Bill Bryson meets John Vaillant in this life list quest to see the rarest species in North America.
Crammed into a minivan with wife, toddler, infant, and dog, accompanied by mounds of toys, diapers, tent, sleeping bags, and other paraphernalia, Cameron MacDonald embarks on a road trip of a lifetime to observe North America's rarest species. In California, the family camps in the brutally hot Mojave, where he observes a desert tortoise—"the size and shape of a bike helmet and the colour of gravel” sitting motionless in the shade of a scrubby sagebush. In Yellowstone, after driving through unseasonal snow, he manages to spot a rare black wolf and numerous grizzlies, which, unfortunately, call forth a crowd of "grizzly gawkers." The journey takes the MacDonald family from British Columbia, along the west coast of the U.S., through the Southwest and Florida, up the east coast of the U.S., and finally to eastern Canada and then back home to BC.
Along the way, MacDonald offers fascinating details about the natural history of the endangered species he seeks, as well as threats like overpopulation, commercial fishing, and climate change that are driving them towards extinction.
Confronted with his personal inexperience with the endangered animals about which he teaches, academic MacDonald decides to rectify this shortcoming by investing a summer in field work. Accompanied by his wife, children and dog, MacDonald devotes a summer to finding 34 of Canada and the USA's rarest animals. His quest will take him on two great loops across the two nations, from Canada's urban core to the forbidding depths of America's dismal south. He finds species teetering on the edge of extinction, in most cases pushed towards the precipice by climate change and the activities of humans. The condor, the manatee and the polar bear cling to existence, at least for the moment, but others, unfortunates like the ivory-billed woodpecker, have probably forever vanished, part of the vast wealth of biodiversity squandered by that highly successful but short-sighted hominid species to which the author and his readers belong. Documenting the ongoing simplification of North America's ecologies could be grim work the specters of death and total extinction are ever present but MacDonald's comedic sense and his engaging style are addictive and the resulting tale is intensely charming. Comparable to Douglas Adams's seminal Last Chance to See, MacDonald's debut book should be considered a must-buy.