Looking for affordable summer fun with benefits to last a lifetime? Go outside and connect with nature! Exploring nature offers you healthy exercise and fresh air, and can strengthen your spiritual, intellectual, and family life. Getting started as an amateur naturalist is easy with help from Manhattan Public Library.
Start with inspiration from “The Practical Naturalist,” an easy-to-browse beginner’s guide with stunning illustrations from publisher Dorling Kindersley, or “The Nature Handbook: A Guide to Observing the Great Outdoors” from Oxford University Press. If you’re making this a family project, plan your summer activities using “The National Wildlife Federation Book of Family Nature Activities: 50 Simple Projects and Activities in the Natural World” by Page Chichester. Another great nature study guide and activity planner is “The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Great Outdoors” by Stephen Moss, a year-round guide that includes seasonal nature activities that appeal to all the senses, identification tips for everything from birdsong to lichens, and simple encouragements like, “Lie in the tall grass and look at the sky.”
While you’re looking at the sky, take time to study the clouds as they change and move and then learn what they tell us about the weather. Find guidance and inspiration in “The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, a delightful cloud identification guide and a surprise best-seller in Britain that offers plenty of helpful illustrations and surprising humor. Another good read for cloudgazers is “The Book of Clouds” by John A. Day, which includes spectacular photographs, a cloud chart and weather forecasting information, and the author’s inspiring list of “Ten Reasons to Look Up. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather” by David Ludlum can help you interpret what you see.
Closer down to earth, learn to recognize trees and appreciate their beauty and strength with “The Urban Tree Book: An Uncommon Field Guide for City and Town” by Arthur Plotnik, or the masterful “Sibley Guide to Trees” by David Allen Sibley.
For gorgeous and inspiring nature photography, treat yourself to “Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees” by Nancy Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. Use your new-found knowledge on a self-guided tree walk in Manhattan City Park or on the KSU campus. Guides for both the City Park Tree Walk and the Campus Tree Walk can be found online by going to www.riley.ksu.edu, then entering City Park Tree Walk or Campus Tree Walk in the search box.
Study the creatures that creep, crawl, run, and fly with a wide selection of guidebooks at the library. Go pond-watching with “Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles in Kansas” by Joseph T. Collins. Identify mammals by their tracks and learn about their behavior from “Mammal Tracks and Signs by Mark Elbroch or Behavior of North American Mammals” by Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart.
Learn more about birds in What the “Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World” by Jon Young, then go birding with the “Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots” by Bob Gress.
When you’re ready to go further afield and into the Flint Hills, check out the “Field Guide to the North American Prairie” by Stephen R. Jones or “Kansas Geology: An Introduction to Landscapes, Rocks, Minerals, and Fossils” to help you understand the ecology and terrain. Then head out to Konza Prairie or beyond and take along “Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas” by Michael Haddock or “Kansas Prairie Wildflowers” by K-State’s own Clenton Owensby to help you identify plants and grasses.
At the end of the long summer day, stargaze under the dark night sky. “The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide and Summer Stargazing: A Practical Guide for Recreational Astronomers,” both by Terence Dickinson, can guide you to celestial wonders. Kids can discover more from “Night Sky and Planets,” both from Scholastic Books and available in the library’s Children’s Room.
To learn the mythology behind the constellations, check out A walk through the “Heavens: A Guide to Stars and Constellations and Their Legends” by Milton D. Heifetz. For more stargazing fun, go to Stellarium.org and have your own planetarium show on your home computer. Type in coordinates to watch the night sky and see stars, planets, and satellites move as the night and day progress.
On June 30 at 2 p.m., join us at Manhattan Public Library for a fun program, “Dream Big: Follow the Stars” with cool games, stories, and activities for parents and kids K-6th grade. Have a wonderful summer, Manhattan.