Ephemeral by Nature

Exploring the Exceptional with a Tennessee Naturalist

  • Author(s): Bales, Stephen Lyn
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2017-09-15
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $24.95 | Buy Now
  • Available in PDF: Price $24.95 | Buy Now


“Reading Ephemeral by Nature is the next best thing to talking a walk with Stephen Lyn Bales. In addition to describing the plants and animals readers will encounter, Bales scouts out hidden side trails. A look at jack-in-the-pulpit will turn up dinosaurs, Darwin, and Finding Nemo, and consideration of cerulean warblers will lead to coffee in Columbia and a discussion of why the sky is blue. Each chapter begins with one of his delightful drawings, and you’ll find Bales’ artistic eye is as discerning and detailed as his writing.”—Patricia K. Lichen, author of Passionate Slugs and Hollywood Frogs and Kidnapping the Wild One


“I have had the pleasure of working with Stephen Lyn Bales at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, and I consider him a kindred spirit. As a former naturalist myself, I would number Lyn among the best in the field of interpretation and nature writing. He will begin with a simple topic, like a bullfrog, weave the theme through history, popular culture, art, natural science, muck and slime, and a sprinkling of well-placed humor, and then bring one back to the humble frog.  He is an accomplished naturalist and a master storyteller, and he astonishes me with his unique style of writing.”—Allen R. Coggins, author of Place Names of the Smokies and Escape from Bone Cave



In this captivating collection of twelve essays, a testament to a lifetime’s fascination with the outdoors and its myriad wonders, naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales examines a variety of flora and fauna that in one way or another can be described as “ephemeral”—that is, fleeting, short-lived, or transient.

Focusing on his native East Tennessee, Bales introduces us to several oddities, including the ghost plant, a wispy vascular plant that resembles a rooster’s tail and grows mainly in areas devoid of sunlight; the Appalachian panda, an ancestor of today’s red panda that wandered the region millions of years ago and whose fossil remains have only recently been discovered; and the freshwater jellyfish, a tiny organism that is virtually invisible except for those hot summer days when clusters of them bloom into shimmering “medusae,” sometimes by the thousands. Other essays consider such topics as the plight of the monarch butterfly, a gorgeous insect whose populations have dropped by 90 percent in only the last two decades; the reintroduction of the lake sturgeon, one of nature’s most primitive and seldom-seen fish, into the waters of the Tennessee Valley; and the surprising emergence of coyote-wolf and coyote-dog hybrids in the eastern states.

Written with insight, humor, and heart, Ephemeral by Nature is as entertaining as it is instructive. Along with a wealth of biological details—and his own handsome pen-and-ink drawings—Bales fills the book with delightful anecdotes of field trips, species-protection efforts, and those thrilling occasions when some elusive member of the natural order shows itself to us, if only for a brief moment.


Stephen Lyn Bales, senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, is the author of Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley and Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935–1941, both published by the University of Tennessee Press.