I found myself at WordsWorth Books in Little Rock. Here’s the conversation that I had with a store clerk:

Me: Hi! I’m looking for this particular study guide.

WordsWorth Books: I’m sorry, but we don’t carry a copy of it. I think Barnes & Noble has one.

Me: Um, well, the problem is I don’t like to shop at Barnes & Noble.

WordsWorth Books: Me neither!

Independently-owned bookstores have been in decline in recent years, thanks to big chains and online booksellers. Arkansas is no exception to this national trend, with several independent bookstores closing their doors the last several years (Lorenzen and Faded Fables, both of Little Rock, and That Bookstore at Mountebanq Place in Conway).

The American Booksellers Association (ABA) says independent bookstores are more than just retail outlets – they’re gathering places for book-lovers and neighbors. I agree. Every time I visited Lorenzen and Faded Fables, I felt like I was buying from people I know and trust. I was also able to support local economy, which I find to be important. Locally-owned businesses reinvest more of my money in my community than do big chains. This helps create greater diversity and enable the community to maintain its distinctive character.

When Little Rock lost Lorenzen and Faded Fables, we became a bit more like any other American city. Thank goodness we still have WordsWorth Books!

But, we have to do our part to support independent bookstores. So, next time you’re in market for a book, visit your local bookstore!

As for my study guide, WordsWorth Books ordered a copy for me, which arrived two days later. The service was great, and I was able to support a local business. Needless to say, I was happy as a clam!

Saturday To-Do: AR Naturalist Joe Neal to Discuss His Book at Nightbirds Books

In The Birdside Baptist, Joe Neal sees the world through a birder’s binoculars, but also through the eyes of an Arkansan who was brought up wearing shiny black shoes to five church services every week. These collected essays, originally written for fellow subscribers of a birders’ listserve, are reports from the field spanning eight years, from 2002 to 2010. Illustrated with Neal’s crisp photographs, he paints a rich landscape of plants, animals, and human history, including the struggle of a community to balance booming development and environmental stewardship. Through insightful writing and richly detailed photographs, The Birdside Baptist presents a birder’s-eye view of northwest Arkansas as an interconnected economic, social, and natural community.

Joe Neal will discuss his book tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Nightbird Books (205 Dickson) in Fayetteville.

For more information, visit Nightbird Books’ website at www.nightbirdbooks.com.

Just Say NO to Paper! Dry Your Hands with Washcloths

After watching the film No Impact Man and reading Colin Bevan’s book by the same title, I became inspired to make additional changes in my life to reduce my environmental footprint. I overcame my fear of biking on a busy street to get to work. I also started carrying washcloths so that I wouldn’t have to use trees or energy to dry my hands.

Think it’s easy to switch from paper towels to washcloths? Think again. I found myself forgetting to take it with me every time I went to the bathroom.

Beavan writes in his book that it takes about a month for a person to form a new habit. I agree. Now that I’ve been carrying washcloths for about a month, I rarely leave home without one.

So, just say NO to paper and electricity. Dry your hands with washcloths!

Book Review: No Impact Man

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan is sort of like the film by the same title, except it has more stories and is better than the film. Beavan chronicles his yearlong experiment to live in New York City with his wife and baby daughter without making net impact on the environment. That means, as Beavan puts it, “no trash (so no take-out food), no carbon dioxide emissions (so no driving or flying), no produce from distant lands, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no buying anything new….”

Just like the film, the book is less about how to live sustainably and more about what Beavan and his family learn about themselves and others during the experiment. Since Eddy and I sort of live like Beavans, I found myself nodding to some of the experiences that Beavans encountered.

Since Beavans swore off motorized transportation for one year, they decided to stay in the city for Thanksgiving instead of going home. Their decision was met by disapproval from their family, with Colin’s father remarking, “You should worry less about your carbon footprint and more about your family footprint.” Despite their family’s disapproval, Beavans discovered that staying home for Thanksgiving can be relaxing and enjoyable.

I often stay home during the holidays so that I can relax, not deal with holiday traffic, and emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Some people have a hard time understanding my action. Some times I wonder if I’m putting environmental footprint ahead of family footprint. Generally, I end up staying home and find myself enjoying quiet, stress-free holidays.

Another instance in which I found myself nodding to the book was when Beavans tried to switch to electricity produced from renewable sources. The problem was their electricity provider used natural gas to produce energy. Since Beavans lived in an apartment, they had no legal access to the roof space for solar panels or wind turbines. They did subscribe to their utility’s green electricity option but discovered that, although profits help sustain renewable energy production elsewhere in the country, their actual electricity would still come from natural gas plants in New York City.

Beavan writes:

In fact, it turns out that living in most American cities without access to significant outdoor space in which to generate your own power, no matter how much money you’re willing to throw at a problem, you can’t really get 100 percent renewable energy. Here was an area where individual action could not help me at all. If I wanted renewable electricity, I needed power companies to provide it and—at least while fossil fuels stayed cheaper than renewable energy—the government regulation that forced the power companies to do so.

Eddy and I constantly find ourselves running up against the limits to individual actions. We bike, but many roads are built for cars, not for cyclists and pedestrians. We love public transportation, but the one in Little Rock runs once every half an hour and ends its service early in the evening. We’d love to be able to subscribe to green electricity option, but our electricity provider doesn’t offer it.

Individual actions are great, but collective action is also absolutely necessary.

That realization prompted Beavans to visit their legislators and to volunteer with environmental organizations. Beavans continued to take individual actions, although some accused them of being antiprogress.

[P]eople started labeling me antiprogress. Sometimes angrily. “Are you suggesting we go back and live with tuberculosis?” they might add.

“No,” I’d say. “I just wonder sometimes whether the big hunk of metal and plastic that we call a bread machine is necessarily worth the financial and environmental cost.”

“Yeah, well, before they had bread machines, they also had tuberculosis.”

Eddy and I have had people accuse us of being antiprogress because we keep chickens for eggs, make cheese from milk, brew beer, and live happily without TV, DVR, and video games. We’ve had people accuse us, angrily, of being self-righteous because we do what we do.

The truth is, we like what we do. That’s why we do them. Beavans found themselves enjoying many of the changes they made. Biking and eating locally helped them lose weight without going to the gym. Shutting off electricity made them stop working at night and instead spend more time with their daughter. Beavans continued to embrace laptops and cell phones. They just used them less often.

I refuse to believe living lightly on the Earth is antiprogress. When people had tuberculosis, they didn’t have renewable energy technology. To live sustainably, we need a combination of technology, innovation, and best practices from past and present.

And most importantly, you have to have fun while living sustainably. Because if living sustainably makes you severely unhappy or uncomfortable, you will most likely stop living such a life. 

The book No Impact Man explored acceptable and unacceptable choices for sustainable living. It’s a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it. Central Arkansas Library System has a copy of it, so check it out!