The Forest Unseen, a Book Review by Glenn Steinberg

Our thanks to Wild About Ewing‘s Glenn Steinberg for his latest book review which we are sure will galvanize the citizen scientists among us into noting more closely the habits and forms of the many wild inhabitants in our gardens.

Haskell, David George.  The Forest Unseen:  A Year’s Watch in Nature.  New York:  Penguin, 2012.  ISBN 9780143122944.

David George Haskell returned to the same square meter of Tennessee forest every couple days for an entire year, observing the living creatures, big and small.  The record of his observations is an interesting compilation of facts and reflections about the kinds of creatures that you may expect to find in your garden if you garden for wildlife – moths, salamanders, snails, bees, songbirds, mosquitoes, deer, caterpillars, ticks, fireflies, coyotes, katydids, vultures, squirrels, ants, raccoons, springtails, bacteria, fungi, hawks, and more.  You’ll learn that Eastern coyotes, a relatively new population that moved into Eastern forests for the first time in the 1930s and 1940s, are larger on average than their Western counterparts and often have traces of wolf DNA in their genes.  You’ll learn that sharp-shinned hawks in northern forests (including those in New Jersey) used to migrate south for the winter but that human bird feeders have increased the wintertime success of bird populations in the north and resulted in a greater supply of food for the hawks, ending their need to migrate south for the winter.  You’ll learn that slugs of the Philomycid family have beautiful markings on their backs that mystify sight with disruptive patterns that make distinguishing where the slug’s body begins and ends difficult – a form of concealment that works no matter what color background the slug traverses.

You’ll learn lots and lots and lots of other interesting facts about wildlife.  Late in the book, you’ll also learn Haskell’s purpose (and hope) in writing his meditations on all these forest creatures:  “I hope this book will encourage others to start their own explorations.  I was fortunate to be able to watch a small patch of old-growth forest.  This is a rare privilege; old growth covers less than one-half of a percent of the land in the eastern United States.  But old forests are not the only windows into the ecology of the world…. Gardens, urban trees, the sky, fields, young forests, a flock of suburban sparrows…. Watching them closely is as fruitful as watching an ancient woodland” (p. 244).  Personally, I love to sit and silently watch wildlife in my garden – from the bumblebee visiting my Comfrey’s flowers and the swallowtail caterpillars on my Fennel to the squirrel successfully getting seeds out of my “squirrel-proof” bird feeder and the pesky deer sauntering around my back yard, eating my Hosta and Daylilies.