Bernd Heinrich, Winter World

Too geeky even for me, is Bernd Heinrich's intensive study of animal adaptation to winter in New England. Sure, it's published by a popular house, but it makes few concessions to popularity. It's rigorous in its detail, unrelenting in its focus and internal references, and thorough thorough thorough.

OK, maybe it isn't too geeky for me, but it's on the edge -- and those who know me will know how far out there this book is!

I grew up in the BC interior, where it snows and gets cold, about five miles from a highway and ten miles from town (of only 1500 people), so Heinrich's focus on animal life itself isn't unusual. I can see my father making good sense of this stuff, for example, though he wouldn't care -- I think, and for example -- to work his way through the chemical analysis of supercooling that allows some species to survive body temperatures below the freezing point of water.

Plus there's also the problem of character. This book's about animal adaptation, but it's also about Bernd Heinrich. That includes deliberately living part of the year without electricity, taking his university students to live with him in his off-the-grid cabin in winter, and regularly but casually mentioning his "pet" owl Bubo. I can't yet put my finger on what it is about Heinrich's observing perspective that rankles a bit, but undeniably I rankled. Maybe another day I'll figure that out, after the next Heinrich book I read....

In sum, I call it fascinating stuff, but 315 pages seems like the wrong length: I'd enjoy a shorter version, but I'd completely inhabit a longer book.


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