My favorite parts of this book are the chapters where Weidensaul goes into the forests and the mountains looking for animals that have just recently been called extinct. He goes into the swamps of Louisiana looking for ivory-billed woodpeckers after a reputable observer claims to have seen a pair of those extraordinary birds thought vanished for nearly half a century. He wanders around western Tasmania, looking for the thylacine a wolflike marsupial following the hunch of an aging Tasmanian scientist. And in the best chapter of all, entitled "Sweet Bees Ate Our Earwax," he fights off the insects of western Brazil to look for the cone-billed tanager, a bird seen only once more than sixty years ago. He doesn't find it, but the search has its own meaning: "I'd been following the faint track of lost animals for nearly two years, immersing myself in many exotic landscapes like this one a pursuit that forced me to look at the world in a new and more auspicious way, alive to hope, however tentative, in the face of great and grievous biological loss."
Scott Weidensaul reads from The Ghost with Trembling Wings at Shaman Drum Bookshop on Monday, June 17.
[Originally published in June, 2002.]
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