‘Tropical Nature’ is still a classic for naturalists and tourists alike

Hollywood Soapbox logoTropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America is everything a traveler could ask for. Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata’s epic work, running little more than 200 pages, couples digestible explanations of fauna and flora with clever pleas on how to preserve the unique biodiversity of such countries as Costa Rica and Ecuador.

Among these pages are many common-sense details on how a rainforest operates. From pollination to parasitism, the authors are able to weave a believable web, easily convincing the reader that these habitats are special and interconnected.

Forsyth and Miyata don’t hold back on their descriptions. Chapter Two is entitled “Fertility,” and it jumps right into the rewarding qualities of excrement on the floor of the rainforest. If you ever wanted to know the daily struggles of a dung scarab, the authors have given you a superb primer.

Naturalists and biologists will likely know many of the lessons in Tropical Nature. However, the authors have a way of shedding new light and offering a unique perspective on each phenomenon. The prose is beautifully written and never feels regimented like so many coffee-table books and field guides about animal and plant life. The book is more a collection of essays on how this uniqueness exists and survives.

For potential travelers to the tropics, there is a lot of helpful information. I now have a new appreciation for fallen trees in the forest because Forsyth and Miyata show the explosion of activity that happens when “canyons of light” pierce the canopy. There are interesting sections on army ants and the fearsome botfly (in a chapter called Jerry’s Maggot, which is simultaneously gross and captivating).

The book finishes with a missive to the reader about the countries that house some of these special habitats. Forsyth and Miyata, writing in the 1980s, recognized the negative effect of deforestation. They take 200 pages to describe paradise, and yet they are fully aware that paradise can be lost very soon. It’s up to us to protect this “tropical nature.”

For those looking for descriptive species accounts of what one might find in the rainforest, Tropical Nature is not the right book. There are lovely illustrations by Sarah Landry, but this is much more writers’ reflections on how plants and animals have followed Charles Darwin’s theories.

Simply put: Tropical Nature is an engaging read for first-time travelers to the rainforest and seasoned naturalists looking to find reinvigoration in their field.

Miyata sadly never saw Tropical Nature published. He “drowned in a treacherous rapid of the Big Horn River,” according to a memoriam in the book. Some 30 years after his untimely death, his words continue to entice readers. What Miyata and Forsyth have done is nothing short of extraordinary: They have tapped into that inner-child, that inner-pioneer in all of us. Tropical Nature makes us believe in the riches of this strange, beautiful land.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America

  • By Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata

  • Simon & Schuster, 1984, 248 pages

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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