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Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  314 ratings  ·  63 reviews
The suburban lawn sprouts a crop of contradictory myths. To some, it's a green oasis; to others, it's eco-purgatory. Science writer Hannah Holmes spent a year appraising the lawn through the eyes of the squirrels, crows, worms, and spiders who think of her backyard as their own. Suburban Safari is a fascinating and often hilarious record of her discoveries: that many anima ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published February 21st 2006 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2005)
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On the Origin of Species by Charles DarwinDesert Solitaire by Edward AbbeyThe Beak of the Finch by Jonathan WeinerIn the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel PhilbrickThe Black Nile by Dan Morrison
The International Year of Biodiversity
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A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from ... by Aldo LeopoldWalden by Henry David ThoreauA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie DillardSilent Spring by Rachel Carson
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125th out of 356 books — 290 voters

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Community Reviews

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William Cronon's essay "The Trouble with Wilderness" lays out a critique of the wilderness myth deeply ingrained in the American mind. The gist of the essay is that since humans are part and parcel of nature, it is not historically or ecologically sound to imagine "proper" ecosystems as without human presence or influence. At the end of the piece, Cronon urges us to "make a home in nature," "to honor the Other within and the Other next door as much as we do the exotic Other that lives far away." ...more
This fun mainstream nonfiction book takes environmental awareness to a new level. Hannah Holmes resolves to spend one year examining, in minute detail, her yard. She brings in experts to help her learn about some areas of her yard (entomolgy anyone?) and does historical research into the past life of her yard. Hannah Holmes writes in a very down-to-earth style that is extremely easy to follow. She shares her personal thoughts intertwined with the stories of the "characters" found in the yard. Yo ...more
Trivia fans will like this one (Did you know that the "clean" smell that comes with rain is actually the smell of fungi spores just released? Or that earthworms aren't native to Maine?). So I definitely learned a lot. Particularly interesting to me was her presentation of the environmental factors surrounding the lawn, not just hers but everybody's. We've all heard countless times about how we should be doing our small part for the environment, that if everyone helps it will all add up to a big ...more
Very interesting. I learned so much about the wildlife that inhabits our back yards - crows, squirrels - all of the "common" animals we don't see.
Get to know the citizens of your backyard kingdom, and perhaps you too will decide to give up your perfect lawn for something better for the wildlife. I think I've had a "Freedom Lawn" ever since we've owned ground, but more so because I'm too lazy to do all the fertilizing and whatnot. Come to find out, the lazy way is better for the environment anyway. Hurrah! Long live violets and clover!

An informative and entertaining look at our human impact on the environment, and what exactly we can do m
I found this book quite charming. Hannah Holmes decides to take a year to observe the life in her backyard in Maine - everything from the worms, ants and slugs, to the spiders, the mice, the crows, the squirrels, and her trees. She anthropomorphizes the creatures and names the stars (Babbette the spider, Cheeky the chipmunk, Stumpy the amputee squirrel etc) and they become characters that you care for and root for as spring (where her book starts) marches through summer, fall, and then winter. T ...more
Neatest thing I learned from this book: your yard is at its healthiest when it is a suburban landscaper's nightmare. My yard is a mess of crabgrass, Kentucky Blue, rye, dandelions, wild onions, buttercups and countless other weeds but it's all GREEN. In fact, it's a hundred different shades of green, with a little brown here or there, but if that clover stays a beautiful shade of emerald all summer without me having to water it, then it's got a place in my yard.

The poor suburbanite who is a slav
Feb 09, 2009 Cayr rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: every human
Hannah Holmes takes an ordinary subject: the yard surrounding her home, and turns it into an extraordinary treatise on the carbon footprint we are all leaving on the earth. Holmes splits her book into four sections, each one covering a season. She explores all the forms of life in her yard: insects, mammals, birds, even the native and invasive plant life. Her investigation uncovers the natural interdependence of all the various life forms and discusses the impact of our human lives on both our p ...more
I was so disappointed with this book. I'd been looking forward to reading it for a long time. I couldn't even finish it. :(

It's not very well organized except for the loose seasonal chapters. Each one jumps from topic to topic and that got annoying.

The worst part of the book and what ultimately made me abandon it was the superior tone of the author. It was just so great that she could take the time to learn about the creatures in her giant yard in Maine and how much she was learning and how the
I really liked this book. The author observed every detail of her backyard for a year, and researched every topic she could find. She talks about the life of a bug and mating habits of squirrels and the chemical defenses of trees, among many other things. It's really fascinating and I learned a lot. Plus she is funny. She writes about taming a chipmunk by feeding it sunflower seeds. She got it tame enough that it would come into her house and crawl all over her when it wanted seeds. I am tempted ...more
3.5 stars. Holmes spends a year analyzing her backyard in suburban Maine. When she gets into fall and winter (towards the end), Holmes delves deeper into what "belongs" and doesn't belong in her yard. Throughout the book she looks closely at the animals and insects living in her yard, the history of lawns, the geography and history of Maine's settlement, and so on. Pretty well researched and well balanced. Like I said, the beginning of the book (she talks a lot about birds- crows, sparrows, etc) ...more
It was a good read. Person studied the animals and plants in her yard for a year. There are wonders under and above the lawn chair! Makes me want to go sit and look and listen. Very cool.
All the author's theories and guesses were a little annoying at times. Also not convinced that feeding the chipmunks and crows is such a great idea...but I keep bird feeders, can I really judge? I did enjoy her stories of watching the wildlife around her and in her yard.
Jun 22, 2008 Jen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people with lawns
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek on a far smaller scale: the suburban neighborhood, but no less incredible with regard to the goings-on of nature, hidden in plain sight. an interesting breakdown of an otherwise yawn-y subject of backyard politics, so why cock it up with all the unfortunate inclusion of Cute? kind of fluffy! isn't it enough that a squirrel's on the cover AND serves as the dingbat? too much Cheeky Chipmunk saccharine sweet, it took away from the overall point: layers exist beyond the surfa ...more
Holmes, with the help of various experts, takes a close look at what’s living in her own backyard in Portland, Maine (my state’s biggest city). From the worms to the crows to the cute chipmunk she lets into her home, Holmes succeeds at making the suburban landscape absolutely fascinating. She’s your everyday sort of nature writer, because when she spent this year of observation she knew as much as you or me would about what goes on in the American backyard. She loves the environment, but is as s ...more
I picked this up at a book sale on a whim. The author lives in South Portland, ME and basically just spent a year studying her yard and learning more about all the critters around, their habitat, and how even small decisions like whether to cut your lawn every week or every two weeks can have a huge impact on their lives.

Holmes also covers how human development has effected the natural world environmentally and it's species. Amazing how many species I thought were native to Maine that are actua
Elizabeth K.
This was darling. The author spent one year observing the wildlife in her suburban yard in Maine, and records her findings. She's coming at it from the point of view of a homeowner, not any sort of environmental specialist or anything like that. I especially liked it because she's upfront about failing to include any sort of scientific detachment -- she gets personally attached to the animals that live in her yard, and feeds them and names them. The book is very encouraging about environmental a ...more
Oct 01, 2008 Aaron rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nature lovers
Delightful account of one woman's observations of nature's little dramas as they unfold on her suburban lawn. Charming narrative alternating with solid ecological facts to place her observations in context. Although she lives in Maine, many of her observations feel at home here in central Ohio, where my wife and I enjoy watching a very similar cast of characters--boisterous crows, task-oriented ant colonies, buzzing bees, mischievous squirrels, milling roly-polys, and charming little chipmunks. ...more
This is not the sort of book I would usually choose--it is non-fiction for one thing, but it has a cute sqirrel on the cover, so I tried it and found a lot to like. The author is a science writer and it takes place mostly in her yard, writing about not only the plants, but also insects and animals. She also travels to other places such as the Mall in Washington, D.C. and Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona. She herself lives in Maine, near the ocean. I am hoping that my husband, a Master Gardener, wil ...more
Oy...this one gets kind of dense in the middle, but overall a fun & informative look at the ecosystems that thrive in our own suburban landscapes. I can totally relate to her witty anthromorphizations of all of her "critters" that inhabit her back yard. I also became much more aware of the circle of life that inevitably is affected by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. that get dumped onto lawns every day. It makes me want to go organic all the way from now on.
Interesting but it was very thorough, a bit too thorough for me to stay awake. My interest in the life of bugs beneath my soil is only so much. I wish she went into more detail about how larger animals such as squirrels and raccoons live. Still, the author has an upbeat voice and a way of describing scientific details in a clear, fresh way. Her compassion and sense of humor remain intact as she discusses all that she witnesses in her back yard.
This is a pretty good nature book mostly because it isn't like any other "nature book." I liked learning about animals that I would expect to see from a writer who isn't overly formal or informal. The problem with most books is they're written for scientists or written for little kids. More people should follow Hannah Holmes's example and create accessible non-fiction literature that doesn't make you feel like you're being talked down to.
Scottsdale Public Library
Yes, it's science, but it's also funny, moving, and very readable! Who knew that life, both plant and animal, in a typical New England backyard could be so exciting? The author covers the spectrum of biology--from bugs to fungus to invasive trees to birds to raccoons--and invites the reader to share her wonder and concern for the world immediately surrounding us.

-Chris H.-
Sep 26, 2011 Tina rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: nature
I loved this book. The author spent a year watching and learning about the critters and plants that live in her yard in Maine.Using a light, humorous voice, she taught me a lot about those creatures and plants, as well as wider issues surrounding the way we use our land. I really enjoyed reading this book, and look forward to picking up her other book, which is about dirt.
Michele Bolay
Holmes makes me want to lie around on the lawn and watch bugs all day. And I hate bugs. I also like that she is almost as afraid of spiders as I am, but she conquers her fear enough to observe them....through a double-paned window. ;-) My favorite "characters", however, had to be Cheeky the chipmunk, the crows, and the squirrels. So much personality.
It took a little reading for me to love this book--I think because I had just finished Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Dillard's language was still haunting me. But once I let go of Dillard and got into Suburban Safari, I really started enjoying it. Holmes is an inquisitive, clever, and at times conflicted narrator, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her.
Jun 29, 2012 Rick rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys exploring outdoors
Recommended to Rick by: found it at a yard sale!
This is a wonderful description of the nature adventures that can be found in one's own backyard. Ms. Holmes' writing is conversational and witty, but also supported by the research she's done and the various scientists and naturalists she invites into her yard to help her understand where she lives. Made me look at my yard with very different eyes!
An enjoyable read that has gotten me to look at my crows, squirrels, trees and grass in a different way as well as more often:o)
Among other things, I learned that I have a Freedom Lawn (this is a great thing for the environment), that the crows in my neighborhood consider me one of theirs and that my trees communicate with each other.
Apr 04, 2009 Margaret is currently reading it
Hmmm.. what a great premise. The author spends an entire year examining the flora and fauna of her yard. When she can't find the answer to something, she brings in the experts. This is a great reminder for even city dwellers to be more mindful as they interact with the tiny bit of nature afforded us.

Pamela W
Holmes made the everyday a lot more interesting than I would have guessed possible. I learned quite a lot from this book and aside from being a fun-yet-informative read, is a great reminder of the complexities of nature and allllll that we take for granted in (literally) our own back yards.
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