Books (Continued)

Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry, 2004


A pioneering ethnobotanist, Gary Paul Nabhan credits the arts with sparking unlikely scientific breakthroughs and believes that such “cross-pollination” engenders new forms of expression that are essential to discovery.

In this highly readable book, he tells four stories to illustrate this idea. In the first, coping with color blindness in art class leads to his career as a scientist; in the second, ancient American Indian songs, when translated, reveal an understanding of plants and animals that rivals modern research; in the third, a poem inspires an approach to diabetes using desert plants; and in the fourth, a coalition of scientists and artists creates the Ironwood Forest National Monument in the Sonoran Desert.

Tequila!: A Natural and Cultural History (with Ana-Guadalupe Valenzuela-Zapata), 2004


The array of bottles is impressive, their contents finely tuned to varied tastes. But they all share the same roots in Mesoamerica’s natural bounty and human culture.

The drink is tequila—more properly, mescal de tequila, the first mescal to be codified and recognized by its geographic origin and the only one known internationally by that name. In ¡Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History, Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata, the leading agronomist in Mexico’s tequila industry, and Gary Paul Nabhan, one of America’s most respected ethnobotanists, plumb the myth of tequila as they introduce the natural history, economics, and cultural significance of the plants cultivated for its production.

Valenzuela-Zapata and Nabhan take you into the agave fields of Mexico to convey their passion for the century plant and its popular by-product.

San Francisco Chronicle

Lyricism for all things agave infuses the prose, a rhapsody tempered by hard botanical science.

Singing the Turtles to Sea, 2003


Singing the Turtles to Sea vividly describes the desert, its phantasmagoric landforms, and its equally fantastic animals.

This book contains important new information on the origins, biogeography, and conservation status of marine and desert reptiles in this region. Nabhan also discusses the significance of reptiles in Seri folklore, natural history, language, medicine, and art.

This book is a magnificent ethnobiology that also succeeds in linking the importance of preserving ecological diversity with issues such as endangered languages and human rights. Singing the Turtles to Sea ultimately points the way toward a more hopeful future for the native cultures and animals of the Sonoran desert and for the preservation of indigenous cultures and species around the world.

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, 2001 Paperback 2009


“Nabhan makes us understand how finding and eating local foods connects us deeply and sensually with where we are [and] why the everyday choices we make about food are the most important choices we make” –Alice Waters, chef owner of Chez Panisse

Since Coming Home to Eat was first published in 2001, the local food movement has exploded, and more people than ever are “going green” in an effort lead healthier, more eco-friendly lives. Gary Nabhan’s year-long mission to eat only foods grown, fished, or gathered within 220 miles of his Arizona home offers striking, timely insights into our evolving relationship with food and place—and encourages us to redefine “eating close to home” as an act of deep cultural and environmental significance. As an avid gardener, ethnobotanist preserving seed diversity, and activist devoted to recovering native food traditions in the Southwest, Nabhan writes about his long campaign to raise awareness about food with contagious passion and humor.

Los Angeles Times

[Nabhan] offers a fascinating, enlightening, and moving account of his own experiences . . . prompting us to think twice about everything from the value of so-called ‘health foods’ to the decline in the percentage of American families who have dinner together at home.

Efrain of the Sonoran Desert: A Lizard’s Life Among the Seri Indians(with Amalia Astorga and Janet Miller), 2001


“The very first thing that you see when you reach the beach and leave your boat behind in the shallows of the Sea of Cortez is a lizard running away from the water. It curls its tail high so the waves won’t get it wet.” That’s what Gary Paul Nabhan remembers about his first visit to the Seri village in Kino Bay. There he met storyteller Amalia Astorga. She tells him the bittersweet history of Efra, a sun-blotched lizard.

In so doing, she helps him to understand how the Seris have protected a species that everywhere else is endangered. Together Amalia and Gary give young readers an insight into the life and culture of the Seris, an endangered people themselves, but a people who know how to love their land and its inhabitants.

La Vida Nortena (with David Burckhalter and Thomas Sheridan), 1999


For the last quarter century, David Burckhalter has photographed the diverse peoples, cultures, and landscapes of Sonora, Mexico.

These fifty-two black-and-white images are a representative cross-section of Burckhalter’s massive body of work on Sonora’s Indians, Hispanos, and Mestizos who, for hundreds of years, have lived in isolation in Sonora’s high mountains, elevated valleys, desert plains, and coastal beaches. His subjects — men, women, and children — are Seris, Yaquis, Mayos, cowboys, fishermen, farmers, musicians, tavern keepers and patrons, merchants, weavers, and pilgrims.

Essays by Gary Nabhan and Thomas E. Sheridan describe the unique, vivacious cultures of Sonora and explore the value of Burckhalter’s photography to our understanding of the region.

People, Plants and Protected Areas (with John Tuxill), 1998


Conservation of plant resources is often focused on seed banks and botanical gardens. However, the two authors of this volume present a comprehensive conservation strategy that complements this “ex-situ” approach with practical guidance on “in-situ” management and conservation of plant resources.

The book aims to facilitate better management of protected areas and to illustrate new approaches to conservation of plants within their landscapes. It draws on concepts from forestry, the agricultural sciences, anthropology, ethnology and ethnobotany and should be useful to practitioners, academics and policy-makers.

Cultures of Habitat, 1997


Cultures of Habitat, On Nature, Culture, and Story. Nabhan. A mosaic of 24 provocative essays that celebrate the vital connections between the soul, place, and nature.

Nabhan offers numerous real-life examples of places where human populations have sustained native wildlife populations and discusses the factors that contribute to these positive relationships.

Concentrating on “cultures of habitat,” Gary Nabhan also offers examples of how disruptions in natural communities correlate with upheavals in human built communities. This fine collection of writings shows how human quality of life issues are rooted firmly in environmental quality.

The Forgotten Pollinators (with Stephen Buchmann), 1996


In the The Forgotten Pollinators , Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan explores the vital relationships between plants and the animals. The authors present a lively and fascinating account of the ecological and cultural context of plant – pollinator relationships.

“In this stunning addition to conservation biology, the authors show that protecting plants without their pollinators is pointless. By remembering the pollinators for us, through affecting personal stories and deep knowledge told in memorable language, Buchmann and Nabhan give the gifts of timely understanding and hope that co-evolved systems might survive in all their complexity and elegance.” -Robert Michael Pyle

The Geography of Childhood (with Stephen Trimble), 1994


The Geography of Childhood, is an insight into how exploration of wild places promotes self-esteem, confidence and caring.

In the words of Barry Lopez, “the support we offer our children in sorting out their relationships with the natural world is crucial to the recovery of a dignified, human relationship with the earth.

A passionate book, filled with the love of two fathers who know how to listen to children – their own and others …every parent, every person should read it.”

Songbirds, Truffles and Wolves, 1994


A poet and naturalist, Nabhan makes his way by foot along the ancient Franciscan Way from Florence to Assisi, talking to farmers and townsfolk en route.

This most unusual travelogue combines natural history, spirituality — and a lively appreciation of local food and food traditions.

It’s the local scale of Tuscany and Umbria and the accommodation of wild and domestic that intrigues Nabhan.

Counting Sheep, 1994


Imagine sending a number of nature writers out into the same unrelenting stretch of Sonoran Desert. Then consider telling them to focus their attention on just one animal — Ovis canadensis, popularly called the desert bighorn or borrego cimarrón—and have them write about it.

Have them write from makeshift blinds or from behind a gun barrel. Have them write while walking across the Cabeza Prieta at night, or while flying over it trying to radio-collar the creatures. Have them write from actual sightings of the animals or simply from their tracks and droppings. What would result from such an exercise is Counting Sheep, an unusual anthology that demonstrates the range of possibilities in nature writing.

While ostensibly a collection of writings about these desert sheep that live along the U.S.-Mexico border, it also represents an attempt to broaden the scope of the natural history essay. Writers trained in a wide range of disciplines spanning the natural and social sciences here offer a similarly diverse collection of writings, with women’s, Hispanic, and Native American views complementing those in a genre long dominated by Anglo men.

The four sections of the anthology comprise pre-Anglo-American tradition, examples of early nature writing, varied responses by modern writers to actually counting sheep, and a selection of essays that place bighorns in the context of the larger world. Counting Sheep celebrates the diversity of cultural responses to this single animal species in its Sonoran Desert habitat and invites readers to change the way in which they view their relationship to wild creatures everywhere. It also shows how nature writers can delight us all by the varied ways in which they practice their craft.

Library Journal

Counting sheep with these authors will keep you wide awake. . . . essential reading for naturalists and conservationists. Highly recommended.

Enduring Seeds, 1989


In a series of beautifully written essays about Native American agriculture and wild plant conservation, Gary addresses the importance of conserving wild plants, the difficulties Native American peoples have had in preserving their agricultural traditions and current wild plant conservation efforts in North America.

“Gary Nabhan . . . is a seer and celebrant of the cultivated plant world before its defilement by modern agriculture. His interests and insights are as diverse as the wild seeds he gathers. Not only does he write beautifully about what he knows, he also goes out into the fields of native peoples collecting and conserving indigenous seeds, returning them to communities from which they have been lost. In words and actions, Nabhan aims to preserve no less than the ‘remaining riches of the living world’ .” – Gretel Ehrlich

Gathering the Desert, 1985


Gary has combed the desert in search of plants forgotten by all but a handful of American Indians and Mexican Americans.

In Gathering the Desert readers will discover that the bounty of the desert is much more than meets the eye—whether found in the luscious fruit of the stately organpipe cactus or in the lowly tepary bean.

Nabhan has chosen a dozen of the more than 425 edible wild species found in the Sonoran Desert to demonstrate just how bountiful the land can be. From the red-hot chiltepines of Mexico to the palms of Palm Springs, each plant exemplifies a symbolic or ecological relationship which people of this region have had with plants through history.

Each chapter focuses on a particular plant and is accompanied by an original drawing by artist Paul Mirocha. Word and picture together create a total impression of plants and people as the book traces the turn of seasons in the desert.

Natural History

Fascinating reading for anyone interested in human ecology or ethnobotany . . . a splendid way to learn to love—and save— the deserts.

The Desert Smells Like Rain, 1982


In The Desert Smells Like Rain, ethnobiologist Gary Nabhan describes his visits with contemporary Papago Indians, the Tohono O’oodham or “Desert People”. Drawing on his extensive scientific research and study of Papago folklore, as well as his years of work among the Desert People in village gardening and nutrition programs, Nabhan portrays a desert- adapted way of life that has persisted despite the pressures of modern civilization.

“Gary Nabhan’s compassionate observation of Papago land ethics is important work, capable of broad application. He is a naturalist in the full sense of the word, because he has not forgotten the people.” -Barry Lopez