Deft and evocative, making small adventures loom joyfully large.

TEMPLE STREAM

A RURAL ODYSSEY

A quest for the headwaters of a small stream in Maine becomes an obsession bound up in a celebration of life.

Writer and sometime novelist Roorbach (The Smallest Color, 2001) begins his narrative as a teacher at Ohio State who finds himself, along with his wife Juliet, longing to be at the summer home they are refurbishing near Farmington, Maine whenever their inconveniently separate careers keep them away from it. This is a dilemma; so is the fact that her biological clock is ticking, yet the professor (now Contemporary American Letters, Holy Cross) is fixed on the idea of finding the source of Temple stream, a nearby “pocket paradise [of] birdsong and beaver work.” But there are obstacles, like the moose-sized Earl Pomeroy, a lumbering (in all senses of the word) local who develops into Roorbach’s fated nemesis—and firewood supplier—beginning with his colorfully articulated theory that yuppie academics on research sabbaticals are somehow ripping off honest taxpayers. His initial confrontation with Pomeroy crystallizes the Down Maine antipathy that anyone from “away” will immediately recognize—a friend will later explain that even after 30 years’ residency, he and his wife are still regarded as “full-time summer people.” Sourcing Temple Stream goes on, however, summer and winter, the author dragging his canoe past beaver dams and paddling long-abandoned millponds, crossing the same ponds frozen on cross-country skis, consulting flawed antique maps, etc., until the objective is finally reached. In the meantime, a baby girl arrives and Earl Pomeroy gets ugly. Rich and colorful language flows, too, as Roorbach notes that the local Walmart has “metastasized” to a Superstore in only a few years, and at another point a cluster of teenage boys arrives on scene “looking like they’d just said yes to drugs.”

Deft and evocative, making small adventures loom joyfully large.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2005

ISBN: 0-385-33654-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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