SEVEN MORE contenders for the Christmas gift book contest have entered the ring: two heavyweights (in ambition as well as size), several promising if slightly flawed middleweights, and a pair of fringe entries likely to join the elimination bouts held on remainder tables.
First up is the bulky Legacy: The Natural History of Ontario (McClelland & Stewart, 416 pages, $75.00 cloth), which is billed as "the most comprehensive natural history book ever published in Canada." That claim splits some hairs, since the book is certainly comprehensive in coverage of its chosen province's species and environments, but hardly comprehends the country's ecology. However, Legacy is a worthy effort; edited by John B. Theberge, a wolf ecologist, it marshals 41 naturalists doing their best to describe nature in non?scientific language.
Few gift books deliver so much information. I learned, for example, that the grey jay survives winter by caching food in hundreds of sites, then remembering and recovering the morsels over the winter and early spring, and that Ontario's Deep South even harbours a few opossums. The verbal lore is backed up by more than 200 colour photos. There is also an abundance of line drawings by Mary Theberge, and of maps (more than 80 of each).
A few of the last are blurred by slightly off?register printing in one signature, but the rest of the art work has the sharpness and colour fidelity readers should expect for $75. The book, not surprisingly, has a strong environmental message; many of the contributors are alarmed by the ?decline in the population and territory of the species they celebrate. Lay (or drop) this one on your favourite amateur naturalist.
In the opposite comer, wearing the same price tag and the widest trunks, is the imposing Dykelands (McGill?Queen's, 72 pages, $75.00 cloth). This celebration of New Brunswick's salt?marshes, with photographs by Thaddeus Holownia and poems by Douglas Lochhead, measures no less than 10 by 19 inches to accommodate Holownia's serene images. The duotone plates are actually the same size as the original negatives. Holownia works with an antique banquet?view camera, originally used for photographing large formal dinners.
The interplay of light and language creates depth; this is the rare type of gift book that can be reread with pleasure. However, the plates of the marshes, dikes, and waterways around Sackville are so subtle in detail and tone that they tend to overwhelm the unrhymed couplets of Lochhead's accompanying poems, although he tries to balance Holownia's sweeping, unpopulated landscapes with human and historical particulars. Beside an image of a broken?down bridge, Lochhead muses "the local terrors beat it down/with souped?up Chevs held fast by chrome."
One of the most stunning books published about a Canadian locale, Dykelands is a triumph of design as well as photography. The typography, use of space, and printing all match the exactness of huge plates. Give this one to someone with exceptionally deep bookcases or an Olympic?sized coffee table.
The next event pits two books that have in common a personal approach to exotic African sites. The more interesting is Christopher Ondaatje's Leopard in the Afternoon: An African Tenting Safari (Lester & Orpen Dennys, 240 pages, $35.00 cloth). Ondaatje's sojourn in Tanzania's Serengeti, Africa's only remaining sizable wildlife pre?. serve, turned his life around. The multimillionaire financier returned to Canada with more than a collection of anecdotes and colour slides. He decided to wind up his highly successful career of managing others' investments and devote more time to his own priorities, including conservation.
As his younger brother, Michael, notes in the introduction, such a mid?life change of direction might seem atypical to those who recognize only a businesssuited financial executive, but others who recall him singing Hoagy Carmichael songs (or competing on Canada's 1964 gold?medal bobsled team) might be less perplexed. Christopher Ondaatje took the colour photographs of leopards, lions, and other wildlife; he also wrote the text and selected brief passages from other writers who have celebrated Africa.
On the whole, the colour images hold up well for a selfdescribed amateur lensman, except for an occasional fuzziness in the telephoto shots. Getting sharp depictions of often fast?moving animals from long distances seems to take years of practice as well as patience and a good tripod. Although Ondaatje's book is published by a firm that he now owns, its record of a personal as well as physical journey makes it more than a vanity book, as does the fact that all royalties and profits from its sale go to the World Wildlife Fund.
Yemen: Invitation to a Voyage in Arabia Felix (Les Editions Heritage, 144 pages, $39.95 cloth) is yet another travel book by Canada's argument for the existence of perpetual motion, Senator Jacques Hebert. This time the peripatetic author visited the land south of Saudi Arabia described by ancient historians as "Happy Arabia" (although he really concentrates only on North Yemen, or the Yemen Arab Republic). His effervescent prose is accompanied by colour photographs by Marc Hebert.
As Hebert confesses, "When I arrive in a new country, an extraordinary wellbeing overwhelms me. I become like a child again. . ." His wide?eyed delight allows him to appreciate many of the things that do seem praiseworthy: the country's handsome, colourfully dressed people and I' s intriguing urban architecture, which combines, with Arabic grace and simplicity, elements of stained glass, European feudal castles, and forts. But Hebert's naivete is painfully evident as he skims over many of the country's inequities and problems.
One balks at his assertion that Yemen has always been hospitable to Jews, followed by notes that they were subject to "certain restrictions" and nearly all left in 1947's Great Exodus, or his comment that women are being more integrated in society, balanced against the fact that his words and the photographs record almost no feminine presence in this land of sequestered women. Neither is there much mention of poverty. According to the Heberts, there are almost no beggars, slums, or disease in the whole country. However, for those interested in visiting a land little?known over here, there are extensive and practical lists of Yemenite procedures and protocols.
Rather a different vision is offered by Satellite Images (Camden House (Firefly), 120 pages, $29.95 cloth). In fact the spectacular multi?coloured landscapes of Canada in this book were not taken by a human photographer at all, but by the Landsat satellite. Computer manipulation of the 185?kilometre swaths allows scientists to assign different colours to details of the vegetation and topography.
The purpose of such images, as Brian Banks explains in notes that probably tell you more than you need to know about the practice of remote sensing, are varied: for example, healthy stands of trees can be distinguished from diseased ones and wetlands suitable for waterfowl can be identified for preservation. But, like the, first pictures of our globe taken from space, these extreme long shots work both as art and as a warning. The landscapes are densely textured, spectacular fabrics that reveal nature's random beauty from a point of view far above aircraft altitudes a few miles up. They also provide sobering evidence of the extent of human impact. Huge logging scars seam the mountains; effluent from, cities visibly stains the water far beyond their harbours. This book, effectively produced but rather scientific in tone, will be welcomed by artists, photographers, geographers, and environmentalists.
Finally, the two contenders for the title of "soon to be remaindered." A Nova Scotia Album: Glimpses of the Way We Were (Hounslow, unpaginated, $32.95 cloth) doesn't really deserve such a fate, but the market for regionally based snapshot collections is small. Mary Biggar Peck has assembled a crosssection of black?and?white images from Nova Scotia's previous century. She has a good eye for the blend of anthropological interest, nostalgia, and photographic composition that such a compilation requires.
I There is a certain fascination in frozen moments from the past such as a woman listening to the voice of her husband trapped below in a mine, cheerful Bluenosers slicing fish, or two women posing comically in men's army uniforms. A foreword by Harry Bruce accompanies the pictures.
The problem with Ample Mansions: The Viceregal Residences of the Canadian Provinces (University of Ottawa, 238 pages, $34.95 cloth) lies not so much in its writing or production quality as in its theme. Worthy as Dr. R. H. Hubbard's research is, it's hard to see who would want this book. Perhaps it will find a niche on the shelves of those interested in historical architecture, or those who still fly the Union Jack at their cottages.
To give Dr. Hubbard his due, he does his best to leaven the footnotes and historical summaries with interesting details and anecdotes from the past. Appropriately, Newfoundland suffered from one of the most colourful lieutenant?governors. Sir Thomas Cochrane, one of England's "mad Cochranes," had no architectural training but plenty of ego. He insisted on designing his own "Government House" in 1825, had it built for four times his original estimate, and was still changing his mind about chimney locations after the long?suffering masons had built a few of them. But Ample Mansions is short on such memorable material and long on images of formal groups and royal visits. Its production quality is acceptable except for blurred type on a few pages.