BOOK NOTES WILD, reviews by Michael Hofferber
Up Close: A Lifetime Observing and Photographing Desert Animals
by George Olin. 240 pp. The University of Arizona Press, 2000
This memoir of Arizona nature photographer and naturalist George
Olin describes his decades of intimate observations of small and
seldom noticed creatures like ringtail cats, desert sparrows and
Most fascinating are his detailed accounts of the bait stations
and blinds he sets up to capture images of mostly nocturnal
creatures and the long hours spent sitting on three-legged stools
in the desert night. Olin invites his readers to imagine the
"Except for the dim circle at your feet, there is no glimmer of
light to be seen in the hundred square miles of desert that
surrounds you. Sound is equally non-existent. Save for the blood
throbbing in your ears and the faint baying of the pack of
renegade dogs coursing a deer on far-off Child's Mountain, it is
quiet as the tomb. In a little while, even their horrid clamor
fades away, and you are alone in a world that has no bounds of
height, or width, or depth -- only a tiny circle of light and a
little wood rat."
Personal and natural histories meld smoothly in this story of
Olin and his wife, Irene, from a fire lookout post in the
Huachuca Mountains in 1951 to a recent five-year stay in the town
of Ajo in far southwestern Arizona. The everyday lives of both
the photographer and his favorite subjects are equally exposed.
Nature's Artistry: There's More to See by Michael Thomas
Impellizzeri. 184pp. IM Publishing, 2000
Most nature pictorials focus on a geographic area or a specific
theme, such a trees or waves. The words and pictures in this
collection were inspired by the natural world in various guises,
from seashores and forests to city gutters and suburban
Nature photographer and author Michael Thomas Impellizzeri aims
his lenses, and his pen, at the "found art" that emerges when one
stops to take a close look at driftwood, shells, clouds,
landscapes and more.
"Nature presents itself in artistic ways through texture, forms,
shapes, patterns and lines. In nature's studio, the palette is
diverse and constantly renewing itself," Impellizzeri explains.
"The images shared here are often overlooked subjects sculpted by
nature from the effects of wind, water, erosion and decay
illustrating the natural beauty in the mundane. This raw beauty
both intrigues and inspires a natural world unseen or untouched
by all but time. This is the natural world at its finest: it is
the birthplace of awe."
The High Lonesome: Epic Solo Climbing Stories edited by John
Long. 175pp. Falcon Publishing, 1999.
The same compulsion that drove mountain men into the Rockies and
French-Canadian voyageurs across North America in little canoes,
pushes contemporary adventurers up sheer faces of slick rock with
no rope and no partner. Solo climbers confront nature's extremes
in a life-or-death dance that questions their sanity.
In the first of the 22 stories in this collection, Frenchman Ivan
Ghirardini reflects on his solo winter ascent up a 5,000-foot
sheet of ice in the French Alps called 'The Shroud' from his
"If I undertook The Shroud, it was precisely for that reason: to
submit myself and my life to God's purpose. No longer could I
tolerate my own mediocrity, no longer tolerate the unmistakable
signs of my own degeneracy, physical and mental. And it was, of
course, a wholly egotistic act."
While the climber-authors offer unique and often painstaking
descriptions of such forbidding places as the upper slopes of
Mount McKinley, the north face of Colorado's Mount Alberta or the
awesome Kanchenjunga peak in the Himalayas, their ultimate goal
-- and subject of their writing -- is a summit of self.
The Animals Came Dancing: Native American Sacred Ecology and
Animal Kinship by Howard L. Harrod. 220pp. University of Arizona
Modern day American lifestyles are far, far removed from the
those of the continent's indigenous peoples of a century or more
ago. Recovering a ritual relationship with nature through Native
American examples is the underlying mission of this ambitious
study of religion and nature.
Penned by ethicist Howard Harrod of Vanderbilt University, the
text explores the significance of animals in the traditional
spiritual life of Northern Plains tribes such as the Blackfeet,
Crow, Cheyenne and Lakota and compares it to the relationships
between humans and animals in the present day.
"Native American hunting traditions on the Northern Plains gave
rise to a very different food culture, one that ritually
connected humans with the deeper sources of their lives," Harrod
explains. "Contemporary ritualized conduct in a food culture
based upon images manipulated by advertising and controlled by
corporate interests has mythic dimensions, to be sure. But these
rituals are finally not completely nourishing at the symbolic
level even though certain nutritional needs may be satisfied."
River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida's St. Johns River by Bill
Belleville. 224 pp. Uinversity of Georgia Press, 2000.
The St. Johns River flows backwards, when compared to most other
North American streams; its course runs 275 miles from south to
north through east central Florida before emptying into the
Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville.
"From its headwaters to its confluence with the ocean, the river
in this valley falls only 27 feet -- barely an inch a mile,"
notes environmental journalist Bill Belleville. "But in Florida,
where an average of five feet of precipitation falls on this
region yearly, an inch means something: here, the slightest
depression in the terrain becomes a slough. Natural furrows are
transformed into creeks. Broad, pancake-flat savannas brim with
rain, birthing entire headwaters.
"Because all this is done under the cover of maginificent
subtlety -- inside a fretwork of wetland plants, spread over a
massive basin, miles from dry land -- this process can seem
tedious, even cryptic. But for those used to having the world
neatly delivered to them in this turbo-charged age of immediate
gratification, figuring out a river as complex as the St. Johns
is a monumental task."
Australia: True Stories of Life Down Under edited by Larry
Habegger. 375pp. Traveler's Tales, 1999.
Some fine nature writing is included in this collection of
adventures and accounts from Australia. From Robyn Davidson's
books "Tracks" are descriptions of the reality-altering affects
of the vast desert, and in Stephen Harrigan's magazine feature,
"The Coral Galaxy," are reflections on the immensity of the Great
Other notable writers featured in this fascinating tour of Oz
include the late Bruce Chatwin, travel writer Paul Theroux,
essayist Pico Iyer, historian Jill Ker Conway and outdoor
adventure journalist Tim Cahill.
Each story is personal and specific to an Australian locale,
whether it be the Outback or Red Centre or tiny Hinchinbrook
Island where Diane Christiansen and her husband went to get away
from the tourists:
"One morning, chilled after a two-mile swim, we stood in knee
deep water on a twenty-five- to thirty-foot-tall coral bommie,
letting the warm sun toast our backs. The water was green and
deep around our small platform of coral. Suddenly, a seven-foot
reef shark shot out at us from below, pulling up short when it
was close enough for us to see its tiny eyes. I stopped breathing
-- adrenaline surged. It suddenly occurred to me that my bright
new phosphorescent Nikes looked very much like tha parrot fish in
these waters. Parrot fish are prey to these sharks. More
adrenaline. The shark began cricling."
Like the other volumes in the excellent Traveler's Tales series,
the intent of this collection of stories about Australia is to
provide the kind of first-hand accounts that explain what it's
like to be on this island continent deep in the southern
Horizontal Yellow: Nature and History in the Near Southwest by
Dan Flores. 312pp. University of New Mexico Press, 1999.
The author of this book's seven essays, a history professor,
proudly declares himself a native of the "Near Southwest" -- a
mostly flat and semi-arid region incorporating all or parts of
New Mexico, Texs, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and
"While landscapes that are vertical or green may make up some of
its most dramatic spots, the Near Southwest's characteristic
topography is one of the grandest, most windswept landscapes of
plains, tablelands, and deserts on the planet," Dan Flores
explains. "Stand upon it now in a place where the primeval
vegetation remains, spread your arms for balance, slowly rotate,
and the simple power of the old Navajo name for the western
horizon will lift the hairs on the back of your neck. Horizontal
Descendant of a family that homesteaded in Louisiana over 300
years ago, Dan Flores describes his search for "the wild" in his
native land with accounts of wolves, wild horses, deserts and
rivers. He discovers vestiges of an ecologically rich world that
once covered most of the Near Southwest, but it is not enough.
Decrying the mostly "skinned and impoverished" environment around
him, the author breaks for Montana when he gets the chance.
The Big Drop: Classic Big Wave Surfing Stories edited by John
Long. 249 pp. Falcon, 1999.
There's nothing inherently noble about risking your neck riding a
three-story monster wave, but accounts of surfers challenging
some of nature's most phenomenal waters can make exicting
"I don't know where that third wave came from or who made it or
what," says surfer Cody Graham in an essay by Ben Marcus. "I
couldn't comprehend how big it was. It was like a mountain,
breaking top to bottom. Todd and I were paddling like crazy for
the channel, but I knew we were in a serious position. I just
bailed and started diving deep. I saw Todd stand up on his board
and dive under."
That was Todd's last wave. Fellow surfers found him face-down in
the Hawaiian surf moments later and tried unsuccessfully to
resuscitate him. Graham walked away from the same wave and quit
Life-threatening adventure sports, like big wave surfing, lift
their participants out of the realm of ordinary experience and
into an endorphin-influenced state of exhiliration. As such,
their relationship with the natural world and their fellow
surfers is colored by their hormones. Those who have ridden waves
and found a connection with the sea will find these stories about
classic rides and horrendous wipeouts awesome. Those who haven't
will undoubtedly stumble over the slang and head for shore when
the big waves start crashing. Experienced surfers only.
Nuk Tessli: The Life of a Wilderness Dweller by Chris Czajkowski.
224 pp. Orca Book Publishers, 1999
Most of us need to be reminded that there are still wild places
rarely visited by mankind, or that there are people like Chris
Czajkowski who live out their lives -- "doing just fine,
thankyou!" -- without electricity or shopping malls or the latest
Czajkowski writes about life in a self-built cabin beside an
unnamed lake 20 miles from the nearest road and a three-day hike
to the closest town. "Nuk Tessli," which means "west wind" in a
native tongue, is a series of 22 essays about her lifestyle,
bears, bush pilots, wildflowers, bears, weather, more bears and
the nature of the wilderness.
"Nature is fascinating, beautiful, and uplifting to the soul. It
is exciting, exquisite and miraculous. But it is also dirty,
uncomfortable, itchy and cold, full of disinterested murder and
terror, unnecessary cruelty, miesery and waste. To accept the
wilderness you have to understand that both sides are valid... To
deny one side of nature is to abrogate the other, and to
understand the essence of these natural laws provides insight
into our own behaviour as a species. We are part of nature and
nature is part of us. To ignore that is to ignore reality, and I
am afraid that is what most people do."
Seventy-one trailheads with more than 200 hikes and backpacks are
included in "Alpine Trailblazer" (Wilderness Press, 2000) by
Jerry and Janine Sprout, which covers the Sierra Nevada centered
around Markleeville and Hope Valley in northeastern California.
In "Backpacking Oregon" (Wilderness Press, 2000), Lorain
celebrates the geographic diversity of Oregon with 27 handpicked
trips illustrated with photos and trail maps: "Here you can hike
wild beaches, enjoy colorful desert canyonlands, walk amid
stunning granite peaks, relax in wildflower meadows, circle
glacier-clad mountains, and explore trails through the deepest
river canyon on the continent -- all in one state!"
Birding spots, wildflower preserves, scenic overlooks, geological
sites, family recreation areas, forests, rivers, and winding
trails are included in "Great Natural Areas in Western
Pennsylvania" (Stackpole Books, 2000) by Stephen J. Ostrander.
The Mojave and Great Basin deserts of California offer
staggeringly beautiful vistas and vast expanses of natural
wonders that get few human visitors like Len Wilcox, who penned
"Desert Dancing: Exploring the Land, the People, the Legens of
the California Deserts" (Hunter, 2000) combining practical travel
advice with haunting tales of old-time desert dwellers.
"Where There Are Mountains: An Environmental History of the
Southern Appalchians (University of Georgia Press, 2000) by
Donald Edward Davis offers a detailed exploration of the
relationships between human inhabitants of the region and its
environment. Harold P. Danz's comprehensive study of one of
nature'smost respected predators, "Cougar!" (Swallow Press, 1999)
documents over 150 cougar attacks on humans and makes
recommendations for changes in wildlife and land use management.
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