A Year on the Wild Side: A West Coast Naturalist’s Almanac by Briony Penn
Book Review by Lori Nick
Salt Spring Island resident Briony Penn wears many hats—she is an author, artist, broadcaster, educator, and naturalist. Penn’s entertaining and educational book A Year on the Wild Side examines the flora and fauna of the Salish Sea.
This past spring I noticed Calypso orchids growing in my backyard on Mayne Island. Seeing this tiny plant sparked an interest in wildflowers and I was keen to learn more about them. In her book’s April chapter, Penn writes an article about the orchids, explaining the mythology behind the orchid’s name. She also describes the plant’s structure, fragility and life cycle. Next spring, when I see the small orchid, I will not only be amazed by the delicate flower, I will also be reminded of the story of the seven year romance between sea nymph Calypso and Odysseus.
In December’s chapter I was delighted to read about Penn’s practice of “arbutage.” She explains that arbutage is the “passive yet expansive gesture of throwing Arbutus seeds at everything that offends you in the hope that the object of offence will one day be obscured behind a veritable forest of Arbutus trees.” Whenever I walk the trails of Mayne’s Edith Point and St. John Point, I marvel at the Arbutus trees–each one is beautiful and unique. I can think of nothing better than increasing the number of Arbutus trees in the Gulf Islands and I might be practicing arbutage in the future.
A Year on the Wild Side contains many short articles and drawings that illustrate the ecosystem of the West Coast from January to December. Readers will increase their knowledge about some of the rarer plants and animals of the Salish Sea. They will also gain a deeper appreciation and understanding for the area’s vegetation and wildlife that can be seen throughout the year.