NIGHT LIFE: Nature from Dusk to Dawn by Diana Kappel-Smith

NIGHT LIFE: Nature from Dusk to Dawn

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Kappel-Smith (Wintering, 1984) brings her perceptive eye to bear on nature after dark, with luminous results. The bulk of animals, Kappel-Smith informs us, prowl the shadows. But since naturalists naturally prefer the daylight, nocturnal animal behavior is not well documented. Kappel-Smith steps into the breach, crisscrossing the nation through four seasons to meet her nightside neighbors. In August, she ferrets out snakes and spiders in Arizona; in December, she goes after large predators--coyotes, bobcats--in North Dakota: in January, she watches corals and lobsters in Hawaii; in April, it's suburban wildlife--voles, bats--in Connecticut; and in June, shrimp and gators in Louisiana. She's an involved observer, cheering on copulating mice, admiring the craft of master trappers, entranced by the undersea symphony of a thousand fishy voices. When a fear of snakes overwhelms her, she's not afraid to tell us. Her great gift is her ability to shift effortlessly from scientific description to personal reflection, strongly reminiscent of Annie Dillard, but without Dillard's cloying overwriting (although there are exceptions: the overalliterative ""the tinselings in the treetops are networks of knowing"" might have been cribbed from Dillard's worst). Always, she seeks the lesson behind the scenery: ""The size of starred sky and dark rolling ground makes me think of things more durable than myself."" Graceful, insightful nature writing, especially welcome for its focus on such a rarely seen side of the animal world.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1989
Publisher: Little, Brown