The Rincon Mountains east of Tucson are a small and seemingly undistinguished range; rounded and arid, they are more a site for foothill walks than serious exploring. Yet these unassuming mountains disclose many wonders and curiosities upon close inspection, as Janice Emily Bowers discovered while conducting a botanical study there. Over the course of two years she made 38 excursions into the Rincons — some for two or three days at a time — and garnered not only plant specimens but thoughts along the way. The Mountains Next Door is the first book to describe and celebrate the natural history of these mountains that even longtime Arizonans may often take for granted. “I watched the seasons march through the canyons,” writes Bowers, “followed the wildflower parade from February through November, and throughout it all realized that I could travel in the Rincon Mountains forever and never learn all they contained.” It is also a book of meditations, as Bowers reflects upon the meaning of nature, the similarities between the scientific and creative processes, the value of wilderness in the face of urban encroachment, and other ideas. Participating in the long tradition of reflective natural history writing, she has produced a memorable book that depicts the delights and dilemmas of field botany as it explores the perennial struggle between science and mysticism that tugs at every naturalist’s heart.
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