Books by Charles Fergus

Released: Aug. 1, 1998

A compelling mix of adventure, travel, natural history, and emotional recovery set against the exotic backdrop of an Icelandic summer. Nine months after his mother was stabbed to death by an intruder, Fergus retreated to Iceland for a healing season with his wife and 8-year-old son in a rudimentary sea cottage they called Little Lava. The solitude and privation (it's reachable only by crossing a lava field and tidal flats, and then only at low tide; there's no running water or electricity) are just what he needs to rebuild his life. Though he comes to terms with his mother's death, the emotional rapprochement takes place offstage, and grief remains a subtext. The real focus is Iceland itself. For Fergus, a sportsman and naturalist (Swamp Screamer: At Large with the Florida Panther, 1996; A Rough-Shooting Dog: Reflections from Thick and Uncivil Sorts of Places, 1991), the country is both analogue and anodyne to his grief. "In Iceland I reveled in the emptiness of the land, which reflected the emptiness inside me," he writes, but the oddities of a northern summer (which features 24 hours of daylight and weather by turns harsh and idyllic) and the elemental nature of his accommodations help him to begin functioning again: "Any act, of work or leisure, any untroubled thought, was an achievement. . . . helped draw me out of bleak and mindless lethargy." He spends the interminable days hiking the rugged lava field from which the house takes its name, fishing, mountain climbing, sea kayaking and observing the myriad birds that breed on Iceland's coast. Among his sightings, the discovery of a rare pair of nesting sea eagles stands out. And he evocatively describes Iceland's many volcanoes, its dramatic sagas and bewitching folklore, and the legendary hospitality of its people. No tears, but plenty of convincing testimony to the redemptive powers of nature. (b&w illustrations) Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1996

In tones both reportorial and evocative of the shadowy and deadly habits of the Florida panther, Fergus chronicles the efforts of a welter of agencies and individuals to avert the extinction of this creature, which ranks high on the Endangered Species List. Wildlife officials estimate only 50 to 75 adults and kittens- -the majority bearing the inbred characteristics of a cowlick and kinked tail—inhabit the state, mainly in the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. Continually threatened by hunters, cars, encroaching agricultural and residential development, mercury poisoning, and the scarcity of healthy, breeding males, the future of Felis concolor coryi is bleak. Fergus (Shadow Catcher, 1991, etc.) manages to insinuate himself among field biologists, wildlife managers, ranchers, and private preserve owners who offer varying solutions to save this puma subspecies. Possibilities include land acquisitions connecting panther habitats, increasing the population of deer (the favored prey of the panther), captive breeding programs, and introduction of a genetically different subspecies. While this last measure might legally bump the Florida panther off the Endangered Species List as an unfundable hybrid, Fergus argues, ``if it came down to one or the other, was it not better for the subspecies to renew itself with outside blood . . . Subspecies be damned, it was a panther.'' Pleasingly unpedantic, Fergus also relates anecdotal snippets of scrapes between humans and this predator over the last century, introduces readers to the country's most famous panther hunter, and rides with a group of humorously profane Florida cowboys on a ranch in panther country. Fergus's prose is highly descriptive, particularly when, daydreaming at a droning meeting convened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, he envisions a panther's quiet, muscular stalk through the woods. Concise and comprehensive, this fills an important niche in the environmental compendium of species that face annihilation at the hands of man. Read full book review >
SHADOW CATCHER by Charles Fergus
Released: Sept. 13, 1991

Deftly written account of a 1913 cross-country expedition to record the surviving members of Indian tribes and offer them citizenship, after which they were conveniently to fade forever into the sunset. In his novel, in which some of the characters are real, Fergus takes for his text the Rodman Wanamaker expedition. Wanamaker, the department store nabob, has conceived of a colossal Indian, dwarfing the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor and housing pictures and mementos of the great tribes pledging allegiance. A collecting expedition leaves via Wanamaker's private railroad car, carrying, among others, Dixon—a shady ecclesiastic who has toadied favor with Wanamaker—and Fry, the ``shadow catcher'' who wears a concealed camera under his clothes. The expedition proceeds from triumph to triumph: in Mescalero, an Apache attempts to knife Fry; in Pueblo, the Indians refuse to sign the Declaration of Allegiance unless they get something better than a piece of paper from it; Kickapoos reply to Dixon's stirring oratory (``...this bold new century! ...this stirring modern age!'') with jeers, finally flinging their cigarettes on the stand, saying, ``Bullshit!'' and departing. Along the way, Buffalo Bill Cody turns up: he's starring in a movie shoot with real Indians. Only problem is, he's so drunk he keeps passing out in the saddle. From the wings of a subplot appears Annie Owns the Fire. In the last 40 pages, Miss Owns the Fire (boy, does she ever) is raped, takes her revenge, falls in love with Fry, splits, then ``tracks'' Fry down and they are promptly united in everlasting bliss. Despite this last contrivance, Fergus compellingly evokes the twilight of the Indian and the Old West, with the tribes' attending train of vultures. Readers who usually skip history as too dry will enjoy this. (Thirty-two historic photographs.) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

The nurturing, training, and blooding of a springer spaniel, the first hunting dog Fergus (Shadow Catcher, reviewed above) has owned. Fergus has been hunting since he was a boy, when he used a cheap bolt-action shotgun, ``a Cro-Magnon club that misfired on every third or fourth round.'' At age 39, he decides to get a bird dog, instead of the raucous beagles (rabbit-chasers) of his youth, and chooses a springer spaniel pup—Jenny. An ancient breed, spaniels are mentioned in a 15th-century English treatise on hunting. Even so, they are out of favor with the sniffy pointing- dog set because they flush their game: pheasant, woodcock, grouse, partridge, and quail. After discussing Jenny's raising at home and lessons in fundamentals, Fergus devotes the second half of his book to hunts afield and Jenny's increasing proficiency. Here, he strikes a trail as a naturalist, with interesting discussions on the eyesight of ducks, grouse drumming on logs (some special logs are used for years by succeeding generations), and animal scents: Hunting is best when the temperature is 35 to 45 degrees—because the thermal variation between a bird's body and the cooler air causes scent to rise like a vapor from the bird. Pleasant reading for the generalist; meaty enough to engage those with special interests in dogs, hunting, or nature. Read full book review >