ePostcard #144: A Naturalist’s Bookshelf

by | Dec 12, 2021 | 1 comment


I subscribe to the stewardship vision best expressed by the great Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum—we are moved to conserve what we understand and love. Every so often, in researching the topics for our ePostcard series, I discover a book that deserves special mention for the sheer pleasure of reading good writing interwoven with excellent science. I’ll be interspersing A Naturalist’s Bookshelf whenever thematically appropriate in our ongoing ePostcard series. My intent is simply to introduce books that I think you will enjoy.

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Audrey DeLella Benedict and taken at Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados (Santa Cruz Province, Argentina).

Imagine for a moment that you are Charles Darwin. You have traveled on horseback to a rocky ridge in the Patagonian steppe and are looking at a starkly beautiful landscape crisscrossed with enormous petrified tree trunks. You ask yourself the same questions that Darwin might have asked himself. What must the climate have been like to allow such huge trees to grow here? Certainly very different than the treeless steppe you see around you today. Could the fossilized claw marks (?) on the trunk be those of a tree-climbing herbivore (a giant sloth?) or even an ancient predator marking its territory? Having found a similar petrified forest in the shadow of Aconcagua Peak, Darwin would have been fascinated by these magnificently fossilized trunks of Jurassic-age monkey puzzle trees (Auracaria mirabilis), which we now know to be an extinct conifer species belonging to a clade now found only in Australia—rock solid tectonic evidence of the ancient connection of the southern continents.


Charles Darwin
The Voyage of the Beagle
The Illustrated Edition of Charles Darwin’s Travel Memoir and Field Journal
(2015, Zenith Press)

We have arrived at a juncture where we must make crucial decisions about the paths we will follow in coming to terms with the Anthropocene and our role in unraveling the biodiversity we all cherish. Needing a bit of inspiration, I turned to the bookshelf where I keep my collection of books about Charles Darwin and evolution. Though Darwin is best known for On the Origin of Species, the 1859 opus presenting his theory of evolution and the unifying concept of all life sciences, I turned instead to this beautifully illustrated version of The Voyage of the Beagle. Whether you were able to join us for Cloud Ridge’s travels in Darwin’s footsteps, or if this is your first time reading about this amazing expedition, I hope you’ll enjoy this opportunity to stow away on the Beagle with Darwin as your guide on one of the most important sailing explorations in history!

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