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by Doug Helbling

Tamarack Song’s Becoming Nature: Learning the Language of Wild Animals and Plants takes the reader on a journey, and then another, and then still more journeys, some into your backyard, others into new ways of thinking. This is what we usually hope for from a book, whether fiction or non-fiction. In this case, the journey is from the land of preconception into a world of awareness of nature. Whether or not the reader will reach the desired destination depends on where they hope to go.

The title and the structure of the book suggest that by following a sequence of steps, one will end up able to hear nature, to speak to nature, and indeed to become nature. But this is not a linear journey; nor are the stories, methods, and exercises laid out in a linear fashion. That is not necessarily a shortcoming. As an avid reader of spiritual topics and perpetual explorer of the possibilities, I find this approach works for me. The book and its message resonated with me, but a reader expecting a “cookbook”—a typical, time-sequential twelve-step program guide to logical development of skills built upon techniques and built upon practice—will come away disappointed. That is because the approach here is considerably more Zen-like. Journeys without destinations and understandings without verbal explanations are part the process.

Tamarack Song

The overall approach is packaged in a framework that amounts to sneaking up on our inner selves and letting them out so that we allow ourselves to sneak up on and quietly let nature happen around us.

With such a Zen style, there is more than a bit of going from point “A” to point “C,” with “A” being “I know what to do” and “C” being “now I know how to do this” without a “B” that showed you what specifically to do. This, along with the author’s tendency to state personal conclusions as indisputable facts and his inclination to lump all things “native” into the bucket of evidence that backs his conclusions, will annoy some readers. However, for all of his conclusions, he shies away from making too many direct “if you do this, then that will surely happen” statements. This is a good thing, and he does provide many references to outside studies and explorations of interest.

One feature of this book that I especially appreciated was the recognition that many people seriously interested in the subject don’t have ready access to wilderness or even rural spaces. Including the urban landscape in the scope of the book’s explorations was a boon and a kindness.

The only area where the book failed to deliver for me was on the subject of plants. While they are discussed, the volume and depth of plant-related content did not merit including the word “plants” in the title, in my opinion.

Ultimately, any book of this type will only work as a tool for people who are at least conceptually ready to make personal changes, in perspective as well as in lifestyle. Tamarack certainly challenges the reader to take such steps. There is huge potential for positive impact from a few of the suggested changes. The benefits of other steps, like cutting out prerecorded music, may be hard for some to embrace. Yet, other suggestions, like changing your footwear and your way of walking, open up a lot of possibilities for improved general well-being, beyond the scope of nature-communing. Or, perhaps more rightly stated, these other areas help remind the reader that how we live has far-reaching effects on just how close we get to becoming our natural selves.

I read the softback and the Kindle versions of the book. The paper version was nicely packaged and pleasantly illustrated. The layout was well considered, making excellent use of page space to provide a format well-suited to a book meant to inspire “pondering.”  The Kindle version was acceptable and included the illustrations.  I enjoyed this book, enough so that I will be seeking out other titles by this author.

Inner Traditions