Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium
Herbariums seem like refugees from the past, but they are the repositories of plants and, as such, help us retain memories of past and present vegetation, both native forms and migrants. Helen Humphreys, a noted Canadian naturalist and writer spent a year examining the pressed plants in the enormous collection gathered during the nineteenth and twentieth century in the Fowler Herbarium near her home in Ontario, Canada. The author ruminates over the collections and their collectors while she reflects on her place in nature and the evolving modifications to the prevailing ecosystem. Divided into the four seasons of the year, marking the time devoted to studying each plant section in the herbarium, the narrative describes specimens of pines, lichens, grasses, trees, chicory, algae, fungi, the rose family, and more along with scant history of the collectors. The elegant satiny pages are beautifully illustrated with archival photographs of several of the specimens donated by Ernst Haeckel, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, the author herself, and many unnamed contributors. Stories from the herbarium bring to mind the lost art of collecting and pressing plants as a way of preserving memories. This exquisite little book reminds us of this lost art.
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