This is a little gem of a book subtitled ‘One Woman’s Exploration of the Natural World’. It is a series of pleasantly written essays, most of which take scientific research and present it in a very readable and relaxing style. In the preface she says that she has ‘tried to put the flesh of emotion back on to the bare bones of fact.’
Her topics range from storm petrels (who knew they were named after St Peter who walked on water?) to grasshoppers and grizzlies. And speaking of grizzlies she taught me that the term ‘to bear children’ may be related to the noun ‘bear’ and that the phrase ‘to get (or take) our bearings relates to the constellations Ursa Major, the Great Bear and Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, in whose tail is the Pole Star that gave direction to ancient mariners.
The writer’s focus, however, is the tragic losss of wilderness and wilderness species in our modern world. Her own world centres in Saskatchewan but encompasses, through her research, threatened and endangered species worldwide. She is especially empassioned as she writes of the grassy prairie ecosystem and the buffalo as she presents us with a history lesson focusing on this great and almost extinct ungulate. Powerful writing.
Throughout the essays she keeps reminding us of the complexities of the different ecosystems and how little we understand of the inter-related aspects of each. In the second of her two essays on wolves she looks at the return of wolves to Yellowstone Park. This has ben opposed by local ranchers. The opposition is simple – wolves sometimes kill cattle and elk. Actual research shows the matter to be far from simple. The presence of wolves actually increases the number of smaller wildlife, including birds. They have wide ranging impact on almost all wildlife in the park, whether plant or animal. They even, it is thought, increase the number of willows along the stream banks. Not simple at all.
If you enjoy developing a deeper insight into the complexities of our North American ecosystems you will appreciate this book. Wilderness, the writer says, is not a noun, but a verb, “It is what the Earth does to create and sustain life on this planet”.
Perhaps we should be paying attention.