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A Shriek in the Forest Night

by R.D. Lawrence

Ronald Douglas Lawrence, a Canadian naturalist of great repute, has chosen to make this, his 27th book, a collection of anecdotes and stories about his adventures with wilderness over the past 40 years. The title comes from a chapter in which he relates his fascination with a great horned owl while guiding a friend’s son through the night forest.

His tales range from untangling a hummingbird from a burdock and caring for baby skunks to encounters with wolverines and sharks. If it was your uncle Bob telling you these stories from his armchair you’d suspect he was making them up, but Lawrence’s background and obvious knowledge makes these adventures wholly credible.

Lawrence does con his readers, though, into learning a lot about nature and wilderness. So engrossed are we in his stories that we don’t realize we’re being educated. The homey, friendly prose is sprinkled with facts and there are plenty of references to other naturalists, biologists, and authors. He subtly forces us to consider our own thoughts and fears about wild animals. Do they think? Would we act the same way around these animals as Lawrence does? He delights in telling us about his observations of a colony of ants and wonders what humans can learn from these indefatigable insects. He concludes that if ants ever become as large as tigers they’ll probably rule the world. Some readers may simply conclude it’s important to occasionally take the time to stop and watch the ants.

People familiar with Lawrence know that his expertise and experiences with wolves are fodder for most of his written work, and these creatures are not ignored in this collection. Lawrence clearly loves wolves, which he describes as “loyal, highly intelligent and affectionate companions.” The chapter touching on some highlights of his lupine adventures is all too brief.

The book is well crafted; it doesn’t get bogged down in facts and figures. Lawrence uses plenty of detail in describing his environs and consistently paints a colourful picture for the reader. We are left fascinated by and occasionally envious of a man who has the freedom to devote his life to something he loves so much.