You animal!

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Most of us come from cities, suburbs, or towns. In our electronic age we're almost never alone. Even fewer of us observe and get to know animals in the wild, in their own habitat.

But any night of the week turn on the TV and the animal kingdom growls, crawls, runs, slithers, swims, or flies, into our living room as faithfully as the milkman delivered milk in the '50s.

Wildlife documentaries are one of the true success stories of television. The medium has more than met its vast potential to inform and entertain.

Recommended: Name that animal!

Wildlife documentaries evoke the felt absence of wilderness.

That's why the profile of biologist Bernd Heinrich, (right) is so engaging. His book, "Mind of the Raven" (Cliff Street Books), is an intimate, authoritative look at this unique animal.

How many of us can say we'd live alone in the woods, without electricity or running water, getting to know an animal on its own turf, on its own terms. Dr. Heinrich has been there, whether climbing up to a nest at the top of a tree - to inspect and record what ravens cram down the beaks of their nestlings in the first few days after hatching - or observing and philosophizing about animal individuality and intelligence, as he watches ravens play in flight.

Watching animals in the wild goes a long way toward stifling the temptation to personify them. They aren't anthropomorphic.

This past weekend I watched two huge snapping turtles in a life-and-death fight over turf in a pond - violent, prehistoric, passionless. The meek did not inherit this particular pond.

How little most of us know about animal behavior.

*Comments? Write to Ideas editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail Ideas@csps.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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