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Five Summer Reading Recommendations

In addition to our mutual love of wide-open spaces, the entire Palmer team is  united by a common love of reading. Here are a few summer reading recommendations from Conservation Director Ed Roberson that run the full gamut from water in the West to humans’ interaction with the natural world. We hope you find a few that pique your interest!

Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River by David Owen - In my experience working in the West, there are few, if any, topics that are more controversial and maddeningly complicated than water. Every time I proudly learn a new tidbit of water-related information, I’m just opening the door to a dozen more concepts that I now have to struggle to understand. That being said, this is the most user-friendly book I’ve found that digs into all the complex issues, without the Ambien-like effects of most water-related books. Owen, a New Yorker writer, follows the Colorado River from its source just west of Longs Peak all the way to Mexico, delving into water concepts and controversies in an engaging and easy-to-read style. Given that I spend so much of my professional time deep in the nitty-gritty details of water, it was valuable for me to revisit the issues from the 30,000-foot view that this book provides. To understand the West, you need to understand water, and this book is an excellent resource.

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams – Few would argue with the fact that being outside is good for us, but it’s staggering how little time the average American spends outdoors. The Nature Fix is essentially 300 pages of fun-to-read evidence that explains exactly why nature is so beneficial to us, both mentally and physically. In an engaging and witty style, Williams builds her case from every angle, and in the end, leaves little doubt that we should all be spending much more time in nature. Personally, there’s a direct correlation between time spent in the outdoors and my moods, productivity, and overall sense of well-being—so I didn’t need convincing. But I thoroughly enjoyed understanding the specific scientific and evolutionary reasons for why nature is so important to me (and to all of us cooped-up modern-day homo sapiens).

Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear by Bryce Andrews - In my experience, there are very few topics in the American West that consistently evoke such emotion as the conflict between people and predators. Very generally speaking, it’s the agricultural community on one side, the environmentalists on the other, with very little common ground between the two. Enter author Bryce Andrews, whose resume gives him a unique and invaluable perspective on all sides of the conflict. Bryce is an experienced rancher, advocate for large carnivores, and a sharp, insightful writer who can describe these complex relationships in an even-keeled style that resonates with folks on both sides of the argument. In Down from the Mountain, he gives an educational, entertaining, and sometimes-heartbreaking account of the interactions between a specific grizzly bear and corn farm located in Montana’s Mission Valley. It's a damn good story, and I read it in two sittings. No matter your stance on predators and people in the West, this book will provide much-needed empathy for “the other side,” and hopefully lay the groundwork for more productive, less adversarial conversations around these topics in the future.

Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West by Sara Dant – I've had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Dant, and she is an amazing wealth of knowledge about the history of the American West, as well as modern-day challenges facing the region. Even more impressive, in both her writing and speech, she is able to convey hard-to-understand (and sometimes dull) topics such as water rights and land use legislation in exciting and digestible language. As the title suggests, Losing Eden lays out the history of the West, starting with human migration into North America and ending in present day and our scramble to find solutions to climate change and natural resource shortages… with ample coverage of Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold throughout.

Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores – I love books that go deep on one very specific subject, and this is one of my favorites. The coyote is a controversial figure, especially here in the American West, and understanding this highly intelligent animal—and humans’ relationship with it—provides some interesting insights into the history of North America, our relationships with other species, and some of the comical ways we’ve gone about trying to control the natural world. The book covers all aspects of the animal, from its evolutionary past to its relationship with Native Americans, and its ability to outwit our best efforts to exterminate it from the planet. Whether you love them or hate them (or can’t distinguish a coyote from a German Shepard), you’ll walk away from this book with new insights into humans, animals, and the North American landscape.

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Check back often for more recommendations from the Palmer staff, or visit Ed's blog for many West-related book suggestions!