Relaxing in a hammock with a good book is a great way to a warm summer afternoon. Here are a few titles that have recently caught my eye.
"The Last Appalachian Wolf" (2014) by Edwin D. Michael (Quarrier Press, $12.95) is a fictional account of the extinction of timber wolves in the east. The locations and people involved are real and based upon historical records, but the accounts of the wolves' lives over the course of 200 years come from the fertile imagination of the author. Michael is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. He knows that natural history of the Appalachians as well as anyone I know. The opening chapter grabbed me, and I had to find out how once-common eastern wolves disappeared. Readers can purchase signed copies from the author by sending a check for $15 to Ed Michael, 374 Horseshoe Drive, Morgantown, WV 26508.
"West Virginia Mountain Lions: Past, Present and Future of the Long Tailed Cat" (2014) by Skip Johnson (Quarrier Press, $15.95) is a peek into the mystique of North America's big cat. Though it once roamed the entire continent as the top carnivore, mountain lions now are found only out west and in Florida. But lions are on the move. In recent years young males from the Dakotas have made their way as far east as Connecticut. Johnson limits his story to West Virginia, where he worked as an outdoor writer at the Charleston Gazette for more than 30 years. Though mountain lions are the focus of the book, it is their effect on people and our reaction to them that complete the tale. Johnson died in 2010.
"The Amazing World of Flyingfish" (2014) by Steve N.G. Howell (Princeton University Press, $12.95) is a brief (45 pages) and fascinating look into the world of flyingfish. Considered mythical by many, "Flyingfish" corrects that impression. Beautifully illustrated with more than 90 color photos, all but two by the author, "Flyingfish" is a mesmerizing natural history. For example, flights of flyingfish can cover up to a quarter mile, last up to was 45 seconds, and reach speeds of 20 to 40 miles per hour.
"A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction" (2014) by Joel Greenberg (Bloomsbury, $26) is the tragic tale of what may have once been the most abundant bird on earth. Since 1914, it has been gone forever. How can a species with numbers so great that writers described flocks that blocked out the sun for days disappear in less than 100 years? Were they victims of their own success? Could market hunters have really killed them all? This is a conservation lesson that everyone should know.
"Birdhouses & More: Easy to Build Houses & Feeders for Birds, Bats, Butterflies and Other Backyard Creatures" (2014) by A.J. Hamler (Popular Woodworking Books, $24.99) is an answer to the prayers of do-it-yourselfer nature lovers. From bird feeders and nest boxes to toad houses and bee blocks, Hamler provides detailed instructions for 25 projects. Each is lavishly illustrated with color images that lead the reader step-by-step through each project. The book even includes a section on domestic wildlife. Scratching posts, cat condos, window perches, pet feeders and pet beds will please all the furry members of the family. If you have the tools and you love animals, this book is for you.
"The Homing Instinct: Meaning & Mystery in Animal Migration" (2014) by Bernd Heinrich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27) invokes the homing instinct as the basis for animal movements. Heinrich is a national treasure, a career naturalist now retired from academic life.
My library includes at least seven of Heinrich's earlier works, so I had great expectations. From bees and butterflies to cranes and sea turtles, Heinrich investigates animal movements and offers compelling snippets of natural history. The story is about more than migration. It's also about the whys and hows of movements. And though the homing instincts of some animals may seem self-evident, Heinrich also works people into the conversation. I now have a better understanding why my heart beats just a bit faster whenever I get back the place I always call "home."
Dr. Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.watchdognetwork.com. Visit Scott's website www.drshalawaycom or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.