Lawson’s beautiful tour presents the garden from the perspectives of the birds, animals, and insects that live in and visit it. From what monarchs need in addition to milkweed to how mowing the lawn drives away fireflies, Lawson illuminates what people mostly miss, showing how human agendas—uniform, smooth turf grass; monocultures of lilies or hostas; tidy, leaf-blown beds—run counter to the needs of wild creatures, often dangerously so, even when we intend to help, as with keeping honeybees. But once we become aware of the yard as a complex ecosystem and start paying attention to what the creatures themselves tell us, we can alter our role by filling the space with native plants, lowering the lights, leaving the leaves—and begin to live in true harmony with the denizens of the garden.
Of the eight extant species of bears, six are seriously endangered, but without ongoing protections even the success stories of North American black and brown bears could still have a dire ending. If this hard truth makes for difficult reading (as do the stories of “dancing” sloth bears and the sun bears farmed for their bile), it also makes Dickie’s detailed profiles of these creatures all the more essential. Through her fascinating cultural and natural histories we get a glimpse of the elusive spectacled bear (the model for Paddington) and the rare, tiny moon bear, some smaller than dogs. We also learn that pandas in captivity need to be taught how to breed; that given climate change and human food many bears have stopped hibernating; that grizzlies are replacing polar bears in the Arctic; and that, faced with a smart, determined bruin “almost nothing”—no lock, door, or barrier--is truly “bear proof.”
If we talk to the dead enough, will they answer back? Will they even come back? Moore sets the ground for such questions with a 19th century letter from one sister to another; describing a world “ready to barkle you with its fossils and warts,” it’s a tour de force of language. From there we jump into the 21st century where two brothers relive their past at a hospice—but before Max dies, Finn learns his beloved has finally succeeded in killing herself—news that takes him to her burial site and launches the reunited couple on a giddy Bardo-ish road trip full of wry observations, social critique, examinations of love and conscience—and more. Whether the product of Finn’s “controlled hallucination” or “random reality shards,” these scenes and sentences will haunt you. Laurie Greer