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Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium

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Award-winning and beloved author Helen Humphreys discovers her local herbarium and realizes we need to look for beauty in whatever nature we have left - no matter how diminished

Award-winning poet and novelist Helen Humphreys returns to her series of nature meditations in this gorgeously written and illustrated book that takes a deep look at the forgotten world of herbariums and the people who amassed collections of plant specimens in the 19th and 20th centuries. From Emily Dickinson’s and Henry David Thoreau’s collections to the amateur naturalists whose names are forgotten but whose collections still grace our world, herbariums are the records of the often-humble plants that are still with us and those that are lost. Over the course of a year, Humphreys considers life and loss and the importance of finding solace in nature.

Illustrated throughout with images of herbarium specimens, Humphreys’s own botanical drawings, and archival photographs, this will be the perfect gift for Humphreys’s many fans, nature enthusiasts, and for all who loved Birds Art Life.

232 pages, Hardcover

Published September 21, 2021

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About the author

Helen Humphreys

40 books368 followers
Helen Humphreys is the author of five books of poetry, eleven novels, and three works of non-fiction. She was born in Kingston-on-Thames, England, and now lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Her first novel, Leaving Earth (1997), won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her second novel, Afterimage (2000), won the 2000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her third novel, The Lost Garden (2002), was a 2003 Canada Reads selection, a national bestseller, and was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Wild Dogs (2004) won the 2005 Lambda Prize for fiction, has been optioned for film, and was produced as a stage play at CanStage in Toronto in the fall of 2008. Coventry (2008) was a #1 national bestseller, was chosen as one of the top 100 books of the year by the Globe & Mail, and was chosen one of the top ten books of the year by both the Ottawa Citizen and NOW Magazine.

Humphreys's work of creative non-fiction, The Frozen Thames (2007), was a #1 national bestseller. Her collections of poetry include Gods and Other Mortals (1986); Nuns Looking Anxious, Listening to Radios (1990); and, The Perils of Geography (1995). Her latest collection, Anthem (1999), won the 2000 Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry.

Helen Humphreys's fiction is published in Canada by HarperCollins, and in the U.S. by W.W. Norton. The Frozen Thames was published by McClelland & Stewart in Canada, and by Bantam in the U.S. Her work has been translated into many languages.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah Boon.
484 reviews20 followers
January 17, 2022
A bit all over the place. A lovely looking book, with great prints of pages from different herbariums. But the story wasn't strong enough and it wasn't clear what the author was trying to accomplish with her visits to the herbarium. The part in the middle when her dog passed didn't quite fit, and I wondered how she managed to sell this book to ECW Press. I did hear her talk about the book and she had some solid discussion of what she meant the book to be, but I don't think the final product matched what she set out to do.
Profile Image for Annie.
3,620 reviews67 followers
January 31, 2022
Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader.

Field Study is a beautifully written, poetic, and meandering memoir by Helen Humphreys on botany, land sovereignty, life, and her work and studies in herbaria and botanical collections. Released 21st Sept 2021 by ECW Press, it's 232 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The author is an accomplished poet and, despite this being a non-fiction read, the lyrical, precise use of language belies her origins as a writer. The book is arranged around seasonal observations and activities, beginning in the winter with ruminations on herbaria, collecting, plants, ecology, and humans place in the system of things. The following seasons contain some astute (and sobering) commentary on the nature of beauty, hubris, and naturalists (Thoreau) who have traversed these trails before us. Throughout the cohesive whole, the language is uppermost. She writes very very well and this is often a joy to read. In addition to the superlative writing, the book is filled with numerous botanical drawings and mounted samples of plants.

Although layman accessible and not an academically rigorous book, the chapter notes and annotations are full of additional information and sources for further reading.

The audiobook version has a run time of 3 hours and 15 minutes and is narrated by the author. She has a gravelly and uneven voice (voiceovers are clearly not her primary occupation), but once I got used to the cadence, and her occasional slight stumbles with some of the nomenclature, I found it a very restful listening experience. The sound and production qualities were fairly high throughout.

This is a wonderful book, and one I will revisit. It's probably something of a niche read - but for fans of nature memoirs like Helen McDonald, Thoreau, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, it will likely be deeply satisfying.

Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
Profile Image for Chrystopher’s Archive.
530 reviews36 followers
November 16, 2021
Destined to take its place among such classics as A Sand County Almanac and A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

I loved how inclusive Humphreys was in her writing. She opens with a land acknowledgment and strides to include information on indigenous relationships with plants.

Charming, meandering, poignant, hopeful. Beautiful.

Although it was interesting to hear the words in the author’s own voice, I suspect this book would be even more striking in visual format.
Profile Image for Nikan.
84 reviews17 followers
June 1, 2022
The combination of learning about the plants at the Fowler herbarium and the author’s beautiful and thought provoking reflections on them (and life in general) was soothing and lovely! Such a nice little read.
Profile Image for L Prunskus.
22 reviews25 followers
October 3, 2021
One of the best books I have read in over a year. I loved the presentation of the information, a beautifully appointed book with illustrations, notes, and personal reflections on the study of herbaria and their contributors. One of the most poignant aspects of this book was the linking of natural field study with the last full day of life the author spent with her dying dog, Charlotte. As well, the research was mostly situated in Ontario with familiar place names, commonplace flora, and well-established institutional facilities. For me, the book was an exquisite journal by a researcher completing a study that included some of the research itself. There is so much more I could say, but for now, this is it.
Profile Image for Nick Carraway LLC.
339 reviews10 followers
February 2, 2022
1) "To do this, I have chosen to concentrate on the phenomenon of the herbarium. These libraries of dried plant specimens - some hundreds of years old - seem the perfect crucible in which to examine the intersection of human beings and the natural world through time. Each herbarium specimen is mounted on a sheet of paper with a label affixed by the collector, providing details of the plant and the location where it was found, but also including information about the person who preserved the plant. In this way the herbarium becomes a place, a landscape if you will, where the experience of people connecting with nature is revealed. I cannot think of another place where it is possible to look into the past and see the moment an orchid was plucked from the forest floor or a willow frond was cut from a branch. A visit to the herbarium is an exquisite kind of time travel. And by learning more about the intersection of people and nature in the past, I hope to gain some understanding of where we can go from here."

2) "If a lichen is to be a reliable witness to the years, it has to grow in a protected place that is itself allowed to be unchanging. Cemeteries and churches, caves and mineshafts are good environments for lichens and, subsequently, lichenologists. Roland Beschel regularly visited certain graveyards to monitor the lichens on the tombstones. He made excursions to the Arctic and Greenland as well, locations where there was little human interference with the landscape and where the lichens could flourish undisturbed."

3) "While I was working my way through the Fern files at herbarium, I had a recurring dream. In the dream, the dead people in my life were mingling with the living people and I could no longer tell which was which, who was alive and who was dead. It was as though I had forgotten this most fundamental distinction, and the dream was spent trying to sort out what was true and what was not.
The ferns in the specimen cabinets are no longer alive, but they still look as if they are, and though they are brittle, this dryness is not an indicator as to when a particular fern perished. A fern picked a hundred years ago is in much the same state of preservation as a fern picked ten years ago. The herbarium is a catalogue of dead plants, but perhaps it also tells us, equally, about what it is to be alive - that the dead and the living not only share the same space but are, in fact, equal."

4) "Perhaps Wilhelm Suksdorf did not want anyone else to visit his Falcon Valley or Elk Ridge. He had a private relationship with Jackrabbit Gulch and Rice Creek and wanted to keep it that way. His non-scientific naming of locations was exasperating to the botanists who followed him, as was his desire to 'split' variations of the same plant into different species. But naming somewhere because of what you have encountered there makes more sense than any other way of naming and is a way to tie oneself to place. It becomes an acknowledgement of both the Earth's creatures and one human's individual experience. And I, for one, would love to visit Suksdorf's Butterfly Lake, wherever it is."

5) "On this very day, May 3, in 1901, John B. Flett was collecting willows to represent the flora of Washington in the Smithsonian herbarium. He cut a piece of heartleaf willow (Salix cordata) in Tacoma, noting that he found it 'Growing in pools which dry up.' He also collected a specimen of Pacific willow (Salix lasiandra) that was seven to nine feet high and found growing in water. He notes on the bottom of the label that the willow was 'frequented by honey bees!!!'
I like his three exclamation points, which still show, all these years later, his excitement. I like it all the more when I find out that he was forty-two when he penciled in those jubilant exclamation points."

6) "What I have learned from drawing flowers is that each one, while subscribing to a pattern, is also an individual, and when I am drawing it, I have to pay attention to the character of each flower and present that in the finished piece. And, just as I am drawn more to the character of some people, I also prefer the character of particular flowers, and in Queen Anne's lace, I prefer there to be space between the blooms and the umbels, for the head of the flower to have an open appearance, the 'lace' loose enough to see through to the field grasses below."

7) "While animals and plants are still classified using a version of the Linnaean system I prefer a more interconnected way to look at plants and animals, and in my own practice of thinking about, and drawing, the natural world, I am trying to make connections - not so much a way of delineating a direct line between one thing and another, something more subtle than that: colours that line up, a way of movement that resembles another way of movement, a shape that crosses from one species to another.
And when I think of field guides, I think of making small guides to both the tangible and the ephemeral, such as a field guide to memory that shows the angle of the rush after the blackbird has lifted, that shows the strew of apple blossom after the storm has passed, the closed head of a flower after the rain has ceased."

8) "These are the places where the various collectors discovered their violets:
'Storm stricken deciduous woodland'
'Luxuriant in rich grass land'
'Flowering near the water; fruiting on sunny cliffs'
'Damp woods'
'edges of granite ledge'
'Wooded hillside'
'Rocky woods'
'Common in mossy swards'
'border of salt meadow.'
'Neglected mountain pasture'
The range of habitat shows the hardy, adaptable nature of the plant and I like to picture all of these locales stamped with a bright coin of blue or yellow violet."

9) "Driving along the highway that borders the marsh near the city, I suddenly see how the marsh is the hinge between lake and land, where blackbirds sway on rushes, and herons rise on stiffened wings. Where water is a form of darkness, and the choir of wild iris sings with meadowsweet and willow. It is neither solid ground, nor entirely melt, but shifts its state to what is found, matching creature and season. Giving us, too, relief from absolutes, a fate where we can dream ourselves as sway or rise, or earthly song."
Profile Image for Jacqueline.
89 reviews18 followers
April 19, 2022
This book reminds me of Marta McDowell's "Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet" with its beautiful illustrations, photos, and its descriptions of plants and their locations. I find reading about plants to be one of the most calming things to do, so I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the reading experience. I also really liked how Helen is a Canadian author and focuses on a Canadian herbarium, which adds that sense of familiarity to me as a Canadian reader. Helen also recognizes and acknowledges that botany is a hobby deeply rooted in colonial practices, which I appreciated, and I liked how she highlighted some botanists who partnered with Indigenous people in the late 1800s to document the Indigenous names of plants.
Profile Image for Geoff.
968 reviews96 followers
May 2, 2022
The author spent the year in a herbarium, going through every species and looking for the stories behind those who contributed the samples. And while these stories were often really interesting, the author's passages about her walks in the woods (especially an uplifting and heartbreaking final walk with her dog) soar and shine in a way she can't capture in the archive. I love records and caches and systematized knowledge, but it is clear that (even unconsciously) the purpose of knowledge about the world and the people in it is to help you better experience, understand, and enjoy being in that world.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Phoenix.
319 reviews15 followers
August 14, 2022
Another promising natural history research project marred by patriarchal settler-colonialism’s legacy. Humphreys does what she can to rescue an academic herbarium from being just another cabinet of curiosities, and half-succeeds. What was most interesting were the research questions generated from her admirable efforts to acknowledge indigenous and women’s efforts to contribute knowledge of plants and the land. But I found I was disappointed with how narrow her subject had to be, because of the aforementioned.
Profile Image for Janet.
165 reviews
December 29, 2021
If the author’s name sounds familiar, it may be that you’ve read her historical fiction, such as The Lost Garden, about the “Land Girls” who farmed the land during WWII; or her highly original The Frozen Thames, an exploration of the 40 times the Thames froze over, and how that phenomenon affected the lives of those who lived along the river.

In Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium, Humphreys spends her year examining all 144,000 herbarium sheets that reside in the Fowler Herbarium, Queen’s University Biological Station, Ontario, Canada. She writes about the plant collectors who contributed the specimens, and comments on the plants and the condition and presentation of the specimens themselves. Some, she observes, seem to be mounted on the archival paper with an artistic, eye-pleasing sensibility, while others are treated in a more utilitarian fashion. After looking at many thousands of sheets, she gets to know the collectors through their hand-written or typed label entries. Some botanists are chatty and informative in their descriptions; others were almost poetic. One collector, she notes, “often wrote labels that were like small poems, kind of haiku-ish. For his specimen of climbing grape, he writes:

At edge of old quarry.
Wild grape. Riverbank grape. Frost grape.

And for a sample of sugar maple, his little label poem reads:

Near beech, amongst ironwood, bracken
Fern, asters, goldenrod.
Sugar maple.

For Humphreys, her “interest is in showing the intersection between nature and people, between the plant and the collector.” She wants “to show how exploring an archive can be a journey, as thrilling as any taken in an actual landscape, and that no two journeys are alike.” Her aim is not to be comprehensive, but to write meditative responses to the collectors and plants that capture her imagination. The result is a truly enjoyable reading experience in a pleasingly illustrated and well- designed book, that is just about diary-sized, which is appropriate because so much of the work consists of Humphrey’s own thoughts as she makes her way through this collection.

While this is not how herbarium sheets are usually studied by scientists, her musings capture experiences familiar to anyone who does archival research. For example, she writes how “in 1830, in a chalk pit, in Denbies, Surrey, England, a Miss Parker collected a specimen of the low-growing shrub Aaron’s beard (Hypericum calycinum) for the herbarium of botanist Sir Charles James Bunbury." She bemoans the fact that there is no research trail for Miss Parker. Who among us, who spend time in archives has not also bemoaned this absence of information about the “Miss Parkers” and the “Mrs. John Jones, Jr.” who populate archival records but remain silent and unknown amongst the papers and photographs?
Profile Image for Sam H.
104 reviews
October 31, 2022
This book is beautiful and unique in so many ways that I honestly am seriously considering purchasing it for continued enjoyment (my initial reading copy was picked up on a whim at the library). The study is impeccably laid out by season, with breathtaking pictures of herbarium specimens dating back to 200 years ago! This study delved not just into the scientific background of the specimens, but into the people behind their discovery - the native names given to the plants by the first peoples, the trailblazing women whose names have been lost in history, and the amateur botanists who wrote haikus of their favorite collection spots. This book left me wanting to start my own herbarium, and will hopefully inspire others to consider this lost art.
Profile Image for Jessica Samuelson.
320 reviews23 followers
November 16, 2021
I love this book! It’s everything that my geeky, plant-nerd soul didn’t know it needed!

Basically, this book is part memoir and part microhistory of long-ago botanists and plant enthusiasts as well as the specimens they preserved. It chronicles one year, measured in seasons, as the author explores the Fowler Herbarium at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. A herbarium is essentially a “plant library” in which pressed plants are filed away with relevant information like date, location, and the name of the collector. A few plant collectors stood out to me, including Annie A. Boyd and William George Doerr. I would love to learn more about them!

Judging by the way the story meanders, it reads like the author was writing as she researched, rather than afterward. Personally, I liked this choice. It brought home the idea of this book as a journey. As with most journeys, the writer didn’t know exactly how it would end when she was first starting out.

I also appreciated that Helen Humphreys included a land acknowledgement statement at the very beginning of the book. In order words, she recognized that the lands on which the Fowler Herbarium stands and from which many of its specimens came were originally home to native people with their own experiences and traditions regarding those lands and those plants.

I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by the author herself. I love when authors are able to voice their own books, especially when they are memoirs. I felt like I was slowly making my way through the herbarium specimens right alongside Helen Humphreys.

Even though I am glad I listened to the audiobook, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to get my hands on a print copy as well. From what I hear, it’s sprinkled with images of herbarium specimens, Humphreys’s own botanical drawings, and archival photographs.

Thank you to NetGalley and ECW Press for an Advanced Reader Copy audiobook.
Profile Image for Kate.
844 reviews50 followers
October 27, 2021
"The herbarium becomes a place, a landscape if you will, where the experience of people connecting with nature is revealed. I cannot think of another place where it is possible to look into the past and see the moment and Orchid was plucked from the forest floor or Willow frond was cut from a branch. A visit to the herbarium is an exquisite kind of time travel. And by learning more about the intersection of people and nature in the past, I hope to gain some understanding of where we can go from here."

FIELD STUDY is a beautiful ode to
herbarium's and nature.

Published last month, this book is absolutely gorgeous inside and out! Structured seasonal, Humphreys takes us on a year long journey through the world of herbarium's, the history behind them and the people whose collections still inhabit our world today. She also reflects on the importance of nature in our lives today and the losses nature has seen from environmental changes. Included within are so many lovely quotes and archival photographs, as well as Humphreys own drawings.

I was captured within the first few pages of reading this as Humphreys writing is beautiful and brimming with imagery. So much research and work went into this book. I loved learning about all the plants. I dont naturally gravitate towards nature books but find when I do pick them up I am easily immersed in their calmness and allure and FIELD STUDY was no different. Humphreys has written such a facinating look into a world a bit forgotten nowadays but a special part of our natural history that needs to be remembered and cherished.

Thank you to @ecwpress for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

For more of my book content check out instagram.com/bookalong
Profile Image for Bonny.
788 reviews26 followers
July 26, 2022
I very much enjoyed several of Helen Humphreys novels, The Lost Garden and The Evening Chorus, so I went in search of some of her other books. My library had The Frozen Thames and Field Study available. The Frozen Thames is an original but odd little book, but Field Study was just right. It's the perfect mix of memoir and field study while Humphreys spent a year at Fowler's Herbarium in Canada. Arranged by season, she writes about each plant section in the herbarium, describing pines, lichens, grasses, trees, chicory, algae, fungi, roses, and more (including spurges and worts!) It's much more interesting than I've made it sound, and the author also writes about past figures who have contributed to the field of botany, such as Mary Treat, one of only four female botanists who were publishing before 1880, and Alfred Brooker Klugh, who picked a cinnamon fern specimen for his own herbarium. The author has a beautiful way of writing about this specimen:
Into this swamp, on this cool July day, strides the young botanist Alfred Klugh, at twenty-one almost halfway through his brief life. And here is this moment -the fern reaching up, the hand reaching down. And then the note on the location, a place Klugh names himself, a place that only exists here, on this scrap of archival paper, in this blue file folder.
A lovely book to make and solidify your own connections with nature.
Profile Image for Joana.
772 reviews15 followers
February 23, 2022
I'm afraid I was a little underwhelmed by this book. It seemed a little lost in its structure, with the author sometimes mentioning what she meant to achieve and how she would go about it, almost as if this was a book proposal and not the finished product. There isn't enough personal content for it to be a memoir but instead it ponders and contrasts different species of herbal collections found at the Herbarium where the author spent a year. Some of what was known about the plant collectors was interesting, but a lot of the information seemed banal. There were also descriptions of the author's surroundings as the seasons changed. My favourite part was the reflection about Walden and how we might think he had greater nature experiences than we have (we're probably wrong). I'm intrigued by herbariums (herbaria?) and I'm now looking at the pictures on the computer where they have colour, unlike in my ebook reader. The photos definitely add to the experience but overall I felt a lack of substance in this book, it needed more of something.
Profile Image for Katherine.
417 reviews1 follower
November 26, 2021
A fascinating, detailed account of plants found in as well as the history of the Fowler herbarium that dates back from Victorian times to the 1980s. The author weaves art, poetry, and science into this account of historical botany illuminated with details from personal daily stories. This audiobook offers eye-opening stories about specific rare plants as well as botanist contemporaries of Henry David Thoreau and Charles Darwin (short biographical vignettes included on particularly prolific historic botanists). Even without the book, Helen Humphreys describes the samples and settings in poetic detail that betrays her passion for this project. A sparkling example of informative writing that is entertaining as well. This book would make a great addition to high school and university level libraries.
Profile Image for Tupper  Malone.
134 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2023
While many may find the study of plant life Helen Humphreys, through her musings and writing, imbues the subject with fascination. Just as I have been pleased with reading each of her books, I will continue on my journey reading her work and dreading the day I turn the last page on the last book of her oeuvre. What will I do. Perhaps reread my favorite, the Lost Orchard, The Frozen Thames, A Dog Called Fig, and more. One other note, The Frozen Thames. The Lost Orchard and this, Field Study are not just beautifully written but beautifully produced. I had borrowed them from my local library but you will want want to have them in your personal collection as well. The are indeed, little works of art. For god's sake don't read it electronically, i.e. a kindle or some such. You will be missing half the experience!!!
Profile Image for Diana.
918 reviews23 followers
November 27, 2021
Part botany, part biographies, part journals, all poetry, history and science. Artists and poets and scientists love a good piece of nature and it shows.

This book is as charming as it looks; practically pocket sized with a washed out cover. There’s so much to think about in this tiny book about nature. Political, philosophical, poetic and thoughtful. Completely romantic and I might actually try more books on poetry. Idk. It could happen.

Autumn is my favourite but this is such a summer book. So hopeful and pleasant and optimistic. It took a minute to get into tbh. The endnotes rly convinced me.

I highly recommend the book. The illustrations, photos and editing are an important part of why I enjoyed reading it so much. Also I cannot imagine reading the endnotes on an ereader tbh.
Profile Image for Riley Schlosser.
155 reviews
December 16, 2022
This is exactly what you think it might be. A healthy portion of herbology and appreciation for nature, with a dollop of Humphreys’ personal life and a sprinkling of 1800’s historical musings.

I liked it. Has it been much longer, I think it might have overstayed it’s welcome for the majority of its audience, but it strikes a good balance.

It also did that wonderful thing of giving me some ideas for my own projects - I love it when that happens.

4/5 if you like this kind of stuff, you’ll be right at home. It’s comfy and homey and well-crafted.

And, as a side note, the author reads the audiobook very well.
Profile Image for Joanna.
1,116 reviews20 followers
October 14, 2021
Sometimes what your soul needs is a book by Helen Humphreys. At times when we are bombarded with so much over stimulating content, it feels so good to take a step back, to follow her on her meditative journeys. She models patience and attention to detail, and there's such a keen intelligence underneath it all. You have to slow down and listen carefully to understand what she's saying, but it's well worth the effort.
Profile Image for Ramona Jennex.
920 reviews4 followers
March 30, 2022
A gentle exploration of life and nature through the investigation of the specimens, labels, notes and papers at the Fowler Herbarium.
It is always suprising to me to find a treasure of a book that makes connections to people in one's own life. This book has something to offer to anyone who reads it. The title itself gives one the scaffold to 'field study' many things. Helen Humphrey used the Fowler Herbarium but, I am sure, each person could find their own place or space to take the time to explore and reflect.
Profile Image for Jane.
348 reviews
June 4, 2022
I enjoyed Humphreys' study of a Herbarium. Written during the pandemic, she sought refuge in her research. I appreciate Humphreys' search and narrative about cataloging done by Native Americans and women. When possible, she follows the thread of ideas and highlights personal characteristics of early "citizen scientists." This small book is organized by season and beautifully illustrated with photos of specimens and notes by the collectors. She also includes a sweet digression about the death of a beloved dog.
Profile Image for Julie.
246 reviews8 followers
May 18, 2023
I get a lot of reading recommendations because I am a self-professed gardener. So people assume I will love reading about plants and gardening and fungus and manure and even insects. But Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium was not for me. For this reason I’ve chosen not to rate it because although it has pretty pictures and some great moments of prose about lichen and lady’s slipper and beloved pet dogs, I was not engaged for most of the book. Yes, I imagine that a year spent going through pressed plant specimens would be highly meditative, but it’s just not for me.
Profile Image for Roz.
44 reviews11 followers
October 16, 2021
She "thought of the label and the plant specimen as being closely connected, as belonging together, but perhaps sometimes they have no real relationship at all. Some of the information on the collecting label about the plant is subjective and dependent on a variety of factors, including the honesty and sanity of the collector themslves."page 172
Profile Image for Gretchen.
114 reviews
December 13, 2021
A bit of botany, a bit of memoir, a bit of history, and a bit of meditation on the state of humanity's relationship with nature, all stacked together. They never quite felt connected to me - more than anything, this felt like reading a collection of journal entries and research notes from the process of writing some *other* book.
Profile Image for Anne.
920 reviews9 followers
May 17, 2022
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It is a lovely little book with interesting info about plants and those who collected them. But it seemed to skim the surface. Of course, with over 100,000 specimens it would be difficult to do more. I actually enjoyed the section about her own observations of a field and info about her life more than anything.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
369 reviews28 followers
May 20, 2022
I'm totally into plants but I'll admit that it was the color scheme and small size of this book that got me. Pale, beigy-pink background with crisp white lettering, and a muted orange and grey-green foliage sample on the cover. Puts one immediately in a meditative mindset. The author is apparently a poet as well and it comes through in the writing here. An easy, thoughtful, afternoon's read.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
84 reviews11 followers
June 11, 2022
Helen Humphreys is one of my favourite writers, and everything she writes is worth reading. I wouldn’t suggest this as an introduction to her work. She admits it is ‘research-heavy’ and for me it was a more difficult read than her other books. Still, it’s amazing how poetic she can be about dried botanical specimens and what their collection can teach us about their collectors, and life itself.
Profile Image for Andrea (Hammock and Read).
907 reviews20 followers
November 28, 2021
This one is a little too much science nerdy- if you are not into plants or super detailed science info this might not be for you. BUT if you are then you will enjoy this- its investing to learn more about all the plant collections and collecting that happened and so early.
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