On any given night, the light box on Blackburn’s London roof attracts members of some 50 species of moths, and even more when on his Devon house. These treasures include clouded-bordered brindles, springtails, puss moths, pale mottled willows, lime hawk moths, and many others. Blackburn, a founder of macroecology, is as intrigued by the “tiny poems” of these creatures’ names as he is by questions of why these particular species (out of England’s pool of roughly 900) in these particular numbers turn up where and when they do. To find out, he uses tools ranging from behavior and genetics to niches and competition to community ecology, a region’s carrying capacity, rates of emigration and immigration, climate change, and much else. His meticulous investigations are as technical as they are lucid and enthusiastic and yield many surprises—such as that the population fluctuations of the notorious gypsy moth may boil down to—acorns. His book takes you on a field trip you'll never forget.
In alternating dual narratives, Hamer’s deeply moving third book both fills out the back story of the teenager who walked away from home without plan or destination (eventually learning How to Catch a Mole) and follows the successful gardener of Seed to Dust into retirement. These two identities—as distinct as they are similar—mesh in Hamer’s richly observant and lyrical prose, which probes the fear and loneliness of his childhood with an angry father he called the Black Dog, and greets each new day in the Zen spirit of joy and celebration. Still “playing like a serious child,” one ever susceptible to “finding truth and wonder” in our beautiful, painful world, Hamer recalls and continues the “adventures” he had as a nature-loving, encyclopedia-reading boy, happiest when left alone to explore the outdoors, all the while sharing the wisdom he gleaned by knowing “a garden…[as] a continuing conversation,” describing the dramas of foxgloves and bees, and disputing Milton by finding in each present moment a paradise of “is-ness” that “was never lost, we merely became too self-important to see it.”
From “What is a wolf?” to “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf,” from creation myths and Aesop’s many fables centered on wolves to crying wolf and “Little Red Riding Hood,” from colonial efforts to eradicate both wolves and indigenous people to debates about repopulating wolves, Berry’s prodigious study follows every cultural and historical avenue to understanding the roles we’ve given wolves throughout the ages. At the same time, she offers an eye-opening natural history; grounded in the life and death of OR-7, one of the first wolves to re-enter Oregon, this investigation uses science to expose the myth of “the lone wolf” and to show the unwarranted criminalization—even demonization—of an animal that rarely attacks humans and one that, in fact, early humans learned much from. Still, “wolf-ish” suggests something that can’t quite be pinned down, and that elusiveness is the heart of what is also a probing meditation on fear. Using her own and others’ experiences with stalkers, creeps, and worse, Berry raises important issues of predators and prey, of who has power, who has lessons to learn, and whose stories get to be believed.