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Volume II, Issue 3, October 20, 2003
Blocksma, M. (2003). Great Lakes Nature: An Outdoor Year. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 336 p. $19.95. [ISBN 0472089293]
Mary Blocksma’s Great Lakes Nature: An Outdoor Year, with illustrations by Robin Wilt, is a unique, multifaceted mix of memoir and nature guide. The book chronicles a year of discovery that started as the author’s New Year’s resolution to become familiar with the environment surrounding her Lake Michigan home. Blocksma’s goal was to learn how to name and identify one new piece of nature each day of the year, and then encounters a variety of plants, animals, weather and other natural phenomena. The reader follows Blocksma from January through December as she undertakes this adventure and meets new friends and experts along the way. Each day’s entry is also accompanied by illustration.
The book flows chronologically, like a diary, and is organized into chapters by month. Each month focuses on events of nature occurring at that time of the year, chronicled as they come to Blocksma’s attention. January begins with an examination of lake effect snow and an assortment of winter birds such as blue jays and cardinals. Blocksma also chronicles her experience with bird feeders as she tries over several days, through trial and error, to select the best design and seed while avoiding squirrels and raccoons.
The book diverges from an ordinary field guide because it moves in a narrative fashion with light, charming prose that is inviting and easy to read. This style of organization may make ready use of the book as a field guide difficult, as it uses a subjective arrangement and does not direct the reader in an intuitive sense. Blocksma’s goal here, however, is not to create a comprehensive field guide to Great Lakes nature. Great Lakes Nature is more a personal memoir than a field guide. The author clearly acknowledges this and provides recommendations to existing field guides that have served her well.
Another interesting element of this book is Blocksma’s philosophy on naming and classifying parts of our environment. She stresses the importance of knowing our natural world and how simple it is to do so. In addition, Blocksma provides general rules of thumb for identifying things in nature on one’s own.
The subjective tone of this book does not imply it cannot be read straight through; readers can selectively focus on subjects of interest. Two indexes are provided by subject and by illustration. One nice feature is the appendix, “A Guide to Guides,” which recommends field guides in several areas. Illustrations are well done and add to the overall feel of the book, but would probably not be enough to make classifications of plants and animals.
This book will appeal to readers who have an interest in nature. Beginning naturalists will appreciate the helpful hints and friendly, accommodating writing style. Experts and more advanced naturalists may not learn anything new, but will probably enjoy the enthusiasm with which Blocksma writes about her discoveries. It may also appeal to readers who enjoy memoirs or books with a highly personalized style. The book seems to be geared to adults, but children may also appreciate it for the illustrations.
Reviewed by Dan Brown, M.S.I., School of Information, University
of Michigan, email@example.com