You might think that someone who loves nature would rather be outside than inside, bent over a book. You’d be right, with one notable exception: the members of the Nature Lovers’ Book Club, based out of the White Salmon Valley Community Library in White Salmon. Members meet via Zoom (for now) at 4 p.m. on the first Friday of every month.
The club’s founder, White Salmon resident and self-professed “nature nerd” Marion Fox, attended White Salmon’s annual Wild About Nature event featuring natural history lectures and art displays. The event drew quite a crowd and Fox was excited to be among so many other nature enthusiasts. She longed to learn more about the natural world and to have a group of like-minded folks to exchange ideas with. Fox decided to start a book club featuring nonfiction books about natural subjects.
“It’s nice to share your enthusiasm and share information,” Fox said. “It makes you more appreciative of what you’re seeing and smelling and experiencing out in nature when you learn more about it.”
Like a seed that sprouts underground, the idea needed fertile soil to develop. Fox first approached the White Salmon Library’s newly hired branch manager, Ruth Shafer, who said the group could meet at the library even though the book club wasn’t officially connected with the Fort Vancouver Regional Library system. Fox put up flyers on the library’s bulletin board and started spreading the word.
“I think at the first meeting there were three of us: me and Ruth, our librarian, and Joy Markgraf, the organizer of Wild About Nature. It was pretty discouraging,” Fox said. “In spite of that, we had a great talk about what we could read.”
The club continued meeting through 2019, drawing more attendees each time, “and then you know what happened in 2020,” Fox quipped.
Meetings were suspended for many months while the pandemic rolled on. Fox and Shafer kept in touch and met for walks a few times a month, taking solace in the outdoors, as have so many others. Nature, it seems, has become more important than ever. The club decided to reconvene over Zoom, drawing attendees from as far afield as Ridgefield and The Dalles, Ore. March 5 will be the group’s fourth online get-together.
“You could actually join from anywhere in the world if you could find us,” Shafer said. “It’s not restricted to people in the Fort Vancouver Regional Library system. You don’t even need a library card.”
To join, all you need is need a computer screen or mobile device and to fill out the registration form at fvrl.librarymarket.com/nature-lovers-book-group-22. Shafer tries to ensure there are extra copies of the book available through the White Salmon library, but if not, ask at your local library — wherever that may be — or purchase it online.
The featured book on March 5 is “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard” by Douglas W. Tallamy. (It’s also available from Vancouver’s Vintage Books for $29.95; order it at vintage-books.net.) Upcoming meetings will focus on “Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History,” by Dan Flores, and “Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea,” by Katherine Harmon Courage.
“Every book that I’ve read, when I am out in nature, has taught me to look at nature in a different way,” said Shafer, who attends every meeting. “We’ve read some books that are about the big picture, the environment, and other books about microscopic creatures. We’ve read books about beavers, bees, animal language. I learned so much about fungus I can’t even believe it.”
Even though the composition of the group (anywhere from eight to 12 people, mostly retirees with some younger women) has changed because of the pandemic, participants’ enduring fascination with and exuberant love of nature isn’t new. Curiosity about the natural world is timeless, as old as humanity itself. “This has nothing to do with COVID, really,” Fox said. “It’s all the time. We want to share our enthusiasm with people who share it back with us.”
Fox appreciates that folks bring different passions and interests to the group and that’s what makes it so interesting.
“Not everyone’s a rock-turner. People care about different things. Some are birders, some are ecologists or conservationists, some like to look at wildflowers,” Fox said. “It’s not limited to one thing. Plants, animals, fungi — we’re all over the place. I want it to be a wide-ranging group.”
Thanks to Fox and Shafer, nature lovers everywhere have a place where they can talk about what matters to them and make the time they do spend outside even more meaningful.
“Some of the writing is so spectacular it brings nature to life even if you’re indoors,” Shafer said, “but then, when you go outdoors, it brings nature to life because you know more.”