WILD THOUGHTS FROM WILD PLACES

This culling of columns and magazine pieces penned for Outside, Rolling Stone, and Powder over 15 years reveals no damping of his passion for nature, no failure of nerve in testing his skills in the wild, and no stinting in his admiration for the pros—scientists, athletes, and others—he has encountered. In short, connoisseurs of the Quammen (The Song of the Dodo, 1996) style will relish the daredevil you-are-there writing of the sportsman: kayaking on class V rivers with near-death encounters with ``holes'' (vortices) and boulders, trekking a high moor in Tasmania, documenting telemark races—in which skiers slalom, skate, jump, and perform the absurdly difficult telemark turn (named after a town in Norway)—not to mention trout fishing in Montana. Trout is why he lives there, he says, using a word he loves, ``synecdoche,'' meaning that trout is emblematic of a lot more than trout, so to speak. Even armchair athletes who think whitewater rafting is machismo gone amok may derive some vicarious thrills from Quammen's perfect recall of danger. Elsewhere there are nostalgic pieces about growing up in Cincinnati with a tree as a friend (along with some lore on how trees cope with stress) and his current war with the Cincinnati zoo because of its exploitation of white tigers (inbred for their mutant genes). There are paeans to urban pigeons as ``superdoves'' and to the late Edward Abbey and one of his books in particular, Desert Solitaire. The personal and sentimental figure in essays on family, friends, and spouse. Sprinkled throughout are bits of scientific lore about the elements—water, snow, ice, glaciers, avalanches; about disease—emerging scary viruses and cancer; and sundry critters, barnacles and swallows, for example. The link seems to be whatever engages the soul of the wanderer ready to backpack and laptop his adventures in technicolor prose. (Have synecdoche, will travel.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-83509-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

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Not light reading but essential for policymakers—and highly recommended for the 40 million people who rely on the Great...

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT LAKES

An alarming account of the “slow-motion catastrophe” facing the world’s largest freshwater system.

Based on 13 years of reporting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this exhaustively detailed examination of the Great Lakes reveals the extent to which this 94,000-square-mile natural resource has been exploited for two centuries. The main culprits have been “over-fishing, over-polluting, and over-prioritizing navigation,” writes Egan, winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. Combining scientific details, the stories of researchers investigating ecological crises, and interviews with people who live and work along the lakes, the author crafts an absorbing narrative of science and human folly. The St. Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks, canals, and channels leading to the Atlantic Ocean, which allows “noxious species” from foreign ports to enter the lakes through ballast water dumped by freighters, has been a central player. Biologically contaminated ballast water is “the worst kind of pollution,” writes Egan. “It breeds.” As a result, mussels and other invasive species have been devastating the ecosystem and traveling across the country to wreak harm in the West. At the same time, farm-fertilizer runoff has helped create “massive seasonal toxic algae blooms that are turning [Lake] Erie’s water into something that seems impossible for a sea of its size: poison.” The blooms contain “the seeds of a natural and public health disaster.” While lengthy and often highly technical, Egan’s sections on frustrating attempts to engineer the lakes by introducing predator fish species underscore the complexity of the challenge. The author also covers the threats posed by climate change and attempts by outsiders to divert lake waters for profit. He notes that the political will is lacking to reduce farm runoffs. The lakes could “heal on their own,” if protected from new invasions and if the fish and mussels already present “find a new ecological balance.”

Not light reading but essential for policymakers—and highly recommended for the 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24643-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK

This is our life, these are our lighted seasons, and then we die. . . . In the meantime, in between time, we can see. . . we can work at making sense of (what) we see. . . to discover where we so incontrovertibly are. It's common sense; when you-move in, you try to learn the neighborhood." Dillard's "neighborhood" is hilly Virginia country where she lived alone, but essentially it is all those "shreds of creation" with which every human is surrounded, which she is trying to learn, to know — from finite variations to infinite possibilities of being and meaning. A tall order and Dillard doesn't quite fill it. She is too impatient to get about the soul's adventures to stay long with an egg-laying grasshopper, or other bits of flora and fauna, and her snatches from physics and biological/metaphysical studies are this side of frivolous. However, Ms. Dillard has a great deal going for her — in spite of some repetition of words and concepts, her prose is bright, fresh and occasionally emulates (not imitates) the Walden Master in a contemporary context: "Trees. . . extend impressively in both directions, . . . shearing rock and fanning air, doing their real business just out of reach." She has set herself no less a task than understanding emotionally, spiritually and intellectually the force of the creative extravagance of the universe in all its beauty and horhor ("There is a terrible innocence in the benumbed world of the lower animals, reducing life to a universal chomp.") Experience can be focused, and awareness sharpened, by a kind of meditative high. Thus this becomes somewhat exhausting reading, if taken in toto, but even if Dillard's reach exceeds her grasp, her sights are leagues higher than that of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea, regretfully (re her sex), the inevitable comparison.

Pub Date: March 13, 1974

ISBN: 0061233323

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper's Magazine Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1974

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