Monday, June 01, 2009

The fat season

I see Bernd Heinrich has a new book out, Summer World: A Season of Bounty. Just in time for summer.

Heinrich is Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Vermont. He also has a home in the Maine woods. He is a prolific writer, giving us a book every year or two at least, and every one of them a terrific read. The guy is a Doctor Doolittle of the wild. He seems to know more about wild animals than anyone else around -- ravens, crows, geese, owls, bumblebees, deer and whatever else wanders into his purview. Five or six years ago we had Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival . I suppose Spring and Autumn are yet to come.

I met Heinrich once, back early in his writing career when we knew him as the raven man. We also knew him as a champion marathoner, which has had some interesting tie-ins with his studies on the physiology of animals. Energy in, energy out. I always imagined Heinrich loping along with a herd of antelopes, taking notes as he goes.

Anyway, back to the new book, which I haven't yet read. We northerners are tipping toward the sun, leaning into the curve, catching more rays. And the woods and meadows along the Path are burgeoning. I stopped on the plank bridge over Queset Brook today, watched the striders and whirligigs and mayflies and dragonflies dancing on the surface of the water, and was glad I had read Heinrich's Thermal Warriors, a solidly scientific book about how insects collect and use summer's bounty. I set there on the bridge with my legs dangling over the water and soaked up some sun myself, grateful for biologists like Bernd Heinrich who don't just sit and muse -- although I'm sure he does some of that too -- but measures, experiments, quantifies, and tabulates, and gives us all a deeper knowledge of the buzz and hum.