Thursday, December 16, 2010


“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

In January 2011 PVNWG celebrates the beginning of our third year (!) by paying tribute to Aldo Leopold and his work A Sand County Almanac. Leopold is a fitting author to follow on the heels of Pancake who plumbs the depths of wrongs perpetuated by the mining industry. He richly deserves his place next to Rachel Carson and Thoreau in the pantheon of environmental writer/heroes.

The summary below* is lifted from The Aldo Leopold Foundation website. This site has a wealth of information about Leopold and the influence he has had on conservation and our awareness of the biotic community--which only continues to grow. The Foundation is putting Leopold's ideas to work. It has developed some exciting projects to bring people together for the benefit of the environment. Please click on the link to check it out. And don't miss the moving preview of the film Green Fire: The Life and Legacy of Aldo Leopold.

*Admired by an ever-growing number of readers and imitated by hundreds of writers, A Sand County Almanac written by Aldo Leopold serves as one of the cornerstones for modern conservation science, policy, and ethics. First published by Oxford University Press in 1949 – one year after Leopold’s death – it has become a classic in the field equaled in its lasting stature only by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

While Aldo Leopold was writing in the 1940’s he could not have imagined the far-reaching impact his book would have. Over two million copies have been printed and it has been translated into nine languages.

Long respected in his own fields of forestry and wildlife management, Aldo Leopold was a prolific writer for scientific journals and conservation magazines. However, in 1937, sometime after his fifty-third birthday, Leopold became increasingly focused on reaching the general public with his conservation message. Working over a twelve-year period, Leopold wrote, re-wrote, and re-wrote again, essays that both informed people of how the natural world worked, and inspired people to take action to ensure the future health of the land and water that sustains all life.

Not only was this influential book late to develop in Leopold’s mind, it was very nearly never completed. A week after Oxford University Press agreed to publish his manuscript, titled “Great Possessions,” Aldo Leopold suffered a heart attack and died while fighting an escaped grass fire on a neighbor’s property.

Led by Luna Leopold, Aldo’s son, a group of Leopold’s family and colleagues collaborated on the final editing of the book, reluctantly agreeing to one significant change; renaming the book from Leopold’s working title “Great Possessions” to A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There.

Through science, history, humor, and prose, Leopold utilizes A Sand County Almanac and its call for a Land Ethic to communicate the true connection between people and the natural world, with the hope that the readers will begin to treat the land with the love and respect it deserves.

Date and venue for PVNWG January 2011 meeting to be announced. (NOTE: MEETING SCHEDULED FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 9 at 2:00 PM. ) New members interested in attending please email for details.

Pancake Work Sparks Concern: December 2010 Meeting Report

Our December 5 meeting was facilitated by member Joy Pardue. Here is her summary of the group's thoughts on Ann Pancake's Strange As This Weather Has Been.

The afternoon was cool with blustery winds. A cozy fire in a room full of books provided a great setting for our discussion.

Diane had printed out some of her thoughts which gave us a good starting place. She commented that before she began reading the book, she flipped through looking for chapter titles and was perplexed to find only "short single-word titles that were no help at all." After reading a few chapters, she realized these were the names of the characters and each chapter was devoted to that particular character. She thought it was difficult to read many of the characters because of the stream-of-consciousness style...and the "Appalachianization' of the speech and thought." Others agreed that phrases and phrasing were sometimes awkward.

Generally, however, we all agreed that this style was quite effective. Cheryl was the first to comment that switching back and forth among the characters lessened the impact of their wretched experiences. Had this story been told in chronological order and/or without a change in perspective, it would have been 'too much' to absorb. Even so Pancake addressed the ever-present disasters in almost every chapter - through memories, daily life and fears about the future.

Descriptions of the natural beauty of the mountains surrounding this community were woven into the story alongside descriptions of the 'slaughter' and devastation of the land. Pancake highlighted this love of place through several characters in particular: Lace's mother, Lace, Bant (her daughter) and Mogey. Through her excellent passages describing the wondrous enchantment of the mountains and the inhabitants’ reverence for their home, the author indirectly addressed the question "why couldn't/didn't they just leave."

Throughout the book, those closely connected since birth answered this question in various ways. Mogey's (Lace's uncle) musings were eloquent and stirring. One passage, based on an experience he'd had at age 10, seems worthy of re-reading:

"Somehow a rock fall had come and made like this room...I stepped into that
little room...something layered down over my self...the feel of a warm bath with
current in it, a mild electric...once it had currented all the way through me
and reached my very ends, it kept on going. It blended me right on out into the
woods...took me beyond myself...I saw then how before I'd been hidden, how I'd
believed myself smaller than I really was. It made me feel bigger in
myself...and it made me feel more here.... And with it came total sureness. And
with the total sureness came peace."
Understandably, several members agreed this chapter was the best of the book.

In another reference as to why so few bring themselves to leave, Bant condensed the dilemma of her parents nicely. "

Bottom line never changed. Lace wanted to stay even though she was convinced
we'd be washed out. Jimmy Make wanted to leave though he didn't think it would
ever get as bad as Lace thought."

Having grown up in a coal-mining community, Jennifer clarified some of the terms pertaining to the mines and filled in details about the mining process. She also commented on the social structure and mores in her community in particular. Even now, not many youngsters are able to find new pathways into life.

By the time we concluded the meeting, everyone expressed an interest in making a field trip to a mountain-top-removal site and agreed to try to make this happen. Jennifer pointed out we'd never get into an area being actively mined; instead we'd likely see a 'restored' mountain. Not a one of us believe we'll see something better - or even as good as – nature’s creation.

Much has been written revealing the exploitation of the land and the people living where coal is to be found - most of it heart-rending. Tragically, events such as these have been occurring in Appalachia for more than a century and are on-going here in WV and in many other coal communities on the planet. We wondered 'how might we help?' and the consensus is that helping individuals or families would be the most effective approach. Clearly, this book touched our hearts and gave us much to think about.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Due to the holidays and other scheduling conflicts, PVNWG will meet December 5 at 2:00 PM at a member's home. The November selection, Strange As This Weather Has Been by Ann Pancake is the topic for discussion. New members who wish to attend the meeting should email pvnaturewriters@gmail for details.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Our group has selected a fiction work for November's read: award-winning West Virginia author Ann Pancake's Strange As This Weather Has Been.

The book dramatizes the impact of rapacious mining on the members of an Appalachian family, their land and their culture's place-based traditions. For information about the author and links to reviews, see Pancake's blog here. Read Pancake's short story "The End of the World in Slow Motion" online here
Read historical background for the book here
Date and place for November meeting TBA. (Now scheduled for December 5, see above post.)

Thoreau at the 'Pond"

Our October meeting on the afternoon of the 24th took place lakeside at Greenbrier State Park in Maryland, a fitting scene in which to share our thoughts on Thoreau and the fruits of his sojourn by Walden Pond. Glimmering curtains of autumn color, pure blue sky above, all mirrored by the calm eye of the water's expanse must have intoxicated us and loosened our tongues. Thoreau received quite an unrestrained critique. Perhaps we were also emboldened by the many years distancing us from this author and somehow perversely moved to demythologize his global reputation. "Holier than thou" and "hypocritical" were some of the words bandied about.

It is said that Thoreau wrote of self-reliance while trucking his laundry to his mother's home. He himself admits to borrowing an ax to chop trees for his cabin. Before conceiving his Walden project, Thoreau and a friend built a fire in a stump one day. The fire spread and numerous acres of the town's woodlots were burned. However, Thoreau scholars remind us that laundry in his time included few items, and laundry of a paupered would-be writer fewer still. Thoreau himself assures us he returned the ax to its owner sharper than when he borrowed it. And Thoreau forever rued his role in the destruction of the woods. Perhaps that incident even contributed to his subsequent living experiment.

On of the assumptions about Thoreau is that Walden is a tale of how he separated himself from society. On the contrary, the book frequently refers to his many visitors. It includes a whole chapter on the history of Concord and the surrounding countryside, gleaned from interviews with local folk. Thoreau studied human behavior, his own and that of others, just as much as the natural environment. He makes admiring as well as critical observations of people and their interactions with nature. He sees fishermen to be as fitting a subject for naturalist study as the the fish. He does have some cutting remarks on the fashions and ambitions of the day that can feel like a sharp poke in the ribs. There are many parallels between his time and ours, between us and him.

Our group remarked on the painstaking detail, with which he described natural phenomena. His description of the process of the Pond's water freezing at winter's onset runs on for pages. His command of the English language to paint pictures and voice subtle ideas made an impression on us--in these days of media-based education and electronics-obsessed youth. What message in his medium? We went off on a tangent bemoaning texting and twitterings. Without a cell phone or digital camera to distract, Thoreau used the artistry of words to explore within, to express and connect. If he lived today, what would Thoreau do? Reading him, we wonder, how should we live?

In Walden, homely explorations of bean-growing, plastering, fireplace-building and cooking are set against lofty philosophizing. As Thoreau lived on Walden Pond, nature and essential human doings are seamlessly interwoven. He brings the same attention and respect to chopping wood and carrying water, as he does to pondering the stars. As a seeker Thoreau is as human as any of us, he had foibles aplenty. But his short life and writings continue to inspire us. In the end, our group agreed that we need the mild wildness of Thoreau to wake us up from our routines. Walden bears reading not just every generation, but every decade. In each season of our lives, a dip in the waters of Walden will refresh.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Author for October: Henry David Thoreau

I have a room all to myself: it is nature. Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau is our author for October 2010. The collection of essays entitled Walden is the primary selection but members can read any of his writings that have to do with nature. Reading excerpts is a good way to get a taste of his ideas, personality, and philosophy in easily digested bits. Opening Walden to any page and reading one paragraph each day can work too. The book does not have to be read in order. Good chapters to start with are "The Pond in Winter" and "Spring."

For the ultimate in-depth experience, see if you can get your hands on the acclaimed annotated version of Walden, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer, who is curator of collections at the Henley Library of the Thoreau Institute. (Click on book cover at left to link for more information.)

Encouraged by mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau became a dedicated journal -keeper. Works he intended for publication were inspired by and fashioned from his in-the-moment journal entries. Portions of Thoreau's voluminous journals (7000 pages)have been published in recent years and these are a illuminating window into his way of experiencing the world and capturing his thoughts. (Look for A Year in Thoreau's Journal:1851 or I to Myself, annotated journal excerpts edited by the same Mr. Cramer mentioned above.)

Thoreau's perception of the relationships within nature is often called the foundation of ecology. He is considered one of the most powerful voices for environmental preservation. He was also one of the first naturalists in North America to apply the principles in the controversial Origin of the Species by his contemporary Charles Darwin.

Many devotees of today's simplicity movement pay homage to Thoreau. He was prescient--he saw where unrestrained "progress," technology and materialism would lead and what devastating toll these trends had already taken on the natural world in his lifetime.

Perhaps Thoreau's work will inspire you to look at nature in a different way, or even do more nature journaling. Please jot down your thoughts and responses to share at our next meeting in late October. Members will be notifed of the time and place by email. Prospective new members should email for details.

Read Thoreau's writings online (Including Walden)

The Walden Woods and Thoreau Institute:

Thoreau nature quotes:

Scientists use Thoreau's journals to study climate change:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Summer is winding down but Potomac Valley Nature Writing Group is gearing up for an exciting Fall and Winter of great reads. We are a community of kindred spirits--nature lovers who appreciate good writing about our favorite subject in all its variety.

September's meeting is confirmed for Sunday, the 19th, 3:00 PM at a member's home. We will be honoring Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver and Letters From Eden: A Year at Home, In the Woods by Julie Zickefoose. (Please check out the comment Julie herself made on the previous post below!)

If you are new to PVNWG and would like to attend, please email for directions to the meeting. We would love to have you join us!

Monday, July 26, 2010

AUTHORS FOR SUMMER: Barbara Kingsolver and Julie Zickefoose

PVNWG is reading Barbara Kingsolver's collection of essays Small Wonder and Julie Zickefoose's Letters from Eden over the summer months. We reunite in September to savor, debate, compare and contrast our responses to these two highly likeable and down-to-earth nature writers.

Kingsolver (at left) was born in Annapolis MD, moving with her family at age two to Kentucky where she grew up. She has lived in various places in the US and in Europe as an adult. After two decades living in Tucson, AZ, she, her husband and two daughters moved to a farm in southeastern Virginia in 2004, where they still reside.

Her writing has received numerous awards. In 2000, Kingsolver received the National Humanities Medal for service through the arts. In 1998, Kingsolver herself established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction. For more information about the author, go to her authorized website here.

Kingsolver began writing the essays that appear in Small Wonder on September 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Center attack. She writes in the foreword that working on the book was a way to "take heart," survive and be useful to others after that tragic day. She shares her usual keen perceptions while finding wonder and hope in the intimate details of living life on earth. For more about Small Wonder, click here.

Julie Zickefoose is known to many folks as the commentator who brings an Appalachian perspective to All Things Considered on National Public Radio. She is also a widely published natural history writer and highly accomplished illustrator. She studied biology and art at Harvard, later working for a number of years as a field biologist for the Nature Conservancy. She and husband Bill Thompson, III, who is editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, live on an 80 acre wildlife sanctuary in southeast Ohio. See her visually stunning website here.

The essays in Letters From Eden: A Year At Home, In the Woods are just that--deeply felt experiences in nature, accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, that move us through the year alongside the author as she walks and watches in her own personal natural paradise. To read an excerpt from Letters click here. Zickafoose also writes an even more personal, and often humorous, nature-oriented blog (click here) that includes photos of herself, kids and pets.

We should have a lively meeting in September with these two vibrant and thought-provoking authors in [virtual] attendance! Date for September meeting to be confirmed soon for either the 11th or the 18th. Watch this spot or email for details.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Member Review of Naturalist by E.O. Wilson

Please click on the Reflections photo at left to see an insightful and moving review of our May book selection, by member Joy Pardue.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Season Finale a Success

On Saturday May 29, there was a good turnout of PVNWG members, 5 oldies and one newby. Our morning outing was a walk of discovery at a Wildlife Management area nearby--our new attendee is an expert on butterflies and enlightened us about sightings of Silvery Checkerspots, Tiger Swallowtails, Spring Azures and other beauties. She and our resident dragonfly expert demonstrated their netting technique (its all in the wrist) developed through long hours of practice. We thrilled to find various botanical wonders like Rattlesnake Fern, Rattlesnake Weed and Chocolate Tube Slime, (sorry no Rattlesnakes sighted) while Gray Tree Frogs serenaded us. Later, over an artfully presented luncheon, we traded musings in response to E. O. Wilson's autobiography and also touched briefly on impressions of Barbara Kingsolver's collection of essays, Small Wonder. From a list of nature writing classics and recent prize winners we chose upcoming selections so summer reading can commence in advance!

When we reconvene in September, we will compare/contrast Kingsolver's work to Letters from Eden by Julie Zickafoose. In October we tackle Henry David Thoreau's classic Walden. In November we honor our first fiction selection, WV author Ann Pancake's Strange As This Weather Has Been, about a family surviving the tragedy of mountain top removal mining. We round off 2010 in December with Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. So those of you who enjoy reading in the hammock, on the beach, under a tree or on the porch, there is plenty to choose from. Enjoy the summer and see you in September!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


A member has graciously offered to host our book club's season finale at her home near Charlestown on Saturday, May 29! We will gather at 10:00 AM, head out for a leisurely nature hike nearby, then return for a potluck lunch al fresco on the treetop deck. We will discuss the E. O. Wilson autobiography. In addition to Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder, we will line up selections that members have previously recommended, so folks can get a jump start on reading this summer! The book discussions will be on summer hiatus for June, July and August and resume in September. Its a SUMMER WORLD and time to get out there!

Friday, April 23, 2010


Due to scheduling conflicts that affect several members, the April 25 meeting to discuss E. O. Wilson's autobiography Naturalist is cancelled and will be rescheduled.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


For our April meeting, members are reading Naturalist, the autobiography of Edward O Wilson. The brillant author and winner of two Pulitzer prizes, pioneer in sociobiology, distinguished entomologist and teacher, and champion of biodiversity--he is known affectionately to our group as "E O." We worship from afar, but this month we will get a little more up close and personal by reading his fascinating life story.

Check out the links below!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Seven of us gather on a misty afternoon to explore our responses to Mary Oliver's work. Some read Owls and Other Fantasies, some The Truro Bear, some Evidence. So many wonderful comments and ideas tumbled over one another, like pebbles in a rushing stream.

We debated whether Oliver's sensibility as a poet, as an artist in love with the sensuality of nature, is as valid a "way of knowing" as the empiricism of Bernd Heinrich. Oliver's approach resonates much more with some of us in our group than others. But no one denies having had at least one of those transcendent experiences in nature that Oliver evokes so well.

We identify that of the writers we have read, those who seem to write most powerfully somehow combine the scientist's passion for facts with the perceptions of their emotional and spiritual selves: the artist and the scientist dancing within one person, the artist-naturalist. We consider male writers we have read who are in touch with their "feminine side" as one member puts it. Oliver is most closely compared to Terry Tempest Williams, Rachel Carson and Robin Wall Kimmerer, all writers who embrace a holistic experience of nature, using their whole selves, the intellect, the body, the soul, and the imagination. It makes sense, considering that we humans are products of nature. Just where does the line between nature and non-nature lie?

The question arose, what are emotions for? Why do we have them? Is it nature or nurture? When we see wild geese winging their way in an undulating V, we respond with a catch in the throat. Is this because we associate it with some pleasant individual childhood memory, or because we--as a species, as mammals-- have co-evolved with nature, with migrating birds who foretell winter or joyous spring, for millennia? Is the study of our response to nature just as important as the study of non-human nature, perhaps these days even more important considering human driven climate change and escalating extinctions?

Mary Oliver invites us to deepen our experience of the natural world and embrace our "place in the family of things."

Monday, March 1, 2010


The Potomac Valley Audubon Society will hold its annual spring Wildflower Festival on Saturday, April 17 at the Yankauer Nature Preserve, from 11:00 to 4:00 PM rain or shine. The festival coincides with the peak blooming of spring wildflowers. Guides will lead walks through the preserve for advanced and beginner wildflower identification. Walks suitable for families are included. Children’s activities are planned and refreshments will be provided.
For the third year in a row, the festival includes a special Poetry Walk component—original poems on spring themes penned by local poets will be posted all along the preserve’s Kingfisher trail where the majority of wildflowers are found. Those who wish to submit poems for posting are encouraged to do so! Submissions should be sent by email to Or, send them by regular mail to “PoetryWalk, c/o PVAS, PO Box 578, Shepherdstown, WV 25443. The deadline for submissions is April 10.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


PVNWG members will read works by poet Mary Oliver in preparation for our discussion on MARCH 28 (rescheduled date due to February snowstorm.) Members may read any of Oliver's poetry but the collections Owls and Other Fantasies and New and Selected Poems, Volumes I and II are especially recommended.

Mary Oliver is renown for her "passionate attention to the natural world." Perhaps her most well known poem is "Wild Geese" (See links to poetry below.) Her relationship to nature is similar to that of Thoreau and Emerson. As a teenager she lived briefly in the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where she helped Millay's family sort through the papers the poet left behind. Millay is seen as an important influence in her work. The style of her work has also been compared to Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. Read more Oliver biography at the Academy of American Poets website here.

Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for American Primitive in 1984 and the National Book Award in 1992 for New and Selected Poems, among many other honors. Here are some comments that underscore her reputation as one of America's finest nature poets.

Oliver locates wisdom in the wilderness she seeks in solitude, where discoveries about the self and nature's otherness can be made...Expressed in simple language and familiar imagery, evoking dark and joyous states, this vision of nature is often conveyed in an ecstatic voice that compels. Annette Allen, Encylopedia of American Literature. Steven R. Serafin, General Editor. Copyright © 1999 by the Continuum Publishing Company.

Poet Mary Oliver is an "indefatigable guide to the natural world," wrote Maxine Kumin in Women's Review of Books, "particularly to its lesser-known aspects." Oliver's verse focuses on the quiet of occurrences of nature: industrious hummingbirds, egrets, motionless ponds, "lean owls / hunkering with their lamp-eyes." Kumin noted of the poet: "She stands quite comfortably on the margins of things, on the line between earth and sky, the thin membrane that separates human from what we loosely call animal." Poetry Foundation website

A strong sense of place, and of identity in relation to it, is central to her poetry. Her poems are firmly located in the places where she has lived or travelled, particularly her native Ohio and New England; her moments of transcendence arise organically from the realities of swamp, pond, woods and shore. Robin Riley Fast, "The Native American Presence in Mary Oliver’s Poetry," Kentucky Review 12:1/2 (autumn 1993), 59; 65-66.

Her poems are filled with imagery from her daily walks near her home in Provincetown, Massachusetts: shore birds, water snakes, the phases of the moon and humpback whales. Maxine Kumin calls Oliver "a patroller of wetlands in the same way that Thoreau was an inspector of snowstorms..." As her creativity is stirred by nature, Oliver is an avid walker, pursuing inspiration on foot. For Oliver, walking is part of the poetic process. Oliver is also known for her unadorned language and accessible themes. Wikipedia entry

Online poems here and here

Photo of Mary Oliver and Diane Ackerman here.


In honor of Heinrich's book Winter World, PVNWG members plan to attend the Winter Wildlife Tracking field trip at Cacapon State Park on February 20. Free and open to the public, it is a family-friendly event led by Park naturalist Kelly Smith. Participants meet at the entrance to the Park Lodge at 10:00 a.m. Pre-registration is recommended but not required. (To pre-register or for more information contact Kelly Heldreth at or 304-229-6229. If the weather is inclement, call 304-676-3397 to make sure the trip is still on.)
After the field trip, PVNWG members will meet at the Cacapon Lodge restaurant to discuss Heinrich's book over lunch. Please RSVP to if you plan to attend, so you can be notified in the event of another last minute cancellation. New members are welcome!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Today's PVNWG meeting is cancelled due to the Blizzard of 2010 and the poor road conditions that remain from yesterday's storm.

Notice will be posted here if the February meeting is rescheduled, but thoughts are that we may skip February entirely and discuss Heinrich's book WINTER WORLD along with our February author Mary Oliver at the meeting on March 7.

If you have any questions, please email

Monday, January 4, 2010


At our February 7, 2010 meeting (CANCELLED DUE TO BLIZZARD OF 2010) we will discuss Bernd Heinrich's Winter World. Biologist Heinrich is the author of numerous award-winning books, including the bestselling Winter World, Mind of the Raven, and Why We Run, (he has also had a career as a top long distance runner) and has received countless honors for his scientific work. His most recent published book is Summer World. He studied at the University of Maine and UCLA, and is professor emeritus of biology at the University of Vermont. He divides his time between Vermont and the forests of western Maine.

Click here to read New York Times article SCIENTIST AT WORK: BERND HEINRICH; Signs of Survival In a Frozen Forest by James Gorman, from January 7, 2003. Click photo of book cover at right to see inside WINTER WORLD.

PVNWG Celebrates One Year of Meetings!

On a sharply chilly January 3, 2010 we marked twelve months of Reader's Club meetings and warmed to a brand new year of great reads and fresh insights.

The six members present (including one new--welcome!) gave Diane Ackerman's The Moon by Whale Light a thorough going over. This book is actually more like 4 books in one--it combines four lengthy essays on different groups of animals: bats, crocodilians, whales, and penguins.

We all praised Ms. Ackerman's skills in acute observation, bell-like clarity of expression, the breath-taking figurative language for which she is so well known, and her sense of humor. We also noted that her focus in this particular book included not only incredible detail regarding the natural history of the creatures being studied by the researchers whom she interviews and accompanies, but also on the very human natures of the researchers themselves. Some liked this facet of the book, others felt it was a distraction.

Although the essays were not originally written to be published together, we did detect a theme of human misconceptions about animals and the ensuing harm humans have caused to them. For example, bats being feared as evil, rabies-carrying, bloodsucking creatures of the night, attacking humans and getting tangled in hair--when actually they are highly important contributors to our planetary ecosystem, one of the least likely of critters to convey rabies to humans, are major pollinators, consumers of harmful insects, attentive parents, and all around remarkable and fascinating mammals. Sorely misunderstood in previous years, bat populations have been decimated severely by human actions, intentionally, and more passively, by loss of habitat. Bats colonies are also dying out due to a disease. To promote bat conservation, including installing bat houses go to

A related theme was how much we owe to dedicated researchers such as the ones profiled in the book--but also the vast amount there is to yet to learn. A whale researcher in the book remarks that "once people learn about [an animal] their indifference, which is always based on ignorance, will be replaced with fascination, which is based on knowledge." Questions about the very concept of intelligence and its expression in animals and in humans is woven through the warp of Ackerman's descriptions. The whale researcher again: "What we call intelligence may only be a kind of vandalism, just mischief on a grand scale. It might not be the only form mind can take, and it might have little to do with real wisdom. " Something to mull over next time you are sitting in commuter traffic.

Read this book and you will be astonished at what you learn about bats, crocs, whales and penguins. It has inspired us to learn more about these creatures, especially about our native species of bats. This is also a great read for those interested in exploring the historical relationship between humans and animals, and perhaps, for nurturing hope for the future.