May 1, 2010

Suburban Safari

A Year on the Lawn
by Hannah Holmes

In this engaging book, the author spent a year inspecting the doings of nature in her own backyard, and around her house. It starts off with observations on the behavior of birds, squirrels and bugs, then moves into analysis of her soil composition (different for every patch of lawn or shrubbery), location of groundwater, how trees deal with pests, the conflict between native and invasive species, what all the critters do to survive winter, etc. In minutiae (but not quite the degree of florid writing) it resembles the intricacies of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I was pretty intrigued by how Holmes overcame her squeamishness of creepy crawlies to put anything from insects to fungi spores under her microscope for a better look. She called in specialists to give her more information about her yard- from the number of mosquito species to the lie of geological bedrock (and its history) under her sod, to the energy-efficiency of her house. As the book progresses, she starts to wander farther afield than just her own yard, discussing deer in the neighborhood and the history of lawns, even traveling to other states to see how other people do things in their yards. I gathered from a few reviews I read before I picked up the book that some readers found this disappointing, they wished for the intimate observations to stick close to home. But since they spoiled that expectation for me, I didn't mind and found all the facts Holmes shared fascinating. Things like: male birds cannot make red (or orange or yellow) pigments for their feathers and must eat red foods to have brilliant plumage. Slugs can't crawl backwards. Earthworms, the gardener's friend! can also have negative effects. The book is packed with stuff I never dreamed off, all teeming around anyone's yard if they care to take a closer look. Sometimes, as in when she poked her nose in basement corners, or between the walls of her home, it felt a little too close to me (my mold aversion kicks in even when I'm just reading about it). But I liked this book so much I ordered my own copy through Paperback Swap before I was even halfway done. It even made me laugh a few times.

And here's all the titles I added to my TBR after combing through the reference lists at the back of hte book:

The Starling by C.J. Feare
The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen Buchmann
Life on a Little-Known Planet by Howard Evans
World of the Opossum by F.F. Keefe
Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons
North American Tree Squirrels by Michael Steele
Winter World: the Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich
Dirt the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Logan
Gathering of Angels: Migrating Birds and their Ecology by Kenneth Able

I found Suburban Safari while browsing at the library; that cute squirrel on the cover (who looks like he's sticking out his tongue) grabbed my eye from a shelf. Counting it towards the What An Animal reading challenge.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 262 pages, 2005

More opinions at:
The Esoteric Viking
Cheap Sunglasses
Fear of the Blank Page
The Stay at Home Bookworm


  1. Our neighborhood is full of animals, so this sounds like a fun book to me!

  2. That squirrel cover is adorable! Sounds like a great book, too. I'll have to add it to Ye Olde Wish List.

  3. Sounds pretty good. I might have to see if I can find it over here.

  4. Oh, this sounds cool.


Comments are screened due to spam.