Sunday, February 8, 2009


Every so often I read an outwardly dense, technical, and mind-numbing tome that at first glance should remain on the shelf as a reference book for experts, but from the first page it holds me "with its glittering eye", and I remain as still as the wedding guest, lost in the beauty of the world it has awakened for me.

The first XXII pages of Hulten's "The Flora of Alaska" opened the trans-continental new world of Beringia, telling the story of how once the great Steppe country stretched from England across Siberia, over Beringia, down Canada and through Kansas. That explained how all the plants over several continents could be similar and how tiny refugia along the Yukon River could sprout sagebrush and flowers from my childhood in the Rockies. Soon, I was host to Russian and Alakan botanists who systematically scoured Yukon-Charley, Denali, and Bering Land Bridge National Parks in Alaska. I spent the next 25 years working on projects for the Beringia International Heritage Park, still a work in progress.

In the early 90's Holldobler and Wilson published "The Ants". The first three pages, "The Importance of Ants", mesmerized me; I couldn't put it down as I began to realize the complexity, extent, and importance of the ant world, a place I had probed as a child, but had mostly forgotten as an adult. Thankfully, Holldobler and Wilson had remained childlike in their enthusiasm for a life of work in the field. The detail of the drawings of each ant drew me into the ant hills as though I had shrunk to their size, (or vice versa!)

So when I saw the announcement of "Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies," by Holldobler and Wilson, again I rushed to buy the book, knowing in advance that I was going to be drawn into an undiscovered realm. It continues the research of the past 20 years on the Ants and is written more for the lay audience and filled with more of the facts that a reader like myself craves: a wider world of the social insects, including the bees, termites, and wasps. Rather than an anatomy lesson, it is the story of the social insects, their impact, relevance, and behavior. I was sucked into their world and am the richer for it.

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