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Summer Reads: OWF Staff Picks

What better way to enjoy the waning days of summer than by sitting down with a good book? OWF staff share their recommendations for environmentally-focused reads below.

Braiding Sweetgrass

by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as "the younger brothers of creation." As she explores these themes, she circles toward a central argument: The awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the world.

Recommended by: Jess Bynum

"I first read Braiding Sweetgrass in the summer of 2019, and have revisited it every year since. Kimmerer's background as a biologist, combined with her Indigenous knowledge and excellent prose, makes it one of the most enjoyable pieces of nonfiction I've ever read. No matter how much you think you love nature, this book will bring your appreciation to entirely new depths."

My Side of the Mountain

by Jean Craighead George

Sam Gribley is terribly unhappy living in New York City with his family, so he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live in the woods—all by himself. With only a penknife, a ball of cord, forty dollars, and some flint and steel, he intends to survive on his own. Sam learns about courage, danger, and independence during his year in the wilderness, a year that changes his life forever.

Recommended by: Tim Greseth

“It’s what’s made me want to run away from home and live in the woods when I was a kid. It was a foundational book to me in my youth.”

Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship That Saved Yosemite

by Dean King

In June of 1889 in San Francisco, John Muir—iconic environmentalist, writer, and philosopher—meets face-to-face for the first time with his longtime editor Robert Underwood Johnson, an elegant and influential figure at The Century magazine. Before long, the pair, opposites in many ways, decide to venture to Yosemite Valley, the magnificent site where twenty years earlier, Muir experienced a personal and spiritual awakening that would set the course of the rest of his life.

Recommended by: Rebecca Roberts

“This book is for anyone who is passionate about saving, protecting and preserving our country's natural beauty. John Muir was ahead of his time and saw how humans were going to eventually destroy the beauty of Yosemite (not to mention other parts of the western US) and fought for its protection so future generations could enjoy its beauty.”

Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains

by Bethany Brookshire

At the intersection of science, history, and narrative journalism, Pests is not a simple call to look closer at our urban ecosystem. It’s not a natural history of the animals we hate. Instead, this book is about us. It’s about what calling an animal a pest says about people, how we live, and what we want. It’s a story about human nature and how we categorize the animals in our midst, including bears and coyotes, sparrows, and snakes. Pet or pest? In many cases, it’s entirely a question of perspective.

Recommended by: Mo Montgomery

“Thought-provoking and entertaining, who knew a book that discussed wildlife and pets, was really about people and our menagerie of labels? Great, easy, and surprisingly fun summer reading.”

Hot Springs & Hot Pools of the Northwest

by Marjorie Gersh-Young and Jayson Loam

The definitive hot springs guide to Alaska, Canada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, and all states in the mid-west and east where there are springs. Includes written directions, photographs of each place, GPS coordinates, handicap access, clothing optional or required, nearby campgrounds and facilities, descriptions of surroundings, pools and tubs for both commercial resorts and natural wilderness springs.

Recommended by: Kerwin Carambot

"My single most used outdoor book is Hot Springs & Hot Pools of the Northwest, Jayson Loam’s Original Guide. This book uses black and white pics to highlight the hundreds of hot springs/pools in the Pacific NW, and further afield. Short descriptions are all you need. Hot pooling is a community, a scene, an adventure. My most frequent recommendations in Oregon are Breitenbush and Inner City Hot Tubs, right here in PDX."

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