Book Review Archives

Nature Journal

By L.J. Davenport
The University of Alabama Press, 2010
$24.95, Paper; $19.96, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber

Take a stroll around the yard or spend a few minutes by a stream and you cannot help but be awed by a landscape teeming with creatures crawling, burrowing, flying, and being what they are called to be. In Nature Journal, L.J. Davenport shows the extraordinary in the ordinary in the natural bounty surrounding us. Davenport draws on personal experiences and his “Nature Journal” columns that appeared in Alabama Heritage to induce readers to observe, contemplate, and write about nature.

Each of the twenty-five chapters or essays has a brief introduction by the author that provides backstory, from the familiar tree frog to the exotic pink lady’s slipper orchid. At the end of each chapter are lined pages for recording personal notes. The dialogue, sometimes witty, always informative, contain facts such as information about the fish that predicted the outcome of the Civil War. At least that is the myth according to both sides of the argument. The soldier fish, or rainbow darter, is claimed by both the Yankees and Confederates who have differing views on exactly what the fish predicted, but nevertheless, the fish is a mighty warrior on patrol throughout the streams of the Middle States.

Is there a child anywhere who hasn’t stirred a stick in the sand and sung "The Doodlebug Song": Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out of your hole. Your house is on fire. Your children are alone. The author uses doodlebug imagery and lore to evoke childlike wonder to explain experiences seen, felt, smelled, remembered.

Davenport explains the life cycles of those winged beauties—Luna moths, butterflies, and dragonflies—that have captured our imaginations since childhood.

He introduces us to birding on Dauphin Island, known as “America’s Birdiest Coastal City,” where as many as 185 avian species periodically roost. It’s either the jumping off spot or landing spot before a 600 mile nonstop journey across the Gulf of Mexico. Migrant birds, or species that hang around your backyard, are interesting to watch, and the chapters on birding will definitely pique interest.

Davenport, who is a professor of biology at Samford University, writes with feeling and clarity. His book is a treasure of information that includes notes for further reading and exploring the natural world. It is a perfect gift for those who thirst for more knowledge of the Alabama outdoors. Jan. 2011

Marianne Moates Weber is a freelance writer and nature enthusiast in Montgomery.