Of all the mammals in Great Britain, few – if indeed any – are as deeply linked with the British countryside and its culture as Vulpes vulpes, the Fox. Also called the Red Fox by many throughout the non-British portions of its Northern Hemisphere spanning range, this largest of the Vulpes genus also happens to be the most wide-ranging carnivore in the world.
However in nowhere else throughout its range has the Fox become such an enduring iconic figure as in Great Britain. Stretching back to the verses of Chaucer and running up through works of Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl, the Fox has both endured and changed, shifting its habits and adapting to alterations in its surroundings, be they cultural or temporal, as well – as we shall presently see – as physical. And it is this very endurance and adaptability (both biologically as well as ecologically) as well as its cultural significance that Lucy Jones so superbly takes up as her subjects in Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
As one who has travelled widely around the world, I have in the course of my journeys discovered many places that I found beautiful, fascinating, relaxing, or pure and simply enjoyable; however of all the corners of the globe into which my adventures have taken me, none has lodged itself in my heart the way that the Canadian province of British Columbia has. Having visited both its countryside as well as its cities and towns more times than I can recall, each and every trip there merely makes me that much more eager to return the next time. Keep reading…
Names are powerful things. In many human cultures, the selection of a name for a new baby is a matter of the utmost seriousness, reflective of a family’s, society’s, or religious group’s past as well as perhaps portentous of that child’s own future. So it is also that what particular groups of people, entire races even, are called is a topic that can and has provoked contention up to and including physical violence, even warfare. Yet when it comes to the naming of creatures outside the human family, the situation has been – and continues to be – a bit more plastic. Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
Quickly perusing the newly arrived copy of David B. River’s new Insects: Evolutionary Success, Unrivaled Diversity, and World Domination from Johns Hopkins University Press, I can’t help but suspect that it too may prove to be another delightful exception to the “stodgy textbook” rule. One early review has already praised it for being “fresh and relevant” as well as “ooz[ing] with an entomological swagger representing the passion of the insect world.”
Ever since acquiring a new microscope, I have been spending quite a lot of time renewing old acquaintances with some once familiar microscopic flora and fauna. Needless to say, despite my best efforts and plenty of dipping into assorted local ponds for specimens, blowing the dust off my identification skills has been progressing somewhat less quickly than I’d hoped.
Libraries full of books have been, and could yet still be, written about the human and cultural devastation left behind following wars. Far fewer are available that take up the subject of the scars they leave upon the environment – and of these, only one, the just released “The Long Shadows; A Global Environmental History of the Second World War,” focuses exclusively on the global environmental effects of the largest war the world has yet seen.
In case you hadn’t yet heard, a total eclipse of the sun will be (weather permitting) observable along a path diagonally bisecting the continental United States this coming twenty-first day of August. As might be expected, there is more than just a little excitement about this amongst astronomers as well as general naturalists.
What is the purpose of studying an unfamiliar living creature? Is it to confirm what others have previously declared to be true about it, or is it to examine the creature in and of itself to discover what is true about it? And how does one interpret something that obviously once was alive but that resembles nothing known to presently exist – particularly if the idea of extinction does not fall within your understanding of how nature functions?
Although I am well known for avoiding self-published books, I am also experienced enough to know that for many photographers, self-publishing is often the only way they can get their work into print. Thus when a publicist contacts me with a book of photography, I am more likely to give it a hearing than other books. Such was the case with TreeGirl; Intimate Encounters with Wild Nature.
As luck would have it, the grade school I attended had just that year reduced its size from a kindergarten through sixth grade school to a kindergarten through fourth grade school as the result of a then new “middle school” being opened as part of a nineteen-seventies progressive restructuring that took in the fifth and sixth grade students from our grade school as well as two other grade schools in the area. As a result of this, my school ended up with a number of no longer needed classrooms – one of which was a biology lab.
I’ll save the story of what we discovered one day in the storage closet in that lab for another time; however for the purpose of this essay, what we discovered on the tables during a teacher-sent errand into this now-abandoned lab were microscopes – old-fashioned but perfectly serviceable microscopes, both compound and dissecting styles. None of the remaining teachers at the school had any use for them, so for the better part of that year they simply sat collecting dust in the usually locked lab.
The Well-equipped Naturalist
For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
Not so very long after I entered Lyudmila Trut and Lee Dugatkin’s recently published book “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution” into the “Newly Noted” section, whom did I discover Steve Mirsky interviewing about this very book on the Scientific American Science Talk podcast than Lee Dugatkin himself!
Even if you’re not particularly interested in astronomy, it’s very difficult not to enjoy the duo of Frasier Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay as the hosts of Astronomy Cast. As a regular listener, I’ve learned a remarkable amount about not only astronomy but a wide variety of other subjects as well.