cover image The Flight of the Monarch and Other Reflections

The Flight of the Monarch and Other Reflections

Michel Braudeau. George Braziller, $19.95 (111pp) ISBN 978-0-8076-1530-0

This slim collection of anecdotal essays focuses on six species that migrate--whether across vast continents or just beyond a pond--to reproduce or feed, and in the process expose themselves to remarkable dangers. Braudeau first follows the monarch butterfly on its multigenerational, roundtrip flight from southern Canada to the mountain forests in Mexico,""the only place in the world where one can distinctly hear the noise made by the wings"" of the millions of orange-and-black insects that gather there. He then investigates how toads, gnus, swifts, leatherback turtles and fleas thrive despite a long list of manmade obstacles and biological disadvantages.""A majestic beauty, the leatherback turtle,"" for example,""is not exactly brilliant."" Yet despite its many predators at land or sea, its dim-witted tendency to lay eggs in rising tides or smother them by nesting an overabundant number, the species keeps on kicking. Meanwhile, stubborn toads annually play""Frogger"" with oncoming traffic to reach their favorite seasonal pools. Braudeau illuminates these feats with simple data and amusing observations in the tradition of nature writers such as Diane Ackerman and Bernd Heinrich. Hawkes remains faithful to the author's clear, idiomatic style in this skillful translation from the French--the only one to date among Braudeau's 13 previous books. While too many nature books lose focus in trying to achieve heft, Braudeau shows that just a few words can speak volumes about nature's wonder.