Fresh Pond Reading Group
Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation
The Reading Group started the year with a bang, as we read Simon Winchester’s vivid description of the eruption of the volcano in Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883. Winchester describes in detail the lives of people living nearby and their observations of the gradual buildup of the volcano toward its fiery demise. The horrific aftermath of this cataclysm, which included a massive tsunami that killed more people in Sumatra and Java than the explosion itself, left a bustling colonial culture in tatters, and may have led to the radicalization of a population which had suffered for many years under the harsh regulations of its Dutch rulers.
For our next selection, we returned to one of our favorite authors, Bernd Heinrich, and his book, The Homing Instinct: Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration. We marveled at his descriptions of the arduous annual journeys made by some of the tiniest songbirds over vast expanses of ocean, at the north-to-south pole flights of some species of shorebirds, and at the mysterious ability of migrating animals to find their way back to the place where they were born. Heinrich’s moving description of the apparent joy of a pair of sandhill cranes upon returning to their nesting ground in Alaska was a powerful reminder that animals have emotions, and that all sentient creatures (ourselves included) have a strong attachment to the place that we call “home.”
Our third book, also by Simon Winchester, was not as dramatic as Krakatoa, but was equally fascinating. In The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Winchester tells the life story of a man whose brilliant insights and unflagging persistence resulted in his production in 1815 of a map of England that illustrated fundamental geological processes which had never before been observed or understood. Smith achieved recognition for his accomplishments only after weathering the injustices of the rigid British class system and the dishonesty of prominent geologists who plagiarized his map and denied him membership in the Geological Society of London. Eventually, Smith’s genius was recognized, and he was awarded the prestigious Wollastan Medal, geology's equivalent of a Nobel Prize.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, gave us a very different perspective on the natural world. As a professional botanist and a Native American (member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation) she experiences the living world of which we are a part as a web of reciprocal relationships. She believes we all need to realize that plants and animals are our teachers whose wisdom can help us learn to live in harmony with the natural world, on which we depend for our very existence.
Our final adventure of the year was with Sylvia Earle a leading American marine biologist and oceanographer, who took us with her to the bottom of some of earth’s deepest marine trenches in the submersible vehicles she helped design. In her autobiographical book, Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans, she describes her many aquatic adventures, travels around the world, and professional accomplishments, including that of chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At 83, Earle is still active as a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
January 25, 2019
Fresh Pond Reading Group Record: 2007 - 2019