Cannings x 3, The World of Fresh Water

A little over a decade ago, two of the Cannings boys (Sydney and Richard/Dick) wrote and published the enormously valuable British Columbia: A Natural History. Inspired by the large number of stories and concepts that had to be left out of even that large and rich book, Dick and Syd joined up with brother Robert to start writing self-contained books based on individual sections of the bigger one. The World of Fresh Water was the first of those succeeding books, uninspired in its title if I may say so, but an absolute joy to wander through.

It's not a writerly book, but its writing is very good indeed: evocative, descriptive, zippy. These are scientists, and I think I felt a distinct note of apology in what was meant to be a simple remark that "the physical and chemical characteristics of fresh water are largely ignored" (p.ix). But they're scientists who are in it to communicate, to share what they've learned in order to make sure we understand what a remarkable place British Columbia is.

This is an engaging, big-hearted book about fish, beetles, moss, saline lakes, and honestly a thousand more topics in a little over 100 pages. I found the brief sections on beetles to be irrationally fascinating (new favourite word: plastron), but there wasn't a chapter I didn't linger over. Admittedly most people who know me wouldn't be surprised to find me marvelling at such details as the relative mineral concentrations of lakes whose inflow streams pass quickly over steep rock, and those whose inflow comes slowly across alluvial soil, but the Cannings boys make this sort of stuff sing, they really do.

Man, what I wouldn't give to have the naturalist nerd chops to hang out at Cannings family dinners, and it's not just these brothers. I'm a hack and a dilettante, even if I'm usually okay with that, and even if I'm sometimes more knowledgeable than other people. (Cue Douglas Adams' paranoid android, Marvin: "That young girl is one of the least benightedly unintelligent organic life forms it has been my profound lack of pleasure not to be able to avoid meeting.") I'm excited to dig into the rest of this series.


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