It is one of history’s great ironies that the same source that gave mankind its proverbial best friend also gave it one of its greatest nightmares. Yet while the domestic dog has long-since become a trusted companion and protector in most human societies throughout the world, the still wild descendants of their ancestors – even though most of us have long-since developed a lifestyle to which they are not even remotely a threat to our health or well-being – continue to haunt the minds of far more of us than will ever (much as we may wish to) actually see one. That isn’t, of course, to say that there aren’t some to whom this ancient fear (and from that fear, hatred) of wolves isn’t just a psychological remnant of our distant collective past. There are those – ranchers of cattle, sheep, and other pastoral animals – for whom the presence of wolves is a very real threat not only to their herds but potentially to the safety of themselves and their families as well.
So what happens when the residents in a state such as Oregon, from which the wild wolf was hunted out of existence in the early Twentieth Century, and in which a sizable amount of land is now involved in the raising of cattle and sheep, suddenly discover that after decades of absence the wolves are beginning to return? For some this news was greeted with jubilation, for others horror and outrage. However one thing united the majorities in both sides of the “wolf debate:” much of what they knew about these returning wolves was based far more on legend, rumor, and even occasionally fairy-tales than on facts. Mix into this the long-since simmering and recently worsening socio-economic and cultural rifts that roughly follow the geographic division of the state into its western and eastern halves, and the sudden appearance of wolves in the area created the focal point for a myriad of social, economic, political, and philosophical differences. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
You likely already knew that the national bird of the United States is the American Bald Eagle, and – if you know a bit about birds – you could probably have guessed that the national bird of Guatemala is the Resplendent Quetzal, but what is the national bird of Estonia? How about Israel? Jamaica? If you don’t know, don’t feel bad; I didn’t either – at least until I read Ron Toft’s new book National Birds of the World. Keep reading…
If ever a book embodied the truth behind the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words it is Errol Fuller’s new Lost Animals; Extinction and the Photographic Record, for while somewhat sparing in text, the photographs it includes speak volumes. Indeed, it might even be said that the light touch given to the amount of text included allows the stories of the animals to be told all the more effectively by the photographs themselves. Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
What is it like to be a bee? Not so much what does it physically feel like, but rather on a social, perhaps even an emotional level? When you think about how bees act in relation to one another, how the societies they form function, it’s not all that difficult to see some decidedly positive characteristics in bee societies that would possibly improve our own if adopted.
When you hear names of bird species such as Cetti’s Warbler, Townsend’s Solitaire, or MacGillivray’s Fairy-wren, do you ever stop and give thought to who Cetti, Townsend, or MacGillivray were? And for that matter, was MacGillivray the same MacGillivray of the MacGillivray’s Warbler?
When I first thumbed through the new Britain’s Habitats: A Guide to the Wildlife Habitats of Britain and Ireland, I was not only taken by how helpful it could be to a naturalist seeking to acquire or refine an understanding of those nations’ multifaceted countrysides, I was also struck by how useful the book could be to someone studying English literature.
For those who are either presently in New Guinea, planning a trip there, or – like me – just fond of fantasizing about all the natural wonders to be found there, news of the recent publication by Princeton University Press of the second edition Pratt and Beehler’s “Birds of New Guinea” should be very welcome indeed.
When I first heard about it, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Christine Kenneally’s recently published book The Invisible History of the Human Race. However now that I’ve read through the first few chapters I must admit that while I’m still not entirely sure where her narrative will ultimately lead, the journey in itself is proving to be one rich in very interesting details.
When one is a reviewer of books, each trip to the post office is a potential path to discovery. For example, just the other day a package arrived containing a new book from Oregon State University Press: A Hunger for High Country; One Woman’s Journey to the Wild in Yellowstone Country by Susan Marsh.
For those who might not know it, my first and still true scholarly love is not in fact natural history but rather the classics. Indeed, I took up the study of religion at university due to the fact that it was the department in which I could study Greek. However, life being what it is, I “chose a different path” after my undergraduate studies and for some years have neglected my studies in that area. Realizing this and determining to rectify this neglect, I have recently returned to my reading again this subject area.
The Well-equipped Naturalist
I carry a bag when I’m in the field. I carry a bag when I’m running errands around town. I carry a bag more or less whenever I leave the house for anything more than to walk the dog or take my evening stroll. Ideally, so that I need not worry about being without some item of my essential kit as a result of switching between different bags for different activities, I very much prefer the bag I carry for all these diverse purposes to be the same bag.
For those who might be wishing to commemorate this anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s first edition of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, I highly recommend doing so with a copy of David N. Reznick’s The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species close at hand.
Helen Macdonald, Tim Dee, and James Macdonald Lockhart recently gathered to discuss birds at the London Review Bookshop. Fortunately, for those unable to attend, it was recorded and can now be heard via podcast.