Gilbert is a rare bird, almost an endangered species. Whereas most contemporary nature writers tend toward the strident, the mystical, the dyspeptic, Gilbert is consistently graceful, good-natured and down-to-earth. If there is one theme that ties together the 14 essays in this volume, most published previously in Sports Illustrated and Audubon, it is that the human fascination with nature is ancient and abiding. Gilbert delights by shedding light on current controversies and obsessions with characters from the past. He explores the supremely inhospitable arctic wilderness by following in the footsteps of a man who lived more than a century ago and who is, according to Gilbert, a monument to the power of sheer persistence. He is entertaining on other outdoorsy types, from the absent-minded naturalist Thomas Nuttall and the ultra-ambitious botanist Carl Linnaeus to more macho mountain men of the American West, and also on what makes creatures like the rattier and the grizzly so fearsome. Gilbert also has a feel for the unlikely and the comic. A self-proclaimed esteemer of springs, he retraces the 19th-century route of one James Reuel Smith in a quest for fresh-water springs--in the middle of Manhattan. One of the most charming essays of the lot considers how and why a colony of wild parrots, usually residents of South America, has settled on Chicago's South Side. Gilbert champions the parrots and takes the opportunity to poke fun at the current ""native species"" chauvinism of some environmental circles. ""Much of this country,"" he notes, ""is occupied and operated by immigrants""--from the black-footed ferret to the honeybee to Homo sapiens. Here is one writer who not only is a delightful storyteller, but also knows how to frame an issue and make a point without being polemical, pedantic or preachy.