The joys of food, the great outdoors and quiet

Summer World

A Season of Bounty

Bernd Heinrich

Ecco: 253 pp., $26.99

Bernd Heinrich is one of our greatest living naturalists in the tradition of Gerald Durrell; he's John Muir (without the wandering), Edward Abbey (without the politics), Jacques Cousteau (without the ocean), Ernest Seton (without the talking animals). Heinrich, author of 15 marvelous, mind-altering books (including "Winter World," "Mind of the Raven," "Why We Run" and "The Trees in My Forest"), is a national treasure. He sits in trees for hours to observe the world of wild back yards in northern New England. He has, for decades, kept notebooks and journals. His drawings are breathtakingly precise and colorful. His observations restore a reader's faith in science and in the enormous possibilities (even the humanity) of the word "fact." His passion for learning more about the natural world is never far from the page: "By 23 April, the summer awakening had already progressed far. I was so excited that I could barely sit still to write about it. But I had to do it while I was still reasonably coherent, before the greening onslaught could rush in, and while the impressions were still fresh in my mind." It is the freshness of his observations that infuse his work and make it come alive, no matter how urban his reader. He describes the clues that tell animals and plants it's safe to come out of winter hiding. Did you know that tree frogs often freeze solid in winter? Or that the seasons are due to an ancient catastrophe -- a body "the size and mass of Mars slammed into the Earth at 18,000 miles per hour," around 4 billion years ago? Have you ever seen the woodcock's sky dance? So often, we are told we have to do something, to save something, to change something. Heinrich looks, studies, writes and draws. It's more than enough.

One Square Inch

of Silence

One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World

Gordon Hempton

and John Grossmann

Free Press: 356 pp., $26

"Today silence has become an endangered species," writes acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. In a '64 VW bus, Hempton traveled the country, recording sounds, looking for the quietest places, talking with acoustic specialists, thinking about the importance of natural silence and what it means to humans, and deciding what to do about its disappearance. The results are fascinating and disturbing. What happens to people when one of their most vital cues to spatial orientation is destroyed? How does noise affect children's ability to learn? How does constant ambient noise affect sleep patterns? How did we allow hearing loss to become one of the most common occupational hazards? Hempton has a reverence for silence (the source of everything good) that extends beyond these questions. He founded the One Square Inch project in his home state of Washington, an effort to preserve silence in at least one square inch of Olympic National Park (an astonishingly difficult thing to do). Hempton's sonic EKG of the United States ends in Washington, D.C., where he makes his stand. "Saving silence," he writes with restrained hope, "will take many voices."

The Pleasure Is All Mine

Selfish Food for Modern Life

Suzanne Pirret

William Morrow: 256 pp., $24.99

Eating in public is overrated, Suzanne Pirret concludes. Between the thorny reservations process and the bad manners of friends, the only way to really control your dining experience is by eating (and drinking) alone. She should know; Pirret has eaten her way around the world, and yet, some of her favorite food is takeout. Here she generously shares her favorite recipes, for bistro food such as steak au poivre with frites; for Chinese takeout; for fish, curry, sushi, tapas and a bit more froufrou fare such as frisée with Manchego cheese, roasted Marconi almonds and quince dressing. The recipes are my favorite kind -- a splash of this, a handful of that. There are chapters on etiquette, drinking alone and waste management of leftovers. Homemade parkerhouse rolls to Champagne solo -- it's comfort food for the stylish consumer.