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Taos-based author John Nichols shares love of life

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some prolific authors are often remembered for a single book. With John Nichols, it’s probably “The Milagro Beanfield War.”

Published in 1974, the novel was the first of his New Mexico Trilogy.

In case you haven’t kept track, Nichols added to his legacy before and especially since that year, as an author of fiction and nonfiction and as a photographer.

bks_jd_19mar_heartHis new book combines a rolling personal essay and 108 complementary color photographs with extended captions. The book is titled “My Heart Belongs to Nature: A Memoir in Photographs and Prose.”

Nichols shares his love of life by living in, and with, the natural world over more than four decades living in Taos.

That love reveals itself in many ways:

• By rescuing and nurturing wildlife. In one case, a baby robin that had fallen from its nest. “The infant lived and we raised it, a male, to adulthood,” Nichols writes. “At family lunches or suppers the robin teetered on the edge of his worm bowl, dining with us.”

• By learning how to fly-fish for trout.

• By noticing details of the landscape: “Wild mint proliferates on the banks, mingling with thickets of raspberries.”

• By standing on top of mountains. It was “an aphrodisiac,” Nichols said. The wind burned his cheeks, practically shut his eyes, poofed out his pants and jacket. Still, he was happy.

• By observing members of the animal kingdom, familiar and unfamiliar – water ouzels (dipper birds) flying overhead, beavers swimming, white-lined sphinx moths zipping by, merlins whizzing sideways at 60 mph, weasels popping up their heads, bighorns marching “single file from Simpson Peak north toward Wheeler Peak.”

Yet the book is clearly more than a memoir. With Nichols, you always get more than advertised.

It is a paean to nature within Taos County.

It is a book of lessons about nature because, as Nichols writes, “Gradually, I taught myself the area botany.” Because he did, Nichols teaches the reader names of flowers, plants ——pink-and-yellow and black-tipped shooting stars, bright yellow monkey flowers, brook saxifrage, bistort, avens. And many more. He refers to obscure animals like the pika, a member of the rabbit family.

It is a book rife with moments of humor. Nichols recalls boring hours looking at bighorn sheep. All they did were forage, graze, chew their cuds. “It was like watching paint dry. Like watching paint dry beneath the immense sky.”