Monday, January 30, 2006

Maurice Brooks' The Appalachians

Russian olive berries

I was checking Dewey Decimal numbers on my local library's "West Virginia Collection" when I came across a very interesting misfiled book, The Appalachians, by Maurice Brooks (1965). It's a discussion of the biogeography (including flora, fauna, and geology) of the Appalachian Mountains.

Brooks grew up on French Creek in Upshur County, West Virginia, the son of an entomologist. Born in 1900, he went on collecting trips with his father from the time he was a child. He mentions a particularly exciting camping trip in Pocahontas County's Cranberry Glades, in which his father collected an unusual rodent, a yellow-nosed vole. The novel record attracted the attention of Arctic researcher Edward Preble, who came camping with them. Preble was a collaborator with Ernest Thompson Seton. Reading Brooks' book, realizing that he spent much of his professional life here in my neighborhood, I have an exciting connection with a prominent nineteenth century biologist. (I get excited over the strangest things, I know.) Brooks research interests were broad, encompassing ferns, forestry, ornithology, paleontology, bog ecology and mammalian physiology. He was the sort of naturalist I wanted to be when I was a teenager, before I had graduate faculty to tell me that such interests were "unprofessional." (Actually, I think they said things like "for losers" and "stupid," but let's give them the benefit of the doubt.)

This is exactly the book I have been wishing for. He defines in a biogeographic sense what Appalachia is, and discusses northern and southern localities, but he writes at length on the portion of West Virginia that was his home--Randolph, Pocahontas, Greenbrier, Monroe, and Upshur counties. I've got some local field trips planned for the warmer months this year.


Dave said...

Yeah, that book's a classic. Thanks for reminding me about it - it's been years since I've looked at it.

Scott Weidensaul's more recent Mountains of the Heart is the other great natural history book about the Appalachian chain.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I'll be tracking it down.