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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Add these titles to your reading list.
Add these titles to your reading list.

February 2008

Ten titles that enlighten

Good books and a great time to enrich your reading list.

Kathryn A. Kahler

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Grandparents, Wisconsin Style
Legendary Hunts: Short Stories from the Boone and Crockett Awards
Deer Dad
Snort, Wheeze, Rattle & Grunt!
Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds
Fish of Wisconsin Field Guide
In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story
Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
What Shat That? A Pocket Guide to Poop Identity

A wintry evening with no better prospect for entertainment than TV reruns or shoveling the driveway for the umpteenth time is a perfect time to expand your horizons with a good book or two. Here's a list of 10 that should help warm up these long February nights.

Last Child in the Woods © Algonquin Books

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
by Richard Louv
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, NC, 310 pages, $13.95 (paperback)

Of all the disorders plaguing modern youngsters, this one comes closest to the hearts of our readers. We heard from a number of you after our "Behind the Pattison" story in the August issue, voicing regrets that today's children don't have the freedoms and opportunities for adventure you once had.

Richard Louv's ground-breaking book has become the basis for a grassroots movement – called "No Child Left Inside" – since its original publication in 2005. It is currently in its 16th printing. At an October conference of environmental educators in Stevens Point, Louv, the keynote speaker, said "Most books have the shelf life of yogurt. I knew this book had a chance when environmental educators had me sign copies of the book for them to give to the people who were trying to kill environmental education."

According to Louv, "Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses." He believes nature-based education and recreation can help with such problems as depression, dyslexia and obesity, to name a few.

Early in the book, Louv recalls the lessons he learned from building a tree house as a boy. Tree-house building taught young builders practical lessons about common sizes of lumber; the advantages of bracing corners, using hinges, ladders and pulleys; how to slope the roof to shed rain; how to use a handsaw; measurement and three-dimensional geometry. But across the nation today, one sees only the skeletons of tree houses past, their demise hastened by growing dependence on television, computers, video games and organized sports as well as our increasingly litigious society.

No longer do children spontaneously build tree houses, take off on their bikes with friends to explore woods or build forts in vacant lots. A host of factors are to blame for creating this divide between children and nature. A view by David Sobel is that "ecophobia" is one source. Louv says, "David Sobel tells this story: A century ago, a boy ran along a beach with his gun, handmade from a piece of lead pipe. From time to time, he would stop, aim, and shoot at a gull. Today, such activity would be cause for time spent in juvenile hall, but for young John Muir, it was just another way to connect with nature..."

Early chapters in the book describe the causes and effects of nature-deficit disorder, but the positive news starts in Part IV, "The Nature-Child Reunion." Louv challenges parents, grandparents, teachers, nature-program leaders and community planners to find and implement ways to use 'nature as antidote."

Some of the steps Louv promotes aren't earth-shaking, but common sense approaches – things like taking kids on nature hikes, turning off the TV, gardening, cutting back on social engagements and organized sports and spending more time with your children. He promotes other ideas, however, that might be more difficult for parents to accept. For example, to reverse the fears of perceived dangers facing children in nature or from strangers on the street, Louv offers several steps, including this: "To increase your child's safety, encourage more time outdoors, in nature. Natural play strengthens children's self-confidence and arouses their senses – their awareness of the world and all that moves in it, seen and unseen." Children with self-reliance and the ability to assess risks, he says, will be better prepared to face any dangers, real or assumed.

This book is an essential read for anyone intent on reuniting the youngsters in their life with nature and all it has to offer.

Grandparents, Wisconsin Style © Adventure Publications

Grandparents, Wisconsin Style
by Mike Link and Kate Crowley
Adventure Publications, 159 pages, $14.95

As fate would have it, another book crossed our desk that deserves mention here. This is an excellent guide grandparents can use to "get out, get going, take those grandchildren and experience the world again for the first time through their smiles, their curiosity, their wonder and their energy." You'll find 74 Wisconsin destinations – some natural, others manmade. Each has a two-page description including suggested opportunities for "bonding and bridging" that each destination offers, the best season for a visit, contact information, and "a word to the wise" to help prepare for the trip or avoid disappointments. Each entry also comes with a recommendation for how old your grandchild should be to get the maximum benefit from the trip.

The authors are a husband and wife team who speak from experience, with four young grandchildren of their own. They challenge grandparents to pass on their wealth of life experiences, just as elders across the generations have passed on traditions of their own. The simplest of experiences – like baking cookies or flying a kite – will be the ones your grandchildren will treasure most. Season them with field trips to pick cherries in Door County, ride a train through the Baraboo Hills, or experience the thrill of a dog sled race, and your grandchildren will have their own wealth of memories to pass on someday.

Legendary Hunts: Short Stories from the Boone and Crockett Awards © Boone and Crockett Club

Legendary Hunts: Short Stories from the Boone and Crockett Awards
Boone and Crockett Club
350 pages, $19.95

Not for the fainthearted, this collection tells the stories of big game hunts that won Boone and Crockett Awards for the hunters who wrote them. There's one about a world-record grizzly awarded 27 2/16 points, that stood 13 feet tall and had claws longer than a man's fingers, shot in British Columbia in 1982. He was so massive, the first bullet fractured before hitting any vital organs and it took four shots to drop him.

Another told the story of "Lucky," an Illinois whitetail that over three years escaped being hit by a car, and survived being shot twice. The non-typical whitetail, scoring 258 6/8 points, was finally taken by Ernest R. Hires in Edgar County in 1994.

A moose with palms measuring 20 inches wide and a spread of over 63 inches was described by the hunter who harvested him as looking like he had a "sheet of plywood" for antlers. He was taken near Red Earth Creek, Alberta, in 2000.

Other stories cover hunts for black, grizzly, brown and polar bears; cougar; elk, mule deer, blacktail and whitetail deer; moose and caribou; and pronghorns, bison, mountain goats, musk ox and bighorn sheep. The hunts cover 10 states and four Canadian provinces, from Arizona to Alaska, and Illinois to the Northwest Territories. The hunters also ranged from male to female, young and old.

Typically this magazine focuses on the whole hunting experience rather than trophy hunting, though this book is full of special hunt stories we thought would interest our readers. In addition to serving as an organization that maintains standards for hunting record-keeping, the Boone and Crockett Clubs promote fair chase and sportsmanship, and all the stories are true to that purpose. These hunters planned their hunts, hunted their plans and were respectful of their quarries.

Deer Dad and Snort, Wheeze, Rattle & Grunt!
by JJ Reich
Outdoor Originals LLC, 32 and 64 pages, $7.83 each

Search the Internet for "hunting books for children" and you'll immediately get a partial list of 25 anti-hunting books from Bambi to Lord of the Kill. Author JJ Reich tells the other side of the hunting story in his fresh new books, colorfully illustrated by Johnathan Kuehl.

Deer Dad © Outdoor Originals LLCDeer Dad introduces young readers to Jack Kampp and his dad who has a very interesting approach to teaching Jack all about the elusive whitetail and its habits. Jack learns about how a buck's antlers form, how he uses them to mark trees, and how whitetails use their tails to communicate with other deer. Jack enthusiastically proclaims that he can't wait until he's old enough to go hunting with his dad!

Snort, Wheeze, Rattle & Grunt!; Outdoor Originals LLCIn Snort, Wheeze, Rattle & Grunt! Jack hits the woods for his first hunt with his dad, Uncle Carl, cousin and grandpa. As he and his dad sit in their tree stand, Jack gets to use his buck grunt call and rattle bag to help call a buck within range of his dad's arrow.

The books are available from a Tennessee firm, Do-All Outdoors [exit DNR], but the author, editor and illustrator are all Wisconsin natives. "Most of our inspiration for the books comes from our experience hunting Wisconsin woods, fields and waterways," says Reich. "I'm excited to share my books with your readers."

Ideas to share with youngsters from DNR's websites
Father and daughter at computer.

Start with EEK!-Environmental Education for Kids an online magazine for kids and families. You'll find seasonal "scavenger hunts," information to help you identify plants and animals, seasonal changes to watch for, when and where to go fish watching, favorite campfire recipes, and a host of other activities to do with kids.

Get involved! Attend outdoor events and activities for kids at Wisconsin State Parks and Forests, visit a fish hatchery, wildlife area, or nature center (see Places to Go and Learn, or volunteer at Wisconsin State Parks.

Teach outdoors! DNR educators help teachers and youth leaders get kids outdoors by providing several resources.

Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds © Itchy Cat Press

Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds
by Mariette Nowak
Itchy Cat Press, 331 pages, $27

The collaboration between birds and plants and what Midwest gardeners can do to enhance and enjoy the results of those relationships is the subject of this beautiful guide. Author Mariette Nowak, retired director of Milwaukee's Wehr Nature Center, offers expert advice for native landscaping that will provide backyard birds with the food, cover, nesting sites, space and water they require. Her advice will benefit novice and expert gardeners on city lots or in rural settings.

Nowak's "gallery of bird habitat gardens" takes readers on an eight-state pictorial garden tour, ending in Franklin, Wisconsin, at the home of Pat and Carl Brust. The Brusts have turned their one-acre property into a bird haven with a "shrub border, a dense shrub bed as a backdrop to their bird feeders, a shade garden with woodland species, a large prairie planting, a woodland edge with shrubs and small trees, an open wooded area with little understory and a wet prairie area."

For gardeners interested in attracting specific birds, nine chapters are devoted to how to design plantings for hummingbirds; bluebird savanna; prairie, woodland, wetland, migratory, shrubland and winter birds; and bird baths and water gardens. For example, in the woodland chapter, readers will find lists of which kinds of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants provide fruit, seeds, nuts, nesting cavities, shelter, groundcover, insects, sap or nectar. The chapters are full of suggested layouts with keys for designing gardens, and color photos of birds and plants. Other valuable resources include tables of conifers, deciduous trees and shrubs, woody vines, wildflowers, ferns, grasses, rushes and sedges that attract birds. They list common and Latin names; value to birds; light requirements; height; width; fruit/seed type and peak production; soil requirements; and native range within the Midwest.

Final chapters on garden maintenance, potential problems, nest boxes and bird feeders round out this valuable and well-written book.

Fish of Wisconsin Field Guide © Adventure Publications

Fish of Wisconsin Field Guide
by Dave Bosanko
Adventure Publications, Cambridge, MN, 170 pages, $12.95

Anglers will love this waterproof guide to 76 Wisconsin fish. The book fits easily in a jacket pocket or tacklebox. To identify a catch, start by matching it to one of the family silhouettes in the table of contents. From the family entries, pick the species from a series of two-page spreads that include color illustrations, keys to distinguish your fish from similar species, other common names and natural history information like habitat, range, food, reproduction, average size and state records. There's a nice glossary and the index is cross-referenced so if you know your fish by another name, you can easily find its scientific name. The author prefaces the book with illustrations of fish anatomy, photos of fish diseases, frequently asked questions and interesting fish facts like how to estimate your fish's weight if you know its length and girth. Looking for a unique Valentine gift for your favorite angler? This is it!

In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story © University of Wisconsin Press

In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story
by Jerry Apps
University of Wisconsin Press, 245 pages, $24.95

It was the summer of 1955 and Andy Meyer, a young veteran of the Korean War, found himself in the middle of a conflict of his own on his family's pickle patch in central Wisconsin. Times were rapidly changing for small family farms as factory farming, migrant labor and new technology required them to make tough choices about their futures.

On one side was Andy's father, Isaac, who had farmed 160 acres his whole life, milked 14 cows and subsidized his income with the proceeds from a half-acre "pickle patch." Isaac had close ties to the land and no interest in modernizing or expanding. On the other side was Jake Stewart, Isaac's friend since boyhood and father of Andy's childhood sweetheart, Amy. Jake had started on a similar life path but in recent years had acquired 1,000 acres of farmland and was now growing 30 acres of cucumbers under contract with the H. H. Harlow Company. Though they had been friends for years, neither could see eye-to-eye of late on much of anything. Andy and Amy felt themselves square in the middle of their fathers' differing philosophies.

This heart-warming novel is one of 21 books by author Jerry Apps, professor emeritus at the UW-Madison. Apps draws from his own rural upbringing to paint a touching picture of farm life and pickle-making in the sands of central Wisconsin. Some of his nonfiction books include Every Farm Tells a Story, Humor from the Country, Cheese, Breweries of Wisconsin, Country Wisdom and One-Room Country Schools, and an award-winning historical novel, The Travels of Increase Joseph.

Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog © Harcourt

Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
by Ted Kerasote
Harcourt, 416 pages, $25

Destiny seemed in the stars above Utah's San Juan River when an outdoorsman on a river trip – and coincidentally in the market for a dog – met up with an abandoned retriever mix looking for a home. The outdoorsman was Ted Kerasote – award-winning author of five other books whose writing has appeared in magazines like Audubon and National Geographic Traveler – and the dog was Merle, who at their first meeting proclaimed, "You need a dog, and I'm it."

So began their life together in Kelly, a small town in northwestern Wyoming, bounded by Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge and the Gros Ventre Wilderness. Merle soon began teaching his lessons to Kerasote and the two eventually developed a mutually respectful relationship best described by this excerpt:

Merle always acted pushy greetings, no jumping, licking, or barking. If some people were uncomfortable with having even this well-behaved dog close to them, I would only have to give a small flick of my index finger, indicating that he should leave, and he'd pad off and lie down. His refined social skills led more than one person to comment, "He doesn't act like a dog. He...he's almost like a person." What they really wanted to say was that he was like a diplomat from a strange land, one who displayed some odd foreign manners but who nonetheless spoke the lingua franca well. Groping for words, one individual said, "I mean, when I'm around you two, I sometimes wonder who's the person and who's the dog." Then she backpedaled, adding, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."

"Not at all," I told her. "In fact, that's one of the nicest compliments I've ever been paid."

Kerasote's warm and witty style offers readers an intimate window into the relationship. From his conversations with Merle – right down to the quotation marks around Merle's comments – to his descriptions of their adventures, Kerasote makes a convincing case that dogs are not only masters of sensory analysis, but capable of emotions, decision-making, telling time, music appreciation (the "Hallelujah Chorus" was Merle's favorite sing-along), diplomacy, and of course, free-thinking.

The book is more than just a pet story, however. Kerasote's extensive research into canine behavior provides the basis for his theories about why Merle loved to hunt elk but refused all invitations to go bird-hunting, for example, or how Merle's reactions to his reflection in a mirror proved dogs "have the ultimate hallmark of consciousness – self awareness," or why Merle looked with disdain on all Kerasote's efforts to make him fetch.

Kerasote's ultimate concession to Merle's independence was Merle's door – a swinging door that allowed him freedom to come and go at will. Merle quickly earned the title of "Mayor of Kelly," as he made his daily rounds visiting the town's residents, both human and canine. Urban dog-owners restricted by leash laws might find fault with the author's assertion that independence promotes better mannered pets, but it certainly worked in Merle's favor.

Readers will need more than one tissue to see the book through to the end, but it's worth it. You will never look at Buddy or Lady the same way again!

What Shat That? A Pocket Guide to Poop Identity © Ten Speed Press

What Shat That? A Pocket Guide to Poop Identity
by Matt Pagett
Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA, 109 pages, $12.95

Rounding out our listing with a fitting conclusion, this tongue-in-cheek field guide can be an essential component to any nature-lover's fanny-pack. Like animal tracks and calls, recognizing animal scat provides another clue to the curious of what animals have crossed the same path. Graphically illustrated and grossly detailed descriptions of 50 species of mammals, birds, lizards and fish will help the reader "match feces with their species!" Enough said!

Kathryn A. Kahler writes from Madison and formerly served as circulation, production and promotions manager for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.