dward Abbey, the staunch defender of the natural world, can quit turning over in his grave now. His torch has been retrieved and lifted high by Kathleen Meyer, an environmental writer with as much wit and stylistic color as the man himself. Meyer's Barefoot-Hearted is, in part, the story of her romance with Patrick McCarron, an old-fashioned blacksmith of Irish descent with whom she shares a rodent-infested, fly-ridden barn in Montana's Bitterroot Valley. Meyer proves once again that the material for great writing is almost always close at hand. You might think of flies, mice and bats as vermin, but through close observations of these intruders and much scientific and anecdotal research, Meyer turns her life with these critters into a complex treatise on man's often unconscious inhumanity to wildlife. "Who is the real intruder here?" Meyer frequently asks. She is one of those rare writers who can pile on the zoological detail and make it as compelling as an Agatha Christie chiller. The book's centerpiece is a chapter on bear cubs orphaned by hunters and high-speed drivers, and the animal advocates who undertake heroic measures to save them from animal control gas chambers. It's a fascinating and sympathetic portrait of the American Black Bear, a creature, it seems, much more sinned against (by encroaching development, hunting and reckless huckleberry harvesting) than sinner. When she's not regaling her readers with the sex life of the skunks who live under her barn, Meyer entertains with scenes from her relationship with McCarron, whose immunity to suburban conditioning makes her own environmentalism pale to light green by comparison. We're talking here about a man who refuses to use pesticides, indoor plumbing or gasoline-powered vehicles. At one point in their adventure together, Meyer points to a pesky fly on her beloved's shoulder. Patrick looks at the fly, looks back at Kathleen and says, "Pretend it's a parrot." The only reservation I have in recommending this memoir is that you may become so addicted to Meyer's prose, you'll want to read all her other books immediately. Unfortunately, there's only one: the international bestseller How to Shit in the Woods. Kathleen, don't make us wait 10 years for the next one! Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.

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