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Early Spring

Anna Lena Phillips

EARLY SPRING: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World. Amy Seidl. Beacon Press, $24.95.

It’s tempting to see the convergence of literature and ecology as a Mary Poppins scenario: A spoonful of lyrical prose helps the data go down. But science writing only feels like medicine when it’s done without consideration for the reading audience. Books filled solely with lyrical ramblings about one’s place in the natural world can be pretty good, depending on who’s doing the rambling. But there are plenty of sickly-sweet examples that leave us wishing the author had bothered to fact-check his species names. And even the best such writing is enriched by thoughtful exploration of the precepts and findings of environmental science.

The present wealth of ecological memoirs adds up to a collective learning experiment—one that joins up science, art and human beings’ intuitive responses to the living world. Amy Seidl’s book Early Spring is a fine addition to the genre. Seidl’s passion for scientific detail is matched by her concern for her relationship to the land and for her children’s experience of the natural world. She tells of looking through a microscope at pollen grains from successive periods of history and deftly relates this to the effects of climate change on forests and the culture of maple syrup making in Vermont, where she and her family live. She discusses how warmer temperatures affect seasonal patterns of flower blooming and muses about how this may affect the life cycles of butterflies. In chapter after chapter, we find Seidl’s thoughtful assimilation of data from scientific studies and from individuals who monitor local weather patterns over years, as well as the careful observations of a thinking and feeling human being about the land she lives on.

Maybe that’s what allows scientific study and creative writing, so often consigned to their separate corners, to be synchronous—the deep attention that each requires, different in kind but similar in requirements: focus, precision, awareness of context, love. Readers who are concerned about both landscape and climate change, writers who hope to contribute to the genre, and the land itself will all be beneficiaries of Seidl’s work.—Anna Lena Phillips

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