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Literate prose and a naturalist’s sensibility: a better tour guide would be hard to imagine.

The deepest northern woods or most barren Alaskan wilderness vibrate with life under award-winning journalist Hildebrand’s discerning eye.

It may be the rainwater oozing up from boggy Minnesota farmland under a visitor’s footsteps. Or the “heart-shaped” tracks of white-tailed deer in the Wisconsin forest. Or the shimmering shapes of sockeye salmon heading upstream under a canoe on the Yukon. In 18 old and new essays, Hildebrand (Mapping the Farm, 1995, etc.) couples eerily beautiful natural landscapes with a sense of their fragility. The writing is heartfelt, but there’s no preachiness. For the most part, Hildebrand lets nature do the talking. True, the older essays can feel dated. “Exile's Song” paints an Ireland beset with economic despair and a fleeing population—obviously written before a high-tech invasion transformed Ireland into the “Celtic Tiger” of the last decade. In other cases, though, even the older essays carry a powerful emotional kick. In “Snow on the Mountains,” Hildebrand returns to a remote cabin he and his young bride built in 1972 along Alaska’s Stampede Trail. The marriage dissolved within a few years (after a premature baby died in childbirth), and, returning in 1976, the author finds a strange mixture of regret and solace in the achingly beautiful morning that breaks around his isolation. Hildebrand brings a serenity to the wilderness, and also a sense of literary history. He leads us to Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and through the same Minnesota prairie that Thoreau, dying of tuberculosis, walked on his final journey in 1843. On California’s Pacific Coast Highway, he mourns our passing from a country of travel-hungry Jack Kerouacs to sedentary Garrison Keillors, now willingly tethered to our “hometowns.” Indeed, whether uncovering Laotian exiles in Minnesota or ancient Indians in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, Hildebrand proves as adept at unearthing the compelling human story as he is at penetrating nature’s subtleties.

Literate prose and a naturalist’s sensibility: a better tour guide would be hard to imagine.

Pub Date: May 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-87351-528-5

Page Count: 5

Publisher: Borealis Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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