A wryly told, delightful mÇlange of footloose chronicles by a sometimes anxious wanderer. Maxwell (I Don't Know Why I Swallowed the Fly, 1997) is rather like the rest of us: wary of small planes and rushing rivers, yet also fond of wildlife. Unlike some of us, however, she gamely runs Idaho's Salmon River, takes a 37-hour train ride across the Gobi Desert (``insidious grit stormed the failing shell of that old railroad mollusk''), and snorkels among whales. Fly-fishing is Maxwell's raison d'àtre, and readers will happily follow her as she searches for steelhead trout on a wild and secret Washington river and fishes a Mongolian waterway reputedly containing the heftiest salmon on earth (up to 200 pounds apiece). One need not be a fellow traveler to appreciate her jaunts; Maxwell's prose is wittily light-hearted. Repulsed by said Mongolian salmon, she declares, ``I'd be damned if I was going to set a world record with a fish that looked so much like Quasimodo in a mermaid suit.'' During an uncharacteristically urban trip to Italy, she comments, ``If the Italian Renaissance painters had been dentists, their dentures would have looked like Venice. Arcaded and cupolaed, welded together with fancy bridgework, riddled with elegant root canals, its yellowed buildings rising straight out of the sea, it looks, for all the world, like a floating grin.'' On her stubbornly eclectic route, Maxwell also journeys to Alaska with sled-dog champion Susan Butcher and her Alaskan huskies. She visits a huge colony of monarch butterflies; she encounters a giant toxic toad. And amid all the double entendres and sardonic asides, this outdoorswoman remains an informative naturalist. Though she'll go to almost any length to muscle out a story, Maxwell writes with refreshingly little machismo.