Richly nuanced, well-mulled, enormously gratifying descriptions of chance encounters with wildlife from freelancer Childs (Stone Desert, not reviewed). This collection is comprised of two dozen meetings between Childs and various wild animals small and large: coyote and raccoon, bald eagle and broadtailed hummingbird, mountain goat, pronghorn, smelt, mosquito, and kindred fauna. The writing is vivid and the experiences have the feeling of being detached from time- -self-contained and in their own special orbit. Childs may feel that his writing is suspect and inadequate--``verbs and nouns do not always change to the weather as they should''--but he hits the nail true more often than not. Of red-winged blackbirds: ``Their officious prattle lifted like shouts from the stock market floor.'' Of the grizzly: ``Below its luminous dusting, the bear looked dark, as if there were a ghost in there.'' There are no testosterone-driven heroics here. Yes, he is stalked and confronted by a mountain lion, and it is a fear-wracked, sweat-drenched episode, but Childs is just as awestruck by a couple of red-spotted toads he finds huddled in a thatch of ferns. A blue shark comes to eat him as he washes his dinner pot in the surf, its teeth ``grotesquely arranged with such a lack of order and size, they seem barbaric,'' yet mosquitoes swarming around him in the Arctic Circle equally hold his fascination, though they also arouse his ire. Regardless of the nature of the encounter--feeding mice to northern spotted owls, performing a water ballet with violet-green swallows, pulling a porcupine quill from the deep recesses of a dog's mouth--Childs gives it all his idiosyncratic, sidelong attention. Childs is in the grip of the outside and its persistent wildness. He is skilled in the exigent art of seeing, then translating what he has seen into words. He has carved an important niche for himself as a nature writer.