Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs
Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild is a beautiful collection of essays about truly wild encounters. Craig Childs recounts his amazing and often unbelievable adventures in moving prose. His writing makes you feel like you are there with him, looking through his eyes.
The essays are broken up by animal and grouped by type. There are sections with Carnivora (hunting mammals), Aves (birds), Artiodactyla (hoofed mammals), and then a whole mix of Et Cetera including rattlesnakes, praying mantis, and even human.
There is much excitement in these essays as Childs is nearly face to face with several animals that could easily kill him: grizzly bears and mountain lions. Plus there is the extreme environments he treks in; landscapes from hot deserts to blizzards and extreme cold. Reading such stories unlocks a hidden desire for adventure. There are still places in the United States (and across the globe) where animals partake in their animal ways. There is danger and risk hiking into the wilderness, an ancestral vulnerability that humans have nearly forgotten but not quite.
Where most people will only see a mountain lion in a zoo, Childs tells of several up close sightings on his numerous hikes. He is nearly trapped by one in the dead end of a canyon. He almost is attacked near a water hole near the Arizona-New Mexico border.
Not all of the essays are as dramatic and tense as those involving predators. The ones on birds or aves are as splendid as the birds they represent. Eolian stories that bring you face to face with the majestic winged beasts.
The essay on ravens especially extolled the imagination, bringing to life a secret society of these intelligent birds. Childs ponders what these birds are doing in a hidden canyon as they surround and defend the remains of an owl. It is the ability to blend observation, speculation, and imagination that make Animal Dialogues such a fantastic book.
In this essay, Childs describes his encounter with a finicky herd of pronghorns that he is trying to photograph. Each time he sets himself up for the shot he wants, they bolt into a leisurely run. Leisurely to them, as they casually reach 30 mph with little effort. His work pays off not with the photo he was seeking, but when he discovers that there is a newborn pronghorn out in the open. He describes this defense mechanism and then is honest enough to admit that after several photos he makes physical contact with the young one. His light touch ignites the newborn to run back to his herd.
There are dozens of essays on a wide range of animals from rattlesnakes to toads, mosquitoes to mantis. Each is full of adventure and scientific insight.
As a great naturalist and nature writer, Craig Childs seamlessly melds his encounters with factual information about the animals he is witnessing. Animal Dialogues is a fun read from start to finish.