Sep 17, 2015

Wild Animals at Home

by Ernest Thompson Seton

This book should really be titled Wild Animals of Yellowstone Park, because that's exactly what it is. One by one, Seton tells about the different mammals that live in Yellowstone. At the back he gives a list of all the known mammals in Yellowstone, and it turns out he only left a few out of his descriptions: raccoon, shrew, flying squirrel, wolverine, vole, weasel- because he did not personally encounter them. Unfortunately, his descriptions of the wildlife leave something to be desired. He wrote them at a time when not much was actually known about the animals' habits, so for many it's just a brief page telling where the animal is found, what it eats, that's about it. Now and then he has a story to share- Steon is much more in his element (or at least more fun to read) when he's telling a story. He has a lot to say about skunks because he used to keep them as pets, and a lot to say about bears because they hung out around hotels and garbage dumps in the park. He frequently mentions sneaking up close on animals to capture photographs of them, then proudly shows said photos in the pages- but they are very dated, unfocused, grainy and overall just amusingly poor in quality. His drawings and sketches weren't quite up to par what I recall from other books either- a lot of them are very humorous and cartoony in style, but I like his detailed, realistic artwork better.

Well, so the text about animals is mostly brief descriptions with some secondhand observations, popular lore of the time and now and then a personal story Seton has to tell. Two segments were very familiar to me- the bears hanging out around the dump and the silly dog teased by coyotes- both are related in far more detail in Lives of the Hunted. There is one chapter in the book however, which is the entire reason I am keeping it on my shelf. It's about badgers. And while speaking of badgers, Seton tells of a boy in a prairie town near Winnipeg who has a natural affinity with animals, gets lost in a storm, takes shelter in a badger den and is befriended by the badger, who had just lost her mate and young to a trapper. The boy lives with the badger for two weeks before he is found and brought back home. I instantly recognized this story: it's Incident at Hawk's Hill! The names are all different, Seton says it was at Bird's Hill, but I'm sure when Eckert novelized the story he changed names for privacy. All the more this makes me think the badger story really was based on truth.

Rating: 3/5         226 pages, 1913

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