From Ackerman (Rarest of the Rare, 1995, etc.) come these graceful, canny reflections on her hours spent fielding calls at a suicide prevention center. During "the long corridors of night, when problems can take on monstrous proportions," Ackerman sits in an ordinary room taking all-but-ordinary calls. Her phonemates are people on the raggedy edge, with voices of rising panic, rage, frustration, distant loneliness, but possessed of a precarious, tenuous hope that prompts them to telephone. She isn't a therapist, she isn't there to "[pick] problems apart and [make] sense of their origins and patterns." She is there to search for equilibrium, to be a friend for the duration, to examine options, to find windows and doors in a tunnel. She explores the degree of desperation in a caller's voice (imminent danger of suicide? a depression that may slacken?), knowing that "we hope our callers will choose life, but they have the option and the right to choose death." Nonetheless, she'll alert the police and call for a phone trace if things spin out of control. Ackerman's voracious imagination and curiosity find her making forays into biochemistry and the artistic temperament, the weather and Walt Whitman, bicycling and skiing, bringing them all to bear on her shifts at the crisis center. And it is not surprising that, as a writer of luminous essays on natural history, she is able to convincingly free-associate between the emotional geography of animals (a group of squirrels she is studying for a project) and humans, and compare her telephone work to the long-distance communication of whales, wolves, and birds. One could do a lot worse than to find Ackerman at the end of the line when feeling those desperately slippery moments of despair, the rush into the unknown.