The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs

book cover

My favorite reads are those that let me escape. Whether I am bored in a waiting room, worried about something, or just trying to clear my head so I can sleep, books that can transport my mind to another place are worth their weight in gold. The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild by Craig Childs is a wonderful example of such a book.

In The Animal Dialogues, the author vividly describes various encounters he has had with wildlife. The book is set up so each species has its own chapter: Bear, Coyote, Rainbow Trout, etc. Within each chapter are a few stories about different encounters with that species. And “stories” is an appropriate word to use here. The author’s vivid descriptions of these encounters read like a novel. Here’s an example from the chapter “Bear”:

The bear’s shore and mine were separated by twenty feet of water. There was no solace in this distance. I had seen a bear swim a mile of swift, cold water here, much swifter and colder than this. The bear walked downstream, fixing on me now and then…  Across the river from our camp, the grizzly took a seat. It found a cluster of birch trees, and it rolled onto its rear like a very large person sitting to tell a story.

Most animals show themselves sparingly. The grizzly bear is six to eight hundred pounds of smugness. It has no need to hide. If it were a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey. It would also pursue secret solitude, disappearing for weeks on end while people were expecting it at upcoming meetings. At the moment, it was bold and aloof, making sure we knew we were being watched, but keeping its distance. As a function of time and patience, our uneasiness faded. We kept looking and the bear kept sitting.

Whether keeping an eye on a nearby grizzly, or being bullied by mosquitoes that act like “backstreet thugs,” Craig Childs’ writing puts you right at his side, highlighting the beauty and wonder of the wilderness. In another chapter, the author is hiking alone in Arizona when he stumbles upon a mountain lion. As the animal moves ever closer, he fights the urge to run (which would only trigger an attack response). The rest of the story is the most suspenseful tale I have read in years, as the author stares down the mountain lion, posturing himself to convince the animal not to have him for lunch.

Anyone with at least a mild interest in wildlife will thoroughly enjoy this book. If you need further convincing, an excerpt of The Animal Dialogues is available from the publisher’s website.