With infectious enthusiasm and faith in nature’s doggedness in the face of encroaching humanity, science writer Holmes (The Secret Life of Dust, 2001) follows the four seasons as they play out in her own micro-habitat.
Raised on a farm, the author left country life far behind when she moved to New York City for several years. Now she’s compromised between the two extremes, setting up house on two-tenths of an acre in suburban Portland, Maine. She’s determined to immerse herself in the workings of her patch of ground, and though it isn’t a lot of land, it turns out to be more than enough to nurture many varieties of insect, bird, and mammal species. All are fodder for Holmes’s meditations on natural history, zoology, and the current American landscape. The writer encourages nature in her own backyard through benign neglect; she doesn’t use chemical fertilizers on the grass and grows only what can survive biweekly lawn mowing. (When her lawn mower breaks in late summer, she’s fascinated by the resultant growth.) Other than that, she’s a typical resident, blessed with an omnivorous curiosity and a good pair of binoculars. She gets to know intimately the crows in her yard, examines all the insects she can find under the microscope, and tames a chipmunk she dubs “Cheeky.” Even the barren branches of winter are greeted with delight: Finally, she can see what’s been going on behind all those leaves. Holmes doesn’t confine her interest to sentient creatures. A meditation on wolves rapidly turns into a discussion of the last ice age and how it must have manifested in her little corner of the world. The lawn itself, as a feature of the modern landscape, also comes in for a sociological and historical examination.
A cracking good reminder that an appreciation of the wonders of nature need not be reserved for special occasions.