April 4, 2005
Throughout her 25-year career as a journalist in Canada, Savage (Prairie: A Natural History) has been driven by an almost boundless curiosity about the natural world. The subjects of the essays in this whimsical collection range from the familiar (grizzlies, the Northern Lights, grasshoppers) to the obscure. Savage paints an imaginative portrait of springtails-tiny organisms with spring-loaded tails that are so small they appear as clouds of dust-and other microscopic life within prairie soil, fancifully describing pseudoscorpions, who "stalk through the soil with their venomous pincers armed and ready for action," and waterbears, "plump, lumbering, eight-legged little critters" that "waddle through the film of water around soil granules" in search of food. With this appreciation of the richness of nature comes a heightened awareness of the impact humans have on the natural world, whether through the use of harmful chemicals like DDT or conscious decisions made by the government. Though Savage is distressed by this "destruction that we, as high-end consumers of the world's splendor, are leaving in our wake," the purpose of her essays is not to incite indignation but "to bring the ungraspable reality of the non-human world into clearer focus." In this she succeeds admirably.