Intellectually rich, intensely personal, and beautifully written, Tracks and Shadows is both an absorbing autobiography of a celebrated field biologist and a celebration of beauty in nature. Harry W. Greene, award-winning author of Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature delves into the poetry of field biology, showing how nature eases our existential quandaries. More than a memoir, Tracks and Shadows is about the wonder of snakes, the beauty of studying and understanding natural history, and the importance of sharing the love of nature with humanity.
Greene begins with his youthful curiosity about the natural world and moves to his stints as a mortician's assistant, ambulance driver, and army medic. In detailing his academic career, he describes how his work led him to believe that nature's most profound lessons lurk in hard-won details. He discusses the nuts and bolts of field research and teaching, contrasts the emotional impact of hot dry habitats with hot wet ones, imparts the basics of snake biology, and introduces the great explorers Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. He reflects on friendship and happiness, tackles notions like anthropomorphism and wilderness, and argues that organisms remain the core of biology, science plays key roles in conservation, and natural history offers an enlightened form of contentment.
List of Illustrations
PART ONE: DESCENT WITH MODIFICATION
1. Tracks and Shadows
4. Field Biologist
PART TWO: CONVERSING WITH SERPENTS
6. Graduate School
7. Hot Dry Places
8. Hot Wet Places
9. Giant Serpents
10. Venomous Serpents
PART THREE: PRETTY IN SUNLIGHT
12. Loose Ends
13. Born-Again Predator
14. Field Biology as Art
Harry W. Greene is the Stephen Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and the recipient of the E.O. Wilson Award from the American Society of Naturalists. His book Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature (UC Press), won the PEN Literary Award and was a New York Times Notable Book.
"Achingly beautiful [...] Greene succeeds in illuminating the world as a place of beauty, harmony, and danger, deeply interconnected and worthy of cherishing and preserving."
– Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
"Tracks and Shadows is a valuable, fascinating, very human book about the making of a field biologist. Harry Greene has lived the life of which I once dreamed: studying snakes. But there's more here, much more, and what makes it all work is something not taught in herpetology class. This man can write."
– David Quammen, author of Spillover and The Song of the Dodo
"With Tracks and Shadows, renowned field scientist Harry Greene masterfully – and poetically – examines the contradictions inherent in wild places that teem with both beauty and danger. In these stories, drawn from a life spent in the study of his beloved snakes, he reveals how an eminently humane scientist learned to find joy and peace by exploring the living world."
– Mark W. Moffett, author of Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions
"This book is an immediate classic. I had heard of it rumored for years. It is grand indeed and more than fulfilled my expectations."
– Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall and The River Swimmer
"Harry Greene shares the sting of death and the joy of life in Tracks and Shadows, but this brilliant book is also about the wonder of snakes, the beauty of studying natural history, and the importance of sharing a love of nature with humanity. It has something to teach every one of us."
– Martha Crump, author of In Search of the Golden Frog and Headless Males Make Great Lovers