cover image Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium

Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium

Helen Humphreys. ECW, $22.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-77041-534-8

“A visit to the herbarium is an exquisite kind of time travel,” writes poet and novelist Humphreys (Rabbit Foot Bill) in this delightful mix of memoir and field study. Despite climate change and habitat loss, Humphreys suggests, “there is still a profound need within human beings to connect to the natural world,” and, accordingly, she spent a year studying “the phenomenon of the herbarium.” This primarily included the “catalogue of dead plants” at Canada’s Fowler Herbarium, as well as the herbarium collections of Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau, who gathered more than 900 specimens. Humphreys offers impressive mini-biographies of figures who contributed to botany, such as Jack Gillett, a botanist who enjoyed skinny-dipping; W.G. Dore, a grass specialist who wrote “detailed and vivid” descriptions of the subjects of his studies; Lulie Crawford, who found the sample of dog violet now at Fowler; and the Indigenous people who cataloged and preserved flora before the herbarium. In beautiful prose, Humphreys describes her experience acquainting herself with plants: “In the virtual forest... I now find myself in a patch of violets that stretches on and on, file after file.” Readers who appreciated Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders will revel in these gorgeous explorations. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (Sept.)