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The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild - by Craig Childs 

click to enlarge Craig Childs, out talkin' to the animals.
  • Craig Childs, out talkin' to the animals.
Craig Childs, out talkin' to the animals.
The operative word in the title of this book is "Dialogues." Craig Childs doesn't just observe and report on 34 different animal species. He has conversations with them, albeit unconventional ones. Consider this passage in which he's followed a raven into a desert canyon only to find himself in the midst of dozens of ravens: "'Listen to us!' cried the ravens. 'I don't speak your language,' I called out, exasperated. Hearing my voice, the ravens only became more infuriated. I was disoriented, watching them dive around me . . . 'Listen to us!' they kept crying. 'This is not your place!'"

But besides artful descriptions, the author does his research and knows his subject matter well. In the same essay I also learned that ravens can follow another creature's gaze, sometimes cooperate with wolves in making a kill, and have even been seen pulling in a baited fishing line with their beaks and then stepping on the slack line over and over until they've "caught" a fish. Childs' writing often gives the impression that he himself is some sort of permeable membrane at the border between scientific fact and poetic mystery. His sharp eye for observation is matched by his taste for experiences that cannot be explained or familiarized. In this he's a direct literary descendant of the great Loren Eiseley.


In each essay Childs manages to put the reader in direct and vivid contact with a different species. His encounter with a mountain lion might give you a bad dream or two, and will likely have you checking behind your back the next time you're walking in the woods. And I dare you to read his encounter with mosquitoes in Alaska without involuntarily rubbing or scratching yourself.

The author of eleven books, Childs, 41, has also written for Audubon, Outside, Sierra, Backpacker, and High Country News. He's been a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a commentator on National Public Radio. He's won the Colorado Book Award and the Spirit of the West Literary Achievement Award for writers whose work captures the spirit of the west. Childs has a master's degree in Desert Studies from Prescott College where he has also taught field sciences.

Craig Childs will speak and give workshops in Bend as part of The Nature of Words literary event from November 5th to the 9th. For more information about Childs' appearances, visit www.thenatureofwords.org.

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