Staff Favorites: 9 Books We Love About Nature and the Environment
February 1, 2021
While we love the snowy days on the slopes, mugs of piping hot soup, and the coziness of our favorite sweater, midwinter can bring a sense of restlessness. The novelty of the new year is starting to fade, and spring is still a distant thought. These are the days that seem to drag on and on.
So, how about a little mid-winter inspiration? The next time you’re settling into another long, dark evening—or seeking refuge from the bitter cold outside—how about curling up with a good old fashioned book?
Reading can be entertaining, educational, enlightening, and inspiring—all welcoming characteristics in the depths of this season. Here at ACES, we’re embracing midwinter and diving into our passions with books about nature and the environment. We’ve compiled a list of our staff’s must-read books—all that’s left is for you to choose one and crack it open.
Books about Climate Solutions
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for The Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
Recommended by Adam McCurdy, Forest and Climate Programs Director
An anthology of poetry, art, and essays, All We Can Save brings forth the voices of women at the forefront of the climate movement. This collection features the voices of more than 40 women, including Alice Walker, Mary Oliver, and Naomi Klein.
“All We Can Save opens with the story of Eunice Foote, the first climate feminist. In 1856 Foote theorized that atmospheric carbon dioxide could affect the Earth’s temperature. Three years later John Tyndall proposed the same thing. Until a few years ago Tyndall and not Foote was credited with the discovery of climate change. From its origins, women have been systematically excluded from the climate movement, All We Can Save bucks this trend by elevating the voices of women at the forefront of the climate crisis. In the words of the book’s editors: ‘This book imparts the minds and hearts of women leading the way on climate and using their diverse gifts to, as Adrienne Rich writes, ‘reconstitute the world.’ No other work simultaneously captures the beauty, terror, depression, and inspiration that surrounds the climate movement.” – Adam McCurdy
The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
Recommended by Casey S., Educator, and Christy Mahon, Development Director
Featured in our recent article, 7 Easy New Year’s Resolutions for the Environment, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis is a book to get you thinking about how we choose to live during this crucial moment in time. In the book, authors Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac compare two possible outcomes for our climate: one that’ll scare you—and one that will inspire you.
“I liked the way the book looked at the two different scenarios we face today— taking climate action or not. I appreciated the optimism and shared positive vision for the future.” – Christy Mahon
Positivity and hope in the future of our planet might be the light we need to start doing the hard work to achieve the future we want:
“The book paints a picture of how incredible the world can be in a post-climate crisis future.” – Casey S.
Books about Science & Nature
Winter World by Bernd Heinrich
Recommended by Denali Barron, Senior Educator
Ever wonder how long you’d last on a chilly winter day without your puffy jacket, leather gloves, and wool socks? Not long, likely. But what about the wildlife that lives in these cold, snowy climates?
The animal world, while not blessed with gore-tex, polartec fleece, or pac boots, have their own incredible adaptations to this unforgiving season. In Winter World, author Bernd Heinrich uncovers the science that allows bears to sleep through the winter and insects to produce their own antifreeze. There is a lot more to winter survival than we think.
“I love Winter World by Bernd Heinrich. He’s a professor of winter ecology in Maine, so it’s very educational about the incredible ways different creatures from insects to frogs to kinglets survive winter […] his writing is just delightful, too. It’s one of my favorites to open up to a random page and curl up with for 15 minutes because I always run into a new cool winter nature fact! And I should add that for me those little nuggets of natural wonder give me energy for the more difficult aspects of environmental work.” – Denali Barron
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Recommended by: Kitty Winograd, Senior Educator at Re-2 and Ag Ed Specialist; Nicole Goodman, Naturalist; Mariah Foley, Rock Bottom Ranch Vegetable Lead; and Emily Taylor, Marketing Director
Braiding Sweetgrass is the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer – botanist, mother, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. This revolutionary book reminds us that science is one of several ways of knowing our planet—and that to know the plants and animals that live alongside us, we must first listen to them.
And to listen to the natural world, we must first experience it: “ The circle of ecological compassion we feel is enlarged by direct experience of the living world, and shrunken by its lack.” This book is a call to slow down—to reconnect with the earth that so readily provides for us. In a culture that doesn’t hesitate to “take what doesn’t belong to us and destroy it beyond repair,” Kimmerer argues that we must learn how to respectfully take only what the earth willingly gives.
“I really enjoyed Braiding Sweetgrass because it blends indigenous and modern tools of science to expand understanding of what we can learn from other plants and animals. I loved the perspective on the power of forming an ecological consciousness – rooted in humans’ reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. It is a reminder that the human animal is not separate from the ecosystems that support us, and argues ultimately, for a depth and diversity of what is recognized as scientific thought. As a farmer, I often joke that I don’t know if I am farming the veggies to feed me, or if the plants are farming my work to help them survive. This book is full of reminders of the coevolution and codependence at the center of how we relate to other life.” – Mariah Foley
Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture by Gabe Brown
Recommended by Alyssa Barsanti, Rock Bottom Ranch Agriculture Manager
Here at ACES, we practice regenerative agriculture at Rock Bottom Ranch. By using agricultural practices that prioritize environmental health, we raise livestock and vegetables for our community in a sustainable way.
We deeply believe in the practice of regenerative agriculture, which is why we love Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown.
In his book, author Gabe Brown and his wife Shelly experiment with new practices when unfavorable weather hits their North Dakota Farm. In hopes of staying financially afloat, Brown and his family stopped using pesticides and started planting cover crops, switched to no-till planting, and used other strategies that led them down the path of regenerative agriculture and toward success.
“Dirt to Soil is an amazing read for anyone interested in regenerative agriculture and soil health. It has a personal touch about one family’s successes and failures with farming—which makes it more captivating than a book just about soil.” – Alyssa Barsanti
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Recommended by Nicole Goodman, Naturalist, Michael Michilak, Naturalist, Chris Lane, Chief Executive Officer, and Jim Kravitz, Naturalist Programs Director
We often think of nature in terms of what it can offer us—awe, peace, recreational opportunities, resources, wealth, or profit. But how does nature think of humanity? The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory follows nine different protagonists’ lives through interacting stories. Each character reckons with humanity’s relationship with the natural world—trees in particular—and attempts to find their places within the complex web of life.
Humanity’s burden on nature appears as a startling motif in this breakthrough novel: “We don’t make reality. We just evade it. So far. By looting natural capital and hiding the costs. But the bill is coming, and we won’t be able to pay.” – Powers
While we tend to hear often about the possible fate of our planet, we may struggle to insert our own presence in the earth’s uncertain future: “This is a book about the fate of humanity. It explores the most complex social questions surrounding the destruction of natural systems necessary for our own survival. You’ll also learn that trees are social creatures that must be preserved…or nature will get revenge.” – Chris Lane
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
Recommended by Kitty Winograd, Senior Educator, and Erin Bucchin, Marketing and Development Assistant
Terry Tempest Williams has a way with words, and When Women Were Birds is no exception to this rule. Part memoir, part feminist meditation on nature, Williams’ explores her own voice in 54 short chapters.
“I read this book this year, and I loved it because it is entirely about a feminine connection to nature, but does so without weaponizing feminine nature. In a lot of Western environmental art, the earth and nature are portrayed as something needing to be tamed and colonized by humans, but this book talks about how a person’s spirituality is so connected to the world around them… [This book] parallels William’s love of the natural West with trying to understand her relationship to her mother, her community, and herself.” – Erin Bucchin
Williams explores the topics ranging from womanhood to conservation and emphasizes the bravery of using one’s voice. Though written almost 10 years ago, her timely words speak to us in the present:
“Democracy demands we speak and act outrageously. We can change the world if our view is long and focused with friends drawn lovingly around the place we call home.” – Williams
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Recommended by Phebe Meyers, Community Programs Senior Manager
What will you leave behind on this beautiful, precious planet we call home? As the past year has reminded us, it’s never too early to start focusing about the good we want to contribute in this world. And what better way to inspire young minds than with a powerful story? Miss Rumphius is a children’s classic about the beautiful impacts we can leave on the world. Whether you’re spreading lupine seeds or educating the next generation of informed citizens, everyone leaves a legacy behind.
“This timeless book draws the reader in and allows them to reflect on what they want to do in their life and what impact they will have on the world. During my first year of teaching we had ‘dress as your favorite story book character day.’ I dressed as Miss Rumphius, the lupine lady, who made the world more beautiful by sowing lupine seeds around her community. I am always thinking about how I can make the world more beautiful and how best I can be part of our interconnected communities.” – Phebe Meyers
A Book We’re Looking Forward to…
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates
Recommended by ACES Staff
In his upcoming book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates shares what he’s learned over ten years of studying our changing climate. While buoyed by the hope brought to the world by young activists and impressive technological advancements, Gates wants to lay out concrete, actionable steps that will actually get us where we need to go.
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster comes out on February 16, 2021, and we can’t wait!
Enjoy This Quiet Season With a Good Book
Whether you’re a science geek or literary whiz, there’s something on our list for everyone. Don’t let the dark days of winter slip away without digging into some inspirational environmental literature. We all have something to gain by educating ourselves and broadening our horizons, and on these long, cold nights, what better way to do so than with a cup of tea and a good book?