Book review: Swampwalker's Journal (Carroll)

Nathan050793

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Book Review: Swampwalker’s Journal- A Wetlands Year written and illustrated by David M. Carroll

(Copyright 1999 by David M. Carroll, 292 pages)

Swampwalker's Journal was awarded "The John Burroughs Medal"

This is my first book review, so I tried to make my format similar to the others, sorry if it isn’t perfect. Now on to the review!

I’ll start by providing the summary on the back of the book, as it is a fairly good representation- “ David Carroll has dedicated his life to art and to wetlands. He is as passionate about swamps, bogs, and vernal ponds and the creatures who live in them as most of us are about our families and closest friends. He knows frogs and snakes, muskrats and minks, dragonflies, water lilies, cattails, sedges-everything that swims, flies, trudges, slithers, or sinks it’s roots in wet places. In this “intimate and wise book” (Sue Hubbell), Carroll takes us on a lively, unforgettable yearlong journey, illustrated with his own elegant drawings, through the wetlands and reveals why they are so important to his life and ours-and to all life on Earth.”

And I must say, Carroll’s drawings are rather elegant. Many of them give beautiful depictions of amphibians (mostly related to vernal pools) including, four-toed salamanders (Hemidactylum scutatum), Spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum), Blue spotted salamanders (Ambystoma laterale), Marbled salamanders (Ambystoma opacum), Eastern newts (Notophthalmus v. viridescens), and American toads (Bufo a. americanus), to name a few. Many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants are also shown- all in various behavioral situations.

The book is interesting as David Carroll’s writing is easy to read and takes you through each season in wet places (each with his own imaginative nick-name). I was also very impressed as, the back of the book has a section which lists the common and scientific names of every species mentioned or illustrated within the book. Each illustration also lists the common and scientific name as a caption.

I have had the book for years, and must say that it is one of my personal favorites. I especially recommend this book to field herpers, as I think that it gives a fair description of what field herping can be like. It makes a great summer read and can be stored in the car or a backpack for any salamander field trip or can be read on a lazy summer day at home. The book isn’t so scientific that it can become boring, but is scientific enough to retain some interest from those who enjoy scientific material. It is more a story than a scientific journal, though.

I am sure that the book can be found on Amazon, and so I’ll list the ISBN numbers for those who are interested-

ISBN 0-395-64725-8
ISBN 0-618-12737-2 (pbk.)

Thanks to all for reading the review, enjoy the summer!
 

JAK

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Sorry to reach so far back into the forum but, I just finished this book (checked out from my local library thankfully) and had to speak up. The work is interesting enough and if not for the value of its content I wouldn't have bothered finishing it. Carroll's writing style is at its best charming, verging on the poetic, but one is keenly aware that the man is not a born writer and his labours to compose his thoughts into a coherent narrative often come through more strongly than his noble sentiments. The tone and imagery of the first few pages is nearly beyond compare among modern naturalist authors, but that beauty rarely comes through in the remainder of the work.

The deep sentiment of the author is evident in every page but often leads to basic oversights that prevent the reader from forming a complete image of the scene. One is forced to construct the dimensions and topography of the Reedgrass Pool for example, based on snippets that feel like afterthoughts. One gets the distinct impression that the work is composed from notes laid down exclusively for the benefit of people already intimate with the precise areas described. This may have been done to purposely focus on the wildlife and allow the reader to place themselves in Carroll's place and substitute local wetlands for those of the author. In effect one is left with a hazey disjointed image of a vividly alive scene. The constant, and thankfully eloquent, emphasis on the fragility of the wetland habitat does not feel heavy handed but does serve to highlight the commission of more accurate and explicit descriptions.

It's a fine enough book, and worth reading if one has yet to ramble through a marsh or wetland landscape, or has, but failed to find the exuberant life expected. The work is illustrated but often the illustrations fail to capture the importance of the environment; depicting a roiling ball of salamanders without a view of its margins fails to establish the real power of the sight. I expect Carroll to grow wonderfully as an author and long to read later works which will no doubt prove far better than Swampwalker's Journal.

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