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by Ann Haymond Zwinger

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8165-1880-7
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona

paper 0-8165-1881-5 A slow-starting but ultimately intriguing collection of natural history essays written over two decades. Zwinger (who won a Western States Book Award for Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, 1995) attributes her “nose-to-nose” interaction with nature to nearsightedness, which leaves her dependent on a hand lens. This approach lends itself well to an exhaustive exploration of her home base near Colorado’s Pikes Peak, where she lovingly records the land’s changing science and aesthetics in the drift of seasons. The first essays detail small wonders, and though she makes a case for the importance of invertebrates (which comprise almost 99 percent of all living species, she points out), it’s hard to share her excitement for the complex, tedious process for determining moth gender. The book takes off when Zwinger broadens her focus, exploring a coastal Chilean island that sheltered the real-life Robinson Crusoe, traveling to Baja to retrace the steps of 19th-century naturalist Xantu, one of the first to document the natural science of the newly opened west, and tagging along with researchers in the world’s most densely populated raptor breeding ground, Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. Whether thrusting a bare hand in a January stream to discover nymphs or shooting summer rapids on the San Juan River, she’s an intrepid explorer whose enthusiasm for travel off the beaten path is inspiring. Zwinger is at her best interpreting the rigors of serious science for the casual naturalist. Explaining the immense pleasure she derives from the meticulousness and order of collecting insects, she documents the copious note-taking and fastidious preparation required, then nails the intangible appeal of it all with an apt analogy: “I feel about insect collecting the way a trout fisherman feels about fly-fishing: it is the thereness that is important.” Lyrical, astute, passionate—an altogether charming look at the natural world. (illustrations by the author, not seen)