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Mixed Media: Books

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Reviewed by Bob Schildgen

Polar Passages

The frozen ends of the earth continue to intrigue us, thanks largely to a rich tradition of good writers taking us on virtual treks. The following are notable additions to the circumpolar library.

The Arctic World by Marco Nazarri (Abbeville Press, $35) is a striking tour of the Far North's landscape, seascape, animals, and people, through the eyes of some of today's best nature photographers. The Arctic's grandeur is enhanced by Nazarri's explanations of both Native traditions and natural phenomena, such as the aurora borealis. That spectacular corona of light and energy emitted when solar winds collide with Earth's magnetic field can produce a surge of electrical current greater than that of all the generators of the planet combined.

Gift of the Whale: The Inupiat Bowhead Hunt, A Sacred Tradition by Bill Hess (Sasquatch Books, $40) is an intimate look at the landscape and a people who have inhabited it for 5,000 years. Hess's photography captures the toughness and the good will of the Inupiat, along with the harshness and the abundance of the Arctic. In sharing the hazards, joys, and rituals of Natives over the years, Hess came to appreciate the paradoxical intimacy between subsistence hunters and the animals they kill. It is this intimacy, in his view, that puts these hunters (as opposed to mere trophy collectors) among the most capable observers and protectors of the natural world.

Safe Havens

Islands of Hope: Lessons From North America's Great Wildlife Sanctuaries by Phillip Manning (John F. Blair, $15.95)

For 500 million years, the largest living masses on Earth, coral reefs, have built themselves into rich habitats for other aquatic species, laying down as much as 40 tons of limestone per acre a year. Coral began edging out the blue-green algae that dominated the seas for 3 billion years, says Phillip Manning as he explores "one of North America's best-preserved sanctuaries," Bonaire Marine Park in the waters near Netherlands Antilles.

Moving on to nine other wildlife refuges, Manning unveils natural history lore as intriguing as that of the reef. He traces the 2,000-mile flight of monarch butterflies scattered across the United States as they home in on their tiny winter refuge in the mountain forests of Michoacan, Mexico. He observes horseshoe crabs, whose strange blood is based on copper instead of iron, on the beaches of New Jersey. And on Oregon's Hart Mountain he meets pronghorns, which won't jump fences because they've evolved to be "so fast that running around things makes more sense."

By interviewing managers at each refuge, Manning learns the complexity of working with nature. For example, Wisconsin's Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge quickly became a mecca for Canada geese after drained marshland was reflooded in the 1940s. But it was an entirely different story for ducks, whose survival requires an orchestration of species as diverse as cattails, carp, and muskrats. Carp, nonnative bottom-feeders, root up aquatic plants that ducks need for food. Cattails also crowd out the food plants, partly because of a shortage of muskrats, who control cattails by eating their roots. Managers only get to know such communities by observation, trial and error, and some humiliating failures. But the successes described by Manning outweigh the mistakes. His stories of revived habitats inspire readers to redouble the effort to resurrect wild victims of the modern economy.

New from Sierra Club Books

The Mountain World: A Literary Journey edited by Gregory McNamee. Mountain-inspired writing, ancient and modern, from five continents.

Nature a Day at a Time: A Naturalist's Book of Days by Cathie Katz. For each day of the year a reflection and a drawing unveil our surprising connections to the natural world.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site, www.sierraclub.org/books, or by writing the store at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

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