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Yellowstone and the Biology of Time:…

Yellowstone and the Biology of Time: Photographs Across a Century

by Mary Meagher

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Comparative photography books can be fascinating if you have any interest in the area they are comparing. For example, one of the finest of these I ever saw was comparing photos taken by William Powell during his initial explorations of the Colorado (including the Grand Canyon) with their modern condition. (Of course, this meant skipping virtually all of the pictures taken of areas now under Lake Powell – somewhat ironic, don’t you think?) And the comparative photos of cities are always fascinating to those who have lived in them. However, there is an interesting thing about these books that never really occurred to me until I read this one. If there is little change (shy of movement of a few shrubberies) then, after a few photos, it all becomes a bit redundant, where the only fun is trying to determine if they really nailed the spot of the original photograph. And, that is the inherent problem with this book – so little change over 100 years. On the one hand, it is heartening to see that there is probably less overall change in Yellowstone than one might have suspected. On the other hand (and this is the hand that probably holds the wallet and shells out money to purchase the book), with little change, you are effectively buying a book that has three almost identical copies of black-and-white photos of Yellowstone.

Now, I’ll be honest – I really bought it for the pictures of the thermal areas, and there are a few. Interesting, even these have not changed as much as one might suspect. (And I suspect that the changes shown for Mammoth Hot Springs are the result more of different camera angles than actual changes. Though, I am not an expert and it is unfair of me to make this judgment, and I have to assume they knew what they were doing when they put the photos together. But, I wonder….) And, as I noted above, this will be an interesting book to those who have an interest in Yellowstone. (For me, just because of my personal interests, the photo showing the Fountain Hotel in amongst the geysers of the Lower Geyser Basin was almost worth the price of admission itself.)

The writing included here (essays on geology, climate, biology, grazing dynamics, and human presence) is fine, and explore the subjects appropriately for the length of the articles and the real purpose of the book. But that real purpose is the pictures. And, while they are nice, and while the comparative studies completed with them are nice, it all adds up to, only, a nice book. ( )
  figre | Oct 5, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0806130067, Paperback)

After the vast plateau called Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, dozens of federally sponsored scientists entered the area to record details of the region's natural history and ecology. As part of that project, photographers made hundreds of images of the park's most significant features. Research scientists Meagher and Houston have studied these photographs from the 1870s and 1880s and then rephotographed the same scenes, first in the 1970s, then after the great fires of 1988, and then again in the mid-1990s. The resulting sequences of photographs offer a detailed record of ecological change in the park. At the time of the first survey, for instance, the region was seeded with native grasses and only lightly grazed by cattle; in later years, cattle grazing had caused the removal of those native grasses, which were supplanted by nonnative vegetation, including many grasses brought in from Central Asia. (One series of views taken near the park's north entrance at Gardiner, Montana, shows a marked decline, for instance, in sagebrush but an increase in Douglas fir.) Meagher and Houston offer interesting asides throughout on the natural and human history of Yellowstone; for example, they note that meat was transported to the hotels scattered through the national park in metal-sheathed wagons to protect it from marauding bears. As the views show, some things never change: then, as now, Yellowstone was rich in those bears, and in antelope, elk, bison, moose, and other large species. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:23 -0400)

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