Five new books showcase the stunning natural beauty that surrounds us from below and above, whether it’s a delicate feather of a spotted owl or an ethereal vision of an ancient tree basking in the light of the Milky Way.
AMERICA'S MAJESTIC MONUMENTS
As the National Park Service celebrates 100 years, the time is right to enjoy the spectacular Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. It’s a unique treat, as photographer Q.T. Luong—who is featured in Ken Burns’ recent documentary about the parks—is the only photographer to have taken large-format images in each of the 59 parks.
Born in France to Vietnamese parents, this outdoor adventurer fell so in love with the national parks that he left his job as a computer scientist in order to pursue his 20-year quest to photograph each of them. After enduring flash floods, summit overnights without a sleeping bag and a nerve-wracking encounter with a bear in Alaska that forced him to abandon his equipment, the results compiled in this large volume are simply magnificent. Calling the parks our nation’s “greatest treasures,” Luong writes that each “represents a unique environment, yet collectively they are all interrelated, interconnected like a giant jigsaw puzzle.”
Because one of Luong’s goals is to inspire readers to see the parks themselves, he includes helpful travel tips and notes on his photographic techniques along with the images of each and every park. Whether it’s a Rocky Mountain sunrise or a glimpse of glowing lava dripping into the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Luong’s shots are so luminous that you’ll likely be booking a trip soon.
EYES ON THE UNIVERSE
Otherworldly is the best word to describe Beth Moon’s latest offering, Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees. Previously, in her bestselling Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, Moon spent 14 years photographing the tangled trunks of some of the world’s oldest trees. In this sequel, she continues her journey to even more remote corners of the world, still photographing her beloved trees, but this time under night skies. During what she terms “celestial safaris,” she uses long exposures to capture the night skies and highlight the age of the trees. Her first such journey, to southern Africa, left her speechless—“I don’t think I was prepared to see the enormity of the universe laid out so starkly above me, the Milky Way stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.”
Moon focuses on specific species in this collection, including baobabs, bristlecone pines, junipers, Joshua trees, oaks and more. Not only do the stars beckon, but these trees become pieces of sculpture in their own right as their gnarled trunks and branches reach upward.
Her images of quiver trees in Namibia are simply breathtaking, while the massive trunk of a sequoia seems like a ladder climbing to heaven. Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees allows readers to see the world in a new light.
While birds and their feathers surround us, most people rarely give their plumage a thought. “That’s a shame, because there’s no better way to confront evolution’s riot of invention and beauty,” notes science writer Carl Zimmer in his preface to Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage. National Geographic photographer Robert Clark’s gorgeous homage to these overlooked gems captures both their brilliance and texture in photos worthy of a gallery. Many—like the golden, brown and white tail feather of a superb lyrebird—resemble exquisitely crafted pieces of jewelry, while feathers of a Victoria Crown Pigeon are reminiscent of flowers from an ornamental garden. Another intriguing shot shows all of the feathers (so many!) of a Bohemian Waxwing, best known for getting drunk on rowan berries—sometimes fatally so.
Bird lovers and art lovers alike will find Feathers, along with Clark’s brief explanatory notes, to be an illuminating, iridescent delight.
FLIGHT AND FABLES
It’s easy to lose yourself in Birds: Myth, Lore and Legend, an attractive and hugely informative book. Here you’ll learn that people in 70 countries found ducks to be the world’s funniest animals, prompting psychologist Richard Wiseman to advise, “If you’re going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck.”
Discussing a variety of species one by one, Marianne Taylor and Rachel Warren-Chadd’s text blends fact and fable surrounding each. In Babylon, for instance, ostriches were associated with the goddess Tiamat, while Harry Potter’s owl Hedwig is a Snowy Owl, widely considered in northern countries as an icon of bravery and a revealer of truths. And there isn’t actually a species called a seagull, although many (I’m guilty!) mistakenly call the entire family of birds by that name.
The discussions are wide-ranging: The mockingbird entry discusses everything from Harper Lee and Charles Darwin to Hopi and Zuni traditions. Numerous illustrations and photographs add to the browsing fun.
A SHEPHERD'S WORLD
“When English people dream of rural arcadia, they usually dream of our landscape,” writes James Rebanks.
In 2015 Rebanks shared his life as a shepherd in the Lake District of Northern England in his glowingly reviewed The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape. Rebanks now offers a visual look into his world with The Shepherd’s View: Modern Photographs from an Ancient Landscape, which includes intriguing short chapters and 80 color photographs he took of the pasturelands, animals and people that surround him.
These images are a wonderful addition to his story, and the new book is filled with soulful observations as well as fun. “Truth be told, I don’t like shepherd’s pie,” he admits. “I know this is a bit like Kim Kardashian saying she doesn’t like shopping, but it’s true.”
Truth be told, Rebanks’ two books are an unusually satisfying treat.