A collection of essays on plants and animal biology and behavior by a scientist who is also a prolific, prizewinning author.
Heinrich (Emeritus, Biology/Univ. of Vermont; One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives, 2016, etc.) writes engagingly about soil, trees, insects, birds, and mammals, all of which he has observed closely for years. All the included essays, ranging in date from 1974 to 2017, have been previously published, many in Natural History magazine and Orion. The author is no casual observer of the world around him. When something catches his eye, he studies it intensely, counting, measuring, and dissecting. Many of his observations are made inside and outside his cabin in the Maine woods, where he now lives. However, during his long career, he has also studied trees, elephants, and predators in Africa, bees in the Arctic, flowers in Israel, and caterpillars in California. Among other tidbits, readers will learn how red squirrels tap maple trees, how a raven notifies other ravens of the location of a dead animal, and how beetles cooperate to bury a mouse. Heinrich wants to know how vines twist and turn, why trees have certain shapes, and how animals survive fierce heat and intense cold. At times, the author provides more detail than many general readers will require—e.g., a comparison between Thoreau’s bean-patch expenses and his own. More often, however, he illustrates just what the work of a dedicated biologist entails. Where necessary, he appends codas to bring certain essays up to date. To accompany his investigations into the natural world, the author also includes two-dozen appealing line drawings revealing structural details of plants and close-ups of insects and tiny creatures that would escape most casual observers.
Heinrich’s personal touch and breadth of knowledge make this a satisfying outing for armchair naturalists.