Naturalist and essayist Childs (House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest, 2007, etc.) celebrates wild creatures met in wild places.
The author has a talent for bringing his encounters home and fashioning them into chromatic, immediate accounts. Some of the experiences chronicled here are quite simply breath-catching and heart-gladdening: following an intermittent stream of ruby-red dragonflies to a water source in a dry land; watching 50 violet-green swallows “working a cat’s cradle into the air”; placing a mouse upon a branch to become a canapé for a northern spotted owl. Occasionally—and profoundly, as the pursuer becomes the pursued—Childs is reminded that his place on the food chain is not necessarily at the apex. Surprise, a mountain lion! “It moves out from under the shadows so that both of us are in the same sunlight…It begins walking straight at me.” Jeopardy doesn’t have to come from something big or venomous, however; a raccoon that doesn’t appreciate Child’s efforts to rescue him becomes a 12-pound package of fury, snapping jaws. Only rarely does the author’s inventiveness fail him: A black bear is the “dark prince of the mountains,” and we must read about him “letting out a steaming arc” as he urinates into the cold morning air. As in his 1997 collection Crossing Paths, from which a few pieces are reprinted, Childs’s great accomplishment is to excite our thrill in an animal’s beauty and strangeness, then arouse our protective instincts by pointing out its vulnerability.
Each of these pieces is a personal invitation to get outdoors and celebrate all things furred, feathered and scaled.