Summer Reading

 (This column was first published in the July 14, 1997 Buffalo News.)

Along with the latest mysteries by James Lee Burke, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James and Colin Dexter, your vacation reading should include several recently published natural history books of exceptional quality.  Each of these books has a special connection with this region.

 Philip G. Terrie's Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks (Syracuse University Press) is an excellent contribution to Adirondack lore.  It will provide anyone unfamiliar with the historical setting of the important and far-reaching contemporary controversies about our Adirondack State Park and the associated Forest Preserve a full grounding and it is especially sensitive to the concerns of those too often forgotten residents inside the boundary of this almost 9300 square mile park.  Even those well informed about the Adirondacks should learn more from this slight volume.

 Here is Terrie harking back to the early years of park history: "In 1892 New York created a park like no other park the world had ever seen -- a park that was a complicated mix of private and public property.  It had people living and working in it.  It had land owned by individuals, families, clubs, and corporations. It had poor people dwelling in shanties, while down the road were millionaires who summered in mansions....  In between it had towns and villages....  It had land protected as forests forever and available to all for hunting, fishing, and camping and land where cut-and-run loggers savagely exploited the remaining resource in the name of a quick profit."

 Required reading for suburbanites trying to find a basis for decision-making on our most sensitive nature issue are The Science of Overabundance: Deer Ecology and Population Management, edited by William J. McShea, H. Brian Underwood and John H. Rappole (Smithsonian Institution Press) and Living with Wildlife Report: Analysis of the Biology, Sociology and Ethics of the Beaver and Deer Issues, edited by Andrew N. Rowan and Joan C. Weer (Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy).  The editors of the first volume pose the problem: "When foresters, wildlife biologists, hunters, and animal welfare activists discuss deer, one might be hard pressed to acknowledge that they are talking about the same animal."  Both books present a full range of views and call into question some beliefs widely held by representatives of opposing camps.  I doubt that the minds of extremists will be changed by either of these books but everyone -- and most important, open minded moderates -- can gain a broader perspective on the problems.

 Some time ago I recommended the National Book Award winner Ship Fever and Other Stories by Rochester author Andrea Barrett (W. W. Norton).  I repeat that recommendation because I consider the writing so fine and for two more prosaic reasons: because this small book, now available in paperback, is perfect for reading ensconced in a hammock or deck chair or lying on a towel at the beach and because these brief episodes may be easily chosen to fit the time available.

 Ms. Barrett's milieu is fiction, but her stories involve or relate to real situations and characters from science: Gregor Mendel; Carl Linnaeus and Peter Kalm; Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy; Jeremy Button, York Minster and Fuegia Basket; and Alfred Russel Wallace.  The title novella , "Ship Fever," is about the experiences of a naive young doctor confronting the terrors of the 1840s typhus epidemic among Irish immigrants to Canada.  These poor people have fled the potato famine, crossed the Atlantic in leaky boats, and now face an even worse nightmare.  The doctor and his colleagues have little help to offer.

 Have a fine summer holiday and good reading to all.