Books reflect interest in outdoors

Susan Peterson
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Matthew D. Moran has always been interested in plants, animals, and in exploring the outdoors. He majored in biology at the University of Delaware, where he received his Ph.D. in 1996. That fall he moved to Conway to teach biology at Hendrix College.   

Moran enjoyed exploring the biodiversity that he found in his new home, the “Natural State.” He enjoyed its unique geographic situation that provided a variety of biomes such as grasslands and prairies. 

In 2010, Moran married Dr. Jennifer Penner, who also teaches at Hendrix. They moved to Petit Jean Mountain, just a mile or so from the visitor center. The park, with its hiking trails and wilderness surroundings, was a perfect match for his interests. He realized the need for a practical, yet educational guidebook for the area, so he began working on a publication that would interest the general public. Three years later he completed “Guide to the Trails of Petit Jean Park.” It describes the more than 20 miles of trails that are woven into this magnificent state park. 

Matthew D. Moran

He also found himself drawn to the eastern part of the state, especially the Mississippi bottomland and expanses along the White River. He loved exploring its treasures on foot and on numerous water trails. There he observed vast numbers of migratory waterfowl and trees that are more than 1,000 years old. He knew he wanted to write a guidebook about this once vast ecosystem, in part because very little had been written about it. It took six years of research to finalize and publish “Exploring the Big Woods: A Guide to the Last Great Forest of the Arkansas Delta” (University of Arkansas Press, 2016). The book serves as an introduction to the plants, animals, water trails, history and scenery of the area.

More recently, Moran published a third book that combined his scientific knowledge with his interest in science fiction. “The Stars of Eridini” (2017) is a fictional work that explores biological challenges and human conflicts that might occur as generations of humans travel beyond our solar system.

He says he enjoyed the process of writing this novel, finishing it in a year by completing several pages a day. He admits he wasn’t sure what the ending would be, but he let the storyline and his characters direct him.   

Moran continues to write. He has four short stories in progress and is in the early stages of development for a sequel to “The Stars of Eridini.” 

His books are available at visitor centers at select state parks, from online book sellers or from his website – moranbooks.com.