Folks today seem so attached to cellphones, tablets and computers that nature is taken for granted — it’s just out there somewhere. However, as award-winning naturalists Nathaniel Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich so convincingly declare: “There is so much life to see — if you only know how to look.”

And their new book encourages people to be curious about the natural world — to look, observe, record, question and understand why nature works the way it does in any setting — urban, suburban or rural.

Wheelwright is a professor of natural science at Bowdoin College. Heinrich, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Vermont, has authored more than 20 books about nature, from “Bumblebee Economics” (1979) to “The Homing Instinct” (2014). Together they have produced an attractive, hardcover guide and five-year journal for novice naturalists: “a memory storage tool” to help people observe, remember, record, connect, see changes and better understand nature’s cycles. The journal is organized by day, month and year to easily record observations and comments. Heinrich provided all the detailed illustrations.

Six chapters offer simple advice to organize observations of nature in a systematic manner, teaching us to pay attention to details and see amazing things, raising awareness, acuity and understanding. Guidance on how to become an observant naturalist includes developing curiosity about plants, trees, animals, birds and insects, using your senses of touch, smell, sight and hearing (be careful if tasting), how to ask yourself questions about food, nests, mating, territoriality, behaviors, defenses and how the seasons affect all these things.

They also remind people to be respectful of nature and considerate of others. Best is their reassurance: “The lives of plants and animals … are more magical than anything you could conjure up in your imagination.”


If anyone could so hilariously mangle the English language with groan-inducing puns and absurd “gift of gag” wordsmith observations, it would be Maine humorist John Branning.

This is a collection of 50 short essays he uses to skewer tasteless celebrities, clueless politicians, make fun of himself and puzzle over toilet paper, popular quotes, Thanksgiving recipes, New Year’s resolutions and why verb tenses make him tense.

Get ready to laugh at the gags, witticisms, profound goofiness and Branning’s unique look at life, marriage, his waistline and toilet training his cats. There are a lot of toilet-related observations here, especially his astute questioning of why there are so many types of toilet paper when we only go No. 1 and No. 2. He worries folks might think he does most of his thinking and writing while on the can.

He also likes lists, such as “Thirteen Last-Minute Gifts for Your Holiday” (the Mike Pence stopwatch is a keeper), and the “Eleven Reasons Why I Hate to Go Grocery Shopping” (why do we add salt to a recipe that calls for unsalted butter?).

Best, however, are his essays on fractured grammar like “Double Indumbnity” where the term “film buff” means watching old movies in the nude, and “film noir” which is French for “not in color.” He also thinks Apostrophe is the Greek goddess of love, wonders about the term “Scott-free” (Who is Scott and who set him free?) and asks if you are nonplussed now, can you be plussed later?

Others include “My Bathroom Innovation Will Make You Flush with Excitement;” why he calls wine connoisseurs “winers” (get it?); why the term “rode hard, put away wet” has nothing to do with horses; and why you’d better watch out if your 9-year-old grandson asks you if he’s in your will.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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