Beacon Press: Early Spring
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Early Spring

An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World

Author: Amy Seidl   Foreword by: Bill McKibben

An ecologist and mother brings the overwhelming problem of global warming to a personal level, with a mix of memoir and science

Robert Frost wrote about nature and rural life in New England, and Norman Rockwell painted classic scenes of farmhouses and American traditional life, images reproduced as symbolizing an idealized history born of New England sights. But New England, a region whose culture is rooted in its four distinct seasons, is changing along with its climate.

In Early Spring, ecologist and mother Amy Seidl examines climate change at a personal level through her own family’s walks in the woods, work in their garden, and observations of local wildlife in the quintessential America of small-town New England, deep in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Seidl’s testimony, grounded in the science of ecology and evolutionary biology but written with beauty and emotion, helps us realize that a natural upheaval from climate change has already begun: spring flowers blossom before pollinators arrive, ponds no longer freeze, and animals begin migrations at unexpected times. Increasingly, the media report on melting ice caps and drowning polar bears, but Seidl brings the message of global warming much closer to home by considering how climate change has altered her local experience, and the traditions and lifestyles of her neighbors, from syrup producers to apple farmers. In Vermont, she finds residents using nineteenth-century practices to deal with perhaps the most destructive twenty-first-century phenomenon.

Seidl’s poignant writing and scientific observations will cause readers to look at their local climate anew, and consider how they and their neighbors have adjusted to the reality of global warming.
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“The human heart is the most sensitive instrument, and that is why Amy Seidl’s marvelous book is so important, a new kind of contribution to the rapidly growing library on global warming.” —Bill McKibben, from the foreword

“This is the voice we need to hear now: a biologist mother, with no time for despair, bearing witness to the unraveling of the ecological world within her children’s backyard—which is all of our children’s backyard. With urgency and grace, Amy Seidl delivers the message I’ve been listening for.” —Sandra Steingraber, PhD, author of Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood

“Seidl ponders the human predicament in a titanic and visionary personal inquiry that remains fixed on promise even in the face of grim and unsettling facts. This is a brave book.” —Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

“An eloquent celebration of commitment to family, community, and the ever-so-fragile natural world . . . Regardless of where you live, this may very well be one of the most important books you’ll ever read.” —Howard Frank Mosher, author of A Stranger in the Kingdom

Early Spring contributes something of great value to the tradition founded by Rachel Carson. Amy Seidl brings her own professional training as a biologist, as well as her engaging lyrical voice, to bear on the blurring of seasons around her Vermont home. The result is a timely, important book—both troubling and lovely.” —John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home

“Who would have thought a few years ago that coal-burning plants on the other side of the globe could affect us? The hills and hollows of Vermont would seem to be the last place on Earth you’d expect to feel the effects of global warming. But Amy Seidl tells lovingly of how Vermont’s nature and landscapes will change, and what could be in store.” —Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven

Early Spring is brave and eloquent testimony from a reliable witness about the extraordinary changes we face in the very nature of daily life on Earth. It reminds us that the human heart and mind have their place in the order of things, too.” —James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency

“This is a quiet but important little book in the spirit of Gilbert White, J. Henri Fabre, and Thoreau, three other writers who grasped that close observation of local details can lead to transcendent understanding. Amy Seidl, a graceful and trenchant writer herself, combines scientific research and home truths to alert us, at gut and heart and head levels, about what’s happening to our planet.” —David Quammen, author of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

“This slim and informative book speaks to the heart as well as the mind. Painlessly and in quiet, personal language, it taught me much about ecology and my native New England.” —Mark Bowen, author of Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming

“Informative and hopeful.” —Library Journal, starred review


Review: - April 14, 2009
"Early Spring has the potential to be immensely influential, a real turning point in the popular appreciation of climate change impacts among laypersons and scientists alike. Read it."
Review: Seven Days - April 13, 2009
“Fascinating . . . accessible . . . poetic . . . engaging”
Review: Booklist - February 1, 2009
"[A]rtfully broadminded . . . reminiscent of the Old Farmer's Almanac . . . [P]rescient . . . deeply personal and solidly scientific, Seidl's chronicle manages to be concerned without being cloying."
Review: Library Journal, starred review - October 1, 2008
"Informative and hopeful, this book is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries."
Review: Publishers Weekly - September 29, 2008
"[I]ntimate reflection. . .Seidl's tender descriptions of her young daughters' encounters with the natural world. . . add personal poignancy to a subject 'few can stand to talk about at any length.'"

The little crab alone with the sea became a symbol that stood for life itself--for the delicate, destructible, yet incredibly vital force that somehow holds its place amid the harsh realities of the inorganic world. Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea, 1955

As a mother who has borne life, as a person who delights in the diversity of life, and as an ecologist who realizes that life in our gardens, forests, lakes, and meadows relies on the countless multitude of species and their interactions, I am unsettled by global warming. I fear it will have a tragic effect on all forms of existence, including our own.

I chose to write this book after I spent years researching natural systems. As a field scientist I have worked around the world studying Antarctic, alpine, coastal, temperate, and tropical ecosystems. These experiences sharpened my ability to understand how natural communities work, to identify species across taxa, and to admire their complexity and beauty. But it was after these experiences, when I was bound to a single place as the mother of two young daughters and the wife of a man establishing his caxi reer that I began to carefully observe my immediate environment. Here, outside my door in rural Vermont, I readily found signals that the natural world was changing.

It was at this point that I decided to collect my observations about climate change in a book and call it Early Spring. I chose the title to signify one of the strongest signals of global warming for the Northern Hemisphere: spring is coming days earlier with each decade. I decided that by sharing the signals of warming from my garden and woods, the places where I take my children to swim or where we walk along the road and collect stones, I could localize the experience of global warming for my readers. Further, by describing the ecological flux that is a consequence of climate change in the iconic New England landscape, I hoped to engage with the significance of global warming to all life, including our own.

Throughout Early Spring I apply my knowledge of ecology and evolutionary biology to reveal the effect of global warming in the landscapes I have studied as well as the landscape where I presently live. To these descriptions I add personal stories of how ecosystem health is being altered--at micro and macro perspectives. I also examine climate change in relation to the fact that I have small children--Helen was one when I began this project and Celia was six--and I relay my concern for their ecological future and the planet they will inherit as global warming progresses.

While I have spent time in regions of the world where global warming is more rapidly affecting ecosystems, I want to emphasize the changes I see in my landscape close to home--in my garden, in local woods and ponds. It is in this everyday context that I notice the world entering flux. The timing of seasonal events, for instance, is shifting: lilacs are blooming earlier, gardens remain prolific well into the fall, and butterflies appear weeks earlier than previously recorded. But it is not only the natural landscapes that are shifting. In my rural community, cultural traditions tied to the season are no longer assured: ice-fishing derbies and winter carnivals, once relied upon as cold-season diversions, are on-again, off-again, and the start of maple sugaring rarely begins in early March as it historically did. As I wake to these signs, I place each onto a growing list that challenges my sense of season, cycle, and time, even my expectation of what is true.

With each year I am compelled to ask: How are the natural communities and ecosystems where I live responding to climate change? What does a thunderstorm in January signal? What about deluges in May that preclude spring planting? And the absence of ice on rivers and ponds in early winter? These are examples from my landscape--and the natural and agricultural communities in it--that signal that the world around me is moving into flux. As these events collect, I realize how more and more of my observations reflect the predictions that climate scientists are making for New England--greater single precipitation events, warmer nights, shorter winters, and overall more variable weather. While it remains difficult to draw causal relationships between global climate change and local weather, we are able to see how our local conditions increasingly resemble the forecasted predictions.

I am not alone in noticing changes in the landscape where I live. Fortunately, there are others who have observed and recorded changes or are currently noting and writing about them, many for far longer than I have. There is Kathleen Anderson, who has for thirty years kept daily records of the flora and fauna that she sees on her farm in Massachusetts and when particular species come and go. There’s my neighbor Bob Low, who notes the area’s weather and keeps an annual list of the birds on Gillett Pond, the place where I bring my daughters to skate and canoe. These record keepers are motivated by their enjoyment of the natural world and also by the feeling that they are a part of the annual cycle they document. Like the famous conservation biologist and ethicist Aldo Leopold, who kept records of bird and plant sightings on his Wisconsin farm, these environmental diarists maintain a close connection with their home environment, and their diaries provide a history of this intimacy.

Now these diaries are being used to further our scientific understanding of climate change. Statisticians and ecologists are analyzing them for the occurrences they document, and the presence and absence of species is being added to electronic databases and computer models in an attempt to see repeating patterns of change across landscapes. Equally important, these narratives serve as a local chronicle of how human communities are experiencing the local effect of a global event. Indeed, the longer these diaries have been kept, the better they are at relating how our seasonal expectations are being preempted by anomalous events, how the familiar is being superseded by the unusual.
Listen to an hour-long interview with Amy Seidl on Vermont Edition

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Early Spring

ISBN: 978-080708584-4
Publication Date: 3/1/2009
Pages: 192
Size: x Inches (US)
Price:  $24.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.
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