Feb 10, 2009

A Year in the Maine Woods

by Bernd Heinrich

I know of Heinrich as a biologist who studies ravens. From this book I learned he's also a university professor, a runner and something of a recluse. A Year in the Maine Woods is a thoughtful, contemplative book of nature writing drawn from a season Heinrich spent living alone in his rustic cabin. My attention wavered a bit in the beginning of the book, particularly the chapter about all the different people who owned his land in the past, and another about the geological history of it, which was more interesting but still rather dry.

Before long I found myself more involved, as Heinrich shared his experiences, both the struggles- drawing water from a well, battling hordes of flies, feeling the bitter cold of winter storms; and the rewards- enjoying the peace of the woods, seeing wildlife up close, being able to carry out his experiments in leisurely fashion. Whenever he had a question about something he observed- how squirrels tap maple trees for sap, how color progresses through a tree's changing leaves in fall, what makes "helicopter" seeds spin and fly- he devised a method to find the answer and satisfy his curiosity. Like Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Wildlings, he focuses mostly on the plant life and smaller creatures- especially insects. The ravens are mostly background material in this book. A few chapters describe the behavior of a young raven he was raising, and the study ravens are mentioned briefly, but the reasons for his involvement with them is not really explained and if you don't already know about his research, it can be confusing. Heinrich also shares many of his opinions on how forestland should be managed, and why. I was most intrigued by his descriptions of plant life cycles and how the distribution of different trees in the forest shifts throughout the decades. More than anything, I felt totally immersed in a place: the boggy woods of backcountry Maine, dripping with humidity, swarming with insects, gleaming with jewels of flowers and sanctuary for myriad forms of life. The transformations that all the plants and animals undergo as the seasons change is vividly described. Caribousmom alerted me to a few other nature books Heinrich has written, and I'm eager to get my hands on them as well, now. Reading this was such a pleasure.

Rating: 4/5                258 pages, 1994

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Beth's Stories

4 comments:

Eva said...

This one sounds really interesting!! Thanks for the review-you always review books I've never heard of. :)

Jeane said...

Thanks, Eva. Did you hear you won a bookmark? Let me know where to send it!

Janet said...

I've read quite a bit of nature writing, but haven't heard of this author. Thanks for the introduction!

Jeane said...

Janet- I stumbled across him years ago, and just recently discovered he's written a dozen books about nature. I want to read them all!