Okay, I’m going to admit right here and now, I’m probably never going to be a master forager. I would love to; I so wish I could be the kind of person who traipses into the woods on random Saturdays throughout the year with a large basket, and who comes out with that basket full of plants and roots and berries that I easily identified as safe to eat. But I simply don’t have that much confidence in myself (yet, anyway); with my luck, I’d take a bite of the first thing I had just learned about and immediately drop dead (and wind up the subject of a true crime podcast). But that’s why I love books on foraging: I obviously have SO much to learn, and I’m not giving up! Idiot’s Guides: Foraging by Mark Vorderbruggen (Alpha, 2016) had been on my TBR since about 2019; I finally received a copy through interlibrary loan a week or so ago, and I found this book absolutely delightful.
Let this book fall open and you’ll find that each plant covered gets a two-page spread complete with multiple full-color photographs, a map of where said plant grows, what to look for, edible or poisonous look-alikes, and various bits of knowledge about the plant (uses, how to prepare it, how NOT to prepare it, and things to look out for). The photographs alone are phenomenal; should you be just starting out on your foraging journey and want to get serious about it, I feel like this book would be an excellent tool just for identification. (Fun story: I had just started this book when, later on that night, I caught a reel by Black Forager on Instagram and immediately recognized the linden/basswood tree she was talking about, before she identified it, because I’d read about it in this book! How cool is that?!!???)
This was definitely worth the read. I’ve been able to identify a few more plants and trees because of it, and while I’ll likely never be the kind of person that can disappear into the woods and survive for months solely on the plants I’ve recognized there, Idiot’s Guide: Foraging has definitely pushed me a little closer to that ideal. : )
It was on a random trip to the library so my daughter could pick up more books that I discovered Outdoor Kids in an Inside World: Getting Your Family Out of the House and Radically Engaged with Nature by Steven Rinella (Random House, 2022). I didn’t need more books; I already had a stack of approximately 347823473982432 books at home that I needed to get through, but as a parent who has been trying to get my kiddo to spend more time outside and enjoying all that nature has to offer, how could I pass this book up? I decided to bring it home and read one chapter per day before I read my regular book. And this was a great strategy!
Kids spend way too much time indoors these days. Part of it is the ongoing pandemic, sure, but a large part of it is because that’s how life is structured these days. The lure of technology, combined with overscheduling, along with parents’ unrelenting work schedules, have created a natureless monster as far as outdoor time is concerned. And kids are missing out, argues Steven Rinella. Nature is important for their development, and we all benefit when we’re more engaged with the nature around us.
Using examples from his own family’s experiences with nature, Mr. Rinella tackles topics such as foraging, hunting, gardening, fishing, exploring, and all the other activities that families can do outside. The possibilities are nearly endless, and you don’t need to co-own a cabin on the Alaskan coast or live in the middle of the forest, surrounded by woods, to make nature a daily part of your life. Examine the plants in the cracks of the sidewalk in front of your house; go on nature scavenger hunts around town; learn about the stars and constellations; camp in your backyard; turn rocks over in the creek in the middle of town; learn to identify plants and weeds in the local park; get a bird guide and set up a bird feeder on your balcony, and grow some herbs in a pot. Nature is all around us, and the more of it we incorporate into our lives, Mr. Rinella tells us, the better off kids and parents will be.
This is truly a lovely book that will inspire you to get out there, get your kids out there, and start investigating all the wonders around us. I re-downloaded a plant-and-animal identifying app and have been using it like crazy lately; I have another foraging book from interlibrary loan that I’m excited to delve into. And when my sister-in-law called to ask if I wanted to bring my daughter to walk in the woods and get gross in the creek, I was all in:
We all know that nature is important in some aspect, though we all have different experiences and levels of tolerance for nature. Mr. Rinella argues that being uncomfortable and learning to deal with that discomfort (wet shoes, bug bites, fluctuating temperatures, etc) is part of the learning process and will turn our kids into heartier adults. I had varying experiences with nature as a kid: while I wasn’t super into being outdoors as a teenager, there were times when I was neck-deep in creeks as a child, and I was deeply interested in learning to identify all the plants and weeds in my yard (which wasn’t all that possible to do back then. Yay for the internet for making this dream come true for me! I can now identify a LOT of the stuff growing on my property, and around the paths nearby). I’m working hard to make sure my daughter develops a similar love and respect (very important there!) for nature, and this book really helped me cement the importance of this goal.
If you know you need to get your kids off their tablets and playing outside more, this book is definitely the kick in the pants you need to get started.
(Quick note: I found that Mr. Rinella is very respectful of boundaries that don’t necessarily mirror his own; he’s quick to point out that while hunting is his family’s thing, he gets that it’s not for everyone, and this tracks for the book in its entirety. I deeply appreciate his understanding of how different families may engage with nature differently, and how what’s right for one family may not be an acceptable activity for another.)
I have a horror-based fascination with the entire concept of missing people (I fully blame Soul Asylum’s music video for Runaway Train in the early 90’s; that video, which played on repeat throughout my teenage years, is seared into my brain). So when I was going through my emails and came across a Book Riot email that contained a review for The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by Jon Billman (Grand Central Publishing, 2020), my eyes flew open and I added it to my list immediately. I’m not much of an outdoorsy person or adventurer, but I’m also kind of fascinated by stories of outdoor adventures gone wrong, so I knew this book would be right up my alley, and it was.
A brief warning, however: this book talks a lot about death, and about unresolved loss, meaning, missing people whose cases are never solved, who simply vanish and their families never get any answers about what happened to them. It’s heavy, and devastatingly sad. Wait until you’re ready to carry their stories until you pick this book up.
Writer Jon Billman follows the case of Jacob Gray, a young man who went missing in Olympic National Park, to delve deeply into the subject of the people who go missing in the wilds of American (and some Canadian) national parks. What happens when someone is reported missing? If you’re expecting a massive search complete with teams of park employees and helicopter patrols, one that doesn’t rest until the missing person is found, you’re only partly correct – a small part. It really depends on where the person goes missing.
Mr. Billman follows Randy, Jacob’s father, in his determined search for his son up and down the west coast. Along the way, he interviews the people he meets who spend their time searching for the missing: volunteers, bloodhound owners, professional trackers, Bigfoot aficionados (no, really). He and Randy even meet up with a cult (the Twelve Tribes; I’ve run into this group in Nashville) in the hopes that Jacob, who was religious, had joined up with them. Mr. Billman’s quiet, compassionate observations, always lacking judgment, paint a moving tribute to the many families devastated by the disappearance of a loved one into the vast wilderness of public lands.
This book was fascinating. It’s one that I couldn’t wait to return to every night, to see where Jon Billman would follow Randy Gray next, to learn who he would talk to and the stories he would learn about. Who would be found? Who would be found alive? What happened that these people disappeared, and how did the families who never got answers cope? Mr. Billman didn’t just interview these people over coffee, either; he strapped on a backpack, laced up his hiking books, and followed them over rocky terrain and down steep slopes; he camped with them overnight in bear country and slogged in squishy socks through rain-soaked forests. He lived the life of someone desperately searching for a loved one, and that adds such a depth to this book.
The Cold Vanish will go on my list of one of the best books I read this year. It’s that good. Highly recommended.