The reality of five months at an Antarctic research camp is constant wind and cold, cramped and damp cabin quarters with four other people and wet socks hanging from the ceiling. It’s a shower every two weeks and no days off. But it’s also magical snowscapes, “a momentary rainbow” in sunlit sea foam, penguins with personality to spare, the privilege of holding seal pups absorbed in REM dreams, and much more. Demonstrating how “wonder is the fire behind” so much science, de Gracia found her own wonder only increasing as she tirelessly counted, weighed, measured, “pumped,” and banded chinstrap and gentoo penguins during a summer at Cape Shirreff. Her account is as beautiful as it is brutal, showing us twilight’s “dramatic, angled shadows,” elaborate penguin pebble nests (and the bowing ceremonies that accompany their construction), and the fledglings leaping into the sea--but also penguin chicks devoured by skuas, fur-seal pups snatched by leopard seals, a yearly decrease of ice and, most threatening of all, unstable krill populations. To a future field technician, de Gracia warns “you will probably be heartbroken.”
Along with many other pandemic survivors, May finds herself facing a glut of anxiety, alienation, lack of concentration, and other maladies as she struggles to regain some kind of normality. Looking back over her life, she traces the problem to the loss of the nurturing sense of wonder she felt as a child, noting that what used to have a timeless and absolute meaning available to all--“sacred places,” for instance—"are no longer given to us.” And as she details her effort to restore this lost enchantment—through means including meditation, swimming, forest bathing, and stories—her heartfelt and wholly relatable book becomes a welcome example of magical thinking in the best sense, and one filled with descriptions that are themselves literary magic, from a sea that’s “a quilt of wave crests” and the stones that “have a pure kind of weight to them, like small concentrations of gravity,” to the “delicate” stream water that “tastes of clarity.”
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.