A slender, middling memoir of vernal wanderings in flyover country.
Dunne (The Art of Pishing: How to Attract Birds by Mimicking Their Calls, 2006, etc.)—the vice president of the New Jersey Audubon Society and director of the Cape May Bird Observatory—ranges from pleasant jottings (“At fifteen degrees below zero, lots of things turn truculent”) to rocks-for-jocks science (“there is, in fact, a basis for the groundhog and his shadow ‘myth,’ and it is grounded in mathematical probability and meteorological fact”) that relies heavily on dumbing down (corn is “a highly specialized species of grass”) and hectoring (“I’ll bet you didn’t know this”). Readers who don’t know that corn is a kind of grass are probably not likely to be reading a book of nature writing, which puts Dunne on safe ground when making fun of, well, the kind of people who don’t read nature writing—as with the fellow from California who wanted to know when the moon would be full over New Jersey, only to be told, “about three hours before it’s full in California,” or anyone who would dare confuse tennis with an outdoor sport (“Excuse me, but tennis does not equate to the outdoors”). Small wonder people think of environmentalists as elitists. Dunne acquits himself somewhat by genially explaining why it’s worthy to stop and look at the prairie next time you’re on a cross-country drive. His account of a visit to a prairie chicken festival out on the plains—birding being a good tourist draw in places where tourists are otherwise not likely to go—is respectful and not condescending.
Prairie lovers will want to return to Loren Eiseley, Mari Sandoz and William Least Heat-Moon after this glancing outing.