Sunday, October 30, 2011

Arctic Autumn: A Journey to Season's Edge by Pete Dunne


Why I read it: A personal fascination with the coldest regions on the planet, plus Dunne has a menu full of books I should be reading.

Summary: Dunne parallels themes from fall nature explorations of the arctic region with the autumn of his life.

My Thoughts: Let's get it out of the way - I'm not a big fan of Dunne's writing style in this book. But I can work around that for the important messages he is attempting to deliver.

Unfortunately, we're getting to the point where folks are seeing the plight of the polar bear as cliche. I have the fantastic luck to work in the nature field full time, and can tell you that, no pun intended, the polar bear is just the tip of the iceberg. Changes that should take millenia are taking centuries, and those that should take centuries are taking decades. The planet is heating up, and we are facing mass extinctions as animals genetically unready to adapt are being forced out of habitats and climates they need.

Dunne takes the life stories of several species, of caribou, of geese, of songbirds, and, ultimately, of polar bears, and shows how we, even in the deepest reaches of the north, have already affected their lives. Oil drilling, national defense, hunting and so much more has already taken its toll on one of the world's final natural frontiers. The 55-gallon drum is now the "state flower" of Alaska, left behind when plans called for mobilization during the Cold War, but did not provide for cleanup when operations concluded.

In his typically comical way, Dunne diverts to topics like the ongoing struggle between a birder and a nature photographer (read: him and his wife) and the relative slovenliness of a group of men gathered together in the far north to track elusive bird species. He concludes that what "tidy" means depends on whether you're male or female.

But these tales are, simply diversions in an otherwise poignant book. It's sad, but here's yet another title that shows us what we've wrought, and asks us to examine our own vanity, as life on earth as we know it changes before our eyes.

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