In this authoritative and entertaining book, first published in 1992, Thomas Palmer introduces us to a community of rattlesnakes nestled in the heart of the urban Northeast, one of several such enclaves found near cities across the United States. Recognizing the unexpected proximity of rattlers in our urban environs, Palmer examines not only Crotalus horridus but also the ecology, evolution, folklore, New England history, and American culture that surrounds this native species.
Landscape with Reptile celebrates the rattlesnake's survival with a multifaceted journey through nature, literature, and history. It includes a spirited defense of an outlaw species, an investigation of the hazards of snakebite, an account of a multimillion-dollar development project halted by Crotalus, a collection of tall tales, and a meditation on the spectacle of life on earth. Like the best nature writers, Palmer lives and breathes his landscape, but unlike most nature writers, he finds his landscape is his own backyard. Rarely has a book of natural history addressed so many historical and cultural touchstones in such original and unexpected ways. Palmer's story is as authentic as the woodlands from which it sprang.
Prime nature writing, capably focused through multiple views of natural history, ecology, medicine, history, evolution, and anthropology.
Palmer's book is a rarity-fascinating nature writing that includes human history and sociology along with ecology and evolution. Palmer takes that unlovable creature, the timber rattlesnake, and uses it to discuss an incredible variety of topics related to our relationships with the natural world. . . . He shows us the world and its history from a perspective we seldom even imagine. Landscape with Reptile
is essential for herpetological and regional New England collections and is an excellent selection for general natural history collections.
An intriguing examination of a human wildlife relationship that will probably become increasingly common as the apparently inexorable pressures of human populations and demands overwhelm the natural world.
Palmer tells us everything we didn't think we wanted to know about rattlesnakes, but Landscape with Reptile
delivers much more than that. In fact, it delivers what the title promises: a look at the very landscape we not only live in but have, in recent centuries, dominated.
—San Diego Tribune
Rattlesnakes are just a focal point for Palmer. He allows them to lead him into bracing and often witty reconsiderations of other topics: biodiversity, environmentalism, modern medicine, the Puritan legacy, New England history, and the work of such naturalists as Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz. . . . It's hard to imagine an amateur naturalist who wouldn't enjoy it.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
Palmer's loose-limbed and likable study of natural history coils in and out of many other areas, too. . . . Landscape with Reptile
is deliberately digressive; Palmer's method in this quirky yet appealing book follows an undulating pattern that shows we have merely used Crotalus
, 'it seemed, to define ourselves.'
Landscape with Reptile
, like so many great works of nature writing, binds itself strictly in one dimension and in doing so opens a wide vista in all other dimensions. . . . The book combines a series of lively and fascinating vignettes on matters like Ice Ages, colonial renegades, killer quarries, and medical quackery, with an overarching meditation on how human beings turn the living world-snakes, landscapes, each other-into symbols with which to enact morality plays of highly questionable sophistication and relevance.
—Brain in a Girl-shaped Jar blog