Druid Dungeoneers

If you always play a druid in D&D, I’ve got some books for you.

As D&D Beyond tells it, “Druids revere nature above all, gaining their spells and other magical powers either from the force of nature itself or from a nature deity.” Of course, while I always play a rogue, I’ve certainly enjoyed the presence of a druid on many campaigns. Who wouldn’t want a party member who can 1) warp wood, 2) summon talking animal familiars, or 3) call upon apex predators as body guards?

No guarantee these two books will increase your odds of summoning a tiger (or decrease your odds of summoning rats), but they certainly get at the heart of what compels druid players to choose this particular role — connecting and understanding humanity as part of a larger whole in nature.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

This memoir recounts biologist Hope Jahren’s journey in establishing her own laboratory on three separate occasions. While the main strain of narrative follows her career, every other chapter is a dossier in plant life, such as the staggering amount of water trees imbibe or the driving importance of reproduction. These plant vignettes are deep, yet simply written, and connect to the many reasons we love, or at least are curious about, plants.

As this is a memoir, Jahren also takes readers on side trails down memory lane: her cold childhood in Minnesota, her current (at the time of writing) life researching in Hawaii, her lifelong friendship with another botanist, her struggles as a lady scientist (you can’t research! you’re pregnant!), her soil-profiling excursions, and the financial struggles of running a lab (necessity is the mother of invention here).

I’m not much of a memoir-reader, but Lab Girl is skillfully told, and, as a plant-lover, it has a special place in my heart.

Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry Edited by Camille T. Dungy

While the previous recommended book focuses squarely on plants, Black Nature explores it all–nature in the form of inspiration, disaster, reclamation, beauty, animal, plant, human. And where the other book is a longitudinal first-person look at one person’s relationship with nature, Black Nature contains the voices of many.

From the beginning of the introduction I was hooked. Dungy describes a pool from the segregation era, which, “rather than desegregate… the city drained the water and replaced it with dirt.” A tree grows through, its roots lacing the filtration system and cutting the concrete. Dungy writes, “This is the final insult. No child, black or white, will ever swim in this pool again” (Introduction to Black Nature, xix, Camille T. Dungy, 2009).

One entry is by George Moses Horton, who wrote and published as a slave. His poem “On Summer” includes one of my favorite animals, the bee:

“The bee begins her ceaseless hum,
And doth with sweet exertions rise;
And with delight she stores her comb,
And well her rising stock supplies” (Black Nature, p. 10).

You can read a more modern example of some of the nature poetry in this anthology online, actually. In “Trophic Cascade,” editor of this anthology and poet Dungy explores the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park–what happens to the deer population, then the trees, then the river, and all the animals in the area. Finally, the poem ends with a personal parallel Dungy sees in motherhood.

I won’t spoil a single line of it, though. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Here in the northern hemisphere, summer is starting to take shape around us: the trees are flush with foliage, baby spiders are flying on the wind, and while most cats use mice as offerings, my neighborhood Tom was seen trotting by with a grackle in his mouth. Nature is not always beautiful or kind, but it demands balance. Druid dungeoneers, I hope these two books tap both your love of nature and your more unique love of balance.


About this Column: With occasional parentheticals a la Robin McKinley, If This, Then That connects the dots between niche interests for LSQ readers and the books that suit them.