The kind of primary research that leads to those rare insights that come to be known as understanding. (8-page color insert,...

AMONG THE BEARS

RAISING ORPHAN CUBS IN THE WILD

An intuitive appreciation of young bear behavior, observed and gathered at ground level, from wildlife rehabilitator Kilham.

The New Hampshire state wildlife department asked Kilham to adopt a couple of bear cubs six years ago. His work with those cubs, and a selection of other cubs from more recent vintages, are chronicled here. Kilham doesn't pose as an expert, and his writing is of the unvarnished variety, but he quickly and easily establishes himself as an observant individual who makes sensible comments upon the vast amount of fieldwork he has done. His plan was to “raise the cubs in as natural a set of circumstances as possible,” so that they might return to the wild. He frames this narrative as a story of their days together, he and the cubs, and lets the information slowly accrue before attempting any conjectures on the bears' behavior. He forms a very close bond with the cubs, but there is always that unpredictable quality to the bears that reminds Kilham and reader alike that these are wild creatures and that the ground we share is shaky with potential misunderstandings and palpable consequences. Kilham has got opinions about such traits as altruism (“thought by many to be solely a human trait,” but regarded by just as many as an established animal behavior), self-recognition, the use of tools, as well as everyday survival behavior such as food finding, all buttressed by copious direct observation. He has even discovered an organ in the bear's mouth, “probably to be known as the Kilham organ,” used to identify plant chemistry. Where he really shines, though, is in bear-sound interpretation, including a glossary of sounds from moans to “eh-eh” to “huh, huh, huh, huh, huh,” something you ought never hope to hear.

The kind of primary research that leads to those rare insights that come to be known as understanding. (8-page color insert, not seen)

Pub Date: March 6, 2002

ISBN: 0-8050-6919-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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