In this sturdy if at times tortured field report cum memoir of a geochemical visit to a series of ice-covered lakes in Antarctica, Green takes measure not just of calcium, phosphate, and magnesium, but of his life and the mystery of nature as well. The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica host a string of lakes with which Green (Chemistry/Miami Univ., Ohio) has become mesmerized. What are their origins, what do they have to say about the nature of weathering and mineral transport, and what about those strange temperature inversions? Chemistry is Green's passion, and it is not only the chemistry of the lake and laboratory that we get in spades, but a pleasurable poke through the history of the science as well: Dalton and Rutherford, Einstein and Bohr, and dozens more. These asides nicely clarify his arcane fieldwork. Shedding further light are finely honed flashes of pure science writing -- his discourse on the physical behavior of water is handled with impressive dexterity, as are the explanations of conductivity units and Klemmerer readings (both important aspects of his lake studies). While it may be forgiven that such a sere, remote landscape conjures repeat visits to Green's family history, it is when Green gets mystical that he crashes through the thin ice of natura poetica. Readers are informed that ""the maple seed glides like a wooded blade in whispers from the parent tree,"" and that water ""punctuates waking and dream with longing."" Say what? Such stuff is a squandering of Green's obvious narrative talents -- his depiction of life at base camp is so grungily immediate, you can almost smell the body odor -- and diminishes much of the pleasure this book otherwise has to offer. The clear south polar light, working its magic on Green's science writing, should have revealed to him that it was not his destiny to be bard of the crystal desert.