All aspects of the outdoor world continue to draw new book titles with new perspectives and often new information, even in well-trod territory like pocketknives, cast-iron cookware, Bigfoot, and wild foods and medicines. Here are some of the recent releases that I’ve explored, enjoyed and, in many instances, ensconced into my personal library.
“Swiss Army Knife Camping & Outdoor Survival Guide: 101 Tips, Ticks & Uses,” by Bryan Lynch. Fox Chapel Publishing, 2019, 224 pages, $12.99.
I’ve carried several versions of the Swiss Army Knife over the years, but only ever used a few of the many blade and tool offerings on the devices. Lynch has given me many ideas to try out and taught me the uses for some of those tools that I previously never got around to deciphering. Fox example, I now know that the reamer tool can be used in making a quick flashlight pouch from whatever scraps of material or leather might be on hand and some paracord. (Don’t worry there are great photos to explain what the reamer tool is and how to use it.) The whole book, including every one of the 101 tips, is lavishly illustrated with photos. In addition to all those tips and projects, it’s a fun read and a deep dive into a familiar device that warrants further exploration.
“The Artisan Herbalist: Making Teas, Tinctures and Oils at Home,” by Bevin Cohen. New Society Publishers, 2021, 144 pages, $24.99.
I’ve long been fascinated with using the wild plants in my backyard and beyond, and the plants in my garden beds as food and medicine. Bevin has expanded my experience with those plants by first providing instruction in how to make the teas, tinctures, infused oils and salves, and then leading his readers through 38 commonly available plants, from chickweed through yarrow. The book is a thorough introduction to harvesting, growing and using the plants, liberally peppered with histories for the plants. (Don’t miss the explanation of golden milk, an ancient tonic easy to brew.) It also is a welcome addition to the library of anyone serious about uses for plants other than eating.
“Gone to the Feathered Dogs” by William Sharpe. Independently published, 2020, 174 pages, $12.95.
Bill Sharpe – I’ve only ever known him as Dr. Sharpe or, later, Bill – is professor emeritus of forest hydrology at Penn State. Decades ago he was explaining the impacts of acid rain, particularly on our forests, based on his on-the-ground research. He also was judging field trials of English setters in some of the thickest cover Centre County had to offer. I regularly encountered him in both of those capacities, but it was not until I read this collection of tales from a lifetime love for these dogs that I really understood the whys behind what he did professionally and for leisure. Bill also has had his fair share of beagles and they’re in the book as well. If you love dogs, bird hunting and wildlife research, you’ll gain insight and enjoy yourself in “Gone to the Feathered Dogs.”
“Modern Cast Iron: The Complete Guide to Selecting, Seasoning, Cooking and More” by Ashley Jones. Red Lightning Books, 2020, 216 pages, $22.
If you treat your cast -iron cookware the way I treat my cast-iron cookware, this book will have you feeling shame. From the history of cast iron – “For settlers traveling west, no wagon was complete without at least one cast-iron pot and kettle.” – to buying, caring for and rescuing old, rusted pans, Jones provides a complete introduction to cast iron. But that is merely preparing us for the meat of the book, the recipes, many of which are her updated takes on classic cast-iron creations, such as Peach Dutch Baby, Buttermilk Pour Biscuits and Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie.
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“The Legend of Bigfoot: Leaving His Mark on the World” by T.S. Mart and Mel Cabre. Red Lightning Books, 2020, 198 pages, $20.
A must-have addition to any library on cryptozoology – the search for and study of animals whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated – this book will become a classic of Bigfoot literature, a must-read introduction to the myths, personal accounts and pop culture of the creature. Particularly interesting are the Bigfoot Culture Timeline from 1530 through the present and the detailed catalog of Bigfoot’s various regional iterations, from the Agropelter of Maine through the Fouke Monster of Arkansas to the Ohio Grassman. The section on the History and Legends is packed with accounts of encounters, some associated with name you will recognize like Theodore Roosevelt and Daniel Boone, who claimed to have killed a 10-foot-tall beast he called a Yeahoh.
“Iwigarra: The Kinship of Plants and People (American Indian Ethnobotanical Traditions and Science)” by Enrique Salmon. Timber Press Inc., 2020, 248 pages, $34.95.
Salmon brings us a fresh take of ancient Native American traditions and uses of 80 native plants that will expand the knowledge base of any wild food and wild medicine forager. The myths and legends associated with the plants are detailed as well. Ash, beans, cattail, milkweed, mountain laurel, prickly pear, squash, verbena, wapato and dozens of other are covered in detail. I’m anxious to try making calabacitas with this year’s harvest of summer squash, onion, garlic, pinto beans, sweet corn, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, salt and pepper.
“How Zoologists Organize Things: The Art of Classification” by David Bainbridge. Quarto Publishing, 2020, 256 pages, $26.
With amazing artwork on every page, Bainbridge’s book traces man’s quest to classify animals and explain their similarities and differences in art ranging from sketches to painting to computer images. He leads us from Aristotle’s 4th century B.C. Natural Philosophy through Joannes Jonstonus speculations on the various forms unicorns might take in his 1657 Historiae Naturalis de Quadripendbus to modern charts on subjects like the impending extinction crisis.
“Northeast Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest and Use 111 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness” by Liz Neves. Timber Press Inc., 2020, 416 pages, $27.95.
Herbalist and wildcrafter Liz Neves takes us deep into every one of the 111 plants covered in the book, with how to identify them; where, when and how to wildcraft them; why and how to deploy their medicinal uses; precautionary notes; and warnings about the status of the plants. There are ample photographs to help with identification of every plant. Every turn of the page brings new insights. For example, on plantain, which most of us have growing in our backyards, Neves notes, “A classic application of plantain leaves is as a spit poultice. Simply chew up a leaf, spit it out and place it on a bite, wound or bee sting. It will relieve stinging, itching, irritation and inflammation, and draw out toxins.” The book is heavily indexed to assist in finding remedies for various ailments and injuries quickly.
“The Backyard Birdwatcher’s Bible: Birds, Behaviors, Habitats, Identification, Art & Other Home Crafts” by Paul Sterry, Christopher Perrins, Sonya Patel Ellis and Dominic Couzens. Abrams, 2020, 416 pages, $35.
Having written several similar books, I found much of what we all include in our guides and bibles to birdwatching: the identification section, the discussion of habitat and plants for birds in the backyard, the look at feeders and bird baths, and so on. What I never considered in any of my books on the subject is the extensive section on Birds in Art, including bios of some of the great bird artists and photographers. That brings an entirely new insight into the world of birdwatching. From the thoughts and experiences of the greats, even veteran birders can draw inspiration to take their pursuit of avian experiences to the next level.
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