Monday, March 28, 2011

Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat & Conservation Landscaping-Chesapeake Bay Watershed / Britt Slattery, et al -- MD: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2003

There are a lot of very good reasons to remove invasive plants -- particularly non-native invasives -- and replace them with less aggressive native plants. Most important is the ability of a variety of native plants to support the local wildlife, but also important is their ability to improve the soil quality by sinking deep roots that aerate the top soil and add organic matter. Deep rooted plants are also far better at retaining water and in urban and suburban areas, this is critical for reducing the destructive, polluting, storm water runoff that is killing our streams rivers, and bays.

However, identifying the right native plant is not always easy. Fortunately for those of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published a handy catalog of hundreds of native plants: ferns, grasses, herbaceous plants, herbaceous emergents, shrubs, and trees. For each (or almost each) plant, the guide provides basic information to help you decide if the plant is right for you.

The guide identifies the basic characteristics of the plant: size, colors of its flowers, leaves, and fruit, as well as the time of the year when it flowers and fruits. It also provides basic information about its optimal growth conditions: sun, shade, and partial shade; but also soil pH and soil conditions: clay, loam, sand, or organic. It even provides an indication of the ideal habitat and geographic region within the watershed to help ensure that its nativity is reasonably local. For anyone particularly interested in attracting wildlife to your garden, it indicates how attractive the plant is to song birds, water fowl, small mammals, butterflies, beneficial insects, and hummingbirds.

The authors point out, of course, that the Chesapeake Bay contains many more native plants than are included in this catalog, and encourage the reader to seek out other sources to learn about those plants outside of their selection. The encouragement isn't necessary, though, as one's appetite for more information about native plants is whetted by the guide's clear presentation alone.

Perhaps the only weakness is the size of the photographs. While it is great to have photos of each plant, the photos are tiny and there is only one (sometimes two) for each plant, sometimes showing fruit, leaves, or blossoms, but seldom more than one of the characteristics. Consequently, using the book in conjunction with other reference sources amplifies its value, but regardless of this drawback, it is an extremely helpful starting point for learning about what native plants will grow well in your garden.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Metaphysics / Aristotle -- Richard Hope, tr. -- Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1975

There is a popular saying among philosophers that all of Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato and Aristotle. Nothing supports this more effectively than Aristotle's Metaphysics. Though written in the fourth century B.C.E., Metaphysics grapples with the central problems in ontology that have held the attention of Western philosophers ever since. Moreso than Plato, Aristotle's language and views have provided the foundation of how we think about existence and the conundrums that it poses.

Richard Hope's translation of Metaphysics identifies "primary being" as the central object of Aristotle's study. The term is perhaps clumsy, but nonetheless apt in that Aristotle identifies and expounds on a number of "objects" that exist in some form or another, but which need to be distinguished from the most fundamental objects of reality. By making these distinctions, Aristotle is able to provide insight into what exists and what merely holds a relationship to what exists.

We can attribute to Aristotle many of the most basic notions with which we understand the world. At least we can find no earlier extensive exposition of these or similar ideas, with the exception of Plato; but even here, Plato is a myth-monger, overly reliant on metaphor in comparison to Aristotle. Indeed, the lack of comparable material during or before Aristotle is evidence that his genius was perhaps unrivaled in the Western tradition.

Metaphysics explores the relationships among objects and their attributes, attributes and other attributes, causation, change, materiality, space, number, ideas, unity, permanence, relationships, and a host of other ontological concepts. Many sections of the work are obscure, if not unintelligible, but other sections are lucid descriptions of the most basic structure of experience. Lurking just below the surface is Aristotle's logic. For example, the relationship of contraries appears again and again to explain the possibility of change, while Aristotle explicitly asserts that the law of non-contradiction is the most certain of all principles and that all demonstrations rest upon it. It is perhaps here that Aristotle's genius is most evident. While earlier philosophers employed the same reason as Aristotle, none did so consciously, and by doing so, Aristotle set a standard for intellectual discourse that has born valuable fruit through the millenia.

A careful reading (and re-reading) of Aristotle will certainly yield great rewards, particularly in understanding the details of his thinking, but even a casual reading pays dividends as a systematic and exhuastive meditation on the most fundamental concepts of existence focuses one's mind on the amazing gift that is human experience.