A season of change

  • Chasing Spring: An American Journey Through a Changing Season

    Bruce Stutz, 239 pages, hardcover: $24. Scribner, 2006

At the beginning of winter a few years ago, nature writer Bruce Stutz lay in a hospital bed in New York, recovering from heart surgery. Eight months later, seeking the same renewal that nature experiences each year, Stutz set out on a trek from New York to Alaska to mark the coming of spring — and record the effects of global warming on the season.

Whether guided by changes in light or rising temperatures, plants and animals are exquisitely tuned to spring’s arrival. But what happens when global warming disrupts the intricate choreography of the season? To answer this question, Stutz heads west and north, ironically in a 20-year-old Chevy, meeting with climatologists, botanists and ecologists along the way.

Stutz learns that ecological relationships that may have taken millennia to develop can be destroyed if change occurs too rapidly. Migrating hummingbirds travel through Arizona in response to increasing light, for example, along the way collecting nectar and distributing pollen from cactus plants. But if cacti bloom too early because of warmer springs, the flowers may be gone when the birds arrive.

Chasing Spring is not a scientific look at global warming along the lines of The Weather Makers, Tim Flannery’s new book on human contribution to climate change. It might be better described as an ecological memoir, as Stutz seeks parallels between transformations in the natural world and upheaval in his own life. Fittingly, he finds both to be unpredictable, yet inevitable.

"I know that however still and immutable this landscape may seem," Stutz observes, "it is so full of energy and transformations that it is practically jumping out of its frame."