FIELD NOTES FROM THE NORTHERN FOREST by Curt Stager

FIELD NOTES FROM THE NORTHERN FOREST

KIRKUS REVIEW

Short, personable essays enthusiastically explore the natural history of one of North America’s largest (and possibly most overlooked) ecosystems. The Great Northern Forest sprawls from the Western Adirondacks to the coast of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. Stager, who teaches biology at Paul Smith’s College in the northern Adirondacks and hosts the public radio program “Natural Selections,” argues that it’s as complex as the tropical rain forest—and just as threatened by overdevelopment and pollution. Debunking woodcraft myths (like the belief that moss grows exclusively on the north side of trees), demystifying the northern lights, or weighing the pros and cons of backyard bird feeders, Stager balances his love of a good story with rigorous consideration of the latest scientific research. He explains with the passion and patience of a teacher, and his lay translations enlighten without bogging down in complexity and jargon. What’s surprising is how little scientists know about much of the natural world: Research often turns up no definitive answers, especially regarding the tiniest plants and insects, such as lichens and bee-flies. When he runs up against such gaps, Stager reacts like a good scientist and tries to fill them himself. He stretches out in the grass to observe ants and trout lilies, halts a campus construction project to rescue ground-burrowing bees, and challenges his students to unravel the conundrum of why snowfleas swarm in winter. Only the most devoted nature-lovers will be transfixed by every essay (especially since Stager spends more time on bugs than bears), but he succeeds in painting the big picture by focusing on the small scale. Stager’s upbeat short takes are like a day afield with an avuncular guide, paying tribute to his neck of the woods while inspiring the rest of us that getting in touch with nature can be as simple as looking around our own backyards. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: July 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8156-0513-7
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Syracuse Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998