Summer Reading: 2003


(This column was first published in the June 16, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)


Reading is no substitute for getting out to enjoy our environment, but it can serve as a pleasant activity especially for hikers while resting tired and aching muscles and allowing blisters to deflate.


Here then are my summer reading recommendations, the first three by local authors:


Larry Beahan, Allegany Hellbender Tales (self-published). Another delightful collection of essays by the good doctor. We are blessed with two splendid storytellers here in western New York - John Sillick is the other - and this book represents Larry at the top of his form. These pieces are focused on Allegany State Park, where the conservationist author and his families of three generations have explored, camped, worked and simply luxuriated for well over sixty years.


John Jackson with John Burtniak and Gregory Stein, The Mighty Niagara: One River - Two Frontiers (Prometheus). Everything you ever wanted to know about our borderlands. This very attractive book is stuffed with maps, photographs and tables of information. The authors are geographers and an archivist from Brock University and Buffalo State College, perfect resources for this fact-filled book. I've studied this region's history for years but still learned much from their well-written chapters. This is an important local reference that ought to be in every household.


Bruce and Libby Kershner, A Walking Tour of Olmsted's South Park Arboretum (Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy). Except for golfers, few of us realize that South Park is more than the building in which botany is so richly displayed. With this book you can spend several pleasant hours learning about this lovely park and learning too how to identify 76 trees. I found the book's tree descriptions remarkably informative and after an impatient wait for leaves finally to appear I enjoyed my mile ramble very much.


Jack Sanders, The Secrets of Wildflowers (Globe Pequot). Ten years ago Sanders wrote Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles, a book I have used regularly as a basic botany reference. While nothing can replace that book, I find his new text a perfect addition to my library. The sub-title tells it all: "A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History." Organized by season, every wildflower description adds to our knowledge. If you want to own just one botanic reference to back up your field guide, this is the book for you.


Ben Gadd, Raven's End (Sierra Club). I was never much taken with Watership Down, but I love this novel. Yes, it is a textbook case of anthropomorphism - the ravens talk and interact with each other in human-like ways. But those who have spent time with ravens, as this author and I have, will find themselves constantly nodding in approval at Gadd's descriptions. Ravens are like crows-squared. They do indeed have personalities and, more than any other species, display those personalities in their actions and antics. Just as Bernd Heinrich does in his non-fiction Ravens in Winter and A Year in the Maine Woods, Gadd's fictional account captures their lives perfectly.


John Waller, Einstein's Luck: The Truth Behind Some of the Greatest Scientific Discoveries (Oxford). I had never heard the term "presentism" before I read this book - and I am evidently not alone: my spell-checker hadn't either. The word is, however, a perfect neologism representing our tendency to impose current thinking on history, usually exaggerating or distorting that history in the process. Waller sands off some of the fiction we have painted onto the images of scientific giants - men like Pasteur, Fleming, Newton and Lister. Like Washington though, they remain all-stars whether or not they chopped down their personal cherry tree. Well worth reading-- Gerry Rising.