Saturday, March 3, 2018

Real Cool Guy

To everything
There is a season
And a time to every purpose, under heaven...
- from Turn, Turn, Turn by Pete Seeger

     When the season is winter it's my time to revisit the books of Peter J. Marchand. I spend most afternoons working in the woods. Opening trails, doing timber stand improvement, cutting next years firewood. Some days I don't feel like working. Can anyone relate to that? But on those days I'm often still in the woods - skiing, snowshoeing or just poking around. And when evening darkness sends me inside, I use what little energy I've got left to pull North Woods or Life in the Cold off the shelf. Time to settle into the chair by the stove and read up on the snowy world I've spent the day in.

Peter Marchand

     Peter Marchand grew up in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. Hard wood country that he loved to explore. Then he had a chance to climb nearby Mt. Greylock. At 3491 feet it was high enough to have some spruce-fir forest up top. He was struck by the difference and it became his new obsession. So obsessed that he spent fifteen years at the University of New Hampshire culminating in a botany doctorate, specializing in northern forest ecology.

Mt. Greylock Spruce-Fir Forest - Web image

     For many years he lived in Vermont where he continued to research, teach and write. While there he was associated with the Center for Northern Studies and Johnson State College. Then he went over to the west side. Colorado to be exact. As far as I know he's still there, still writing and still a skillful observer of all things natural. But it's some of his early works that I find particularly relevant to this time of year, to our Northeastern ecosystems.


       North Woods was published by the Appalachian Mountain Club in 1987. Its focus is the ecology of the northern forest and mountain environments. This is a book on natural processes and the landscapes they produce. It is not a field guide for identification of individual plants and animals. North Woods has taught me a great deal and I refer to it often but I don't recommend that you buy it. That's because it was updated in 2010 and retitled Nature Guide to the Northeastern Forest. New and improved! with expanded text and color photos - this is the one you'll want in your library and your daypack.

     Also by Marchand is Life in the Cold - An Introduction to Winter Ecology. Originally published in 1987, I believe it is currently in a 4th edition. It's about both season and place, focusing on higher elevations and latitudes where cold and snow define a substantial part of the year. That certainly applies to Washington County, the Adirondacks and Vermont - all my favorite haunts. That's why I often refer to this book to understand what I've seen after a day of winter exploring. It's a little heavier on the science with charts, graphs and equations, while still being accessible to those of us without multiple Ph.D.'s. Chapters cover the changing snowpack, the ecology of iced over lakes and ponds and plant, animal and human adaptations to the cold.

Lake George from Black Mountain with a human adapted to the cold (aka my wife)

     You might also look for Autumn, A Season of Change. I haven't read it but it would seem to compliment the previously mentioned titles. For more on Marchand and his more recent work here is a link to his website.


     A few other snow season books that you might enjoy:

Bernd Heinrich - Web image

     - It's hard not to be envious of Bernd Heinrich. Biologist and naturalist, record breaking endurance athlete, lyrically gifted writer who illustrates his own books. Lives in a remote cabin in the Maine woods. Shares it with Lynn Jennings, the great middle-distance and cross country champion, where they spend their days observing nature, homesteading, trail running and enjoying an evening beer and each other. His Winter World - the ingenuity of animal survival is one of my favorites for this time of year. It will leave you in awe of golden crowned kinglets. And of Bernd Heinrich.

     - A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes is an eclectic book that covers everything from snow crystals to birds nests to animal tracks. It's filled with simple line drawings and natural history descriptions. Not glitzy but highly useful.

     - Another book that brings me back for a chapter or two every year is Wintering by Diana Kappel-Smith. It falls in the personal relationship with nature genre. Reminds me of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Set in '70's era Vermont, it's beautifully written and a source of inspiration to get out there and see what our wild friends are up to. 

     - Adirondack Ice - a cultural and natural history by Caperton Tissot is a local/seasonal book that's full of stories about all things icy and cold. Fun and informative.

     The black flies of spring will be biting before you know it. Till then might as well embrace winter and its literature. Also a good time to listen to the Byrds singing Turn, Turn, Turn. Pete Seeger set verses from the Book of Ecclesiastes to music and the Byrds rendition was a hit in 1965. People have cherished its timeless wisdom ever since.

Pete Seeger - An American treasure


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