25.6.07

2 Books About Things I Didn't Know I Was Fascinated By!

I recently read two books of nonfiction on topics I didn't know were so fascinating: orchids and lobsters.

I have a huge stack of borrowed books on one shelf that I'm determined to shrink so I can get on to reading TEMPLAR!!!! stuff. I'd borrowed The Orchid Thief from one coworker because it was the book one of my favorite movies, Adaptation, was based on. I ended up enjoying it so much I bought my own copy at the nearby Lincoln Square used book store.

The book is about John LaRoche, an orchid thief. He used the Seminole Indians he employed to go into the swamps of Florida in search of rare orchids, since he believed the Seminoles were not subject to same laws regarding the removal of vegetation from protected areas that he was. The cops didn't agree, and they were all brought to trial. This is where Susan Orlean, the book's author came in. She's a writer for The New Yorker, and thought this may be a good story. Turns out she's right, and she gets way more than what she bargained for - not only an article for the New Yorker (can anyone explain those cartoons to me? Are they supposed to be funny?), but a book and movie rights to boot. She finds that not only is LaRoche fascinating, but orchids and the history of orchid hunting as well.


The life of this man and his passion for orchids is only the most recent in the history of orchid hunting. There are stories of orchid hunters throughout history risking their lives, misleading their competitors with bogus maps, bringing tons upon tons of orchids out of rain forests they'd never even seen and which had never been explored before these guys came along with their empty bags and crates. One hunter went directly back to an island that he'd narrowly escaped from when the local volcano erupted. The volcano had destroyed a huge portion of the island, in fact, there was little left when he got back but smoking, cooling lava. But he thought he might have spotted an orchid that he'd never seen before just as the tremors started.....

Victorian Orchid hunters make Boba Fett look like Fozzie Bear.


Like The Orchid Thief, The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson parallels the lives of the men and women who depend upon and are fascinated by lobsters with the lobsters themselves. I borrowed it from another coworker who in exchange borrowed my newly purchased copy of The Orchid Thief.

The Secret Life of Lobsters is wonderfully written, very engaging and oftentimes quite funny. It tells the stories of the lobstermen of Cranberry Island, ME who rely on lobster harvests to sustain themselves and their families; the scientists who study lobsters to learn as much as possible about their behavior and mating habits (the lobsters' mating behavior, not the lobsterman's. Well, they are interested in that to a degree as well, but no nearly to the same amount of graphic detail. These scientists are pretty obsessed with the mating habits of lobsters (o;); and, without any personification involved, the lobsters themselves. All three of these groups have one thing in common - they all want to see the lobster population continue to thrive, and they each do their part to insure it does.

This guy won't be offered at any lobster-dock restaurants in Maine - he's WAY too cool!
Literally one in a million!

I could never do the work that lobstermen do - even if I weren't prone to seasickness. It is hard, grueling, dangerous work. I owe it to them to sample as many of their wares as possible whilst in Maine next month.

And the dedication these scientists have to their field is simply staggering. Diane Cowan has turned down several high-status, high-salary positions so she can keep the flexibility to be at the tide 6 times a day to count lobster babies and note changes on a daily basis. I can barely get myself to the gym 6 times a month!

I'm pleased to find that the scientists and the lobstermen are working together to keep the lobster population thriving. For example, there is government-mandated minimum and maximum carapace length, so that babies and breeders won't be eaten. Female, egg-bearing lobsters are v-notched so that if they're caught again, they'll be thrown back.

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