Lessons from snails and swallows in a Nebraska county

Keith County Journal PBS, Sunday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings. Host: John Janovy Jr. Based on books by Mr. Janovy, with assistance of Richard K. Boohar, Robert R. Knoll, and Nelson T. Potter, all of the University of Nebraska. Producer/director: Michael Farrell.Presented by the Nebraska ETV Network. Are you ready for Walden Pond tempered with a dash of Lake Wobegon?

Through the eyes of John Janovy Jr., Keith County becomes not just a place in Nebraska, but a way of seeing. ``Keith County Journal'' is as much about a man and his belief in our need to recognize our place in nature as it is about a county.

Mr. Janovy, a teacher, biologist, philosopher, and writer whose two books ``Keith County Journal'' and ``Back to Keith County'' have already become naturalist classics, takes a group of students on a simple odyssey through creeks, prairies, rivers, swamps, and sand hills.

He finds a deeper understanding of human life by studying termites living under cow pies, snails in muddy marshes, cliff swallows under concrete bridges, and bedbugs in mud nests.

Whitehall Creek and Lake McConaughy, in the midst of Nebraska's prairielands, are Janovy's natural habitat - when he is not teaching at the University of Nebraska.

With gentle concern he examines the humble creatures who live ``tucked away and unnoticed.'' He finds deep meaning in the most unexpected places and asks provocative questions as a result.

Does the life of a termite living under a cow pie parallel our own life somehow? Are we all interdependent organisms, depending for existence on other organisms?

Janovy believes that even the tiniest animals can teach us many things about ourselves and uncovers surprising lessons in the lives of microscopic organisms.

If the hour leans just a bit toward the pedantic, well, Janovy, the three professors who helped write the program, and the university presenting the show are all in the education business, after all.

But ``Keith County Journal'' is educational television at its very best, with insight and intellectual revelation about our universe balanced with human sensitivity.

It's a kind of electronic pop/populist naturalism in the venerable tradition of Walden and Wobegon.

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