The Animal Dialogues

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central LibraryStaff Picks

The Animal Dialogues

Uncommon Encounters in the Wild

bookcover Animal DialoguesThe encounters Craig Childs relates in The Animal Dialogues are unique for two reasons: his life spent in courting such encounters, and his skill in making readers feel we are present and sharing the experience with him. Our adrenaline rises with his as he confronts a mountain lion about to attack, circling from ten feet away to try to get behind him:

"It keeps walking, focusing straight on me, not stepping left or right of its line. Its motion is sleek and exact, revealing that it has no intention of stopping short of me."

He turned with it, moving his head to keep its eyes on his. He says, "There have been cases in which a lion cleared 20 feet in about a second when eye contact was broken." Fortunately, the lion eventually left, its attack pattern baffled.

All his forty vignettes are compelling, even without the presence of danger. In the introduction, he describes his encounter with a great blue heron and makes you feel the wildness and the size and power of it as it made its landing on a telephone pole directly over his head: 

"You want to ask questions now, now that the heron is so close. But you can't. You can't get a word out. You just stare for as long as you can because suddenly it will be over, you will get your name back and life will begin again."

But you have to look up and pay attention to be caught up by the heron this way. 

The author suggests reading each of the 40 vignettes of a species on its own, and going out into nature to have one's own encounter, in between. I didn't manage that, but I did try to at least take a moment before continuing. I read the book first in the downloaded version on a Kindle, then later re-read parts of it as a regular book in order to write this review.

I discovered the Kindle version had given a more intense experience; it seems to lead to a closer focus on each page in turn. (However, I also found that a tablet is not a good way to skim a book looking for material for a review; for that, the physical book was much easier.)

Either way,this book is a wonderful way to experience nature, and to absorb some fascinating information along the way. 
-- P. Wood