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February 3, 2014

As you have no doubt heard by now, the Arctic Invasion is here.

Owlmania has swept the east coast, where one of the most beautiful, stunning, and startling of birds—the snowy owl, rarely sighted in the lower 48—has descended on us in numbers at once thrilling and puzzling. In response to this unprecedented influx of owls, an equally...

December 13, 2013

“Pick an animal. Any animal.”

The words came not from a magician, but from a professor: Linda Hogan, the Native American writer who was my teacher in a University of Colorado creative-writing class back in the early 1990s. I picked a common-enough animal—a great blue heron—and, following Linda’s assignment, spent two weeks watching it, sketching it, taking notes on its movements...

October 21, 2013

“Firm ground is not available ground,” wrote the poet A.R. Ammons. The line refers to the trouble that beach grass has finding purchase in sand dunes. Dunes, as everyone knows, shift. And as I have learned recently, so does the public’s perception of them.

Before Hurricane Sandy tore up the Atlantic Coast one year ago next...

September 4, 2013

“Contact!” was Thoreau’s famous cry upon encountering raw nature. More than 150 years later, it still has a nice ring to it. But how to directly experience nature in an increasingly crowded, cluttered, and technological world?

One way, I’d argue, is by swimming in it.

My family and I are now vacationing in Massachusetts, and at each stop on our trip we have made it a point to dive into the local waters. Two days ago that meant wading into the ocean off osprey-thick South...

July 24, 2013

Last month, when I read that Atlantic puffins were threatened, I had an immediate and visceral reaction. It wasn’t to form a Pro-Puffin League, or to post something about saving the puffins on Facebook, or to organize a Puffin Power March on Washington. It was instead to remember the moment on that small boat off the rocky, wind-blown coast of Nova...

June 14, 2013

Last Friday, as Tropical Storm Andrea bore down on the Carolina coast, I sat in the writing shack I’ve built behind my house and watched as the storm moved in. The shack sits on the edge of a salt marsh; soon after I entered, the grasses started thrashing wildly. Then the wind picked up even more, until it began shaking the red cedar outside my door as if it didn’...

May 20, 2013

Last Tuesday, as I do almost every day, I went for a walk in the woods with Missy, my yellow lab. We were deep in a thicket near the North Carolina coast when I heard the sound of metallic wings growing close. A police helicopter came down low, blowing the tops of the trees sideways, passing over three times. My walk changed...

April 18, 2013

I have lived in the state of North Carolina for just short of a decade now. My daughter, Hadley, turns 10 in May and has never called any other place home. During those 10 years, I have grown to love this place—its people, of course, but also its great bounty of water, birds, beaches, and barrier islands. And now, during the last few months, I have watched—stunned—as state lawmakers have done their best to make sure that this bounty will not be around for Hadley and future generations to...