An evocative and heartfelt examination of a beautiful landscape and its fauna.

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GODS OF THE MORNING

A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF A CHANGING WORLD

A distinguished British naturalist reflects on his encounters with the birds of the Scottish Highlands and how global warming has impacted these populations.

Set in the Highlands hamlet of Aigas, the 19 essays in the book illuminate the way birds not only “respond quickly to shifts in climate and human behavior,” but also serve as living barometers of “the success or failure of other wildlife.” Lister-Kaye (At the Water’s Edge: A Personal Quest for Wildness, 2010, etc.) notes that minute shifts in light and weather conditions—things that humans often do not notice—can severely affect not only migration patterns of seasonal birds like geese, but also the nesting patterns of other, nonmigratory birds like rooks. Temperature extremes also inevitably take their toll on bird populations. During a three-month subzero period in the winter of 2009-2010, the hardy barn owls of Aigas (where Lister-Kaye established Scotland's first field studies station in 1976) starved for want of access to the mice and voles that had taken refuge underground. The author also shows how human interventions on the landscape—e.g., electricity distribution lines—impact birds like the whooper swan, which collide with the lines and die slow, agonizing deaths. With its use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanized equipment, farming also impacts birds by killing off the bugs, beetles, and flies that feed them. Lister-Kaye’s lyrical descriptions of Aigas and the animal denizens he so clearly loves offer a poignant counterpoint to the destruction he observes. Yet for all the sadness he expresses at the way people have treated the natural world, he still offers hope that humans can work with nature by adopting the kinds of green measures—installing biomass boilers and solar collectors and “preach[ing] sustainability” to school children—that Aigas employs. In so doing, they can restore some semblance of balance in the earthly kingdom overseen by his winged “gods of the morning.”

An evocative and heartfelt examination of a beautiful landscape and its fauna.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60598-796-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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