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Book Review: Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species, 2nd Edition, Kindle Edition

Review of the best mammal tracks book yet!

Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species
By Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland
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Review by Kim A. Cabrera

Review:

This review is for the Kindle edition of this book.

Wow. All I can say is wow. The first edition was phenomenal. The second edition, if you can believe it, improves on the first dramatically! I never thought I’d say there could be a better tracking book than the first one. But, here it is.

There is no one I know of in the tracking community that is better qualified to write this book than Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland. The tracking community is small and everyone tends to know everyone else. We all know that these guys are the true experts in this field. This book allows their expertise to shine through on every page.

It’s got expanded sections that go into way more depth than the first edition did. There’s a section on runs, one on interpreting prey remains, sign on the ground such as scrapes and beds, and much more. It’s chock full of good solid tracking information.

The species accounts have been somewhat condensed, without losing their accuracy or detail. In fact, there is even more detail packed into each one. This was done by combining species that have similar sign, like large, medium and small ground squirrels. Each has its own section with measurements broken down by species within it. The descriptions were combined because of the similarity of the sign found. This allowed the authors to pack even more information into the book, which is awesome! If there are differences, they are pointed out in each account, so it’s super helpful to be able to compare across similar species.

The sign chapters have been grouped together so you can compare similar things you find in the field easily. Find a run and want to know what animals could have made it? Go to that section and you have plenty to compare it too. Scratches on a tree? Scratches on the ground? Same thing.

Here is a list of the chapters in order:

Ch. 1 – Introduction
Ch. 2 – Mammal Tracks and Track Patterns
Ch. 3 – Runs, Paths, and Eskers
Ch. 4 – Scats, Urine, and other Secretions
Ch. 5 – Nests, Lodges and Other Constructions
Ch. 6 – Sign on the Ground: Beds, Scrapes, Wallows, Digs, Burrows, and Dens
Ch. 7 – Sign on Fungi, Herbaceous Plants, and Cacti
Ch. 8 – Sign on Trees and Shrubs
Ch. 9 – Interpreting Prey Remains
Ch. 10 – Species Accounts

The Species Accounts are incredibly detailed. Each one includes a drawing of the animal’s feet, and its tracks, and common gaits too. The track illustrations now include arrows pointing to key features of interest, and even lines to help one visualize the orientation of the toes. It’s just like how we use our fingers or nearby sticks in the field to look at these toe orientation features! (Trackers know about this!) Only now it’s in the book to help us see it better. Key features in the drawings are numbered and each number is referred to in the text description. Each species account includes the measurements and the descriptions, but they now also include all the details shown in the chapter headings above. That’s right! Each species account shows you all those details: Run, Paths, Eskers; and Sign on Fungi, Herbaceous Plants; Interpreting Prey Remains; and Scats, etc. etc. (All of those chapter headings are used in the species accounts to provide a very thorough look at the signs left by that animal.) All described right there in the species account! No more flipping through the book for the description of the scat or burrow. It’s described right there. The photos of the signs are grouped together in their respective sections so you can compare them. The detailed descriptions are now found in the species account. I like this arrangement much better. I think it will be even more helpful in the print edition than in the Kindle edition. More on that later.

For example, here is an outline of the headings in a typical section of the Species Account chapter.

-Tracks and Trails (measurements, images of tracks and gaits, etc.)
-Notes
-Runs, Paths, and Eskers
-Scats, Urine, and other Secretions
-Urine and Other Scent-Marking Behaviors
-Sign on the Ground: Beds, Scrapes, Wallows, Digs, Burrows, and Dens
-Sign on Trees and Shrubs
-Interpreting Prey Remains

For each species, this outline is customized. For example, some won’t have prey remains, some won’t have sign on grasses etc., some won’t make lodges or other constructions. Nicely organized and easy to use!

One helpful thing I noticed in this edition is that some of the track photos are now labeled so you can see which foot is LF, LH, RF, RH. That’s super helpful, especially when you are first learning to tell them apart. The descriptions also help a lot with this. Many of the photos also include rulers or coins in them to provide scale. The other thing that I like is that each animal’s feet are shown in the account so you can see what features of the feet make what features of the track. Super helpful!

Gait diagrams have been moved so they are next to each other where you can visually compare them easily. There are also photos of most of the gaits.

Most of the journal-type writing and stories in the first edition have been removed to make room for just straight track and sign information. The stories were helpful and interesting, but not as helpful as the detailed accounts in this edition are. There are still some stories, but not as many. The ones used were chosen for their usefulness to describe a concept, it seems.

There is a lot more research included in this edition too. There has, of course, been ongoing scientific research into many aspects of biology and tracking. This edition incorporates more of that information into the text. Recent studies are cited and their information included. Also, researchers, biologists, and other scientists are credited as such on the photos they donated to the project, which is nice. They deserve the credit for their work.

Some really interesting new photos were included showing cool behaviors or just unique features. I love the photo where an otter rolled and left behind whisker marks!

Specific Kindle parts of the review:

Drawbacks to Kindle edition: the Kindle edition requires a Kindle and who is going to carry one into the field? Not me. Too much risk of getting it wet or damaged. I prefer a book for the field. (I bought both for this reason.) The Kindle edition loses the formatting that you have on a page. So, references to upper right corner of the page make no sense on a Kindle since all photos are inline and you just scroll to see them. As always with Kindle editions, there are some formatting errors. Pictures not right where the accompanying text indicates, etc. But, that’s a minor issue and users of Kindle are probably used to that in their books. For field guides, it can be annoying though. However, those are formatting issues and really not anything to do with the quality of the writing or the information contained within the book. So, if you can ignore some minor format issues, Kindle is fine. Otherwise, I’d recommend getting the paperback. Well, I recommend getting that either way, but if you want a copy on your Kindle, do like I did and buy one of each! I’ll admit that it’s something only us truly obsessed trackers do, so your mileage may vary. Ha!

Good features of Kindle: You can highlight the text in different colors. My copy is already highlighted throughout in yellow, pink, orange and blue. Your highlights and page progress can be synced to the cloud so you don’t lose them. If you ever delete it off your Kindle, you can re-download it and your highlights will be there if you’ve synced it. You are allowed to put it on two different devices, in case you have two Kindles, you know. Or put it on Kindle and your laptop like I did. Sync them and your highlights and page progress are saved to both devices. On Kindle, you can also do keyword searches. So, if you want to look up a species, you can put in the name and find all instances in the book. The bad thing is, you have to spell the name right or search doesn’t work. Kindle also allows you to make your own notes in the text. These are hidden and you have to click to open a little window and read your notes. But it’s a useful feature to have.
So, overall, I recommend this book 100% and five stars. Or should I say, five paws! If you are a tracker, biologist, naturalist, or just plain nature nerd, you need this book. Why is it not on your shelf yet? Just kidding. Buy this book. You won’t regret it. If you study it, you will become a better tracker. It’s full of the experience of two of the best trackers around, plus all the contributed experience of the other scientists, researchers, biologists, naturalists and trackers who contributed in the field. Hundreds of years of tracking experience is right here in your hands. It is 680 pages of the best information money can buy. Get it. You will not regret it. No buyer’s remorse here. It’s worth every penny!

NOTE:
Because I’m an affiliate, if you use the link below to purchase, I get a tiny kickback. But, that in no way influenced this review. All the opinions above are genuinely mine and I stand by them. Five paws up!

Link to purchase at Amazon.

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Book Review: Come be Wild with Me

This is the post excerpt.

Come Be Wild With Me is a cute story book for children. It will appeal to younger readers and encourage them to go outside and play in nature, which is always a good thing.

The book contains a short, lyrical story about a mother and son who venture out into the forest to learn about the wild. They immerse themselves in the nature experience and have fantastic adventures exploring and being wild. The message is a positive one and shows kids that nature is a great place to be and that you can have imaginative adventures without being plugged into a device with a screen. They climb trees, throw stones into a lake, dress in leaves and eat berries. A full sensory experience of nature.

The story is accompanied by beautiful watercolor paintings depicting the storyline. The paintings are fanciful and colorful. The animals are cute and not scary for young readers. The characters are shown with smiling faces so that young readers will understand that nature is not a scary place; it’s a place that makes people happy.

The positive message of this book seems well-suited to readers of any age, and indeed adults will enjoy the poetic story and the accompanying paintings. The story is told in words that younger readers can sound out and spell, so it’s appropriate for the age group. Parents can read it to children who are too young to read on their own yet. It’s one of those books that a child might ask for as a bedtime story each night and memorize so that they can read along with the parent.

I enjoyed the story and its message about nature. I recommend this to anyone who wants to introduce their kids to nature and give them a storybook that will almost certainly become popular a favorite.

I would like to thank the author, publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to see an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Skunk Train

Skunk Train
By Joe Clifford

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Review:

Skunk Train, written by Joe Clifford, is a sort of coming-of-age tale set against a backdrop of California’s grittier side. The hero of the story is 15-year-old Kyle Gill, who lives in the hills of Humboldt with his cousin, Deke. Deke and a friend, Jimmy, have come into possession of a hundred pounds of marijuana. In their attempt to sell it, they run afoul of some dirty cops, a biker gang, the Mexican cartel, and assorted others. Kyle and his new friend, Lizzie, end up on the run with a backpack full of cash.

The Humboldt hill country, where the story begins, is described fairly well. The communities mentioned by name are fictional, but there really is a Skunk Train, although it is not a motel, it’s an actual tourist train. As a resident of Humboldt, this reviewer found the descriptions of the rural life here relatively accurate. Kyle seemed a bit naive for his age, but it is partly due to his isolation in the hills with his cousin, who is a marijuana farmer. The communities described in the book seem to be based on mashups of many local communities, rather than just one town. The name of Kyle’s town, Dormundt, is an interesting play on words. Sounds like Dormant, which could be an interesting reference by the author to some of the ways of life here in Humboldt. The other fictional towns are Richter and Cutting.

Deke and Jimmy are the ones who set the events in motion when they help themselves to the stolen marijuana. Then, they attempt to sell it to some dirty cops, but that is interrupted by the biker gang. In the process, Deke is killed. Kyle ends up running off with Jimmy’s truck, which, unknown to Kyle, has a bag of money in the back. Kyle ends up in San Francisco, where he tries to locate his uncle. He loses the truck and the money and finds a girl named Lizzie, who eventually decides to help him. Kyle wants to find his father, who he believes is a movie director in Hollywood.

The story was believable and the characters were built up well over the course of the novel. Kyle does a lot of growing up in that time span. Lizzie has her own reasons for helping him. The situations Kyle runs into are unfortunately too common for runaway juveniles. The harsh reality of his situation seemed very realistic.

I liked that the novel didn’t try to make things seem too perfect. The reader sees the reality of life on the street and of the hidden side of our cities. The events seemed realistic for a kid from out of town with no money who knows no one in the area. What would he do to survive? How would he go about finding his father with the very slim amount of evidence he had to work with?

The plot moved along well and the reader will be eager to see what happens next. This was a pretty good page-turner and really drew me into the story. Characters are believable and the locations are well-described. Overall, I thought the author did a great job bringing this story to life. There is a sense of reality to it that is lacking in some fiction.

I give it five stars. A very enjoyable read. Recommended.

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Book Review: Southwest Medicinal Plants

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Southwest Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 112 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness
By John Slattery

Review:

This book is a guide to how to forage for wild medicinal plants. This is part of a series of regional plant guides from Timber Press. This particular guide covers the Southwest region. (Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and parts of Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada.) Medicinal plants were known to our ancestors long before we had pharmacies and modern medicines. Learning about these plants is fascinating!

The author makes it easy to learn by breaking it down for us into manageable learning bits. First, there is a whole section that talks about the philosophy of collecting and how to do it respectfully. Then, you learn what tools will be needed for wild-harvesting. There is a section showing how to prepare the plants after they are harvested. So, how to make tinctures, how to make poultices, etc. There is a section telling one how to correctly harvest the plants too. You have to do it so that the future generations of the plant are considered. Don’t be a greedy harvester, but only take what you need. And harvest in ways that don’t kill the plant where possible. The methods are detailed in the book. We then learn what seasons are best for harvesting which plants. This is useful since some vary in the amount of medicine in them by season! The introductory sections are excellent and you should not skip over them before you proceed to the species accounts.

After all the introductory things have been presented, we get to the meat of the book. Most of the book is made up of the species accounts. For each plant that is featured, we learn a lot of details. For example, a species account might include the following: Common and scientific names, what part to use, what is it used for, how to identify it, where and when to harvest, how to harvest it, its medicinal uses, how to protect future harvests, and preparation directions.

Each account has photos of the plant to help you identify it. Different plant parts are shown, depending on what you are supposed to harvest, or what is useful to identify that plant. The photos are nice and clear and are in color. Some photos show the plant as it is being prepared or harvested, so you can see what that should look like.

What I liked about this book:

It seemed that the author has used all the plants and preparations that are detailed here. So, the reader gets the benefit of his experience and he can warn if, for example, a particular plant tastes bitter or something like that. So, you are prepared in case you try it yourself. You will have a better idea what to expect. I also liked that the sections were very thorough. Each description is detailed enough to identify the plant, and you get great directions on how to harvest what you need, as well as how to prepare it properly. There are a lot of details that require one to learn in the field and the author saves the reader time by presenting those in the text. So, for each situation or plant, it’s like you have an experienced person next to you, guiding you along the way. I loved that so many species were covered and wished there were even more. It’s fascinating to learn and I think I will get other books in this series to find out more.

The only thing that I could classify as a dislike was that some of the common names are not the ones that I have learned for those particular plants. I think common names vary by region, and I am not in the southwest region, so that may account for it. There are plenty of alternate common names listed and the ones I knew were always in that list. So, it’s not a big deal, unless you are looking up a plant alphabetically and the common name that you know is not the one it is filed under. However, there is always the index! Or, if you use an e-reader, you can use the Search feature.

Overall, I give this book five stars out of five. It is an excellent resource and every wild-crafter should have it on their shelf. I just love learning about plants and their uses and this book makes an awesome addition to my collection. Many of the plants can be found outside the southwest region, but there may be a book for your region too! I really enjoyed this one and I am sure other readers will as well.

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Book Review: Field Guide to Citizen Science

The Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference

By: Darlene Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman, Caren Cooper

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Review:

Citizen science is becoming way more popular. There are so many places where we can volunteer our time and share our observations with scientists these days. Many of these projects can be done online, which increases the reach and scope of the project. This book tells the reader about how to get involved in some of these projects.

The book is written by the founders of the SciStarter web site. This web site is a place where many of the projects are registered. A citizen scientist can register with the web site, then browse for projects that they are interested in participating in. It makes it much easier and you only have to remember the one login.

The book is broken down into sections. Some of the projects are for particular locations, some are online, some are one-time-only, etc. So, the reader can make choices about which ones they prefer to contribute to. If you don’t know what citizen science is, you can read about it on the web site, or in the book. The book does a great job explaining the basics for anyone who is interested in learning more. And, you don’t have to sign up on the web site. It’s just one option. If you prefer to participate in a project on your own, you can do it through the contact information provided for that project. So, there are a variety of choices as well as projects. They cover a wide array of interests and skill levels.

Each chapter of the book provides details about a particular project. The reader can find out what the scientists are looking for, how to make their observations, how to contribute, and more. The tools needed are also listed, if there are any. I found the accounts very detailed and interesting. There are some sections in the book that give background information as well.

I thought the book was well-organized. It covered the subject quite well and allowed the reader to decide if participation in citizen science is right for them or not. It provides a resource where one can look for projects. It also provides an in-depth look into this fast-growing activity.

Scientists can’t be everywhere. They can only make observations from one place at a time. By allowing everyday people to contribute to research, they are opening up science to all. It’s an experience that anyone can now participate in. Sometimes, you may not even have to leave your home to contribute! How cool is that?

I think this book would be a valuable library resource, and should be in school libraries to encourage students to participate actively in science during their everyday activities. They might grow up to be future scientists!

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Book Review: Nature’s Best Hope

Nature’s Best Hope
By Douglas Tallamy

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Review:

Everyone knows our planet is in trouble. Our ecosystems are facing major issues across the globe. We have created many areas that are fairly barren of native species. In turn, the pollinators, insects, and other animals that depend on those native species are being lost. One major contributing factor is that we’ve adopted so many non-native plant species in our landscaping. These plants did not originate on this continent and the native bees and other species here are not adapted to those plants, so they often can’t use them for food or to gather pollen.

In the book, Nature’s Best Hope, author Douglas Tallamy proposes a way to fix this problem. How? By creating what he calls the Homegrown National Park. This park would not be located in one particular place. Rather, it would be a continent-wide use of space currently used to grow non-native plants converted back to growing native plants. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, but we need to learn how to do it and then actually do it for it to be effective.

The idea itself is a good one, and it can be done. We just need to have the knowledge and the desire to make it happen. We’ve got to convince homeowner associations that planting a whole bunch of non-native trees, shrubs, and flowers will have no benefit for bees and birds. We need to give our wild species the plants that they would have had in our regions before we humans removed those plants and planted the non-native ones in their place. We complain about the loss of birds, and the fact that we no longer hear crickets in our towns, but this is the reason, and we are responsible for doing something to remedy the problem we created.

This book takes you step-by-step through the entire process. The author begins by presenting the issue. He does an excellent job of showing how this problem came about. He describes the biology of the species of birds, bees, and others that are being affected. Then, he describes how we can change the outcome by changing a few species that we plant in our gardens and public spaces. He shows how it can be done while still maintaining the attractive open spaces that everyone wants. It will mean less lawn and more native plants, but that can be done. Plenty of examples of very attractive landscapes are shown in the photos to prove that this concept is something that anyone can do. Native plants are very attractive in their own way, and there are plenty of them to choose from.

There are some key species of plants that will help many native wildlife species survive, and those are described. The author gives the families of these plants, which can be planted across the continent. Obviously, an oak species native to the west coast would not be the same on the east coast, but there are native oaks for each region that would be appropriate to plant and grow.

Other features of the landscape can help our native wildlife. One suggestion that I liked in the book was to install a bubbler in your backyard to give wildlife a place to drink. The design shown in the photo is really beautiful and it looks simple to build. Plus, it has the added benefit of attracting birds and helping them survive!

It’s not just the local wildlife that will benefit either. There are plenty of migrating birds that pass through our towns each year. These birds need food and water and a place to rest. If we create Homegrown National Park, they will find these places all along their long journey.

What better way to help wildlife than to make some simple changes to your landscaping and plant native species? If we all do this, we might be able to reverse the decline in bird and bee species and actually do something to help the ecosystem. In my opinion, that’s the perfect thing to do.

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Book Review: Primal

Primal: Why We Long to Be Wild and Free
By Nate Summers

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Review:

 

Primitive skills. Those words can bring up many images for us. For a lot of us, they mean a way to get back to nature and to our natural roots. But, why do so many of us want to do this?

That question is what this book explores. Nate Summers is an expert survivalist and wilderness skills leader. His book explores the reasons people are seeking out these kinds of experiences more and more.

Humans have an interesting relationship to nature. Often, we are destructive. Sometimes, we are respectful and treat nature well. But, what draws us to seek a deeper connection to nature? Why are survival skills, and the people who teach them, becoming so popular lately? Is it because we recognize that our planet is changing and that we humans will need to adapt to this? Or, is it just the latest fad and will fade away?

To explore this question, the author takes us on a tour. He interviews practitioners of wilderness skills. He shows us all the survival schools that have cropped up. He takes us inside how people learn these skills. He shows us how the students who go through these programs come out of them with an increased appreciation for nature and intense interest in learning more skills. Primitive skills and wilderness survival are about more than a battle between man and nature. It’s about modern people connecting with our ancient roots. All of our ancestors, at some point in time, used those skills just to live. So, it seems to be inherently fascinating to us, as modern humans.

As a reviewer, I thought the book accomplished its purpose. In the interest of full disclosure, I do know several of the people who were interviewed for the book, and I have practiced the art of tracking for many years, so I know that part of the community very well. I do not know Nate, but his book seems to be a good insider overview of the whole phenomenon of ancestral skills.

One thing that I liked about the book was that he didn’t stay away from important issues. Such as a lack of racial diversity within the wilderness skills community. And the issue of cultural misappropriation. Some schools emphasize Native American skills, yet they are not taught by Native people. These issues need to be addressed by the wilderness skills community, and it was good to see that this author at least brought up the subject. Hopefully, this can lead to some dialog and maybe some changes. We can’t pretend that all practitioners are being respectful of the cultures whose skills they claim to be teaching, but we can hope that bringing attention to it will lead to some change.

Overall, this was an interesting read. It gives insight into how the whole movement developed over time and who the participants were. The reader gets to see the progression of this growing community. The author gives some reasons why modern people are attracted to these schools. And, it’s an entertaining read to boot. Recommended.

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Book Review: The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life

The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life
by Boyd Varty

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Review:

Boyd Varty is a tracker. In this book, he tracks a pride of lions in Londolozi, in South Africa. Along the way, he teaches some life lessons for the reader.

Londolozi is a private game reserve founded by Varty’s family. He works there with other trackers who take tourists out to see the wildlife. The land is preserved for this purpose, and the animals are not hunted. This book is the story of one such adventure, where Boyd and two other trackers follow a pride of lions.

Boyd, along with trackers Renias Mhlongo and Alex van der Heever (co-founders of the Tracker Academy), encounter a lion trail. Their job as trackers is to let the guides know where the lions are so that the tourists can also be taken to see them. So, they set off to trail the lions. The book follows this trailing session throughout all the chapters. Interspersed with the tracking story are some life lessons and tips that Boyd has picked up along the way. So, in a way, the book is two stories. One is the trailing of the lions. The other is the lessons learned by the tracker and how these apply to life.

Boyd draws parallels between the experience of tracking out in nature and general life lessons. He is a life coach and a speaker who has traveled the world to share these lessons. He has also tracked with some of the best trackers in the world.

As a tracker myself, this reviewer may be slightly biased. I wanted to read this book mostly for the tracking stories from Londolozi. I met Alex in 2006 when I hosted an international tracking conference in California. One of the stories related in the book is how Renias saved him from a charging animal. I remember him telling that story in 2006 and it was pretty exciting how he reenacted it! So, for me, reading the trailing of the lion pride was the best part of the book. But, my perspective differs from the average reader due to my tracking background. Others may approach this book as simply a self-help book with a cool story about tracking lions thrown in. For me, that story was the best part of the book. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the life lessons that Boyd taught along the way. But, that wasn’t my main focal point in reading this book.

It is a relatively short book, but there are some great ink illustrations inside that are worth a look. And, you can’t beat the tracking story! If you learn some cool life tips along the way, then it’s time well-spent. I highly recommend it! Even if you are not a tracker, you will get something out of this book.

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Book Review: Our Wild Calling

Our Wild Calling

By Richard Louv

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Review:

We can all use a better connection to the world around us, particularly to the animals that share our space. We have pets and we love all kinds of animals, but how does this help us connect to nature? Are animals a pathway for humans to understand nature better?

In the book, Our Wild Calling, author Richard Louv explores our relationship with animals, both wild and domestic. How can humans draw closer to nature and to animals? What sorts of things are people out there doing now to help make this happen?

In this book, you will see a variety of ways in which we can enhance our lives and experience. Wildlife, pets, imaginary animals, and more, are all there for us to learn about and become closer to. Humans are learning more and more about the animals that share our planet.

Some of the things that you will learn in this book come from research and some from experience. There are plenty of ways to approach our need to get closer to animals. Some do this in a spiritual way and some in a scientific way. But, the approach itself isn’t what’s really important. The connection with nature and animals is what’s really important. That’s what need is being fulfilled here. Humans can’t exist in a vacuum without nature and animals.

I think I most enjoyed the chapter that talked about animal-assisted therapy. I think that’s probably a very important thing to be doing. The use of animals helps seniors and sick kids alike. All humans seem to love animals and we can all relate to them. So, their use in a therapeutic setting seems just natural. I enjoyed that part of the book a lot. The whole book is packed full of good information and I think there are many nuances in it too, that will require a second reading in more detail.

This is a book to savor and think about for a long time. I really loved it.

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