Monday, March 9, 2009
What is the strange phenomena behind one group of ants kidnapping another? How does the unique tube shaped nest of the mud dauber promote and sustain its survival needs? What are the secret motives behind the wood frog's mating call? How does one species of butterfly not only manage not to get attacked and consumed by ants, but also gain entry to their secret lair as a guest? What is the story behind "invisible" caterpillars? In Summer World, author Bernd Heinrich answers all of these questions and probes into many other unusual animal and plant behaviors. Written as a chronicle over a period of years, the author shares his experiences of the changing landscapes of Maine and Vermont, deftly interpreting the astonishing and astounding world that most of us never get to see. Among his fascinating accounts we not only learn about the amazing animal behaviors being undertaken, but of the surrounding flora and of its own entrancing struggle for survival and reproduction. Heinrich does an amazing job of capturing the hows and whys of the forest and swamp that he studies, and with an infectious sense of wonder, fills his pages with accounts of his experimentation and exploration. The book, filled with drawings and photographs of his subjects, is a superb specimen of nature writing, and its absorbing and striking insights into the world of the plants and animals show that the change of season is something to be continually admired and appreciated.
I absolutely loved this book. While I was reading I became so excited about it that I was constantly trapping family and friends to read bits out loud to them. I would say this book is akin to a National Geographic show, full of interesting and strange tidbits of animal and plant behavior. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of this book when I first began reading because, for a time, Heinrich went into much descriptiveness about the physiology of plants and trees and quite honestly, I felt I might have gotten in over my head. I was a little worried that the book would be too dry and factual and not very entertaining, but boy was I wrong! When he began to get into the sections on frog behavior and mating habits, I was glued to the page, and as subsequent passages passed he delved further and further into the remarkable and strange behavior of birds, caterpillars, ants, and many other creatures. He even relates his joy when the first Pheobe (a small bird that makes its nests on and around human habitats) of the season is spotted one early morning. That's the thing about this book, it's evident that Heinrich loves what he does and how these plants and animals fit into our world. His joy over the bird was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how devoted he is towards the nature that surrounds him. I liked that you could feel his enthusiasm and wonder throughout the book; he was consistently surprised and amazed at the economy and cleverness of the nature that surrounded him.
I also liked the author's way of making the material easy to understand and presenting it in bite-sized sections for easier comprehension. I thought some of the most endearing parts of the book were the sections where Heinrich, in seeking to understand the systems and functions of the nature around him, conducted impromptu experiments that sometimes did not go as planned. In particular, the incident with the wasps was very funny and unexpected. I think Heinrich has a great sense of respect for the all the various creatures that he studies, and his inquisitiveness and commitment towards them is something that I admire deeply. Though the book is divided into chapters that focus on one particular animal or plant, I liked the fact that sometimes a random creature would surprise me in an otherwise animal specific chapter. Heinrich also touches a bit on the evolution of the human species, the dangers of pollution to fragile ecosystems and the unpredictability of animal extinctions. This is the type of book that slowly unfolds on you, drawing you deeper and deeper into its intricacies and wonders, until before you know it, you are turning the final pages.
I found much to enjoy in this book and thought that Heinrich used his unique writing and research skills to bring all the wonder of the outdoors to his readers in a functional and convivial way.There were constant surprises to pick out of this book, and it has a style that can be enjoyed over and over through consecutive readings. Heinrich also wrote another book that is a companion to this book. It is called Winter World, and I can't wait to get my hands on it! If you are a nature lover, this book is definitely for you. I would also recommend it to anyone who is looking for a light yet engrossing read. An Awesome book.