cover image Tigers & Ice: Reflections on Nature and Life

Tigers & Ice: Reflections on Nature and Life

Edward Hoagland / Author, Hoagland / Author Lyons Press $22 (

Hoagland's (Balancing Acts, etc.) first essay collection in several years is a mixed bag, by turns celebratory, meditative, curmudgeonly and autobiographical. He poignantly describes his three years of legal blindness during his late 50s, when he couldn't write, friends dropped him and he courted suicidal thoughts, until two eye operations restored his sight. In another piece, he reveals that a stutter from childhood instilled in him empathy for the underdog. His exhilarating account of his recent voyage to Antarctica aboard a Russian research vessel--a mosaic of natural history, personalities, exploration, penguins and geopolitics--is a grand adventure. Close to jungle cats since 1951 when, at age 18, he crossed the U.S. with the Ringling Bros. circus working with tigers and elephants, Hoagland files a heartbreaking dispatch on his 1993 trip to southern India, where he witnessed the vanishing of species like tigers and elephants, shrinking wildlife preserves and tribal clashes. He writes affectingly of the rhythms of rural living in his home in Vermont; mountain climbing; writing as a form of creative play; his love of ponds; the challenges of middle age. While charting his trajectory from Christianity to Transcendentalism, Hoagland ascribes the roots of the ecological crisis to a man-vs.-nature duality that he traces to the Old Testament. Elsewhere, he condones suicide as a life choice and, in a tongue-in-cheek, misanthropic mood, hopes for ""a new variety of the neutron bomb"" that would kill people but leave behind the rest of creation. Notwithstanding such indulgences, these essays grasp life whole, shuttling easily from idea to memory to astute observation. (Mar.)