Intellectually rich, intensely personal, and beautifully written, Tracks and Shadows is both an absorbing autobiography of a celebrated field biologist and a celebration of beauty in nature. Harry W. Greene, award-winning author of Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature, delves into the poetry of field biology, showing how nature eases our existential quandaries. More than a memoir, the book is about the wonder of snakes, the beauty of studying and understanding natural history, and the importance of sharing the love of nature with humanity.
Greene begins with his youthful curiosity about the natural world and moves to his stints as a mortician's assistant, ambulance driver, and army medic. In detailing his academic career, he describes how his work led him to believe that nature’s most profound lessons lurk in hard-won details. He discusses the nuts and bolts of field research and teaching, contrasts the emotional impact of hot dry habitats with hot wet ones, imparts the basics of snake biology, and introduces the great explorers Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. He reflects on friendship and happiness, tackles notions like anthropomorphism and wilderness, and argues that organisms remain the core of biology, science plays key roles in conservation, and natural history offers an enlightened form of contentment.
Noted herpatologist and Cornell University professor Greene's vibrant blending of memoir and natural history heightens our appreciation of ecological preservation by demonstrating how curiosity becomes science, and by extension how what we understand becomes what we value. Striking evocations of his Texas and Oklahoma childhood reveal a lifelong fascination with reptiles, specifically snakes, which launched a career in academia and research circling the globe. Some may flinch at Greene's close encounters with snakes, but armchair eco-tourists will savor his rousing, splendidly depicted forays into Amazonian rainforests and the jungles of the Congo. While scientific specificity abounds, the book also brings his adventures and fellow adventurers boisterously to life, in the tradition of Jim Harrison and Norman Maclean writers Greene openly admires. His reflections on humanity's interconnectedness with the Earth and all its inhabitants give an achingly beautiful expansiveness to his narrative, while quieter musings on the deaths of loved ones and the impact of his mentors find Greene reaching for soundly resonating poetry. Roomy enough to embrace black-tailed rattlesnakes, African bushmasters, and green anacondas alongside Pablo Neruda, Jackson Browne, and Immanuel Kant, Greene (Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature) succeeds in illuminating the world as a place of beauty, harmony, and danger, deeply interconnected and worthy of cherishing and preserving. 17 b&w photos.