A top-drawer journey into the natural history of Tasmania from two Brooklyn-based nature writers.
Mittelbach and Crewdson (Wild New York, 2000) were smitten by a stuffed Tasmanian tiger they stumbled across in the American Museum of Natural History. They wanted to see in the flesh this strange creature that looked more like a wild dog than a tiger and had a marsupial pouch to boot. Thought by many to be extinct, the Tasmanian tiger had been sighted credibly and recently enough for the duo to pay a visit to its home island south of Australia. They took along an artist friend, the very odd Alexis Rockman, and he in turn took along two well-heeled pals, one of them his girlfriend. The affluent tagalongs provide a comic foil for the authors’ flinty wit, as do a number of the characters they met while in pursuit, but they favor a relaxed, conversational tone for their long excursions into the history and natural science of the island. The Tasmanian tiger being in very short supply, Mittelbach and Crewdson turn their attentions to other members of Tasmania’s extraordinary bestiary—giant crayfish, little blue penguins, cave spiders, quolls, glowworms, the platypus—and accompany each vivid portrait with a crack description of its habitat. Although the tiger, once considered a pest, has been hunted to near or perhaps even total extinction, the authors hold out hope to see it, since other Tasmanian animals such as Leadbeater’s possum and the mahogany glider have crossed back over the River Styx. Scattered throughout the text are examples of Rockman’s art: evocative, ethereal works using soil and vegetable matter—even, in one case, a pulverized leech mixed with acrylic polymer. “The materials,” he explained to his companions, “have a relationship to the history, geography, or direct interaction I have with particular organisms. They come out of the tradition of diaristic travel.” True, but a strangely academic comment for so unconventional a character.
Neatly and wonderfully sews together natural science and travel yarn. (Illustrations throughout, maps)