Like any good naturalist, when Mary Taylor Young and her husband, Rick, purchased 37 acres of land in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado in 1995, she started keeping a journal. She observed the natural world around the summer cabin as they built it and through the changing seasons: the birds, the plants, the wild creatures large and small, and how they all interact with the land and each other.

She recorded her observations through the lens of a scientist, using skills learned at CSU where she earned her undergraduate zoology degree in 1977. 

Young has been putting those skills to use as a nature writer for more than 35 years, combining scientific knowledge with a talent for writing to explore the beauty of the landscape and natural communities of Colorado – and the importance of protecting them. She has published 22 books, dozens of articles, and was inducted into the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame in 2019.

“I try to write in a way that touches hearts and minds,” Young says. “Ultimately all the efforts for wildlife and conservation will fail if the public does not care.”

Chronicle of climate change

Young thought her cabin journal would be the basis of “a lyrical nature memoir” of her family’s time on the land tending a trail of bluebird nest boxes. But when she turned her science-writer’s eye on the journal to begin writing, she noticed something more profound.

“The journal was more than just a nice record of sightings, of species, of weather and happenings,” she wrote in the preface to her latest book. “It was a chronicle of climate change. …right here, right now.”

And so the gentle memoir of A Bluebird Season transformed into Bluebird Seasons: Witnessing Climate Change in My Piece of the Wild (Chicago Review Press, 2023). The stories of finding joy and renewal in nature now frame solid research into how climate change is altering every aspect of our world. 

Entries from the cabin journal record the gradual dwindling of elk sightings over the years, for example, and that leads to a discussion of how warmer temperatures are lengthening the growing season at higher elevations where elk can stay longer into the season. Good for them, bad for the other species that depend on plants elk had previously left untouched under the snow but now browse to the ground. 

Throughout Bluebird Seasons, Young explores causes and consequences of wildfire, drought, flooding, coal mining, changes in bear hibernation, even dinosaur extinctions and threats to the piñon forest from the Ips beetle. The forces behind extreme weather are the topic when the family is trapped in the cabin by a holiday blizzard in 2006 – and are rescued by a road grader driver clearing a path to a nearby natural gas facility. 

In the final chapter, Young offers lessons for going forward to correct the unintended debacle humans have created for the Earth. Underlying them all is hope and the need for us all to embrace the work ahead together.