Excerpt from Return to Wild America by Scott Weidensaul, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Return to Wild America

A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul

by Scott Weidensaul

Return to Wild America
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2005, 416 pages
    Nov 2006, 416 pages

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We were watching for caribou, and there was plenty of signs—a lot of droppings, some quite fresh, and tracks in the mud, each print slightly wasp-waisted in the middle. We also found the remains of a calf that had died over the winter, down along the stream—a corona of white hair and the clean, bleached bones, along the stream—along with piles and piles of mammal scat, much of it fox, all of it containing great quantities of caribou fur. When we later saw a live caribou, a large bull, it was albescent, as white as the weathered bones; even its nose was pale gray, so that the only color was the dark eyes and the black hair that grew inside its ears.

The wind howled, and for five minutes a cold, heavy downpour soaked us before the sun peeked back out apologetically. We hiked an hour or so down the main river, then looped back and struck a smaller tributary, which had cut a confused series of low gorges in the rock—a creek maybe thirty feet wide, the water so stained with tannin it was nearly black. It was fed by a series of small pools and ponds on the higher ground to either side; some of these were jewel-like, surrounded by sedges and irises, set in little steep-sided dells where the wind couldn't reach and the dark water reflected the sky like glass. In one, a yellow-rumped warbler alit on a rocky shelf above the water, blue-gray against the yellow lichen, flew down to splash with its reflection, then whirled off with a single chip.

More than a thousand square kilometers of the central Avalon are protected as a wilderness reserve, but even the margins are largely wild, largely wild, largely empty land. The only paved road is a loop that skirts the edge of the sea, linking the small towns like St. Shott's and Trepassey, with a handful of dirt tracks like the one that runs down to the old lighthouse at Cape Race, where we were paced by swift-flying horned larks and found the remains of a freshly killed murre on a low bluff beside the sea, its feathers gently waving in a long plume to the leeward where a peregrine falcon had sat and plucked it. Its skeleton was still wet and bloody, the two black wings untouched, but the falcon was gone.

Excerpt from Return to Wild America by Scott Weidensaul. Copyright 2001-2003 by Scott Weidensaul. Published by North Point Press in 2005. All rights reserved. Visitors to this web site are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

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