Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410
The first two essays, “Under the Snow” and “A Textbook Place for Bears,” deal with the black bear, a creature growing ever more numerous in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Buck Alt and Patricia McConnell are new-breed conservationists, dedicated, hardworking, and heroic in their tracking and pursuit of four-hundred-pound black bears. Using homing devices and stun drugs, they study bears that have been lured by the simple bait of doughnuts drenched in vanilla extract. Then comes the real challenge: educating the citizenry to accept the essentially peaceful bears, including the one that visited Princeton, New Jersey, McPhee’s hometown.
More extensive applications of technology occur in “Riding the Boom Extension,” “Ice Pond,” and “Minihydro,” essays which contradict the notion that technology necessarily limits individual freedom. Without any previous experience, Richard Hutchinson installed telephone and electric lines in the tiny community of Circle City on the Yukon River in Alaska. Theodore Taylor invented the cryodesic dome, a pond of ice that cheaply and efficiently cools large buildings such as the Prudential Insurance Company office building in Princeton. Adventurers such as Paul Eckoff and Mark Quallen went in pursuit of old waterwheels and turbines, restored abandoned hydroelectric sites, and sold the electricity to big utilities, reaping handsome profits in the bargain.
The idealistic young doctors in “Heirs of General Practice,” all members of the Granola Generation, are less than convinced that technology alone can make a decent society. Physicians such as David Jones, Sandy Burstein, and Ann Dorney still make house calls and deliver personalized medicine to patients all over rural Maine. Senator Bill Bradley, the subject of “Open Man,” spends an exhausting day, traveling around New Jersey and fielding questions that touch on every important political issue of our day. All of these heroes operate on a person-to-person basis.
In the final essay, “North of the C. P. Line,” McPhee meets his alter ego, a game-warden pilot who patrols the North Woods looking for poachers and lost hunters. Improbably, he too is named John McPhee, and he takes the author through spoiled and unspoiled terrain that is evoked in every beautiful detail, a world of icy rivers, moose, deer, blue herons, and mergansers. One McPhee teaches another how lumber companies, hunters, virgin timbers, and wild animals somehow manage to coexist. Here, as in all the other essays, McPhee is detailed in his descriptions, sensitive in his portraits. There is not a dull or uninspired page in this delightful and highly readable book.
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