December 06, 2004 12:00 PM

NONFICTION

by Gretel Ehrlich

What would happen if winter disappeared because of global warming? Ehrlich, a poet and naturalist, makes some startling claims in this solemn meditation. But if you believe that global warming is a nascent disaster, her projections will chill you to the bone.

Ehrlich travels nearly from South Pole to North to explore winter’s importance. She uses freak examples—hermaphrodite polar bears have turned up in the Arctic and a palm tree recently sprouted in Switzerland—to argue that pollution is killing winter. Her book isn’t science, and she doesn’t provide much evidence for these contentions. But she does make you wonder whether your grandchildren will ever have the chance to make snow angels.

When not in Cassandra mode, Ehrlich reflects about the cold, its loneliness and isolation. She has more words for snow than the Eskimos, and she writes gorgeously about the mating calls of bearded seals. At times she has so much lyrical power that you’ll be dreading spring.

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