In this collection of essays, novelist Kingsolver (Pigs in Heaven, 1993, etc.) displays considerable nature-writing talent, punctuated by stretches of smarmy self-reflection and hit-or-miss musings on issues ranging from biological determinism to the Gulf War. Kingsolver was educated as a biologist and is an inveterate traveler (some of these pieces appeared in the New York Times's ""Sophisticated Traveler"" section and elsewhere)--her piquant observations are, therefore, well founded. Her prose is particularly vivid and enticing in those essays where she describes the javelinas, coyotes, and roadrunners that share her desert domain on Tucson's outskirts. A backpacking trip within the crater walls of a massive, extinct Hawaiian volcano and a sojourn in the West African country of Benin make for exciting and colorful travelogues. A nice touch is when she returns with her daughter to the Kentucky countryside of her childhood and visits the forests and riverbanks where she first developed her appreciation of nature. Elsewhere, unfortunately, Kingsolver's writing treks through less attractive regions. Her visit to an abandoned nuclear missile silo launches a tired diatribe against war; her opposition to the US involvement in Iraq is superficially propounded; an essay that begins with a man watching basketball on television evolves into a familiar discussion on sex-role stereotyping, criticism of The Bell Curve, and the male fear of female equality in sports. Kingsolver seriously begs the questions in a discussion on violence in the electronic media versus violence in literature when she avers that researchers ""have known for decades"" that watching violence causes violence. Kingsolver aficionados (and they are praised and petted in this volume) will welcome these writings, but newcomers might reject her serf-righteous chattiness. Mined selectively, however, this will reveal some beautiful gems.