When last we met Tucson writer/historian/naturalist Bill Broyles, he was announcing that his first book for Rio Nuevo Publishers (Our Sonoran Desert) was available, all the while professing that he never wanted to be an author.
He's either changed his mind or continues to write under duress, because book No. 2 is now in print; No. 3 has been written and awaits publication, and No. 4 is in the concept stage.
"I'm more than just busy; I can't seem to get it all done," he says, noting that he's actually beginning to enjoy putting words on paper. His latest endeavor, a team effort with photographer Paul Berquist, is a cute creation called Desert Babies A-Z.
"Paul did the pictures; I wrote the text. It was a natural collaboration," says Broyles. "We took the idea to the publishers; they said yes, and the entire process went smoothly. It was fun putting this one together, and that's the way it should be. Our only problem was having to cut down on the number of animal images, because there were so many good ones."
Berquist has been photographing animals for more than 25 years and had two thick binders of baby-critter photos to choose from. "I started out with 500 potential images," he says. "The publishers picked 150 from that pile, then winnowed the finalists down to those that made it into print." Some of the photos were taken long ago, but ring-tailed raccoons and baby rock squirrels don't change much over the years--babies are babies--and the photos look as fresh today as when they were first developed.
"Parents of all species know that giving birth, feeding and rearing their offspring is tough work," Broyles says. "The way we treat those concepts allows readers to share in the softer side of the desert, learning how these animals are born or hatched, and how adults of the species keep their young ones protected and well-fed to safeguard the latest generation."
The first paragraph gives the reader a roadmap for where this one is going. "We love babies, cute, cuddly and small. They remind us of our own childhoods: crawling and talking, standing and falling, learning and failing, and finally succeeding, growing up gangly, awkward and funny. They remind us of being parents and lovingly caring for young who embody our own curiosity and optimism."
With 45 color photographs in a 64-page publication, Broyles has little room to be verbose. Each animal entry includes one or more photos of a desert baby, a mini-description and a very brief rundown on habitat, predators, life expectancy and other salient species statistics.
The snapshots that show a variety of youngsters learning to adapt to their new world is almost like being on hand when little humans acquire each new skill. "While some animal parents patiently instruct their young, many animal babies learn innately, with some knowledge--and corresponding reactions--born into their brain on day one," Broyles writes. "Every day is a test. From each baby's perspective, there is much to know and many dangers to recognize. Failure to do so can be terminal. Experience is a hard teacher, so relatively few young live to adulthood."
Included among the "Did you know factoids" are items like these:
· Black-chinned hummingbirds raise young in a nest about the size of a thimble.
· Mother wolf spiders (called buena madre in Spanish) carry as many as 100 of their young on their back.
· Black-tailed jackrabbits can see and walk immediately upon birth.
· Couch's spadefoot toads lay up to 3,000 eggs that hatch within 36 hours.
· Quail are precocial birds, meaning chicks are born ready to go.
· Doves lay eggs on consecutive days, so squabs are born a day apart.
Broyles' editorial concentration features a wide range of wildlife that can be viewed locally. Whether you are interested in hummingbirds that summer in the United States and migrate several thousand miles to Mexico for their annual vacation, or in jackrabbits capable of 20-foot leaps at 35 mph, there are facts and photos enough to satisfy anyone who loves the Sonoran Desert and the critters that call it home.