BOOK REVIEW Southeast Alaska's Natural World

Armstrong, Robert H. and Marge Hermans, Southeast Alaskaís Natural World. Armstrong & Hermans. Softcover. Color illustrated. 212 pages + index. $29.95.

This amply qualifies as one of those books you didnít know you needed until you start reading it.

We who live in Southeast Alaska are blessed with wildlife around us (mosquitos humming in our ears and bears in the yard can be a bit more blessing than we want), but overall our natural world is a joy. What we often donít know is the small particulars; ducks, kestrels, owls, swallows, chickadees, and nuthatches can winter in the cavities woodpeckers make in trees; even squirrels can den in them. Mating porcupines can scream like a person in distress; the Stikine River Delta is the biggest coastal marsh in Southeast Alaska, used by hundreds of thousands of birds on their migration; Dolly Varden fish and other species that prey on salmon eggs actually keep disease from attacking the salmon. The odd-looking pine cone standing upright in the alders is actually the Northern Groundcone, a separate plant. Tasty truffles are rather common in the woods. Sure, bees pollinate flowering plants; beetles pollinate far more. You will never look at the life around us in the same way again.

Armstrong is famous for his bird photographs, but the superb color photographs of everything from slime molds (fascinating things, those, but no time to get into these life forms that arenít like anything else) to a marmot scratching itself, to a butterfly on a flower, to the views of the alpine meadows are simply breath-taking.

The writing is simple, clear, and the site-maps well situated. The repeated conclusions are also clear. We are just beginning to understand the ecology of our rainy domain and how it interacts when undisturbed. If it is logged or polluted, we will never know what we have lost.

No one but naturalists who have lived for years in our rain country could produce this book. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Armstrong and Hermans, if not a shrine. On a personal note, this reviewer finds her Christmas list much diminished; let Ďem have this book!

D. L.