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The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild    by Craig Childs order for
Animal Dialogues
by Craig Childs
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Animal Dialogues, naturalist Craig Childs recounts in a series of lyrical short pieces, his 'Uncommon Encounters in the Wild' with a wide variety of creatures, from a great blue heron in Arizona to bears in Alaska. They range from frightening predators like the mountain lion to ravens exhibiting social behavior. The author, who is a frequent contributor to National Public Radio, previously wrote The Secret Knowledge of Water, Soul of Nowhere, The Way Out and House of Rain.

Childs tells us that each story came to him 'unexpectedly, halting my breath before I could draw it in' and recommends that between stories we should 'walk into the woods ... or into a desert of lizards and jackrabbits, if that is what is at hand.' He shares his own joy in animal encounters, starting in his childhood - 'Times that I have seen animals have been like knife cuts in fabric. Through these stabs I could see a second world ... lives as cryptic as blood paths in snow.' His absorbing accounts of windows into the natural world are divided into encounters with Carnivora (Bear to Jaguar); Aves (owls, eagle, raven etc.); Artiodactyla (Mountain Goat to Deer); and Et Cetera (including Porcupine, Rattlesnake, Wasp, Blue Shark and Human); book-ended by chapters on Animalia in general.

In addition to sharing Childs' wonder, delight - and occasional adrenaline rush - over these encouters, readers learn fascinating facts about a variety of critters. For example, coyote female biology 'is designed for rebound' - their response to predator control is to have more pups and they 'fill spaces like water or darkness.' There's also a fascinating discussion of human versus animal fluency in the sense of smell, and of a time when woolly camels roamed in North America. And did you know that porcupines have antibiotic quills because they stab themselves so often?

Craig Childs tells us that 'The life of an animal ... is far beyond the scientific papers and the campfire stories. It is as true as breath. It is as important as the words of children.' Read his highly recommended Animal Dialogues for a glimpse into 'forests laced with territories and birdsong' - further than it need be from the world 'of letters and numbers' that we usually inhabit.

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