One early myth about the dinosaurs was that they would return. In 1830 Charles Lyell—earth scientist, Scot—gazed into the far future and posited as much in his Principles of Geology, arguing that since the planet’s climate was cyclical (or so he believed), vanished creatures could yet be revived, along with their habitats, when the right conditions came back around: “The huge iguanodon might reappear in the woods, and the ichthyosaur in the sea, while the pterodactyl might flit again through umbrageous groves of tree-ferns.” As to whether people would get to witness the spectacle of this resurrected bestiary—well, if Lyell was never drawn to that question, it was because the answer was not up for debate. His was an age in which the prospect of Earth bereft of human occupancy was too abominable, too sacrilegious, to contemplate.
Near to two centuries on, the feeling of living through end-times is not alien to us. Indeed, in a world of waning wilderness and tyrannized wildlife, we have cause to view ourselves as the monsters of the moment. The planet’s climate is well established to oscillate between two steady states: the icehouse (when, at a minimum, both poles whiten) and the steamier greenhouse phase, glacier-free. But both the interval and intensity of the flux have been recast by industrial activity: NASA confirmed July 2023 as the hottest month ever recorded by global instrumentation; the journal Nature has published projections showing that carbon dioxide emissions will delay the next glacial inception by around fifty thousand years.
In the summer of 2022 a heat wave in London dried out the lakes in Crystal Palace Park. Visitors who had traveled to see the famous model dinosaurs there—Iguanodon sculptures, a Hylaeosaurus, a Megalosaurus, all erected in the Victorian era—were implored not to walk over the mud to touch them where they stood, on high ground no longer encircled by water, their fragile foundations open to the air. That same month The New York Times reported that a drought in Texas had exposed dinosaur tracks from around 113 million years ago in the newly dry channel of the Paluxy River. The three-toed prints were thought to be evidence of an Acrocanthosaurus, a bipedal carnivore that could weigh seven tons in maturity. Reading about the prints, I imagined the sunstruck river evaporating into pools, then puddles, until the last of it was held silverly in the footfalls of that ancient animal. For an hour or two, maybe, a person might have been able to see their own face reflected there, until that too was vaporized.
Dinosaurs are coming back, as it turns out; not alive, but surfacing into the ecological concerns of our moment. To think more deeply about what it might mean to learn about dinosaurs in this time of environmental crisis, I sat down with my eight-year-old nephew, Alex, to watch the latest season of Prehistoric Planet, a series narrated by David Attenborough and produced by the BBC Studios Natural History Unit.
The conceit of the show is that it is a nature documentary featuring extinct creatures, filmed (perhaps a better word is “created”) as though it were possible to spy on their mating rituals and hunting stratagems, social interactions, homemaking, and—in the case of young—acquisition of skills such as foraging and flight. This is achieved by layering together actual footage of some of the most extreme, remote landscapes on modern-day Earth with digital renderings of prehistoric animals and a host of other organisms from the Maastrichtian age, at the end of the Late Cretaceous epoch. Behind-the-scenes footage available online shows crew members blocking action sequences using dinosaur silhouettes and puppets—templates for the sophisticated visual effects added in postproduction by Moving Picture Company, the animators best known for their work on the 2019 remake of Disney’s The Lion King and the 2016 live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book.
The final product is persuasive: it really does appear as if a portal has been opened to a time before human memory, and extinct animals are back up on their feet. Across five half-hour episodes, dinosaurs, prehistoric reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and a handful of protomammals lumber, dart, and drift through ordinary trials of survival. On the advice of experts, the animators reportedly spent months adjusting the subcutaneous structure of one dinosaur’s face alone: refining how soft tissues and nasal cavities, fat deposits and lip curl would inform shape, shadow, and motion.
Each episode opens with Attenborough standing in what looks to be a museum library, surrounded by shelves of leather-bound volumes and several skulls mounted on plinths—the nearest is clearly a Triceratops, with its colossal crest, beaked mouth, and distinctive trio of horns. Not one computer appears in the room. Though the tools of paleontology today extend to particle accelerators, algorithmic data modeling, and molecular biochemistry, when asked to picture the work of a paleontologist, who does not still conjure up images of dig sites under canvas tents? Who isn’t put in mind of Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant in the 1993 film Jurassic Park?
“Journey to a time when nature put on its greatest show,” Attenborough announces with a flourish as his in-person introduction transitions to august voice-over. Now we’re in a murky forest, a volcanic caldera, a tidal pool. From here on, there are no cutaways to fossils, laboratories, or the talking heads of experts. Matters of accuracy—the limit of confidence underlying each scenario—are parked. We are instead immersed in the land- and seascapes of the atavistic past.
Only a few minutes in, Alex wanted to check that there really wasn’t anywhere we could go to see these animals. Like, actual dinosaur hideouts where this had been filmed? Backlit by a tropical sunset, a male Hatzegopteryx—a flying reptile with the stretch of a hang glider—exposes the forking veins in the membrane of his wing. A herd of brawny Isisaurus with quills wavering down their backs traverse a lava field, their outlines rippled by the heat. When a juvenile Austroraptor swallows a garfish, the down on the underside of its throat quivers. Animals familiar to us from the present day—lizards, dragonflies, crayfish—occasionally cross paths with simulated ones. A ray (actual footage) and a Mosasaurus (superimposed) share the screen, and the aquatic light playing across both makes it momentarily plausible that they might continue to coexist in some far-off quarter of the sea.
Prehistoric Planet showcases several dinosaur species that are feathered, fast-moving, and startlingly colorful. A family of Pectinodon chase swarming flies, their plumage ruffled by the effort. Bright blue Corythoraptor guard nests of lime-green eggs. A part of the series’s mission is to overwrite outmoded notions of extinct animals either as insatiable malignities driven to pitiless violence or as sluggish, maladapted automatons ill-fit for Earth. “Dragons of the prime/that tare each other in their slime,” Alfred Tennyson wrote of dinosaurs in 1850, in a poem we best remember today for the expression “nature, red in tooth and claw.”
Scientific consensus now holds that the dinosaurs perished because of perturbations in the climate triggered by volcanic activity in the Deccan Traps of western India and, more fatally, an asteroid that struck the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago. But back when their extinction was presumed to denote merely giving way to “higher order” animals, their rank as nature’s faulty prototypes was sustained by an image of prehistory populated by floundering, lumpen creatures. Sauropods were once described as being so hefty they’d have had to stand around in lagoons all day long to take the weight off their cloddish feet. Early illustrations of Tyrannosaurus showed it dragging its fat tail uselessly along the ground. Such depictions made sense if humankind were regarded not just as another iteration of evolution but as the apotheosis of a natural sorting process—the supreme being.
A corrective has been underway since the 1960s, colloquially known as the Dinosaur Renaissance. Scientific revisions of dinosaur locomotion and sensory acuity led to khaki brutes being replaced by sleeker, endothermic raptors, and species ornamented not only with iridescence but crests, spines, spots, and stripes. Dinosaur lineages were ancestrally connected to birds—grist for conjecture on behaviors such as territoriality, flocking, and colony living. Researchers theorized that some non-avian archosaurs—a category of bygone reptile—might have been capable of seeing ultraviolet colors imperceptible to us, a faculty that could have led these animals to exhibit intricate patterns signaling rivalry or factoring into mate choice. Extinct Ice Age animals were likewise reappraised. Discoveries about the hearing of the giant ground sloth Megatherium suggested that it might have been responsive to infrasound, as modern-day elephants are.
The late 1990s heralded the rise of the sensitive dinosaur. Apex predators with a bite pressure in excess of any living carnivore were transformed from nature’s most chilling, indiscriminate killers into pair-bonded, doting parents. Prehistoric migration, courtship, resting states like hibernation and sleep, and the soundscapes of the distant past gathered more attention in published research. Toward the end of the 2010s American scientists announced that T. rex likely enjoyed nuzzling, with snouts as responsive to touch as our fingertips. It is tempting to suggest that dinosaurs in this period were humanized, were it not for the fact that, because they preceded us, it feels more accurate to say that traits we now associate with personification were dinosaurized by these findings.
Such developments have not always been met with enthusiasm. As has been remarked of many developments in the study of animal behavior, the disappearance of any supposedly unique human trait into the commons of zoology puts culture at stake as much as science. In 2022 The Sun criticized the BBC’s plans to debut—in a different Attenborough show, Dinosaurs: The Final Day—a “‘woke’ version” of the T-Rex, a “gentler” and more “mundane” beast, emasculated by being cast in the role of a scavenger.
Although Alex was initially awed at the lifelike semblance of Prehistoric Planet’s protagonists, this other kind of realism—dinosaurs portrayed without drama, not fighting, just being animals—soon began to weary him. A pair of plucky little Zalmoxes got caught on a raft of root-bonded soil and floated off as castaways to colonize an island. We scanned forward to watch Beelzebufo, a gigantic toad, crouch in a pool of water to amplify its rumbling croak. No blood, guts, or glory. Shortly after Alex went outside to kick a ball down the driveway.
In the time since I’d last seen him and his brother they’d outgrown their dinosaur phase and, according to my sister, were now preoccupied by a schoolyard trinity of footballers’ haircuts, Fortnite, and a canned energy drink called Prime that was perhaps illegal. She had cautioned me when I’d first proposed watching the series, but I’d forgotten, and my forgetting was a source of some sadness to me both because I remembered my own childhood obsession with dinosaurs as a much more prolonged, vivid episode and because each time I visited my hometown it seemed my nephews had leaped forward into a new era with concerns that were less and less a part of our shared habitual range. I’d wanted to impress on Alex that what we were watching was not just ancient, it was futuristic, with visual effects so advanced and naturalistic that the technology was sure to be deployed, if it hadn’t been already, in the hyperreal environments of the multiplayer games that were now his favorite settings in which to spend an afternoon.
To those of us born in the tapering of the twentieth century, dinosaurs are likely to occupy a special place in memory: as an early experience of mastery. Forming and retaining hierarchies turns out to be a distinct stage of brain development related to pattern recognition, memory, and language, and dinosaurs offer a ready miscellany for sorting. Meat eaters versus plant eaters; those that walked on two legs, those that walked on four. For older children, lizard-hipped dinosaurs unalike to bird-hipped dinosaurs.
Such exercises in categorization can, of course, be undertaken with zoo creatures, fruit, or Pokémon. That dinosaurs especially attract this kind of attention is a consequence not only of the history of paleontological discoveries but of the evolution of manufacturing. When die-cast collectibles dominated the toy market, a manufacturer of playthings might have fabricated just three or four dinosaur miniatures: a T. rex, a Triceratops, a sail dinosaur, perhaps a pterodactyl. Innovations in cheap injection molding and colorfast polymers permitted toy companies to exploit children’s impulse for categorization by extending the range of available models. It was the age of thermal plastic that turned loving dinosaurs into a recognized phase of childhood development.
As a rite of passage, learning to identify dinosaurs—repeating the arcana of their multisyllabic names, as if they were, of themselves, spells for getting taller—can seem bundled with a child’s burgeoning autonomy. Are dinosaurs not, then, the most anthropocentric animals, being props for our development? They may have died out long before we evolved, but what other class of animal has been so thoroughly recruited to the process of growing up?
In conceiving of the full-scale dinosaur sculptures at the Crystal Palace in Victorian London, the early paleoartist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins formed his ideas around studies of comparative anatomy, along with prevailing opinions on the past’s primordial character. Yet though these notions were advanced for their time, they were necessarily compromised by the available building materials: clay casts, bricks, cement and tiles, mortar, cast-iron rods and wrought-iron bands, cast lead, stonework, and weatherproof paint. The belly-crawling postures of several of the prehistoric creatures helped distribute the heavy weight of their fabrication. One of the Iguanodon was constructed to double as a dinner hall. Eleven men gathered to eat eight courses inside its torso on New Year’s Eve 1853; the chief scientific adviser overseeing the Iguanodon’s design, Richard Owen, sat where its brain would be—as though to command it as his avatar.
Prehistoric Planet relies on our familiarity with older technology to give its advanced CGI the gloss of truth. Extinct animals sometimes appear as if from the standpoint of drones and nest-cams, in time-lapse and slo-mo. Night vision discloses a juvenile Triceratops lost in a belowground network of caves. Thermal imaging illuminates a huddle of Imperobator exhaling puffs of steam (we’re reminded that these Antarctic dinosaurs were warm-blooded). Call this skeuomorphism: the sentimental or surplus mimicry of a mechanical feature within a digital one—the way that programmers have added the sonic effect of a snapping lens shutter to phone cameras—naturalizing the novel technology by wrapping it in the trappings of the old.
Of course the illusion created by the intimation of a thermal camera is not only that we are able to see living dinosaurs but that we can peer into how they are alive: their pulse, their breath, the heat of their flesh—everything lost from a cold fossil. Inside the burrow of an Adalatherium—an early egg-laying mammal akin to a badger—the intimate proximity suggests motion-activated cameras installed discreetly in the earth, intended to capture candid footage of a creature unaware of being surveilled. Another sequence emulates camera equipment embedded within carrion about to be picked over by two pterosaurs—risky animals to get close to, presumably. Where potentially dangerous meat eaters are the focal point, blurred foreground details suggest the concealment of the camera operator, perhaps in a blind erected for the purpose.
Large herds of prehistoric megafauna are viewed as though from a super-telephoto lens mounted on an on-shoulder rig. Stampeding dinosaurs, and those that soar swiftly through the air, sometimes momentarily outpace the tracking, running or dive-bombing beyond the frame of the shot—a lag that signals the limits of the reflexes of even the most adroit wildlife cinematographer and the apparent spontaneity of the animals’ movement. Paradoxically, what makes a world without people feel real is the anthropocentric perspective: those telltale signs of human presence, human error, and human creativity, failing to fully erase themselves (or, in this case, deliberately imitated). Like Owen poised in the head of the Iguanodon statue, we are taken in by the fantasy of entering the dinosaur’s world without leaving ourselves behind.
Nature documentary has of late become a haunted genre. Watching other offerings from the BBC’s Natural History Unit in recent years (The Blue Planet, Planet Earth), I have found myself preoccupied by a disquieting inner monologue: How have they cut this footage to avoid seeing power lines, cargo ships, smog, contrails? Amazing, to have scouted a beach on which there appears to be no rubbish—has it been pre-cleaned, or maybe post-cleaned, scrubbed of a few stray bits of trash in an editing suite? Amazing, to have scouted a forest still so teeming with life—are the birdcalls I’m hearing now the real sounds of that place today, or are these birds recorded somewhere else, decades ago? Amazing, that this night sky seems to be without light pollution. The exotic animals in these documentaries begin to appear vaguely ghostly—fading, or since faded, from view.
Amid woeful biodiversity loss, the nature documentary’s agenda in the 2020s is to insist on animals being interesting and beautiful, and therefore worth protection. Not so Prehistoric Planet, which revels in portraying that which is already dead and gone, no longer our responsibility. In fact, never our responsibility. No Stegosaurus ever choked on a shopping bag. No ichthyosaur expired in the sludge of an oil spill. A documentary liberated from these regrets and worries frees the audience to appreciate nature’s abundance with unalloyed joy—the way we perhaps did as children, or in decades when threats to animals appeared, for the most part, to be localized, piecemeal, and solvable.
The adult watcher of Prehistoric Planet might also find herself nostalgic for a time before the climate change “debates,” when science seemed to have greater authority and the projection of the world it offered suffered less from bargaining and predatory skepticism. A short presentation (Prehistoric Planet: Uncovered) appears as a coda to each episode, scrutinizing an aspect of the preceding show: “Was Pachycephalosaur Really a Headbutter?” “How Fast Was a Mosasaur?” But when Alex rejoined me for one of these, he was less curious about the factual plunges into paleontological research than about the show’s digitally enhanced Cretaceous. As was I. If there was ambiguity about the feats of world-building I’d been drawn into, I didn’t want to hear about it. Let paleontology be an uncontentious science. Let these visions of the planet be uniting, not divisive.
If prehistory can be believably reconstructed, then why not digitally revitalize environments nearer to the present day? Prehistoric Planet portends a possible future for nature documentary as a genre embracing the simulation not just of the far past but also of environments that are within living memory. Environments replete with realistic wildlife, their cries and calls AI-replicated—perhaps as these very species are actively being edited out of their real natural habitat. What is our tolerance for such illusions? Will that threshold shift the more our hunger for contact with animals goes unmet, in this time E.O. Wilson called “the age of loneliness”? Are the interests of a living tiger better served by the creation of a synthetic tiger than they are by having a film crew fly across the planet to set up camera traps in its territory or trail that animal with drones? And as to our interests, as an audience: Are we moved so very differently, beholding the real thing?
Needless to say, natural places with no trace of human activity can still be found, though by virtue of their seclusion and obscurity, those that flourish unadulterated seem to belong more and more to the realm of the fantastical. Remove the animals from Prehistoric Planet and it becomes an eerie montage of landscapes unfazed by mass extinction: windless ravines, flatlands of smoking volcanic soil and pumice stone, salt playas, low-nutrient plains in the open ocean. A sampler of places that will in all likelihood outlast us. Was it not unsettling to shoot these elemental environments with an eye to their emptiness? In the planning stages, devising the storyboards, did this series not present itself as a test of how far we have to go to completely disappear?
Though it is common to talk of dinosaurs as having disappeared from the world, to the last of the dinosaurs it was the world that ceased to be. In Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds, Thomas Halliday—paleobiologist, Scot—sets out to illuminate a series of prehistoric ecosystems, several of them on the cusp of destruction, or in nascent recovery, following a world-sundering event. Whether by inundation or mudslide, meteoric impact, runaway climate change, ocean acidification, or volcanic eruption, these installments of the deep past are far from Edenic: they are scenes of life put sideways by chaos.
Starting in the northern plains of Alaska, on the windblown steppe of Beringia (roamed by mammoths, those mammoths pursued by cave lions), each chapter leads further into the past, taking up a different site on the supple surface of the planet. From 20,000 years ago back to 550 million, the continents unstitch along their tectonic boundaries and shuttle to and fro, coalescing for mere epochs into the vast landmasses of Laurasia and Gondwana. Nameless mountains crop up, then fan out as topsoil and harden to dribbles of color threaded through granite.
Halliday’s trajectory builds toward the primordial origins of multicellular life and to a time when all organisms yet to evolve (up to and including those extant today) were bottled up in a single mysterious species scientists call LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor. As the book progresses, anything with a backbone gradually retreats into the water, where, over innumerable generations, skeletons jellify and dissolve inside bodies. Animals lose their faces, next their symmetry, become apparently less sentient and animate.
Conceiving of these squashy, zestful things, I found myself drawn to frame their existence in introspective terms as the slowest riddles nature ever posed: When was sleep dreamed up? Where does atmosphere end and breath begin? What is oneness? Life way back may prove impossible to anthropomorphize, being both too strange and too devitalized, and yet such creatureliness still seems to define questions pertinent to living in a human body.
Having rewound to the seedbed of life, we find a planet so unfamiliar that viewing it as belonging to another universe might prove less befuddling. The oceans are anoxic. Aquatic slime with the nap of rhinoceros skin crinkles the seafloor, while fleshy quills cadge microbes from the currents. A day scampers by in twenty-two hours. Stars have slid off their bases. Overhead, the moon blazes—large and rough as a cantaloupe, twelve thousand kilometers nearer and some 15 percent brighter than it is at its modern-day perigee.
Halliday is a part of the next generation of paleontological scientists, those whose hours are spent less on fieldwork and more “in basement museum collections and within computer algorithms,” as well as in laboratories furnished with state-of-the-art machines. In Otherlands he confects a series of documentary scenes that play out in the present tense for each of the temporalities he takes up. A gorgon with a toothache trudges over dunes flash-lit by lightning in the Permian. By the banks of a Carboniferous creek, an ancestor of the horseshoe crab, Euproops, fiddles in silt. Doughy Devonian bollards stoop, Narcissus-like, over opalescent pools—“a platoon of half-melted grey snowmen” that are, in fact, colossal fungi, ancestrally related to both truffles and Penicillium.
Otherlands is filled with rich descriptions of lands before language:
Short willows write wordless calligraphy on the wind with flourished ink-brush catkins, while dwarf birch shrubs hide ptarmigans. Above, skeins of snow geese wing and cry their way to the sea. In autumn, the more sheltered parts of Beringia shine with a pouring of molten gold as the cottonwoods and aspens turn yellow, set off by the blue-green of tall spruce.
A herd of prehistoric ponies is a “schiltrom of hooves and teeth.” Light falling into the sea, each wavelength disappearing at a set depth, is “a rainbow slowly being consumed.” Here and there our attention is drawn to traces of an older world in a time frame that is already distant from our own. Under the shade of Triassic trees a cobble-size block of limestone cracks open to reveal the coiled shells of long gone sea-things: a fossil in its adolescence. Sometimes geological features of our present day loom out of the backdrop: a volcano not yet called Ben Nevis, for instance, its ridgelines streaming with molten lava.
We walk with eldritch creatures throughout. Grabsnouts, bear-otters, moon-rats. Horses as little as house cats. Two-kilogram dormice, as large as a bag of apples. A terrifying plurality of sharks. Sharks inland, in lakes in the mountains; sharks that might have migrated like salmon, up rivers from the sea. The first bird to have a beak. Their frightful descendants: man-size, forest-dwelling, nocturnal penguins. Grasshoppers the size of guinea pigs. Yet Otherlands offers more than a wondrous bestiary. Ecosystems beget ecosystems, the evolution of organisms contextualized by shifting conditions so that we begin to see that our ancestry owes not just to a chain of mammalian animals but to sequential environments.
Those among us who retain only a trivia-night gist of prehistoric succession (did the Ordovician come before or after the Triassic?) will find that the reverse-chronological ordering of life in Otherlands offers surprises. The Great Pyramid of Giza had existed for generations before the last mammoths perished. A longer interval passed between the lives of the last Diplodocus and the first Tyrannosaurus than between that last Tyrannosaurus and our birth. Diplodocus inhabited a world without flowers and grasses. Basilosaurids, an early whale, could listen to the sounds of the ocean, but was unable to reply—it couldn’t yet sing. Horseflies pre-date horses, monkey-puzzle trees evolved before monkeys, shipworms before ships. The Ordovician comes first.
A thick rendition of prehistory emerges from Halliday’s book, including food webs, meteorology, seasonality, energy and nutrient flows, circadian rhythms, migration, disease and parasite transmission, population structure, relationships of competition, opportunism, predation, and mimicry. His environmental sensibility feels especially needed given the tendency of popular accounts to spotlight the lives of charismatic megafauna—with all of Cretaceous life, for example, captured by “the reign of T-Rex”; the Ordovician known as “the age of jawless fish”—while granting scant attention to coexisting kingdoms of microbes and minifauna, fungi, plant life, and insects.
Punctuating the timeline, the world-forging cataclysms are sensationally bad news. Following the impact of the asteroid at Chicxulub, in the Yucatán of modern-day Mexico, Halliday observes: “For three quarters of species on Earth, every male, every female, every adult and every child is dead.” Earlier still, when massive eruptions in Siberia are believed to have jacked up carbon dioxide and triggered a cascade of changes, “ninety-five per cent of all species on Earth will perish in what will become known as the Great Dying.” Ninety-five percent, imagine. What slips beneath the door slammed shut by chaos, to excite a new age?
Homo sapiens is not the first species to confront the unmaking of a habitable future. The disruptions of our time may be less obliterating than those delivered by an asteroid six miles in diameter, but we nonetheless share a kinship with prehistoric beings living through an apocalyptic transition. “The world that we inhabit is changing at the level of the landscape,” Halliday writes in his introduction. “Compared with the radical environmental upheavals of the geological past, what might we expect to happen in the near and more distant future?” This question pricks the fabric of the chapters to follow, though the author won’t give it his sustained attention until the book’s conclusion.
Just as we are coming to reckon with the reality that what is lost is gone forever today, so too are we gaining a deeper appreciation for the vast array of survival tactics life has at its disposal; this is the ultimate message of Otherlands. Mass perishing is followed by incremental, improbable vitalization. Halliday describes a postextinction world repopulated by “disaster taxa”: opportunist organisms, some of them preserved because of their habitat (perhaps protected in burrows), others their life cycle (capable of lying dormant, as do fern spores), a few merely because they were common and widespread (Halliday gives the example of salamanders). He points out that life is able to cope with extreme change, but not at a rapid pace. Corridors of escape define survival. The book is, he writes, “a lesson in the adaptability of life,” but also “that of our own world’s impermanence.”
Last year Otherlands was short-listed for the UK’s Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing, and nature writing is, indeed, its rightful genre. It’s a genre that has long fetishized not just solitariness but self-erasure, and on this account Otherlands might prove to be the purest form of nature writing there is. We are each piloted through a world of wilderness and nothing else, nature and nothing less—who wouldn’t expect to grow a little enchanted by their own disappearance in that context? Where there are not yet human ears to hear it, the highest waterfall ever to exist rumbles over a ledge. Where no human legs stride, soft mosses collect “so deep as would sink an unwatchful step.” Maybe, too, we covet the obliviousness of the animals we meet, these creatures on the edge of an ending, for here nothing that is the last of its kind knows it.