Tales from a high-plains pothole by Janovy (Vermilion Sea, 1991, etc.), a man much smitten with the sound of his brain ticking. Secreted in the Nebraskan countryside is Dunwoody Pond. Its weedy, teeming waters serve as a vibrant life-science laboratory, a primal stew he hopes will enter his students' souls as well as their collecting nets. His students are an estimable bunch: Tami and her damselfly parasites; Bill and his leeches; Rich and his black beetles; Skip and his gill tissue suckers. They all get deeply, sweetly immersed in their creatures. It's Janovy who's the problem. He wants to know what inspires these young naturalists, but he tells us more about himself than about his charges. In the process, Janovy scurries all over the place in a free association that he clearly finds charming; but it comes across as Brownian motion--which is to say, directionless and tedious. Too often he writes, ``And that is the main point of this story, even though we have taken a short diversion.'' He can be painfully smug (asking, for instance, why anyone would choose to be a physical therapist when one could be a parasitologist); he comes out with presumptuous statements that are utter rot (``Every dead soldier's mother is convinced that it is right for her to bear the death of her child in obeyance to a commander-in- chief''); and he strains analogies with the best of them. Enduring the chapter ``Conversations at the Rock'' is as pleasurable as being locked in a closet with a logorrheic methedrine freak. The one time Janovy cuts sharp is in his chapter on cliff swallows--gentle, humorous, insightful, and without a single mention of himself, even obliquely. As a place, Dunwoody Pond may have lit the passions of an undergraduate clutch; as a book, it is a pompous embarrassment of sputters and fizzles.