Aug 2, 2016

This Good Earth

edited by Les Line

I didn't realize it until I actually started reading, but this large format, photo-heavy book features articles from past years of the Audubon magazine. It has a brief outline of the publication's origins and history, especially highlighting the efforts made to save birds from millinery interests in the 1800's. Least you think Audubon is only about bird conservation, the essays cover a wide range of subjects celebrating natural wonders and wildlife (mostly in North America). Including: the formation of fossils, lava flows on Hawaii, how wind shapes coral sand dunes in southern Utah, tortoises on Isabela Island, views from a fire lookout peak in Idaho, the persistence of ice, the beauty of life that thrives in cold-water oceans, patterns weathered in rock by wind and water at Point Lobos, and a broad picture of Alaska.

You know me- my favorite chapters were those featuring wildlife. The longest one is about osprey, and had a lot to do with their decline- this book was published just after DDT was banned and it speculates on the role of pesticides in weakening raptors' eggshells, but had no solid conclusions. It mentions numerous other things that contributed to falling numbers of osprey and other birds of prey (I always though ospery were solitary birds; learned here that they sometimes nest in colonies of several dozen adult pairs.) I enjoyed the essays on tallgrass prairie, chaparral forests and a marsh locked in winter's chill- very well-written and descriptive of environments I'm not too familiar with. There is an interesting chapter by Hal Borland on the names of wildflowers and herbs- just as much about wordplay and nomenclature as it is about nature. The article on bighorn sheep was too short- I wanted more! Another on lichens was really intriguing. Some of the articles however, did not hold my interest.

Funny thing is, I wasn't paying much attention to who the authors were until browsing the credits at the end of the book I noticed Peter Matthiessen among them. This is an author I've always felt like I should like but the few times I've tried reading his books I couldn't get through them. And one of the few articles in this volume that I skipped over was also by him- it describes an arduous hike down a volcanic slope in Hawaii. I guess his writing is just not for me.

The photographs are nice but not spectacular, mostly because they show their age.

Rating: 3/5         256 pages, 1974

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