Love! Nature – the Book Review

I recently finished Love! Nature by conservation biologist Dr. Reese Halter.

Here’s my review: read it.

Love! Nature is a collection of more than 75 essays that provide a tour of the natural world. Reese’s eye and interest moves from oceans to mountaintops, desserts to rain forests, and covers the environments, bio-mechanics, evolution, habits, and life cycles of insects, bats, loons, mountain goats, human organs, wild and urban ecosystems, minerals, people, oak trees, redwoods, and much more.

From Reese you get a glimpse of the jaw-dropping variety of life on Earth – a variety even more astounding given that the earliest version might well have been this.

In the scheme of things these essays provide just a smidgen of what (still) exists, but Reese’s focus is sharp and the details intense. The everyday functions of these critters and flora that Reese describes had me dog-earing the book like mad. His stories of nature are filled with feats of engineering, daring, and endurance, stretching over immense time frames.

Did you know:

  • It takes a dozen honeybees a combined flying distance of 10,000 kilometers to produce 21 grams of honey – and each year honeybees produce 1.2 billion kilograms!
  • Female lobsters urinate from bladders in their heads to attract male partners.
  • To survive in freezing temperatures, some insects and fish generate anti-freeze proteins.
  • If water behaved like most liquids and increased its density as temperatures fall, ice would form at the bottom of lakes, not the top. Not surprisingly, that’s crucial to freshwater inhabitants.

Each essay is packed with information like this. But there are three bigger things that stood out in the book.

First, Reese’s passion. His love of nature is not newfound, it’s lifelong. And it’s an underrated quality. Most of us live in cities and spend a growing portion of our time looking at digital renditions of the physical and natural world. In these essays, Reese segues from his walks along the beach to the natural treasures of the oceans, from hikes in BC to the marvels of fir trees. His enthusiasm will at the very least have you Googling things like ambergris (a waxy substance formed in the intestinal tract of sperm whales) and places the Stein Valley, and more likely running for the closest forest or signing up for that first dive lesson to get underwater. As wonderful as it is to hear and learn about these incredible creatures, what you end up wanting most is to experience them.

Second, Reese draws in sharp detail the interconnectedness of all life on the planet. To me, this is a point frequently but poorly made by environmentalists and ecologists, and yet it is of the greatest importance. With massive swaths of the environment, and the animal and insect kingdoms, decimated by human arrogance and negligence, this is an essential lesson. Understanding – well, at least appreciating – that nature is a system is an antidote for people who out of self-satisfied ignorance or determination blindly wonder how, for instance, a species of rodent could possibly be of consequence.

Reese emphasizes the powerful and essential connections between all living things, and does so by beautifully describing how even the largest trees and animals count on the tiny ones to survive and thrive. And by setting these essays one after another, Reese also provides the 20,000 foot view of the fabric of their shared life on Earth:

  • Want to learn how the decomposition of trees are a link in ensuring life in streams, rivers, and oceans? It’s in here.
  • Want to understand how beavers in the Great Plains Grasslands – home to more native species than the Florida Everglades — supports the life cycles of insects, birds, mice, and rabbits? That’s in here, too.

Finally, Reese’s work makes it clear that if we humans do succeed at sacrificing the only known life in the universe to our greed and/or ignorance, it won’t be because of people like him. We don’t have to wait for a day in the future to wonder: Why didn’t we do anything? Why didn’t we see the warning signs?

Reese has been ringing the alarm bells. By educating us on what Mother Nature is all about. By warning us that her entire web of life is facing man-made peril. By bringing into focus how and how intensely we’re threatening her animals and plants. And by offering solutions to stop and maybe even reverse some of the damage.

Why aren’t we listening now?

Evolutionary psychologists have plenty of theories about our shortsightedness, our greed, our willingness for self harm. It’s an interesting subject. But do we blame our evolutionary short comings, or can we claim our responsibility and admit we’re at fault by choice?

If we blame our genes, those studies will end up with tremendous value if they provide keys to crafting economic, social, and policy changes that curb our destructive behavior. Hopefully our time has not run out.

If you believe we each have the power to change ourselves and effect change in others, to choose something better and commit to that choice, then do yourself a favor and read Reese’s book. And buy it for the ones you love. It could be just what you need to get started.