Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature

Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature

David Quammen

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0393333604

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


"David Quammen is simply the best natural essayist working today."--Tim Cahill, author of Lost in My Own Backyard

"Lively writing about science and nature depends less on the offering of good answers, I think, than on the offering of good questions," said David Quammen in the original introduction to Natural Acts. For more than two decades, he has stuck to that credo. In this updated version of curiosity leads him from New Mexico to Romania, from the Congo to the Amazon, asking questions about mosquitoes (what are their redeeming merits?), dinosaurs (how did they change the life of a dyslexic Vietnam vet?), and cloning (can it save endangered species?).

This revised and expanded edition best-loved "Natural Acts" columns, which first appeared in Outside magazine in the early 1980s, and includes recent pieces such as "Planet of Weeds," an influential new Natural Acts is an eye-opening journey that will please both Quammen fans and newcomers to his work.

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mentions one specimen, spotted off Seattle, with an arm span of 30 feet and a weight around 200 pounds. Another diver has told William High, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, about bringing up several 400-pound dofleini during his commercial octopus-fishing days, as well as a single huge individual that went 600 pounds. Then the inevitable happened. Someone had a clever idea, and in 1956 hundreds of divers converged on Puget Sound to compete in an event billed as the World

suddenly died. And Kepler got hold of the notebooks. Within eight years, using Tycho’s data, Johannes Kepler had formulated and published two laws that for the first time accurately explained the dynamics of our solar system, and thereby began the modern age in astronomy. The laws were as simple, once recognized, as they had been inscrutable before. First, said Kepler, the planets (including Earth) travel around the sun not in circles but in ellipses, great oval orbits with the sun nearer one

that will wait out the winter near bud sites on that poplar tree, and the circle is closed. One single aphid hatchling—call her the matriarch—in this way can give rise in the course of a year, from her own ovaries exclusively, to roughly a zillion aphids. Good for her, you say. But what’s the point of it? The point, for aphids as for most other parthenogenetic animals, is 1) exceptionally fast reproduction that allows 2) maximal exploitation of temporary resource abundance and unstable

the single most mystifying one, which I’ll come to in its turn—is that though the rock layers are extremely old, the canyon itself is quite recent. The river’s channel (or at least the western half) seems to have been carved to nearly its present depth within just a few million years, and beginning only 6 million years ago. The river cut through like a silver knife slicing cake, though the cake itself had taken eons to assemble and bake. My own age is fifty-three. That’s risibly old on the

just beside that, another roiling hole, in front of which is a high, tumbling wave. “Busy” is the whitewater term. The right line does, as Rick warned, look uninviting. The left line doesn’t exit. There’s no sneak route. But there is an imaginable path, from upper right to lower left, nudging past the curlers, crossing a hurricane’s eye of relatively calm water, ferrying wide of the lower hole, that each of us commits to mind like a mantra. Then it’s back to the boats. Rick disappears over the

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