2017 Winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards have been Announced.Posted: November 16, 2017
Winner. A Fly Rod of Your Own. By John Gierach. Simon and Schuster, New York.
There’s no better way to bring back memories of your own fishing trips than to read of some by John Gierach. He has a warm, inviting quality to his writing that makes him such a pleasure to read. In honoring this book, the judges also wanted to recognize Gierach’s body of work which now totals more than 20 previous books. His themes are simple: a favorite stream near home, a missed cast just when everything is perfect, a culinary misadventure on a trip. With a wave of his writer’s wand, simple stories become utterly absorbing, and you find yourself captured by his magic, reading well into the night.
Winner. On Trails: An Exploration. By Robert Moor. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Author Robert Moor has a thing with trails. It’s a fascination of sorts that began on a five-month, 2,200-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail. Those miles and miles of trail passing beneath his feet gave him plenty of time to think, and upon finishing the hike Moor set off on another journey, this one of the intellectual kind, researching the concept of trails. His investigations quickly move him beyond the realm of hiking to the use of trails by insects, mammals and ancient humans. Through it all, Moor’s observations on trails are fresh, thought provoking, erudite, and full of delightful surprises.
Honorable Mention. No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon. By Erik Weihenmayer and Buddy Levy. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. New York.
Imagine paddling a kayak into the biggest rapid in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. The sound is deafening. Mammoth waves toss your kayak about like it’s a toy. Then imagine paddling into those waves completely blind, not knowing when the next wave is coming or from where. Born with a rare eye disease which left him blind at the age of 13, Erik Weihenmayer takes on the rapids of the Colorado—and other adventures—in this stirring and inspiring book. It may be a cliché, but not for Weihenmayer. He turns the notion of impossible upside down and reveals that all is possible.
Winner. Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka. By Bernadette McDonald. Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC.
In this masterpiece of a biography, Bernadette McDonald chronicles the life of Voytek Kurtyka who pushed the boundaries of mountaineering to its very limits. He grew up in Poland and lived during a time of upheaval: of communist domination and its eventual downfall. Kurtyka is a reflection of those turbulent times, buying and selling on the black market to make a living, and scheming ways to outwit party bureaucrats to undertake climbing expeditions. Known for his bold and lightning-fast ascents of big, unclimbed walls in the Himalaya, Kurtyka is a thoughtful and private individual and has largely shunned the limelight. Fortunately, McDonald was able to conduct interviews with Kurtyka as well as undertake exhaustive research. The result of her efforts is a work of outstanding artistry and a powerful and moving portrait of Kurtyka’s life.
Natural History Literature
Winner. Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean. By Jonathan White. Trinity University Press, San Antonio. ISBN 9781595348050
The regular ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide is not easily explained—unless it is Jonathan White who’s doing the explaining. In fact, White makes the science of tides an adventure. He takes you along as he travels the globe, seeking out the unusual and dangerous. In Alaska’s Kalinin Bay, he struggles to save his 65-foot wooden schooner which the tides have left laying on its side in the mud. With an Inuit hunter in northern Canada, he squeezes through a small hole into a cavity under the sea ice to gather mussels, nervously counting the minutes as the cavity begins filling with the incoming tide. And in China, he sprints to high ground to avoid a 25-foot tidal bore barreling up a river. White does what an excellent writer can do, lure you into an unfamiliar world, take you on adventures, change you with intriguing images and ideas.
Nature and the Environment
Winner. Monarchs and Milkweed. By Anurag Agrawal. Princeton University Press, Princeton. ISBN 9780691166353
Who can’t admit being captivated by the monarch? We are attracted by its beauty, of course, and by its amazing migration that can exceed 3,000 miles. But there is something else that makes the monarch fascinating, and that is its perilous relationship with its main food source, the milkweed. As it turns out, milkweed is toxic, and while monarchs have adapted to its toxicity, the plant is still able to marshall its defenses, killing off monarch larvae by various means. In this colorfully illustrated work, Agrawal covers the scientific work behind this combative relationship, among which includes some of his own pioneering studies. Monarchs and Milkweed is not only about a butterfly, but it also gives us a peek into the mind of an inventive scientist, one who clearly admires his subject and who guides us to a better understanding of this most remarkable creature.
Honorable Mention. The Pipestone Wolves: The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family. By Günther Bloch. Photography by John E. Marriott. Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC. ISBN 9781771601603
Some 20 years ago, a new wolf family moved into the Bow Valley of Banff National Park and ended up dominating the area for the next five years. This book is about the investigations of two dedicated field researchers into that wolf family, and thanks to their efforts we know a great deal more about the dynamics of wolf packs and wolf families. Later chapters deal with the eventual collapse of the Pipestone wolves and how human activity contributed to it. Researcher and writer, Günther Bloch pulls no punches when he discusses the management of wolves and other wildlife in Banff. It is the old dilemma of how to maintain a healthy environment for animals in the face of a growing human population. It is hoped that, at the least, key aspects of his research will lead to management improvements.
Winner. Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder. By Kenn Kaufman. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ISBN 9780618709403
In January of 1972, a month shy of his 18th birthday, Kenn Kaufman left his home in Kansas and hitched a ride to Texas. He was a high school dropout with little money and few prospects for the future. Nevertheless, driven and single-minded, Kaufman was embarking on a quest, a quest far removed from that of a typical 18-year old. He was out to establish the record for the most birds identified in the US in one year. This is the story of that year-long quest: of living on pennies a day, of hitch hiking from one end of the country to the other, and of sleeping under bridges—and yet slowly, he filled his lists with birds. And what of his uncertain future? He didn’t do too badly. Have you heard of the Kaufman guides, that popular series of bird, mammal and insect guides which have sold in the thousands? Oh yes, that’s the same Kaufman.
Design & Artistic Merit
Winner. Wild Encounters: Iconic Photographs of the World’s Vanishing Animals and Cultures. Photography and Commentary by David Yarrow. Rizzoli, New York.
David Yarrow is one of the virtuosos of black and white wildlife photography. His art has graced galleries from Europe to North America. In this large format, portfolio-sized book, you’ll be treated to some of his finest work. Arranged by the latitude of locale, his dramatic monochromatic photographs of wild and endangered animals appear to leap from the page. Some of the most powerful images are tightly framed close-ups in which almost every hair of the animal can be seen. The emphasis of the book is on wildlife, but he also features people who live in close proximity with the creatures he photographs, and included among those are stunning portrayals of the Inuit in northern Canada and the stately Dinka people of the South Sudan. You won’t be disappointed. This is truly the work of an artist at the height of his powers.
Winner. Pup the Sea Otter. By Jonathan London. Illustrated by Sean London. WestWinds Press/Graphic Arts Books, Portland.
This delightful book, the work of a father and son team, is about a ball of fur called Pup. Jonathan London tells the story of a newly born sea otter, while his son Sean, a gifted illustrator, provides color and form to the story with his tender and eye-catching paintings. Pup grows and learns how to forage for food, all under the watchful eye of his mom. Children will love the dialog: slurp, slurp, slurp; munch, crunch, munch. There’s even some danger and excitement when a shark appears, but it all turns out fine when—you guessed it—mom comes to the rescue. For ages 4-8.
Honorable Mention. Treecology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Trees and Forests. By Monica Russo. Photographs by Kevin Byron. Chicago Review Press, Chicago. ISBN 9871613733967
This wonderful learning book about trees is for budding naturalists age seven and older. Chapters typically start with a discussion of some aspect of tree biology which, in turn, is followed by one or more hands-on activities related to the discussion. The activities are fun and designed to help children develop their own writing, drawing and literacy skills. It is colorful, nicely designed, and perfect for a learning adventure in a nearby woods.
Winner. Backpacker Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike. By Liz Thomas. Falcon Guides, Lanham, MD. ISBN 9871493028726
Every so often a book comes along, finds broad acceptance, and becomes the bible of a sport. This book is destined to rise to that position among long-trail hiking guides. Authored by Liz Thomas who has hiked the big three—Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest—this comprehensive work is literally brimming full of practical advice for backpackers planning to spend weeks on the trail. In addition to Thomas’s fine writing, sidebars written by other experienced hikers offer alternative ideas and strategies. If you have a hankering to go on a long hike, there’s no question about it. This is the one book that you’ll want to read before you go.
Winner. Big Walls, Swift Waters: Epic Stories from Yosemite Search and Rescue. By Charles R. “Butch” Farabee. Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite National Park, CA. ISBN 9781930238749
Big Walls, Swift Waters is a little bit of everything. It’s a history, a compilation of case studies, and an instructional guide about rescue equipment and techniques. Well illustrated with photographs from past rescues, author Charles “Butch” Farabee documents many of the classic search and rescues that have occurred in Yosemite National Park. It’s a fascinating, insider’s view of rescue, and you’ll find yourself rappelling out of helicopters, hanging on granite walls, and plunging into icy waters.
Winner. The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles. By Mike Krebill. St. Lynn’s Press, Pittsburg.
Sometimes good guidebooks come in small packages. The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles almost fits in a back pocket, and yet, for its relatively small size, it packs in a lot of information. Author Mike Krebill knows his wild edibles, and he knows how to make a guidebook fun for young people. A wild food expert and a Scout leader, he divides the book into two parts: the first is the identification guide profiling 40 widely found edible wild plants and mushrooms. The second half consists of recipes and ways of cooking wild foods. In this last half boys and girls are pictured preparing and cooking plants that they have gathered on their outdoor forays. It’s oriented to the younger set, of course, but adults just might want to sneak one along on the next outing. They’ll find it pretty handy too.
Winner. Butterflies of Pennsylvania: A Field Guide. By James L. Monroe and David M. Wright. University of Pittsburg Press, Pittsburg.
Butterflies of Pennsylvania is one of those guidebooks that sets out with a purpose and ends up doing it well. What appealed to the judges is that all of the information on a butterfly species is covered on a single page or a two-page spread. There’s no need to look elsewhere for maps and other information. The photos are crisp. The text is clear, and the maps and charts easy to use. If you live in Pennsylvania or in surrounding states, this fine guidebook is a must-have.
Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks
Winner. Outdoor Adventures, Acadia National Park: Your Guide to the Best Hiking, Biking and Paddling. By Jerry and Marcy Monkman. Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston.
Situated along the rugged coastline of Maine, Acadia National Park is truly a Northeast treasure. It’s the oldest designated national park area east of the Mississippi River and has a little of everything: 125 miles of hiking trails, 45 miles of historic carriage roads, rocky mountains, ponds, islands and dense evergreen forests. One of the best ways to enjoy it is with this guidebook by Jerry and Marcy Monkman. The Monkman’s are accomplished Eastern writers and photographers, and in this guide, they have detailed 50 choice hiking, biking and paddling trips. There’s even a two-sided 20” x 25” full color map which can be removed from the back cover and which shows all of the routes covered in the book.