When I was thirteen years old, I was a desperate naturalist. I wanted to be a forest ranger or a watchman in a fire tower. I wanted to know everything about the forest-every spruce tree and weevil and salmonberry and grizzly bear. I tried to memorize the Latin names of every kind of moss. I was crazy with the desire to learn the secrets of the natural world.
Back then, a book like A.K. Dewdney's Hungry Hollow: The Story of a Natural Place (Copernicus, 233 pages, $26 U.S. cloth) would have been a perfect guide for learning more about this world-not too complex, but charming and full of information. A fine book for a juvenile naturalist. By the time I was fifteen, I would have thought it cutesy but too naive.
Hungry Hollow is an attempt to explore a small ecosystem (using a composite example) in the eastern deciduous forest zone. Comprehensive, it covers everything from small mammal behaviour to surface tension, diving straight into the sex lives of diatoms and bacteria and the nature of colloidal soils. However, it is so simplistically written, I thought at first that it was meant to be a juvenile book (not that a juvenile book need be rudimentary), but the publisher claims it is written for adults and is to be shared with older children.
Hungry Hollow tells the story of the ecosystem through such fascinating characters as Lotor, the crafty raccoon, Serpentina, the snapping turtle, and Dianne, the biologist. Curiously, Dewdney has developed his own nomenclature for defining the different "worlds" of Hungry Hollow-a strategy based on the decimal system: World Ten (atoms); World Nine (compounds); World Eight (DNA), etcetera. This is a completely bizarre system and it was irritating to have to keep going back to the reference list because I couldn't remember what World Four was. A classic human thing for the author to do: divide up the natural world using a mathematical system. The author also has the temerity to announce that "[t]his is the first book about the natural environments to mention these worlds specifically". Hopefully, it will be the last.
As the book comes to its conclusion, we discover that Hungry Hollow is endangered. Uncaring developers and chainsawers are going to log it for a subdivision, but there's a possibility that it could be saved by Dianne, who bought her house in the previous phase of development and now wants to fight any further subdivision.
With the help of a kind and wise Native woman and an ancient medicine bundle, Hungry Hollow might be protected by having it named a native spiritual heritage place-so it will never be logged again. Don't we all wish the world were that simple?