Nature books

Marcia’s Appalachian Seasons books follow in the tradition of Gilbert White (Natural History of Selborne) and Edwin Way Teale (Autumn Across America, North With the Spring, etc.). Like White, she culled journal entries from a number of different years to form a single narrative, but unlike the 18th-century originator of the synoptic nature book style, she decided to devote each book to just one season. And unlike Teale — whose entertaining, fact-based style was one of Marcia’s biggest inspirations — she restricted her purview to one place, the mountain hollow in central Pennsylvania where she has lived since 1971. All four of the books were published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and all are still in print.

Click on covers or titles to order from the publisher. They should also be available from all major retailers.

cover of Appalachian Spring

Appalachian Spring
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991

“This finely written journal details the natural history of the four months of ‘a typical Appalachian mountain spring’ in the author’s central Pennsylvania home. Naturalist Bonta […] combines scientific accuracy with a lyrical sense of wonder and excitement as she describes her daily explorations around her 500-acre hillside home. Exhorting those who would preserve nature to ‘watch rather than manage the land,’ she observes and meticulously limns the mating rituals of all kinds of creatures, from earthworms to grouse; the activites of a myriad of birds, including American pipits and phoebes; and the blossoming of plants and shrubs such as trailing arbutus and Dane’s rocket. We feel her awe when she comes upon 100 wood frogs crammed into a tiny pond: ‘In the intense, prehistoric silence that settled over the pond, the first amphibian head appeared, its eyes just above water level and turned purposefully in my direction. I sat ramrod still as head after head emerged.’ This is a lively introduction to the pleasures and rituals of nature study.” —Publishers Weekly

“While little that happens in field, forest, or brook escapes Bonta’s notice, her observations of mammals and birds are especially rewarding: a sequence on a red fox family is outstanding, and all birders will share her delight in a spectacular warbler flight. She expresses a strong conservation ethic without resorting to preaching.” —Library Journal

“You skillfully inter-weave adventures, impressions, and facts. I congratulate you on a splendid book that should take its place among the best of its genre.” –Alexander Skutch, author of A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm

cover of Appalachian Summer

Appalachian Summer
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999

In Appalachian Summer, Marcia’s first grandchild spends her first summer on earth, and her growth is compared with that of the forest animals. Another important event in this Appalachian summer is the disappearance of a local girl. As the mountain is thoroughly searched, Marcia poses questions about the safety of women in the woods. Do women stay out of the woods because they fear attack by men, or wild creatures and the unknown? Should they have such fears? In her minute observations of one place, one season, Marcia Bonta lays bare the connections we retain to the natural world, which is, finally, our own.

“Bonta shows us how to live a life adapted to natural rhythms, how to pay close attention to life and our place in it, and why we need to care.” –Ian Marshall, author of Story Line: Exploring the Literature of the Appalachian Trail

“When I read Bonta’s books, I not only learn more about nature, I learn more about humankind.” —Amazon customer review

Appalachian Autumn
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994

Like her popular Appalachian Spring, Marcia Bonta’s new book offers a day-by-day account of the changing world of nature in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. This time she chronicles the beauties of the autumn months as she walks the familiar roads and trails of her 500-acre mountain-top farm, noting the minute transformations of the season as well as the more dramatic ones. But her quiet sojourn in the natural world is shattered by the intrusion of a lumberman who insists upon clear-cutting a neighboring property. The massive bulldozers and skidders crush every tree and shrub, weed, and wildflower, leaving only rubble in their wake. The Bontas become involved in a lawsuit challenging this violation of the land they love and seeking to protect their own property from the effects of the logging. “Autumn is a bittersweet time,” Marcia writes, “a season of good-byes, when, after the flaming leaves fall and start the inevitable process of decay, we are left with only the bare bones of nature.” Fleeing from the whine of chain saws and the crash of falling trees, she roams the mountain-top, watching wild turkeys forage in the field, flocks of migrating birds feast on wild grapes, does and bucks eye each other in their mating ritual. But she can never completely evade the insistent question: What is the relationship between humans and nature? Does ownership give one the right to do as one pleases with the land and all the flora and fauna living on it? Does the natural world exists solely to satisfy mankind’s desire for profit? The answer is not simple; it cannot be drawn in winter’s black and white. But the issues must be of concern to every thoughtful person. Marcia Bonta’s Appalachian Autumn offers a new voice in the ongoing debate.

“A suspense-filled account of an attempt to protect the rights of all the life, non-human as well as human, of the mountain.” — Bird Watcher’s Digest

Appalachian Winter cover

Appalachian Winter
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005

Winter is the season that most tests our mettle. There are the obvious challenges of the weather-freezing rain, wind chill, deep snow, dangerous ice-but also the psychological burdens of waiting for spring and enduring the often false starts that accompany its eventual return.

On the surface, perhaps, winter might seem an odd season for a nature book, but there is plenty of beauty and life in the woods if only we know where to look. The stark, white landscape sparkles in the sunshine and glows beneath the moon on crisp, clear nights; the opening up of the forest makes it easy to see long distances; birds, some of which can be easily seen only in winter, flock to feeders; and animals-even those that should be hibernating-make surprise visits from time to time. Marcia discovers a long-eared owl in a dense stand of conifers, tracks a bear through an early December snowfall, explains the life and ecological niche of the red-backed vole, and examines the recent arrival of an Asian ladybug. These are but a few of the tidbits sprinkled throughout the book, interwoven with the human stories of Marcia’s family, as well as the highway builders and shopping-mall developers that threaten the idyllic peacefulness of her mountain.

“Bonta is unique and spends time on her mountain every day of the year, sometimes for short periods but often for hours. She moves quietly and misses little, recording her observations in detail in the nature journals she started when she moved to the mountain in August, 1971. If you enjoy winter and nature this is a great book. If you like nature but not winter it still might be a great book because Bonta shows that winter is not lacking in natural delights.” —Lancaster Sunday News

“Marcia Bonta is a diligent, broad-ranging naturalist whose love for the Appalachians shines through on every page of this delightful book.” —Charles Fergus, author of Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World

Escape to the Mountain

Escape to the Mountain: A Family’s Adventures in the Wilderness
Axios Press, September 2008

Out of print — contact me for a copy

“This place doesn’t exist,” a visitor once declared. After a mile and a half drive up a primitive road through a dark wooded hollow, he had been amazed to discover the Bontas’ sunny open farm right on top of the mountain.

During their first year at the farm, Marcia and her family survived a blizzard, a flood, and a drought. Her book is a hymn of joy to sledding on moonlit nights in winter, to the arrival of the birds in spring, and to harvesting garden crops in the autumn. She relates the discovery of a family of wild puppies in the barn, a porcupine in the apple tree, a shrew in the laundry bucket, mudpuppies in the well, and opossums on the back porch.

Originally published by A.S. Barnes in 1980, Marcia’s first book described her family’s first five years on Brush Mountain, 1971-1976, and grew out of a column she wrote for the local newspaper. This new edition includes an epilogue, written in 2008, describing the changes that have come to the mountain in the decades since, as well an elegiac essay Marcia wrote about her father-in-law in 1978, “Farewell to Pop.” Despite the new cover, Axios Press included all the black-and-white photos and the map from the original edition, and they’ve also added a brief index.

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