VERMILION SEA: A Naturalist's Journey in Baja California by

VERMILION SEA: A Naturalist's Journey in Baja California

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A scientist's turgid record of a trip through the Baja, ""intended to be a sort of cosmology"" but foundering under its own portentous weight. Janovy (Fields of Friendly Strife, 1987; Back in Keith County, 1981, etc.) is invited by a biologist friend on a student expedition to this little-populated Mexican peninsula covered with cardon deserts, granite mountains, and whales breeding offshore. Along his way, he discusses cardons--the giant cacti that make up veritable forests; rock pelicans--the ""bird whose beak can hold more than his belly can""; and a hermit named Mike, who abandoned his business to live in a mountaintop cave. Janovy is absorbing when he sticks to the concrete, but more often he indulges in relentless flee association, strained analogies, and paragraphs that end in watery wisdom. While changing planes, for instance, he ruminates that in a hour he will be over Utah, ""geologists' airspace""; that ""pilgrimages seem to be almost instinctive""; that ""humans retain the influence of the geophysical habitat in which they pass their formative years""; and that ""through such returnings we find our who we are."" Watching a brown pelican, Janovy gives an interesting discussion of the bird's habits, its place in the family of water birds, and a comely description of the bird diving into the sea. As with so many of Janovy's subjects, though, ""...the pelican becomes a metaphor instead of a bird,"" as Janovy explains how ""adjusting my 'search image' allows me to see the hidden components of a scene"" and that ""we can test our higher levels of vision by learning how to observe pelicans...."" Would a chicken do in a pinch? Stouthearted readers may be able to stalk Janovy's cognitions through his forest of verbiage; for others, the trek will be arduous and the reward nebulous.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin