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A Bee in His Bonnet

From Bees: Nature’s Little Wonders


Saskatchewan Book Awards

Fore-Word Magazine Awards

Independent Publishers Awards

Karl Von Frisch was an austere-looking man, with a large nose, high bony forehead, and

the wire-rimmed glare of an exacting taskmaster. But how he did love his bees. When

someone asked him in later years how he felt about receiving a Nobel Prize for his

honeybee research (an award he shared with animal behaviorists Niko Tinbergen and

Konrad Lorenz in 1973) he acknowledged that the honor had “made me very happy.”

“But I have to say with all honesty,” he reflected, that “when I am in the yard outside

observing…, and I hear the buzzing of the bees, that is for me a greater experience than

the Nobel Prize.”

When von Frisch began his honeybee studies in the early 1900s, many large questions

were beginning to buzz drowsily through the minds of zoologists. For instance: Given that

the great majority of bee species are solitary, why had a few, like the honeybee, become

so intensely social?  And why was it that these social bees could live together in harmony

and peace, when humans often failed to do so spectacularly?  But these were subjects for

meditation, not topics for research, and von Frisch focused his energies on more practical

matters. When his research into small questions began to turn up large answers, he was

as surprised as anyone.

It had all begun in 1914, when a bumptious young von Frisch presented a paper in

Freiberg to the German Zoological Society, entitled a “demonstration providing

experimental evidence for the existence of color vision in animals supposed to be colour-

blind.” With this title, he was thumbing his nose at a respected scientist who had recently

declared that insects and other “lower” animals were unable to perceive color. But when

von Frisch looked out the window and saw gardens of brightly painted flowers, with bees

dancing around them, he knew this had to be false.  Bees must perceive colors, but how

to prove it? Von Frisch’s solution to this problem was to organize a kind of honeybee


Long-Range Forecast

From Prairie: A Natural History


Saskatchewan Book Awards

Fore-Word Magazine Awards

Midwest Book Awards

IBBY Awards

In a century when the natural world is slowly dying all around us—when the Earth is losing

species at an average rate of one every twenty minutes—the wide open spaces of the

Great Plains are a landscape of hope. Here is an ecosystem that has experienced the full

onslaught of modernization in one brief historical instant and that, though battered and

torn, still inspires us with its splendor. This is a country filled with light. It is a place where

city streets flow out onto the prairie and draw us along until, almost before we know it, we

find ourselves rolling down a dusty gravel road, with warm gusts of meadowlark song

blowing in through the open window. It is a land where the seasons surge over us like

tides, from the sudden upwelling of spring to the languid heat of summer and from the

rushing retreat of autumn to the great sparkling silence of winter….

The prairie opens us to the immensities of space and time. Like few other places on Earth,

it reminds us that life operates within broad horizons, with sight lines that extend from the

past through the present and into the future. Just as the buffalo prairie is gone, though not

forgotten, the countryside that we see before us is even now being transformed into the

living landscape of tomorrow. As we look at the world that we have inherited from our

ancestors, it is impossible not to think of the generations who will come after us. The wild

prairie that we leave to them will be our legacy.

The Boy Wizard

From Wizards: An Amazing Journey Through the

Last Great Age of Magic


Saskatchewan Book Awards

Norma Fleck Children's Literature Awards

Willow Awards

Science in Society Book Awards

Canadian Children's Book Centre

Isaac Newton began his training as a wizard when he was twelve years old. Like a real-life

Harry Potter, he had lost her parents when he was very young. (His father died, his

mother abandoned him, and he was forced to stay with relatives whom he detested.) But

then, a few months before his thirteenth birthday in 1655, his fortunes began to improve—

he was sent away to start school. King’s Grammar School in the village of Grantham,

England, was no Hogwarts: there were no classes in Divination or Defence Against the

Dark Arts. There was not even any mathematics, which Isaac would have loved, just hour

after hour of ancient Greek and Latin, But when classes were finally over, life began to


Isaac boarded with a family who ran a kind of drugstore called an apothecary shop. From

the outside, the shop looked like every other business along the cobbled street, a tall,

narrow building with dingy windows and a creaking signboard. But inside it was a treasure

house of wonders from around the world. One wall was lined with drawers full of gray-

green herbs—chamomile, sage and thyme,--that filled the air with the dusty smell of

summer. Beside them were jars of spices from the distant Orient that gave off the sweet,

exotic perfume of cloves and cinnamon. Nearby were wooded boxes filled with wolves’

teeth, bears’ fat, bats’ wings and the shriveled carcasses of serpents.

The Birds in Black

From Crows: Encounters With the Wise Guys

of the Avian World


Saskatchewan Book Awards

Alcuin Society

On an island in the South Pacific Ocean, somewhere west of Fiji, a sleek black crow is

poking around in the foliage of a sun-streaked rainforest. With its senses sharply focused

on the search for food, the bird hops from branch to branch and from plant to plant,

jabbing its stout beak into the bases of palm leaves and cocking its head to inspect

crannies in the bark.  There are insects hidden in there—juicy centipedes, weevils and

grubs—but many of them are out of reach, buried deep in the vegetation or curled up at

the bottom of wormholes drilled into the tree trunks.

An ordinary bird might be stymied by these difficulties, but not so our crow.  Without

hesitation, it flies to a nearby tree and picks up a twig that it had left there a few minutes

earlier.  At first glance, the stick doesn’t look particularly special: it’s just a twig from a

native deciduous tree, Elaeocarpus dognyensis, that has been stripped of leaves and

bark. On closer examination, however, you can see that the crotch where the twig broke

away from the tree has been nibbled into a tiny hook.  And watch what the crow can do

with it!  Grasping the twig in its bill, the bird flies directly back to its foraging site, positions

the stick so that one end is braced against the side of the head, and then deftly inserts the

implement, hook first, into the crevice.  With a few quick flicks of its beak, the bird works

the twig back and forth, then pulls it out, with a tasty insect squirming on the end of it.

Crow, the Tool User, in action.

Airy Nothings

From Aurora:  the Mysterious Northern Lights.


Science in Society Book Awards

It is dark. Not the phony dark of a modern, overlit city, but true dark and cold. The yellow

glow of camp fades quickly behind us, eclipsed by the forest and the dense night.

Two vague forms, our silhouettes muffled with winter clothes, we shuffled out of the

spruce woods, through a thicket of willows and onto the surface of a small lake. A little

distance into this clearing, my companion stops. “Look,” she says quietly, waving a

mittened hand. “Look up.”

Ribbons of frosty breath stream from our upturned faces. Far above, ribbons of soft

greenish light stream across the sky. Aurora borealis, the northern lights.

From horizon to horizon, misty dragons swim through the heavens. Green curtains billow

and swirl. Fast-moving, sky-filling, tissues of gossamer. Through them in the farther

distance, we can see the familiar pinpoint outlines of star patterns: Great Bear and her

son, Little Bear; sinuous Draco; exact Cassiopeia; Polaris, the hub.

Apart from the hush of our breathing, nothing can be heard. We lean our heads together

and speak in whispers. We are grown women, my friend and I. Indeed, if the somber truth

is to be told, we are middle-aged—we are educated, well traveled, well read; and here,

near the short of Great Slave Lake in the Canadian territories, the northern lights are a

privileged commonplace. We have often seen them before. Yet we stand transfixed, in the

middle of the night, in the middle of a snowy pond, watching the aurora dance overhead.

By rights, we humans ought to live in constant wonderment, amazed by every star, cloud,

tree, leaf, feather, fish and rock. Amazed by the supreme improbability of our own intricate

existence. But except for a gifted few (artists and mystics), we lack the stamina for so

much mystery. It takes a shock—a sudden burst of beauty—to wake us to the wonder of

our reality.