186 pages, 36 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
In atmospheric science, a boundary layer is the band of air nearest the ground. In the Pacific Northwest, the boundary layer teems with lichens, mosses, ferns, fungi, and diminutive plants. It's an alternate, overlooked universe whose denizens author Kem Luther calls the stegnon, the terrestrial equivalent of oceanic plankton.
In Boundary Layer, Luther takes a voyage of discovery through the stegnon, exploring the life forms that thrive there and introducing readers to the scientists who study them. With a keen ear for conversation and an eye for salient detail, the author brings a host of characters to life, people as unique and intriguing as the species inhabiting the stegnon.
A pair of park employees on a windswept beach shows how the violent clash of sea and land creates a sandy home for some of the world's most endangered plants, including the almost-extinct pink sand-verbena. An expert on mosses, as ingenuous as the plants he loves, leads the author up a mountain and into a sphagnum bog. A husband and wife team, exiled by brutal repression in the wake of the Prague Spring, introduce European plant sociology to North America. A scientist, while revolutionizing the study of lichens, hides himself, hermitlike, inside one of the largest park reserves in the American West.
An exhilarating mix of natural history, botanical exploration, and philosophical speculation, Boundary Layer guides readers, in the end, into the author's own landscape of metaphor. It will be welcomed by naturalists, botanists, outdoor adventurers, and anyone who savors good storytelling. Luther translates into luminous prose what boundary regions have to say, not only about the in-between places of nature, but also about the conceptual borderlands that lie between species and ecosystems, culture and nature, science and the humanities.
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Kem Luther, a naturalist and writer, moved from a home on Ontario's Grand River to the southern tip of Vancouver Island in 2004. While in Ontario, he was Associate Dean of Sheridan College's joint program in Communication, Culture, and Information Technology with the University of Toronto. Luther grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills, studied at Cornell, the University of Chicago (PhD), and the University of Toronto (MSc), and taught at Eastern Mennonite University, Sheridan College, York University, and the University of Toronto. He is the author of Cottonwood Roots and The Next Generation Gap.