This week MARK DESMEULES, executive director of Viles Arboretum in Augusta, offers these recommendations:

“The Lure of the Labrador Wild” by Dillon Wallace. (First published in 1905)

This is a captivating true story of two New York City boys with a thirst for adventure and discovery. A Dartmouth College colleague of mine shared the book with me. He and I spent a great deal of time rock climbing, mountain climbing and adventuring together, and we loved sharing new book discoveries with each other.

Writer Dillon Wallace (who is one of the boys in the story) tells the story so skillfully, I felt like a co-adventurer, not merely a reader. I “traveled” with Wallace and Leonidas Hubbard as they attempted to discover a fabled Indian Caribou congress on Lake Michikamau. The book offers readers total immersion in their interactions with unchartered wilderness, where their survival skills are tested beyond limits. In so many ways, the story presents man against beast, except the beast in this case is the starkness, sparseness and remoteness of early 19th century Labrador. The “lure” of the title, you quickly learn, is the deceptively thin varnish we call natural beauty; just below it, the boys discover, lies virtually every primordial fear.

The book also reminds us of the thin line between civilization and the world that produced our species, and it reconnects the reader with our inner need to be surrounded by nature. In some ways, this is what fuels the land trust movement here in Maine and beyond. It’s all about getting outdoors and experiencing nature.

“In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” by Nathaniel Philbrick.

The ocean has fascinated me ever since I was a child. It is vast and mysterious. It harbors strange, large creatures that live below its surface; we humans see just fleeting, tempting glimpses of them.

As a child, I didn’t realize precisely what drew me to the ocean. Now I know. It was the call of the wild, the enticement of wilderness, the sense of the unknown. This book of historical nonfiction is about a connection between man and ocean that is synonymous with man and wilderness. “In the Heart of the Sea” takes you back to 19th-century Nantucket and a whaling trip that ended in tragedy.

Philbrick brings you on a journey into two oceans, a world completely ruled by nature despite our ingenious attempts to harness and tame it. Each chapter’s arresting descriptions stop you in your tracks. They unveil the unmitigated fury of Mother Nature taking full control of the destiny of the whaling ship Essex. The book may be about 19th century search for whale oil, but its lessons wholly apply to our current climate change crisis: The whale is about to attack if we don’t change course in haste.

Open Book is an occasional series in which we ask Mainers to tell us about sustainability-related books they are reading.


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