Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians
by Jennifer Frick-Ruppert (UNC Press, 256 pages, 50 color and 41 b&w images, Apr. 2010; hardcover, $45; paperback, $20)
In her introduction to her survey, Frick-Ruppert, a Brevard College ecology professor, establishes herself as a scientist, outdoorsperson, and poet. “In spring,” she notes, “the basso profundo of a great horned owl is exchanged for the coloratura soprano of a winter wren, which is itself replaced by countertenor voices of tree frogs.”
Communication at night; tree rings; trout food; and vole explosions are some of the subheadings in the first chapter, “The Nature of Cycles.” It leads to four sections dedicated to the seasons. A photo in Chapter 2, “Spring” distinguishes the male and female flowers of the red maple: wand-like male stamens and Y-shaped female stigmas on otherwise similar-looking clusters.
“April 15 may be tax day,” Frick-Ruppert pipes up later, “but it is also the average date that ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) return to Western North Carolina.”. The males arrive first from Central America. When the females appear, the males engage in spectacular dances.
“The male flies in a huge semicircular arc, like a clock pendulum, with the female at the bottom of the swing,” the author writes. “As the male passes by the female, he faces her with the feathers of his ruby throat fluffed up, and makes a peculiar whirring buzz.” A sidebar gives considerate hummingbird feeding advice. “Mountain Nature” is an homage as much a guide, a model of regional studies and a noteworthy event.