NATURAL ACTS: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature by David Quammen

NATURAL ACTS: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature

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With Jake Page's Pastorale (p. 83), a second neat book of nature-essays by a distinct personality with a flair for the written word. Quammen, whose column ""Natural Acts"" in Outside magazine is the source of most of this material, is a less sedentary observer. He describes ""river snorkeling"" with a slightly mad friend out to defend nature against the likes of copper smelters. He speaks of efforts to avoid invasion of the flesh by a particularly malicious barbed Ecuadorean fish that sucks blood. The latter comes in an early group of essays devoted to loathsome creatures (including some insects abhorred by Page). Here, too, is a yeasty profile of Eugene Marais, the South African who was by turns newspaperman, naturalist, poet, and suicide: Marais conceived of termites as one giant organism (literally, not metaphorically), and sued Maurice Maeterlinck for stealing his observations if not his hypothesis. Later sections deal with conservationist themes. There is a fine childhood reminiscence of Quammen's father planting numerous specimens of trees on the rather barren family homestead. One was a magnolia nearly killed by an ice storm: ""Every leaf was lacquered thickly with ice. . . the whole tree about to collapse like so much Steuben glass under a garbage compactor."" (He and dad laboriously pried the ice loose by hand, and saved it.) Final essays explore some biological themes as well as the charms of natural substances (like blubber) and places (like White Sands, New Mexico--said to resemble one huge Ying Yang symbol from the air). A welcome non-fiction debut by the author of two unimpressive novels.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0393333604
Publisher: Schocken