Nov 12, 2013

Watchers at the Pond

by Franklin Russell

Abundance of life. That is the overwhelming message I got out of this book which describes the lives of creatures that inhabit a pond (and its shoreline) through one full season. Each chapter has a portion of the season or an aspect of the animals' live to cover, and within that focus describes snippets of the lives of myriad beings, from tiny microscopic things that swim in the water to swarming insects on land and birds in the air, only occasionally mentioning the animals that I'm used to seeing featured- the mammals and at the very apex, the predators. Overall it was a huge naming of so very very many small things that live and survive against all odds- insects galore, larvae and hydra and algae and worms and fish fry and tadpoles and so on. Turtles, squirrels, moths, wasps, mantids, beetles, elvers, hares, snakes and many many more. The briefest of mention on how they all go about their lives, whether it be mating, raising young, surviving the cold of winter, hunting or avoiding being eaten, etc. It was just such a broad scope and so little time spent on each animal that ultimately I found it a bit tiresome. But I was in awe at how well it shows the interlacing of all life, the intricate way all the little things fit together in this one arena which is the pond, and how vast the numbers are that support the very few at the top- the owl and hawk, the mink and weasel, the raccoon and fox.

It did send me quite a few times to look things up, wanting to know more about the ichneumon wasp, the life cycle of diatoms, to hear the call of a bobolink. I didn't know that a mink would prey upon herons at the water's edge. And I was continually confused that the author referred to all young birds as "chickens"- as in blue jay chickens, grouse chickens, a female nuthatch's chickens, etc. Is that just what baby birds were called in the sixties, or was it a local term ...?

What a wide vision this book gave me, of all the wild lives that are interwoven in nature in just one particular space. And I love the cover illustration. It didn't surprise me at all to look it up and discover it was one of my favorite artist duos, Leo and Diane Dillon.

Rating: 3/5    241 pages, 1961

more opinions:
Wildlife Almanac


Janet said...

I've never heard "chickens" used that way either!

I get weary too of "catalog" books without much more description, but this sounds like a neat compendium of a pond "community."

Jeane said...

Yes, I thought the term was very odd. It is such a classic in the nature writing genre that I'm holding on to it, and it did give my imagining of wildlife communities an entirely new scope.