Naturalist and wildlife artist Elliot ( Roots: An Underground Botany and Forager's Guide ) draws on native American legends, backwoods folk wisdom, and his own experiences with coons, snakes, possums, groundhogs, skunks, old apple trees, ginseng and other animals and plants to present a compendium of lore, anecdotes and practical advice about the natural world. He also describes colorful people he has encountered during a life of self-sufficiency in the woods, among them an Appalachian mountaineer neighbor, an old-time root doctor, and members of a religious sect who handle poisonous serpents as part of their worship service. Elliot's message is a familiar one: we should all develop sensitivity to nature; the least successful parts of the book are the passages in which he preaches this theme. Elliot is a fine storyteller, and his entertaining nature tales are accompanied by illustrations that have a charming simplicity. (Sept.)
If you want to get a feel for living off the land 100 or even 200 years ago, go no further, for Elliot gives you not only that but many odd bits of lore that both entertain and inform. There are chapters here devoted to such obscure and interesting subjects as the origins of Ground Hog Day, beaver psychology, and why Indians viewed the coyote as the creator. Admittedly, one will probably never use or in fact need the information Elliot relays about, say, possums, but who cares? Just knowing that someone else cares about North America's only marsupial is comforting. In this book, you'll meet a kinder and gentler world (one few of us ever experience), where even broccoli is appreciated. For whereas most of us view the world through how it affects us as individuals and as a species, Elliot regards the world from a decidedly ecological and natural viewpoint.