Tag: anthropology

featured image for nature centered books to read on earth day

7 Nature-Centered Books to Read on Earth Day

It’s April 22nd, do you know what that means? It’s time to celebrate Earth Day! While this year it will be a little harder to celebrate what with everyone in quarantine, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop to appreciate the planet we call home. In honor of having some extra time to read in quarantine, here are some books that one can read to connect more with nature.

1. ‘Braiding sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer

book cover

image via amazon

In this memoir, Robin Wall Kimmerer uses her experiences as a woman, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and a scientist, to express the relationship between people and nature. Kimmerer unifies these perspectives to show us how to strengthen our relationships with other living beings. Kimmerer emphasizes the importance of other living things, including the small animals we find in the forest, and how much we can learn from the workings of nature when we choose to listen. This is an inspiring read that expertly knits together identity, science, and spirit. 

2. ‘RAIN’ by Cynthia Barnett

Book cover

image via amazon

If you are interested in history or the study of humans, this book is the one for you. Cynthia Barnett tells the story of rain and how humans have tried to control it, from rain dances to levees. This book takes you on an anthropological journey from the beginning of time to now, and how we as humans have changed rain for the worse. This book speaks about climate change and rain; how it benefits, how it damages, and ultimately leads to a conversation about how we as a society treat the Earth.

3. ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben

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image via amazon

This book shares the case that the forest is a social network. Drawing on scientific discoveries, Wohlleben describes how trees are like human families – complete with tree parents and children. Wohlleben explains how they live together, communicate and support each other as they grow, share nutrients when one is struggling, and even warn each other when danger is near. This book helps you dive into the amazing processes of nature, how much we know, and how much we can’t possibly understand.  While this life of trees seems like a different world, Wohlleben explains the importance of sharing this world and how we can learn from their processes of life, death, and regeneration. 


4. ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ by Wendell Berry

Book cover

image via amazon

The Peace of Wild Things is a collection of poems written by Wendell Berry. These poems will instantly transport you into a mindset of gratitude towards the interworking of nature. Using simple yet powerful language, Berry notes his love for nature while also commenting on his inner peace, relationships, and life philosophy. Want a taste? Here is an excerpt from one of Berry’s poems, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

5. ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers

book cover

image via amazon

This novel by Richard Powers won the Pulitzer Prize and there are quite a few good reasons why. One reason is its beautiful prose, and another is the connection of our lives to the natural world. This story intertwines eight lives from antebellum New York, to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest, and even beyond. Throughout the novel, Powers weaves together these lives to trees. This connection drives us to see the world in a whole new lens that makes us look to nature with admiring eyes. 

6. ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’ by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Book Cover

image via amazon

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a memoir of Bailey’s observation of nature while dealing with a life-threatening illness. One of the species she studies is the Neohelix albolabris -a common woodland snail. Bedridden from her illness, Bailey discovers comfort and admiration from a creature whose new home is on her bed stand, from both being confined to a small place in the world. This memoir holds many lessons and observations that inspire us to appreciate being fully alive. 

7. ‘The Shell Collector’ by Anthony Doerr

book cover

image via amazon

This collection of short stories was one of my favorite books I read last year. it is filled with magical realism and themes of how we interact with nature. These stories are imaginative with a wide range of characters and settings. From the African coast, to the pine forest of Montana, Doerr explores how nature reflects the delicacy, beauty, and crushing realities of both humanity and nature. 


I hope these nature centered books inspire you to celebrate the complex and beautiful inter-workings of our planet!

featured image via Smithsonianmag.com

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Agta prepping a fire

Good Storytellers Have More Sex, Says Science

The Atlantic put out a super interesting article last week about the value we as humans place on storytellers, and I totally recommend actually reading it because it’s worth it. Andrea Migliano, an anthropologist at University College London, and her team have found evidence that stories and the act of storytelling began partially as a way of creating and solidifying social bonds, ethics, and cooperation. 


When her study began, Migliano wasn’t looking for data on storytelling, she wanted to know what qualities the Agta, a group of hunter-gatherers from the Philippines, valued most in their society. Her team of students asked 300 Agta to name five people they’d most want to live with, to nominate the strongest people they knew, those whose opinions were most respected, those with the most medical knowledge, and finally, as an afterthought, the best storytellers. They thought storytelling would be an interesting contrast amongst more esteemed skills, but the Agta seemed to value storytelling above everything else.


Those good at storytelling were twice as likely to be named ideal living companions, and storytelling was “highly valued, twice as much as being a good hunter,” said Migliano.


What’s particularly interesting is that this isn’t unique to the Agta. Storytelling is a skill revered by hunter-gatherer groups across the globe. They’re more likely to receive gifts and are desired most as both living companions and romantic companions. On average, storytellers have 0.5 more children than non-storytelling peers, which was a statistically significant finding. Migliano suggests that while “stories might help to knit communities together, evolution doesn’t operate for the good of the group. If storytelling is truly an adaptation, it has to benefit the individuals who are good at it—and it clearly does.”


It’s hard to pin this on storytelling alone, however. “Creativity comes with its own suite of personality traits, which may make people more attractive sexual partners,” said Lisa Zunshine, a professor of English at the University of Kentucky.


At the end of the day, hunter-gatherers are utilizing storytelling to instill a sense of community and ethics within their group. Michelle Scalise Sugiyama from the University of Oregon, who has studied the origins of storytelling, added that other societies, like the Tsimane of Bolivia place the same importance on storytelling, indicating “that storytelling contributes something of adaptive value to human life.”


“Stories also contain valuable cultural knowledge, and accomplished storytellers are repositories of this knowledge,” noted Sugiyama. 


So basically storytellers are the best kind of people. I dig it.


Featured Image Via the Atlantic.