Shoots & spines: Natural History Book Club plants a seed

Feb 5, 16 • 5enses, FeatureNo Comments

book-club-graphic-logoBy Robert Blood

[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Marilyn McCarthy, one of the facilitators of the Natural History Book Club, a program via Prescott College’s Natural History Institute. The club meets 9:30-11 a.m. the third Friday of each month at the Natural History Institute, 312 Grove Ave. Find out more at Prescott.Edu/natural-history-institute.]

How did the Natural History Book Club get started?

I kept telling Lisa Zander (program coordinator and collections manager at the Natural History Institute) about a natural history book club I was part of at a local park in Indianapolis. I wanted to do something like that here. She ran into someone else, Susie Percy, who wanted to do it, and the Natural History Institute, has been gracious enough to sponsor this and allow us a space to hold it. It made sense to me. I want people to see their facility, the things they do there, the free lectures, and the whole library they have. … I met Lisa at the Natural History Institute when I came to a new program they were doing last year, “Live Nude(Plant)s,” where they would bring out plant and butterfly specimens for people to draw. My husband and I live close to the institute and had researched the area before moving here almost two years ago. I was a master naturalist in Indiana, and we try to take advantage of all the free things at Prescott College. Susie, the other facilitator, is a forestry major and has completed the volunteer naturalist program at the Highlands Center (for Natural History).

What do you hope to get out of the book club?

Well, I belong to two fiction book clubs at the Prescott Public Library, so this forces me to read non-fiction. These books bring up issues about what’s going on in our natural world, which is really important in Prescott because we’re living in a place that’s full of nature. Hopefully it gets people more involved in “greening” the community, or whatever you want to call it, volunteering, and just being outside. … It’s strange, but my husband and I have encountered a lot of people here who’ve moved to the area and get upset with all the wildlife. We moved to the area because of the wildlife. We’ve got deer, javelina, roadrunners, and the occasional coyote on our property and we live in town. I wouldn’t change that for anything. We have to learn to appreciate what’s here and the beauty of the high desert.

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Marilyn McCarthy, one of the facilitators of the Natural History Book Club, a program via Prescott College’s Natural History Institute. Photo by 5enses.

How did you pick the initial books and what’s the goal, participation-wise?

Lisa, Susie, and I compiled the first five books. I’ve drawn on my seven years in the Indianapolis book club, and everyone drew on their own experiences. Even Amazon has listings for natural history books. The three of us threw around a few things and picked what we’d talk about. The February book, “Braiding Sweetgrass,” (on Feb. 19) is timed because of the fact the Natural History Institute is hosting the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, at Prescott College on March 1. In the future we hope to do more of that. … So we came up with the first five months for the launch of the program, but it’s an ongoing, month-to-month book club. We hope to have something like 10 participants initially, but it’ll be a lively discussion no matter how many people are involved. Everyone is welcome. We’ll talk about the writer, where they’re coming from, what their experience is, and how they put that into the book, as well as the history that informs the book and, of course, the topics that are covered, as well as the writer’s style, and what we learned from it. … We checked to make sure there were multiple copies of the book at the Prescott Public Library, or the library’s used bookstore, and we’ve talked about partnering with Peregrine Book Co. to carry more copies of the books for people who want to own them.

Why read about natural history?

We should know what’s going on in the world around us. We need more viewpoints than the typical, one-sided news stories we see. People aren’t close enough to nature anymore. We, as human beings, have lost touch with how we fit into nature or the natural world. There’s nothing better than taking a walk in the woods to get your thoughts together, or just being outside, even when it’s snowing.

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The Natural History Book Club, a program via Prescott College’s Natural History Institute, meets 9:30-11 a.m. the third Friday of each month at the Natural History Institute, 312 Grove Ave. Find out more at Prescott.Edu/natural-history-institute. Upcoming discussions include “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, on Feb. 19; “The Lost Grizzlies,” by Rick Bass, on March 18; “What a Plant Knows,” by Daniel Chamovitz, on April 15; selected poetry by Mary Oliver, on May 20.]

Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.

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