A cautiously hopeful and well-researched tribute to an animal easy for most humans to love.

RETURN OF THE SEA OTTER

THE STORY OF THE ANIMAL THAT EVADED EXTINCTION ON THE PACIFIC COAST

A Rhode Island–based science writer explores the recovery from possible extinction of what may be “the cutest animal on earth.”

These animals, writes McLeish (Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World, 2015, etc.), don't just look cuddly and have a delightful ability to use tools; they also help maintain the marine environment where they live. After their numbers were severely cut by fur trading, the crucial kelp forests where the otters hunted suffered significant damage by sea urchins, the otters’ preferred food. With the otters back again, the kelp ecosystems flourished. Sea otters are a well-studied species, and the author devotes chapters to time spent with researchers along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California. He sailed out with spotters to count otters, and, in “the most precious fifteen minutes of my year,” he observed a rescued otter pup being groomed by an aquarium worker. He attended “necropsies” intended to reveal why otters have died and was appalled to learn how many females are killed during mating. McLeish also considers, though doesn't adopt, the viewpoints of those who consider sea otters “the rats of the sea.” Native Americans in Alaska, as well as other fishermen along the northern Pacific coast, are frustrated by the fact that animals left to range by the Marine Mammal Protection Act are devouring the same invertebrates the fishermen would like to harvest and sell. McLeish smoothly integrates background about the animals into his narrative, and he works in details about the history of their interaction with humans over the past few decades. Some of those attempts to save the otters, such as the introduction of surrogate mothers, have succeeded; others, such as relocation, haven't been as successful. The author also explains the complications of the relationships among the various protected marine mammals: in some places, the main enemy of the otters is the killer whale.

A cautiously hopeful and well-researched tribute to an animal easy for most humans to love.

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63217-137-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Sasquatch

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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