A dozen uneven essays that hover between mild epiphany and quiet appreciation of the natural world, from Underhill (Writing/Alfred Univ.). Upon moving to a remote county in New York State in 1991, and watching as her neighbors fought the siting of a low-level nuclear-waste dump on their patch, Underhill decided to tap into the cosmic hum of the place. She wanted to see what was so special as to move the county’s residents to protect it so fervently, to experience those all-too-brief moments of clarity in the outdoors’sacred and humbling and inspiring—that visit the attentive like flashes of haiku illumination. Most of the encounters chronicled here are sincere if glancing, which is not so odd considering the inscrutability of Underhill’s subjects (color, time), but they are also not infrequently sappy and banal, which is odd, because she is plainly intelligent and well read. Underhill is at her best when discovering the ancientness of her fixations: how the Celts were just as enthralled by bogs as she is and nastily sacrificed one of their number to appease the bog god; the human urge to divide the day into segments, be they canonical hours or Saxon tides or shadow markers. And she is also good when simply in awe, as when ice turns a landscape opalescent and pulls the strange trick of amplifying sounds in the upper register, filling the air with vague, ethereal calls. Then she will trot out something so utterly trite it makes the teeth ache: she describes clouds as “like ships in full sail driven by an ocean breeze,” chapter-opening epigrams are so timeworn they seem tongue-in-chee. Fortunately, each of these pieces can be sampled on its own, winnowing the graceful, enthusiastic Underhill from her inexplicably stumblebum flip side.