THE USES OF NATURE: DISTANT LIGHT by Antonio Moresco, HALF-EARTH by Edward O. Wilson, EVERYTHING I FOUND ON THE BEACH by Cynan Jones, and HILL by Jean Giono, reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin

The magic of discovery presses against the melancholy of the ruins. We are like a pair of naturalists who’ve discovered a lost link in the evolutionary chain, a last survivor of a species thought extinct. Evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, in his new book, Half-Earth, calls this the “Lord God moment.” We find a wooden trunk with “A.H. Whetstone” and her address thick-inked by a nineteenth century hand, a plastic portable church organ keyboard in the springhouse, a carpet of rust growing on a Zenith turntable tangled in the weeds outside. Water rushes through the handsome stone channel of the spring. The farmers must have dammed the creek to build the channel. When it was finished, they let the water loose, yet no longer wild. Now, it escapes unseen into the valley.