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Beyond the Book Articles
Nature and the Environment

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Breathtaking Butterflies (02/18)
Night of Fire frequently references butterflies, often ethereal, almost infinite in variation, and miraculous in their metamorphosis: '...the butterfly's resurrection was different: the winged angel risen from a worm...It showed that anything could become anything.' It's as though Thubron wants to remind us time and again that we can ...
The Big Dry - Rivers and Drought in Australia (01/18)
The Big Dry was a nine-year drought experienced in Southeastern Australia from 2003 to 2012. The region suffered the most severe dry period in recorded history and assumptions made by early pioneering colonists – that there would always be wet periods in these lands – began to be questioned. The alternative, that there might be ...
Keeping Wolves as Pets in the United States (01/18)
In Helen Benedict's novel Wolf Season, a character illegally keeps pet wolves behind a fence on her upstate New York property. At first her neighbors don't believe she actually has wolves – they think it's just a rumor passed around by children – but when they realize the wolves are real they become alarmed and look for legal ...
Ambulocetus, The Walking Whale (07/17)
Zubaida Haque, the main character in Tahmima Anam's The Bones of Grace, is a marine paleontologist with a particular interest in Ambulocetus, an amphibious (able to live on land and water) cetacean (carnivorous, finned, aquatic marine mammal) that lived over 40 million years ago. Fossils of Ambulocetus are believed to show how whales...
CITES and the Dragonfish (05/17)
The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, And the World's Most Coveted Fish, by Emily Voigt, explores the wild dragon fish or Asian arowana, which is protected under CITES (pronounced sigh-tees), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is among the largest ...
Jellyfish (05/17)
In Deborah Levy's Hot Milk the main character, Sofia, spends time on the beach in Spain and is stung by jellyfish. The jellyfish, eerily beautiful yet often painful to humans, is one of a few creatures benefitting from global warming. Its numbers, which remained stable for a period, are now rising in many areas of the world.

Jellyfish...
Fascinating Facts About Orchids (05/17)
Each of the main characters in The Seed Collectors inherits a seed pod from a rare orchid, and these play a key role in the story.

People have been fascinated with orchids since the time of the Victorians, devoting much energy and resources to raising the myriad variety of these admired beauties. Between 1838 and 1910, orchid hunters ...
Zoos of the Future (04/17)
Bill Broun's debut novel, Night of the Animals, features the London Zoo - but in the future. What will zoos look like in the years to come? Animals roaming free while visitors lurk underground for a glimpse of them? Fewer elephants and more amphibians? No zoos at all?

According to various sources, including The Guardian and The ...
The Exotic Animal Trade (02/17)
One of the side plots of Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo involves a town outsider illegally dealing in dangerous exotic reptiles. He rents an inexpensive apartment and hires one of the local residents to stay there during the day in order to receive packages, often marked as 'perishable.' The boxes are stored either in a highly air-...
Flash Floods (11/16)
Flash flooding is a constant concern in The Never-Open Desert Diner.

A flash flood is a sudden release of water that inundates an area, and is differentiated from a normal flood by its duration; by definition, a flash flood lasts less than six hours. Although they can occur under a wide variety of circumstances they're especially ...
Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain (10/16)
In Gold Fame Citrus, the Yucca mountain, which is located in the deserts of Nevada, an hour northwest of Las Vegas, has officially become a nuclear waste depository: 'The white bullet trains come in and out thrice daily, soundless, only a slight pressing and unpressing of the air. One day the repository will be filled and it will be ...
Hoverflies as Expert Masqueraders (09/16)
In his memoir, The Fly Trap, Fredrik Sjöberg writes: 'hoverflies are meek and mild creatures, easy to collect, and ... appear in many guises. Sometimes they don't even look like flies. Some of them look like hornets, others like honeybees, parasitic ichneumon wasps, gadflies, or fragile, thin-as-thread mosquitoes so tiny that ...
A Medicine Walk (05/16)
Many cultures have a tradition of using a solitary walk to help individuals achieve their inner goals, whether it be deepening their spirituality, finding insights to problems, or helping determine a path in life. Some Native American tribes in particular, encourage adolescents to go on a 'medicine walk' to obtain inner peace and ...
Quicksand (04/16)
Though there is no literal quicksand in Steve Toltz's novel, his main character, Aldo Benjamin, is consistently trapped in a metaphorical quicksand. He struggles through many varieties of bad luck, but that classic epitome of bad luck - getting stuck in quicksand - might not spell the certain death that some think.

According to ...
The Goshawk (03/16)
In T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone (the first book in The Once and Future King series), young Arthur is transformed by his tutor, the wizard Merlyn, into a small falcon known as the merlin. In the short chapter focusing on Arthur's adventures among the raptors, he is both terrified and fascinated by the half-mad Colonel Cully, a ...
Search and Rescue Dogs (02/16)
If you've ever had a dog, you know that they are constantly using their noses to find things—crumbs on the floor, a buried bone, a chew toy kicked under the sofa, a piece of pizza under a bush in the park. Search And Rescue dogs are trained to use this natural ability to locate missing people and then to notify their handler when ...
The Skylark (01/16)
Images of birds abound in Kate Atkinson's new novel, A God in Ruins - surprising, perhaps, even the author herself: 'Just don't ask me why there are so many geese. I have absolutely no idea,' she writes in her afterword. Most indelible, though, is the image of the skylark, which Atkinson includes near the book's opening, as a young Teddy ...
The Naked Mole Rat (01/16)
In Ten Million Aliens, Simon Barnes describes many unusual creatures, one of which is the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber).

The naked mole rat, also known as the sand puppy or desert mole rat, is a rodent, although it's more closely related to porcupines, chinchillas and guinea pigs than to either moles or rats. These animals are...
Coal Mining: Basic Overview (01/16)
According to the World Coal Association, the global annual haul for hard coal is over 6000 million tons, with the top five producers being China, the United States, India, Australia and South Africa.

Coal mining is usually broken up into two categories: Surface (also known as opencast) and underground. The latter currently accounts for...
Victims of Poaching (12/15)
Travel literature has contributed immeasurably to many people's understanding of foreign lands and cultures they might not otherwise visit – or even become aware of. One of the many contributions of travel writers – such as William deBuys, author of The Last Unicorn – has been to raise awareness of the global epidemic of...
Make Room for Ducklings? (12/15)
We did not write a featured review or beyond the book article of The Nature of The Beast so here is an earlier 'Beyond the Book' written for How The Light Gets In. We also have an informative article about why Quebec speaks French written for Bury Your Dead (#9).

In her review of How The Light Gets In for The Washington Post, Maureen ...
The Asian Elephant (09/15)
As Lakshmi recounts her history in India, we learn that she considers one of her best friends to be an elephant, Mithai (which means 'sweets' or 'dessert'). Her youthful courage in defending Mithai foreshadows her later courage in dealing with the greater complexities of adulthood.

Asian elephants are perhaps not as well known in the ...
Blizzard Survival Stories (07/15)
The weather and complications of a blizzard are intense and all-encompassing. Besides the potential for devastating winds and dangerously low temperatures, the overwhelming amounts of snow impede both visibility and access to travel. The results can be extensive and long-lasting. It can take days to weeks for roads to be cleared, and ...
What Is a Stone Mattress? (07/15)
A 'stone mattress' in the titular tale of this short story collection serves as a painful reminder of past events. It is also Margaret Atwood's nickname for fascinating geological formations called stromatolites.

Stromatolites (from the Greek 'stroma' = mattress/layer and 'lithos' = stone) are most easily described as living ...
The Two North Poles (06/15)
In the Kingdom of Ice concerns an ill-fated 19th century expedition to the North Pole.

There are actually two North Poles — a geographic North Pole and a magnetic one. The geographic North Pole is recognized as the northernmost point on the earth's surface, and is the axis point around which the earth spins. It's 450 miles north ...
The Queen Bee (06/15)
The structure of a honeybee hive is both fascinating and highly complex — a pod of thousands of female worker bees, a few hundred male drones in the summer and, at the epicentre, the queen.

As a former queen begins to fail (i.e. ceases to lay eggs due to age or illness), workers will make special, larger queen cells in which ...
Hurricane No-Name (05/15)
The Galveston hurricane of September 8, 1900, is still regarded as the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, this devastating storm swept away everything in its path, left an estimated 10,000-12,000 dead and thousands more homeless. Residences and businesses were leveled; debris was tossed everywhere, and the smell of death ...
Azaleas (02/15)
If you've always been wowed by azaleas, which feature in Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening, here are some fun facts.

Azaleas, members of the genus Rhodondendron, can be found all around the world. There are deciduous azaleas with origins in North America; evergreen varieties from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan, and a whole host of...
The Constellations (11/14)
There are currently eighty-eight officially recognized and named constellations. According to one astronomy website there are, '14 men and women, 9 birds, two insects, 19 land animals, 10 water creatures, two centaurs, one head of hair, a serpent, a dragon, a flying horse, a river and 29 inanimate objects.' (Some constellations include ...
Mars, the Red Planet (11/14)
Andy Weir's The Martian is set on the red planet, the fourth from the sun, which has been part of human consciousness since people first started observing the night sky. Its distinctive red color sets it apart from the other celestial objects. The oldest known star map, found in the tomb of 18th dynasty Egyptian architect Senenmut (who ...
Archaeopteryx: The Link Between Dinosaurs and Birds (11/14)
In S. J. Gazan's The Dinosaur Feather, when Professor Lars Helland, a cantankerous PhD advisor at the Institute of Biology in Copenhagen, is found dead in his office, the police soon discover a copy of PhD student Anna Bella Nor's thesis on his lap…covered in blood. Her controversial paper puts to rest a major scientific debate ...
Make Room for Ducklings? (08/14)
In her review of How The Light Gets In for The Washington Post, Maureen Corrigan writes: 'Penny's voice — occasionally amused, yet curiously formal — is what makes the world of her novels plausible. I can think of few other writers who could sidestep cuteness in a scene that features an elderly female poet and her pet duck.' ...
Ayumu, the Chimpanzee (04/14)
In Virginia Morell's Animal Wise, the reader learns many surprising things about a chimpanzee's skills. The book features one chimpanzee in Japan, Ayumu, who was has been extremely successful at sequence-memory tests. Ayumu lives with his mother Ai at the University of Kyoto's Primate Research Institute, headed by Professor Tetsuro ...
The Tasmanian Tiger (10/13)
When Hannah, the narrator of Lois Nowra's Into That Forest, encounters her first Tasmanian tiger, she is mesmerized:

I turned and there, on the bank not more than ten yards from us, were a wolf creature with yellow fur and black stripes. It were about the size of a real large dog…It had a long muzzle and stripes on its sides like...

Gifford Pinchot National Forest (06/13)
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is featured in a few of the stories in Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain. Several characters maintain trails and clear brush, and these serve as interesting metaphors for dealing with life's hurdles. But of course, a national park is more than just a metaphor.

Named for the first Chief ...
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (06/13)
The misguided migration of monarch butterflies to southern Appalachia in Flight Behavior is a fictional event, but Kingsolver grounds her theoretical occurrence in reality. As readers see through the character of Lupe, the Mexican wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly are damaged by drastic flooding and mudslides. This event is, ...
The World's Water Tables in Crisis (04/13)
In How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, the protagonist starts out in the water business by boiling tap water and selling it in plastic water bottles. Later on, he is approached by the country's Defense Department because it wants to build a reliable and safe water supply for the country. But the protagonist and the head honchos in the ...
Mountain Gorillas of Africa (02/12)
One of the main characters in Audrey Schulman's Three Weeks in December - an American ethnobotanist named Max who has Asperger's Syndrome - finds herself in East Africa searching for a medicinal plant. Along the way, she follows a family of exquisite mountain gorillas that have somehow escaped local poachers and finds that she has an ...
Colony Collapse Disorder (07/11)
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which bees mysteriously disappear from their hives. 'The main symptom of CCD is simply no or a low number of adult honey bees present but with a live queen and no dead honey bees in the hive. Often there is still honey in the hive, ...
Bonobos (07/11)

Vanessa Woods with bonobos in a wildlife sanctuary
in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sydney Morning Herald

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are one of the two species that make up the genus Pan, along with Pan troglodytes, the Common Chimpanzee. Chimps and bonobos are the closest extant relative to humans, sharing almost 99% of our...

The Swallows of San Juan Capistrano (07/11)
All my life, the swallows returning every March 19th to San Juan Capistrano, California, has been a symbol of the strength of nature and of how some things never change. Except they do and, what's more, maybe it never happened anyway, or, even worse, we may be responsible when things do change.

For over a century, St. Joseph's Day ...
The White Mountain National Forest (07/11)
It is no wonder that Elliott Hansen chose the White Mountains of New Hampshire to restore health and hope to his friends and family. The White Mountains have long been revered as a deeply spiritual place by the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micman, Maliseet, and other Native American tribes in the region. With its breathtaking scope...
Giant Waves (06/11)
Giant waves were once the stuff of nautical tall tales, filed alongside stories of mermaids and giant squid, but today we know better.

The force of waves is hard to comprehend. According to The Wave, an 18 inch wave can topple a wall built to withstand 125-mph winds; a breaking 100-foot wave packs 100 tons of force per square ...
Monument Rocks (02/11)
Nancy Pickard says that the fictional Testament Rocks in The Scent of Rain and Thunder are based on Monument Rocks located in Gove County, Kansas, a few hundred miles west of her home in Merriam, close to Kansas City.

Set in the high plains, Gove County is cut through from west to east by a deep valley caused by the Smoky Hill River,...
Polar Bears (02/11)
In Village of the Ghost Bears, Trooper Nathan Active and his fellow law enforcement personnel must discuss the problem of polar bear poaching, because at least one of the suspects in the arson/murder has been involved in the illegal trade of selling polar bear gallbladders to China...

The Value of Bear Gallbladders
As the book ...
Factory Farm Alternatives (10/10)
Foer suggests that meat lovers who don't want to support factory farms consider patronizing small family farms rather than buying grocery store meat, which has been produced by factory farms. The products offered by these small farmers tend to be pricey, but these producers say that their animals live most of their lives outdoors, pain-...
Entomology: Did You Know? (10/09)
Entomology is the scientific study of insects. Defining characteristics of insects are: three main body parts (head, thorax and abdomen), an exoskeleton and no more than 6 legs in their adult form.

'The geneticist J.B.S. Haldane remarked, when questioned by a cleric about the putative properties of God, that one sure characteristic of ...
Helping Injured Birds (06/09)
The WildBirds.com website offers the following advice if you come across an injured bird:

If you find an injured bird, make sure it is really injured before you act. Often the bird is simply stunned. It may fly away in a few minutes if you leave it alone. Birds often become stunned by flying into glass windows.

If the bird has a ...

Animal Behaviors in Grief and Mating (02/09)
There have been many observations of elephants grieving.  In Joyce Poole's Coming of Age With Elephants,  Poole illustrates the depth of elephant grieving. A clan of elephants was moving towards newer territory, when suddenly one of the elephants fell over. Soon enough the other elephants noticed that one of their ...
All About Bananas (01/09)
Bananas may look like they grow on trees but in fact they grow on plants that are related to the lily and orchid family.

The term 'banana republic' was coined by American humorist and short story writer O. Henry, in reference to Honduras - 'republic' in his day being a common euphemism for a dictatorship.

On a number of occasions the term ...
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