WILD DESIGN: NATURE’S ARCHITECTS by Kimberly Ridley; Princeton Architectural Press, 2022; 112 pages, $24.95; ISBN 978-1-64896-017-8.


Famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) wrote: “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.” Nature’s architects, however, don’t have those problems — they just rebuild until they get it right. And nature knows.

“Wild Design” by Brooklin, Maine author Kimberly Ridley is a collection of fascinating essays that explore examples of amazing natural structures built by nature’s architects and builders, offering “a miniature cabinet of curiosities.” Ridley is a science writer and award-winning author of children’s nature books, like “The Secret Pool.”

Illustrated with 68 beautiful, hand-drawn color images from scientific texts, these essays cover a variety of nature’s architectural surprises, from minerals and rocks, plankton and coral reefs, fungi and plants, to insects, birds and animals. Ridley has selected certain examples to explain how Mother Nature can design and build anything better than man.

In “Earth Magic” she describes how minerals and rocks are formed from the earth’s complex cycle of crystals, magma, heat, ice, water, pressure and movement. “Glass Houses” examines the miniscule life forms in one drop of seawater, and how plankton forms its own clear protective shells in surprisingly intricate shapes like chandeliers, snowflakes and sombreros. Here, you’ll learn about diatoms and radiolonians.

Other essays discuss the adaptability of plant and tree structures to changing environmental factors: why cactus have thorns; the real purpose for those tall above ground termite mounds; and why “beavers shape the landscape more than any animal other than man.”


Best is the chapter “Fabulous Fungi,” where Ridley tells how and why underground fungi are both beneficial “decomposers” and “network builders.”  Learn about one mushroom’s connection to Santa Claus and why the “stinkhorn” mushroom is so nasty. This is wonderful, well-told natural science.

THE HORSE SOLDIER by Ethan J. Wolfe; Five Star, 2021; 225 pages, $25.95; ISBN 978-1-4328-7111-6.


U.S. Marshal Sam Tillman is 60 years old in 1901, been a lawman for 30 years, and retires in three weeks. He leaves his two grown sons and widowed sister to run his Montana cattle ranch when he accepts one last assignment — and Sam believes he won’t be coming back.

“The Horse Soldier” by Maine author Ethan Wolfe is a smartly plotted and beautifully written western about an old lawman facing the end of an era, and maybe his own end of days. Wolfe has written more than a dozen westerns, including books in “The Regulator” series. Tillman has appeared before, but not with the careful character structure and depth provided here.

Tillman is a hard man of principle. He treats folks with courtesy and respect if they deserve either, but with cold deliberation and finality if they don’t. He is most feared by outlaws, but always gives them two options: throw down their guns, surrender and hang, or pull their pistols and be shot dead. This last assignment will be unpleasant: Sam volunteers to go to Laramie, Wyoming to remove a marshal he appointed 10 years earlier. The man has become a murderous tyrant and Sam feels responsible.

The journey will be a long one because Sam decides to visit old friends on the way, for possibly the last time. He spends time with Calamity Jane, Teddy Roosevelt, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and some old marshal saddle pals, sipping whiskey and reminiscing about Civil War soldiering, working on the transcontinental railroad, telling stories about Wild Bill Hickock, John Wesley Hardin and “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker, and reliving the exciting days of owlhoot pursuits and shootouts.

The final showdown in Laramie will be a true test of Sam’s resolve, and the reader will be stunned by Wolfe’s surprising conclusion.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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