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Celebrate April

Arbutus menziesii (Madrona aka Pacific Madrone)

Our Natural History Society is celebrating April as Poetry Month with a poem by Oma Landstra, a member of our Guiding Committee, in the attached newsletter. Oma writes, “Madrona is a sacred tree to the Native Americans, and therefore they never burn it in their fires or at sweats. The etymology of ‘Tree’ and ‘Truth’ indicates they come from the same root. South of the Siskiyous this tree is called ‘Madrone.’ North of these mountains it is called ‘Madrona.’ British Columbia uses ‘Arbutus.’ ” In March, our Natural History book club read Passings, a new book of poetry by one of the members of our book club, Holly Hughes. Poet and naturalist Tim McNulty describes these poems of extinct birds as “elegiac meditations.” Noreen Parks writes, “Our discussion of Holly’s book Passings is so relevant to this moving collection of readings and music based on Kathleen Dean Moore’s latest book:”

April is also Native Plant Appreciation Month, and it’s a perfect time to visit one or all of our local native plant gardens: Kul Kah Han Native Plant Garden at H. G. Carroll Park; Kah Tai Prairie in Port Townsend (by the golf course); the Native Plant Garden at Buck’s Lake in Hansville; and Sequim’s prairie. Stop by your closest native plant garden every week to watch the new blossoms emerge.

During the Land Trust’s Conservation Breakfast, I (Wendy) encouraged everyone to use the free iNaturalist app on your phone (or sign up on your computer to post photos of species you encounter on your walks. The Land Trust’s Carrie Clendaniel created a project for the Quimper Wildlife Corridor:

We hope you will also use your iNaturalist account to participate in the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s annual BioBlitz at Fort Worden on May 1. Help us identify as many plants and animals as possible. Contact AmeriCorps volunteer Meghan-Grace Slocombe for details: <>

March Brings Spring!

We are sad that it’s now been a year without our monthly Natural History Society outings. However… in this month’s attached newsletter, our readers share joyful signs of spring.

Ribes sanguineum (Red-flowering Currant)

Polygonia satyrus (Satyr Anglewing)

Our Guiding Committee has compiled the following list of websites, recorded lectures, and other suggestions to inspire you this spring.

  1. You can access the Land Trust’s past recordings of lectures from “Nature in Your Neighborhood” and “Discovering the Forest:”
  2. For free weekly presentations about “Great Rivers of the West” during March, with Washington rivers featured on March 31:
  3. From UW’s Nature & Health a Zoom lecture on March 3 called “Hiking My Feelings: Stepping into the Healing Power of Nature:”
  4. Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island has created a series of free personal nature explorations:
  5. The Natural History Society’s book club just read (and loved!) Kelly Brenner’s Seattle-based Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World. Her website is fun to explore:
  6. If you missed Nature Now on KPTZ, you can listen to podcasts on Nature Now Archives – KPTZ 91.9 FM Radio Port Townsend, here:
  7. A few local organizations offer outings and classes, which we encourage people to support by joining!:
  8. And last… Here’s a video of Dunlin fleeing from a Peregrine Falcon in the Skagit Valley, set to music:

Happy spring!

April-October 2021 Book Club Selections


26th April 2021: The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction by David Quammen (1997)
Interweaving personal observation, scientific theory, and history, The Song of the Dodo, examines the mysteries of evolution and extinction as they have been illuminated by the study of islands. An unforgettable scientific adventure, a fascinating account of an eight-year journey of discovery, and a wake up call for out time, this is a beautifully written book that takes the reader on a globe-circling tour of wild places and extraordinary ideas. “A masterpiece, maybe the masterpiece of science journalism.” -Bill McKibben, Audubon Magazine   Discussion leader: Kathy Darrow


24th May 2021: The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World by Patrik Svensson (2020) Drawing on a breadth of research about eels in literature, history, and modern marine biology, as well as his own experience fishing for eels with his father, Patrik Svensson crafts a mesmerizing portrait of an unusual, utterly misunderstood, and completely captivating animal. (Discussion leader: Wendy Feltham)

28th June 2021: The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey (2010) In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of extreme surfer Laird Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves—from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast. Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious. 

26th July 2021: Pacific Flyway: Waterbird Migration from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego by Audrey Benedict, Geoffrey Hammerson & Robert Butler (2020) The migratory waterbirds of the Pacific Flyway convert food, air, and water into a mileage plan that has few equals in the animal world. Defined by water, the flyway encompasses a sweeping expanse of coastal and offshore marine ecosystems and an inland archipelago of freshwater wetlands. Hemispheric in scope, this integrated network of ecosystems is linked by its moving parts–the millions of migratory birds whose lives depend on this 10,000-mile (16,000-km) corridor as they travel between their breeding and overwintering grounds. Pacific Flyway perfectly blends amazing photography, science writing, and storytelling to illuminate the profound challenges faced by migratory birds and to inspire a longterm commitment to global conservation efforts.

23rd August 2021: Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky (1998) This book is the biography of a single species of fish, but it may as well be a world history with this humble fish as its recurring main character. Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. As we make our way through the centuries of cod history, we also find a delicious legacy of recipes, and the tragic story of environmental failure, of depleted fishing stocks where once their numbers were legendary. In this lovely, thoughtful history, Mark Kurlansky ponders the question: Is the fish that changed the world forever changed by the world’s folly? 

27th September 2021: Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall (2000) Her revolutionary studies of Tanzania’s chimpanzees forever altered our definition of “humanity.” Now, intriguing as always, Jane Goodall explores her deepest convictions in a heartfelt memoir that takes her from the London Blitz to Louis Leaky’s famous excavations in Africa and then into the forests of Gombe. Here, thoughtfully exploring the challenges of both science and the soul, she offers an inspiring, optimistic message as profound as the knowledge she brought back from the forests, and that gives us all…reason for hope. (Discussion leader: Oma Landstra)

25th October 2021: The Blossoms are the Ghosts at the Wedding by Tom Jay (2020) “Essayist, poet, sculptor, and ecological and wild visionary, Tom Jay is an eloquent spokesman for the riverine realm of the Pacific Northwest. These poems and essays shimmer with insight and hard-won wisdom.They explore the hidden roots of language and commonplace mysteries of watersheds. and his words inevitably circle back home to the heart of what it means to be human in a wondrous but threatened world.” – Tim McNulty (Discussion leader: Holly Hughes)

All meetings will be via Zoom from 3:30-5:00 pm until the public health protocols change. Please contact Kathy Darrow at for details if you would like to join in. 

We hope to meet in person again at Illahee Preserve as soon as it is deemed safe to practice social distancing and enjoy being outdoors together. During colder winter months, we’ll meet at the Pink House next to PT Library, or schedule a Zoom meeting, depending on the public health situation. 



Recommended Reading List

The books in the list below are recommendations from book club members and is the pool of titles from which we select our upcoming reading lists. This list is in alphabetical order by author. If you’ve read a natural history related book that you would like to add to this list, please e-mail your ideas to Kathy at We also have an list of more than 100 books we have already discussed in this group on the first page of the Book Club website, so make sure your suggestion is not already there. 

Jonathan Balcombe, What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016)
What a Fish Knows will forever change how we see our aquatic cousins. We rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave.  Balcombe describes a variety of fish behaviors, such as courtship rituals and cooperative hunting behaviors. What a Fish Knows offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fishes and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of the planet’s increasingly imperiled marine life.

Elizabeth Kolbert, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021) The author takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world’s rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth. (recommended by Wendy)

Barry Lopez, Horizon (2019)  From pole to pole and across decades of lived experience, National Book Award-winning author Barry Lopez delivers his most far-ranging, yet personal, work to date. Horizon moves indelibly, immersively, through the author’s travels to six regions of the world: from Western Oregon to the High Arctic; from the Galápagos to the Kenyan desert; from Botany Bay in Australia to finally, unforgettably, the ice shelves of Antarctica. Along the way, Lopez probes the long history of humanity’s thirst for exploration, including the prehistoric peoples who trekked across Skraeling Island in northern Canada, the colonialists who plundered Central Africa, an enlightenment-era Englishman who sailed the Pacific, a Native American emissary who found his way into isolationist Japan, and today’s ecotourists in the tropics. And always, throughout his journeys to some of the hottest, coldest, and most desolate places on the globe, Lopez searches for meaning and purpose in a broken world. (recommended by Kathy)

Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures (2020) Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways we think, feel, and behave. In Entangled Life, the brilliant young biologist Merlin Sheldrake shows us the world from a fungal point of view, providing an exhilarating change of perspective. (Recommended by Cheryl)

Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild (1996)  If anything is endangered in America it is our experience of wild nature—gross contact. There is knowledge only the wild can give us, knowledge specific to it, knowledge specific to the experience of it. These are its gifts to us. We hunger for a kind of experience deep enough to change our selves, our form of life, writes Turner. Readers who take his words to heart will find, if not their selves, their perspectives on the natural world recast in ways that are hard to ignore and harder to forget. (recommended by Kathy Darrow)

Eric Wagner, After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mount St. Helens (2020)                            On May 18, 1980, people all over the world watched with awe and horror as Mount St. Helens erupted. Fifty-seven people were killed and hundreds of square miles of what had been lush forests and wild rivers were to all appearances destroyed.  Ecologists thought they would have to wait years, or even decades, for life to return to the mountain, but when forest scientist Jerry Franklin helicoptered into the blast area a couple of weeks after the eruption, he found small plants bursting through the ash and animals skittering over the ground. Stunned, he realized he and his colleagues had been thinking of the volcano in completely the wrong way. Rather than being a dead zone, the mountain was very much alive. Mount St. Helens has been surprising ecologists ever since, and in After the Blast Eric Wagner takes readers on a fascinating journey through the blast area and beyond. From fireweed to elk, the plants and animals Franklin saw would not just change how ecologists approached the eruption and its landscape, but also prompt them to think in new ways about how life responds in the face of seemingly total devastation. (recommended by Jean)

E.O. Wilson, Tales from the Ant World (2020)  “Ants are the most warlike of all animals, with colony pitted against colony. . . . Their clashes dwarf Waterloo and Gettysburg,” writes Edward O. Wilson in his most finely observed work in decades. In a myrmecological tour to such far-flung destinations as Mozambique and New Guinea, the Gulf of Mexico’s Dauphin Island and even his parents’ overgrown yard back in Alabama, Wilson thrillingly evokes his nine-decade-long scientific obsession with more than 15,000 ant species. A personal account by one of our greatest scientists, Tales from the Ant World is an indispensable volume for any lover of the natural world. (recommended by Wendy)