Nabhan, Gary Paul 1952–
Nabhan, Gary Paul 1952–
PERSONAL: Born March 17, 1952, in Gary, IN; son of Theodore B. and Wanda Mary Nabhan; married Caroline C. Wilson, September 1, 1993 (divorced); married Laurie Smith Monti; children: Laura, Dustin. Education: Prescott College, B.A., 1974; University of Arizona, M.S., 1978, Ph.D., 1983. Religion: "Catholic, with participation in the Ecunemical Order of Secular Franciscans."
ADDRESSES: Home—6550 Hutton Ranch Road South, Flagstaff, AZ 86004. Office—Northern Arizona University, P.O. Box 5765, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5765; fax: 928-523-8223. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Ethnobiologist, plant ecologist, educator, and writer. Native Seeds/SEARCH, founder and research director, 1982–93; Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, adjunct assistant professor in the botany department, 1987–90; Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ, associate director for research and collections, 1986–90; research associate, Conservation International, 1990–93; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ, director of conservation science, 1993–2000; University of Arizona, Office of Arid Land Studies, Tucson, research associate, visiting lecture in Native American Studies and English Departments, 1998–2000; Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, director of the Center of Sustainable Environments and professor of applied indigenous studies and environmental sciences, c. 2000–. Has lived and worked with Native American tribes, including the Papago Indians; board member and project advisor for Amazon Conservation Team; board member for Silversword Foundation; served as advisory board member for Orion Society, National Park, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, and Seed Savers Exchange.
AWARDS, HONORS: John Burroughs Medal, 1986, for Gathering the Desert; Southwest Book Award, 1986 and 1999; MacArthur fellowship, 1990–95; Pew Scholarship for Conservation and the Environment, 1991; Lannan Literary Award, 1999; Western States Book Award, 1999; Lifetime Achievement Award, Society for Conservation Biology, 2001; Saveur magazine Best 100 Food Initiatives, 2002 and 2005; Calvin Sperling Award, Crop Science Society of America, 2003; Emil Haury Award, Western Parks and Monuments Association, 2004; Copper Quill Award, 2006.
The Desert Smells like Rain: A Naturalist in Papago Indian Country, North Point (San Francisco, CA), 1982, published as The Desert Smells like Rain: A Naturalist in O'Odham Country, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2002.
Gathering the Desert, illustrations by Paul Mirocha, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1985.
Saguaro: A View of Saguaro National Monument and the Tucson Basin, photographs by George H.H. Huey, Southwest Parks and Monuments Association (Tucson, AZ), 1986.
(Editor, with Jane Cole) Arizona Highways Presents Desert Wildflowers, Arizona Department of Transportation (Phoenix, AZ), 1988.
Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation, North Point (San Francisco, CA), 1989.
Wild Phaseolus Ecogeography in the Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico: Areographic Techniques for Targeting and Conserving Species Diversity, IB-PGR (Rome, Italy), 1990.
(Editor and author of introduction) Counting Sheep: Twenty Ways of Seeing Desert Bighorn, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1993.
Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Stephen Trimble) The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, photographs by Stephen Trimble, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1994.
Desert Legends: Re-Storying the Sonoran Borderlands, photographs by Mark Klett, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor, with John L. Carr) Ironwood: An Ecological and Cultural Keystone of the Sonoran Desert, Conservation International (Washington, DC), 1994.
(With wife, Caroline Wilson) Canyons of Color: Utah's Slickrock Wildlands, photography by Jeff Garton, HarperCollinsWest (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
(With Stephen L. Buchmann) The Forgotten Pollinators, foreword by Edward O. Wilson, illustrations by Paul Mirocha, Island Press/Shearwater Books (Washington, DC), 1996.
Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story (essays), Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 1997.
(Author of essays, with Thomas E. Sheridan) David Burckhalter, La vida norteña: Photographs of Sonora, Mexico, foreword by Bernard L. Fontana, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1998.
Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Amalia Astorga) Efraín of the Sonoran Desert: A Lizard's Life among the Seri People (by Astorga as told to Nabhan), illustrated by Janet K. Miller, Cinco Puntos Press (El Paso, TX), 2001.
Singing the Turtles to Sea: The Comcáac (Seri) Art and Science of Reptiles, foreword by Harry W. Greene, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2003.
(With Ana Guadalupe Valenzuela-Zapata) Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2004.
Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 2004.
(Editor and contributor) Conserving Migratory Pollinators and Nectar Corridors in Western North America, University of Arizona Press, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson, AZ), 2004.
Why Some like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity, Island Press/Shearwater Books (Washington), 2004.
(Editor) Renewing Salmon Nation's Food Traditions, Oregon State University Press (Corvallis, OR), 2006.
Contributor to books, including Woodlands in Crisis: A Legacy of Lost Biodiversity on the Colorado Plateau, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2004, and author of introduction to Earth Notes: Exploring the Southwest's Canyon Country from the Airwaves: From the Popular KNAU Public Radio Show, edited by Peter Friederici, Grand Canyon Association (Grand Canyon, AZ), 2005. Contributor to periodicals, including Christian Science Monitor, Sierra, Nature, American Anthropologist, Ecological Applications, Conservation Biology, Economic Botany, Conservation Genetics, Ecological Restoration, Agriculture and Human Values, Journal of Clinical Nutrition, International Journal of Plant Science, Journal of Gastronomy, Journal of the Southwest, Journal of Ethnobiology and Etno-Ecologia, Wilderness, and Horticulture.
ADAPTATIONS: The Desert Smells like Rain has been adapted as a sound recording, Audio Press (Louisville, CO), 1990.
SIDELIGHTS: Ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan has devoted his career to advocating the preservation of plants and the ecosystems supporting them. Nabhan's works promote the important relationship between local habitats and the people and cultures residing within them. "Nabhan achieves … insights into the complex relation between culture and habitat by blending conservation biology and ethnobotany," stated Sierra contributor Carl D. Esbjornson in a review of Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story, a collection of twenty-four essays by Nabhan. Nabhan shares his affection for, and knowledge of, nature in a variety of writings, including essays collections, photography books, and travelogues, as well as more scholarly books.
Nabhan's work is particularly focused on the Southwestern desert and desert plants. Desert Legends: Re-Storying the Sonoran Borderlands, a work looking at the region with a blind eye to the U.S.-Mexico border, shows Nabhan as "a wonderful guide: experienced, smart, sensitive, unhurried, in love with the mystery of the desert," observed Peter Lewis in the Backpacker. In addition to founding a seed bank to ensure the survival of as many desert plants as possible, Nabhan has penned several works concerning these plants and their relationships to the tribal people who have harvested or cultivated them.
Nabhan used the time he spent living and working among the Papago to inform the writing of his first book, The Desert Smells like Rain: A Naturalist in Papago Indian Country. Matthew Schudel, reviewing the book in the Washington Post, described it as "part natural history, part anthropology, part folklore, part political analysis," and observed that Nabhan "is at his best describing the fragile ecology of the desert." John Peterson, writing in the Village Voice, lauded Nabhan's ability, "in a series of spare and sometimes tantalizing selections, to convey a real sense of the people and their environment."
"To illustrate the interaction of the human desert culture with desert plant ecology," wrote Natural History contributor Hugh H. Iltis of Nabhan's next book, Gathering the Desert, "Gary Nabhan has chosen an even dozen of the more than 425 edible wild species found in the Sonoran Desert." These species include chiltepines, a hot pepper; Washingtonia fan palms; Agave, a species of which is used to make tequila; and Larrea tridentata, a creosote bush that the southwestern tribes use for many medicinal purposes. Iltis went on to assert that Gathering the Desert "is a splendid way to learn to love—and save—the deserts." David Mabberley, critiquing the book in the Times Literary Supplement, noted that "Nabhan attempts to give the reader a feeling for desert country: his prose is an amalgam of botany and agronomy, of whimsical characters of his own invention, of much doomwatch, mysticism, and folklore." The book was awarded the John Burroughs Medal in 1986.
Nabhan concentrates on the specific agricultural practices of the southwestern tribes in his 1989 work, Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation. Peter H. Raven, writing in Natural History, hailed the book as "lovely, impressionistic and romantic," though he felt that occasionally "Nabhan goes too far in championing the salutary effect of native agriculture on biological diversity." Raven went on to note that "by bringing us closer to the earth and its processes, Nabhan reminds us of our origins, helping us to understand that we might collectively lead better and richer lives if we are willing to preserve and consider some of the many options available."
In subsequent publications, Nabhan remained consistent to the naturalistic theme, but varied his focus. The link between plants and people remains central to the stories he tells in his travelogue Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy. For Counting Sheep: Twenty Ways of Seeing Desert Bighorn, Nabhan focuses on one particular animal roaming the Southwest, the bighorn sheep. As the book's editor, Nabhan collected "an eclectic, multicultural mix of styles and voices" whose "various contributions range from Tohono O'odham native songs and stories to interviews, technical papers, field notes, and evocative essays crafted from field notes," related Blake Edgar in a BioScience review. Edgar added: "The combined whole offers a lingering glimpse into the bighorn's shadowy world and the edges between that world and our own."
Addressing his chosen field from yet another angle, in The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places Nabhan and collaborator Stephen Trimble argue for the importance of ecological experiences and instruction in various stages of childhood. Writing as both naturalists and fathers, the two authors take turns addressing existing practices, values, knowledge, and experiences, as well as their ideals. In an Alternatives assessment describing the book as "a fine collaboration," Ted Cheskey wrote: "At times, Nabhan's story telling sounds contrived and long-winded. I found this aspect irritating in more than one of the chapters, but he more than proved himself by the end of the book as an insightful and skilled writer. Both authors regularly cite authorities, adding validity to their arguments."
Of all Nabhan's writings, one of the naturalist and desert enthusiast's most significant works is The Forgotten Pollinators. Written with Stephen L. Buchmann, this publication was originally intended to be an anchor in a public-awareness campaign by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Tucson institution for which Nabhan has worked as director of science. However, the work generated enough attention, gaining some significant politically—and economically—influential supporters, to further the book's affects. "Now, government support, private dollars, and a swelling cadre of biologists are pushing along Buchmann and Nabhan's vision of pollination conservation," reported Jay Withgott in BioScience, further noting that a May 1999 "conference kicked off a 5-year project of research, community stewardship, education, and conservation that aims to accomplish things to which conservation biology regularly gives lip service but often fails to achieve—meaningful collaboration across national boundaries and between basic and applied research, science and policy, researchers and educators, and scientists and the public."
The Forgotten Pollinators makes a compelling case for people to pay more attention to the relationship between pollinators and the plants dependent on them for survival. According to the book, one-third of the food people consume owes it's existence to the pollinators helping to propagate it. The task of pollination is not simple, and is being undermined to a grave degree by divisions of ecosystems, pesticides, and, among other factors, vanishing insects. Using a casual, personal style the authors sound the alarm. Nabhan and Buchmann address a variety of regions in the world and "combine anecdotes from the field with discussions of ecology, entomology, botany, crop science and the economics of pollination," wrote a Publishers Weekly review. The discussion pays particular attention to the bee's role in plant reproduction, but covers a host of different pollinating species, among them bats, butterflies, and monkeys. San Francisco Chronicle contributor Jill Sapinsley Mooney commented that the book lacks an explanation of some key concepts and processes, such as "how flowering plants reproduce" and "genetic drift and heterozygosity," and would benefit from further discussion of issues such as the best type of ecosystem for conservation and the possible effects of bioengineered crops. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in making an impression, observed Mooney, who concluded: "After reading this book, you will remember it when working in the garden, picking produce at the market or just lying on the grass in Golden Gate Park."
In a more recent, related work, Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry, Nabhan presents a series of essays that explore how cross-pollination is essential to nature and humans. As a part of his discussion, the author describes how certain poems helped him to learn and understand the importance of foods and cross-pollination in native cultures. In her assessment of this book, Booklist contributor Donna Seaman called the author "a captivating storyteller in command of complex ecological thought." Nabhan is also editor of and a contributor to Conserving Migratory Pollinators and Nectar Corridors in Western North America. The book's nine chapters focus on environmental factors, such as habitat destruction, that deeply affect migratory pollinators. Writing in the Quarterly Review of Biology, Carol Ann Kearns referred to the book as "a good resource for researchers already in this field of study."
In Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasure and Politics of Local Foods, Nabhan describes a year in which he tried to follow a diet that consisted primarily of native flora a fauna that could be found within 250 miles of his home. He provides details on the fate of many local plants in his region of Arizona and his efforts to gather and even barter for these foods. His overriding message, however, is his belief that we should fight the global food industry, which he sees as unfriendly to fresh produce and too reliant on chemicals. He also describes his visits to farm fields in Mexico and the Southwest and to Indian villages as he strives to learn more about local foods. Karen Munro, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author "examines [such topics as] the implications of genetically engineered foods, and the craze for 'nutriceuticals.'" A Publishers Weekly contributor referred to Coming Home to Eat as both "intriguing" and"informative." In her review in Booklist, Donna Seaman commented: "Warmhearted, innovative, and respectful of life, Nabhan inspires readers to think twice about corporate domination of the food supply."
Nabhan collaborated with Amelia Astorga to write Efraín of the Sonoran Desert: A Lizard's Life among the Seri People. The book focuses on the nearly extinct zebra-tailed lizard and how it is kept alive by the Seri Indians on their lands. Efraín is the name of a lizard that befriended the Astorga family but was eventually killed by a wild dog. The book includes a history of the Seri tribe and their culture. Ann Welton, writing in the School Library Journal, described the book as "a brief ethnographic study with a story imbedded in it." In a review in Booklist, Linda Perkins concluded that "this rare glimpse of Seri culture will enrich Native American and environmental curricula and collections."
Singing the Turtles to Sea: The Comcáac (Seri) Art and Science of Reptiles is an ethnobiological study of the Seri Indians focusing on their relationship to the animals around them. The title is taken from a Seri Indian ceremony that involves helping a beached turtle return home. Karen Fischer, writing in the Library Journal, called Singing the Turtles to Sea "a thoughtful, documented exploration." Writing in the Quarterly Review of Biology, J. Whitfield Gibbons commented that the book is "an enlightening portrayal of how native cultures can be compatible in, or threatened by, today's world."
More recent books by Nabhan that concern natural foods and the environment include Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History and Why Some like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity. The former is a collaborative effort between botanist Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Nabhan. The book focuses on the blue agave, or Agave angustifolia tequilana, from its traditional and pop history to threats the faced from big agriculture, which has virtually replaced traditional horticultural methods of growing the plant. In the process, the authors explore tequila production, from planting and harvesting to roasting. "No mere bar room reference, this heady blend of agricultural history, Mescalero anthropology, Aztec mythology and nature writing is an appealing package," asserted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Natural History critic Laurence A. Marschall characterized the book as "a scholarly yet entertaining guide to the history and husbandry of this phenomenal beverage."
In Why Some like It Hot Nabhan explores how culture coupled with local foods and environments influence the evolution of foods and varying tastes according to regions or cultures. He describes how genetics also plays a role in food production and preparation, citing such instances as the Navajo Indians' sensitivity to sage and the traditional cooking knowledge that has taught them how to use the plant safely. The author, furthermore, delves into how certain cultures have maintained good health for centuries by maintaining a traditional diet and style of living. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the Nabhan "convincingly argues that health comes from a genetically appropriate diet inextricably entwined with a healthy land and culture." Carol Volk, writing in Reviewer's Bookwatch, called the book "that rare combination of academic excellence and non-specialist general reader accessibility."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alternatives, July-August, 1995, Ted Cheskey, review of The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, p. 40.
American Gardener, January-February, 1997, Beth B. Norden, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 53.
American Scientist, March-April, 1997, Karen Strickler, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 189.
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, March, 1995, Paul F. Starrs, review of The Geography of Childhood, p. 228.
Antioch Review, winter, 1994, Mary Ellen A. Newport, review of Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy, p. 169.
Audubon, July-August, 1994, Nancy Bray Cardozo, review of The Geography of Childhood, p. 103; March-April, 2002, Christopher Camuto, review of Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, p. 122.
Backpacker, February, 1995, Peter Lewis, review of Desert Legends: Re-Storying the Sonoran Borderlands, p. 86.
BioScience, April, 1994, Blake Edgar, review of Counting Sheep: Twenty Ways of Seeing Desert Bighorn, p. 273; November, 1999, Jay Withgott, "Pollination Migrates to Top of Conservation Agenda," review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 857.
Booklist, March 1, 1994, Denise Perry Donavin, review of The Geography of Childhood, p. 1164; July, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 1787; December 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 630; November 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story, p. 440; October 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Coming Home to Eat, p. 361; December 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Coming Home to Eat, p. 616; December 15, 2001, Linda Perkins, review of Efraín of the Sonoran Desert: A Lizard's Life among the Seri People, p. 724; February 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry, p. 1019; September 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, Why Some like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity, p. 27.
Chronicle of Higher Education, May 7, 2004, Peter Monaghan, "Gleaning Scientific Insights from Poetry," interview with Nabhan; October 15, 2004, Peter Monaghan, review of Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History.
Country Living Gardener, April, 2002, Rebecca Sawyer-Fay, review of Coming Home to Eat, p. 94.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of Coming Home to Eat, p. 1196.
Library Bookwatch, November, 2004, review of Why Some like It Hot.
Library Journal, June 15, 1996, William H. Wiese, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 87; August, 2001, Karen Munro, review of Coming Home to Eat, p. 148; June 15, 2003, Karen Fischer, review of Singing the Turtles to Sea: The Comcáac (Seri) Art and Science of Reptiles, p. 97.
Natural History, March, 1986, Hugh H. Iltis, review of Gathering the Desert, pp. 74-76, 78-79; June, 1989, Peter H. Raven, review of Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation. pp. 70-71; December, 2001, review of Coming Home to Eat, p. 82; November, 2004, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Tequila, p. 52.
New York Times Book Review, August 18, 1996, Carol Kaesuk Yoon, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 23; November 30, 1997, Mark Dowie, review of Cultures of Habitat, p. 33.
Population and Environment, May, 1996, B. Meredith Burke, review of The Geography of Childhood, p. 437.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 63; June 25, 2001, review of Coming Home to Eat, p. 58; December 17, 2001, review of Efraín of the Sonoran Desert, p. 93; March 1, 2004, review of Tequila, p. 62; August 2, 2004, review of Why Some like It Hot, p. 63.
Quarterly Review of Biology, March, 2005, Carol Ann Kearns, review of Conserving Migratory Pollinators and Nectar Corridors in Western North America, p. 138, and J. Whitfield Gibbons, review of Singing the Turtles to Sea, p. 146.
Reviewer's Bookwatch, October, 2004, Carol Volk, review of Why Some like It Hot.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 1996, Patricia Holt, "The Birds and Bees Face Their Undoing," p. G5; August 4, 1996, Jill Sapinsley Mooney, "Sober Lesson about the Birds and the Bees," p. 5; August 11, 1996, review of The Forgotten Pollinators, p. 11.
School Library Journal, December, 1994, Barbara A. Genco, review of The Geography of Childhood, p. 29; December, 2001, Ann Welton, review of Efraín of the Sonoran Desert, p. 117.
Science News, March 27, 2004, review of Cross-Pollinations, p. 207; February 26, 2005, review of Why Some like It Hot, p. 143.
Sierra, September-October, 1994, Paul Rauber, review of The Geography of Childhood, p. 78; July-August, 1998, Carl D. Esbjornson, review of Cultures of Habitat, p. 64.
Source, fall, 1995, Henry F. Dobyns, review of Desert Legends, p. 262.
Times Literary Supplement, May 9, 1986, David Mabberley, review of Gathering the Desert, p. 515.
Village Voice, October 19, 1982, John Peterson, review of The Desert Smells like Rain, p. 47.
Washington Post, May 14, 1982, Matthew Schudel, review of The Desert Smells like Rain.
Whole Earth, summer, 1997, Peter Warshall, review of Forgotten Pollinators, p. 75; spring, 1998, Wes Jackson, review of Cultures of Habitat, p. 33.
Center for Sustainable Environment Web site, http://www.environment.nau.edu/ (September 5, 2006), brief profile of Nabhan.
Eco Books Web site, http://www.ecobooks.com/ (September 5, 2006), brief profile of Nabhan.
Gary Paul Nabhan Home Page, http://www.garynabhan.com (September 5, 2006).