Nature Books, Nature Writing

If you enjoy nature writing — and even if you don't especially — you're bound to find something to please in any of these four nature books.

| March/April 1989

  • nature books, nature writing - cover of Grits on Guns
    Grits Gresham knows about guns and knows how to write about them.
  • nature books, nature writing - three book covers
    The covers of three of the four nature books reviewed here. "This Incomperable Lande" and "Big Sky, Fair Land" are compilations of nature writing.
  • nature books, nature writing - cover of This Incomperable Lande
    Representative quote from "This Incomperable Lande" (Ed Abbey): "Survival Hint #1: Stay out of there...The Great American Desert is an awful place."
  • nature books, nature writing - cover of Big Sky, Fair Land
    Representative quote from "Big Sky, Fair Land": "Unchecked, the planet will run out of what we have taken for granted."

  • nature books, nature writing - cover of Grits on Guns
  • nature books, nature writing - three book covers
  • nature books, nature writing - cover of This Incomperable Lande
  • nature books, nature writing - cover of Big Sky, Fair Land

For the outdoorsman or woman with a literary streak, we offer these capsule reviews of four nature books. They feature some of the best new and collected nature writing produced on the North American continent.

Not Just for the Birds

Somewhere along the way, we lost the capacity to design perfect natural houses — all we can do now is hire architects and hope for the best. The sad part is that we then try to impose our artificially upon other creatures.

These thoughts are expanded in the introductory pages of Malcolm Wells's Classic Architectural Birdhouses and Feeders ($9.95 postpaid from Malcolm Wells). The author, of course, is best known for his works on earth-sheltered housing and is universally recognized as an accomplished advocate of underground design.

His latest effort is a presentation of more than 20 bird-accommodating habitats designed to meet two most important criteria — respect for the environment and for the needs of the creatures themselves. Hence, we're encouraged to forage for any and all indigenous materials: "You shouldn't have to pay for anything but the nails; if the birds can scrounge [everything] they need, surely we can manage to round up a few pieces of scrap wood.... Should the nails come in a plastic pack, dump its contents onto the store counter and ask for an organic paper bag."

Not surprisingly, the structures that Wells has chosen to detail from his own 40-year collection — in line drawings, with dimensions, exploded views and plan layouts — are nothing like the "silly-looking bird boxes, embarrassing us out-of-doors," to which we've acquiesced over time. They're clever, inconspicuous, and a well-thought-out blend of aesthetics and a consciousness of species engineering. And besides, how many opportunities do you get to commission an architect to design your birdhouses? — Richard Freudenberger

True Grits

Grits Gresham is probably the best-known outdoor writer in America. Even if you've never picked up a copy of Sports Afield (where he's served as shooting editor for 14 years), odds are you've encountered his writing in one of the many other publications, some decidedly not "outdoor" oriented, that have been pleased to feature it. Or, perhaps, you might have seen him on ABC's "The American Sportsman," which Grits hosted for 13 years. And, barring all that, you've almost certainly seen him, Western-hatted and gray sideburns bristling, in one of the Miller Lite beer commercials.


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