Favorite Nature Art & Photo Books of 2015

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunting in winter snowfall. Ontario, Canada.
I’m fortunate to get to review books for various regional publications, most often in the Cascadia Weekly. I get the privilege and pleasure of being sent many books throughout the year, usually on “nature topics,” both fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry, art, photography and conservation issues. Here at the end of 2015, I’ve selected some of my favorite coffee table-style books that present the natural world in all of its glory!  — CM
The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
Photography by Gerrit Vyn (Mountaineers Books)
This handsome volume brings to life the work of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a venerable institute that has been researching – and communicating to the public – the complex lives of birds since 1915. Leading chroniclers of the natural world contribute essays, including Barbara Kingsolver, Jared Diamond, Lyanda Lynn Haupt and Scott Weidensaul, but the real star of these pages is photographer Gerrit Vyn. His crisp images of nesting Snow Owls, dancing Greater Prairie-Chickens, migrating Sandhill Cranes, flocking Trumpeter Swans and beachcombing Sanderlings share as intimate a portrait of bird life as has ever been produced. (Top photo of Great Grey Owl by Vyn)

Mangelsen_Grizzly- - 6
Grizzly: The Bears of Greater Yellowstone
Thomas D. Mangelsen (Rizzoli)
Photographer Thomas Mangelson is renowned for his stunning photographs of the world’s wildlife and exotic locales, but for Grizzly, he focuses his lens in on a family of bears in his own backyard: Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This veritable Eden is rich with elk, moose, antelope, bison and other creatures, but the return of brown bears (and gray wolves too) is a recent phenomenon. Beginning in 2006, Mangelsen began creating a “visual journal” of the life and times of Grizzly #399, a matriarch of the Ursus arctos horribilis clans of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because she inhabits the frontcountry around Grand Teton National Park, she was relatively visible and attracted a legion of admirers. Grizzly intimately chronicles her life and times raising three cubs, hunting elk, playing in wildflower meadows, swimming the Snake River and doing a delicate dance amongst her humans fan club. This large-format book is empathetic and moving tribute to the more-than-human world.

Pacific Valley
California’s Wild Edge: The Coast in Poetry, Prints and History
Tom Killian with Gary Snyder (Heyday Press)
Writer and woodcut artist Tom Killian conducts a multi-level exploration of California’s Pacific Coast through art, poetry, Native American stories, records of early explorers and varied contributions from writer, bioregional philosopher and Zen Buddhist Gary Snyder. Killian’s 80 stunning, colorful woodblock prints, influenced by the 19th-century Japanese technique of ukiyo-ë, say the most about these places with the fewest words. San Francisco Bay, Pt. Reyes, Bolinas Ridge, Monterey Bay, Pt. Sur, Tomales Bay and other scenic waypoints along the ragged California coast are exquisitely rendered. His carvings blend the accuracy of natural history with the impressionistic imagination of an artist. Striking a fine balance between romantic and representational, his artwork shares what a   landscape viewed through the lens of respect and love looks like.

Soul of Wilderness: Mountain Journeys in Western BC and Alaska
John Baldwin & Linda Bily (Harbour Publishing)
Less than 100 miles to the north of Bellingham lie the Coast Mountains, an extremely rugged range that stretches through British Columbia all the way to the Yukon and southeast Alaska. Their proximity to the Pacific Ocean means lots of rain and snow, which in turn means old-growth forests, glacier-clad peaks and massive icefields. John Baldwin and Linday Bily have been exploring these mysterious mountains by boot and ski for over 40 years, taking photographs and recording stories of their discoveries. This new large-format book shares a generous selection of both, including epic ski-trekking adventures across the Lillooet and Homathko Icefields, explorations of the Stikine River and Chilco Lake, encounters with grizzly bears and wolverines, and fresh powder turns galore. The size and scope of the ice-covered, remote and mostly roadless wilderness to the north almost defies comprehension, and we’re fortunate to have Baldwin and Bily as good-natured guides to this modern-day terra incognito.

The Wild Edge: Freedom to Roam the Pacific Coast
Photography by Florian Schulz with Bruce Barcott and Eric Scigliano (Braided River)
German-born photographer Florian Schulz rose to prominence with his first book, Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam, which advocated for landscape-level, transnational ways of understanding and managing North America’s wildlands. He returns with an even bolder statement with The Wild Edge, presenting a vast, holistic vision of conservation across the Pacific Coast of North America. From the whale calving lagoons in Baja Mexico to the bird-nesting colonies of the Beaufort Sea, The Wild Edge seeks to raise awareness and inspire preservation of migration corridors and biological hot spots along our incomparable 6000 mile-long coast.

Wildlife of the World
Big, beautiful and bold, this hefty book produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian is a virtual ark of the soaring, squirming, slithering, swimming creatures that populate our planet. From the Titicaca grebes and Northern viscachas of the Andean Antiplano to the Bactrian camels and Przewalski’s wonder geckos of the Gobi Desert to the Peacock mantis shrimp and Scalloped hammerhead sharks of the Great Barrier Reef, thousands of amazing creatures are presented in vivid photography, natural history briefs and habitat maps. Every continent is explored in this virtual safari that hones in on the richest habitats like the Sulawesi Sea, Antarctic Peninsula, Kalahari Desert, Norwegian Fjords and North America’s own Yellowstone, Everglades, Sierra Nevada, Mojave and Arctic. The sumptuous book is an ode to biodiversity, a celebration of the many varied forms we share Earth with, and also a cautionary tale of what we stand to lose as Homo sapiens continue to dominate the planet and its resources.

Rarely Seen: Photographs of the Extraordinary
Susan Tyler Hitchcock (National Geographic Books)
Fantastical, ephemeral, rare and downright weird: this modern-day Book of Curiosities from National Geographic reveals the secrets of our world through jaw-dropping photographs. Lightly captioned, the images are left to tell their own stories. Organized around themes like Phenomena, Life and Moments, this large-format book presents images of frozen lava flows in the Galapagos, a 2,300 mummy known as the Bog Man, swimming elephants, the Terra Cotta Warriors and a painting made by a chimpanzee, all in the vivid How Did They Capture That-style that NG is known for. Seemingly random, strangely beautiful and defiantly odd, the end result of viewing Rarely Seen is “Wow, we live on a cool planet!”’
nps heacox
The National Parks: An Illustrated History
Kim Heacox (National Geographic)
Next year is the centennial of the National Park Service and you’ll be hearing a lot about this admired agency’s work at “preserving unimpaired” our treasured national landscapes and landmarks “for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Nearly 300 million people visited NPS sites in 2014, which include 84 million acres of land, 27,000 historic structures, 18,000 miles of trails, 78 monuments, 25 battlefields and 10 seashores. This new book from National Geographic does an admirable job of rounding up many of these diverse resources and presenting them in their best light through photos, maps, historical records, inspiring quotes and people profiles. From the Gates of the Arctic to the Everglades, Olympic to Acadia, Haleakala to the Redwoods, it is the armchair travelers’ ticket to the best America has to offer. The book also reminds that the NPS stewards not only our most renowned places, but cultural heritage sites too, like Antietam, Pearl Harbor, Dry Tortuga, Ebey’s Landing and 75,000 archaeological sites. Heacox, who won a National Outdoor Book Award in 2015, ties it all together with his lively, celebratory prose.

Leave a Comment