"The spirit of deep play," writes Diane Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses), "is spontaneity, discovery, and being open to new challenges." This Earth Ecstatic (as she calls herself) showers our senses with dazzling sights, sounds, and adventures in this lyrical and lovely book about the lessons and meanings of play. Ackerman begins with an encounter with penguins ("feathered mysteries") and ends with a paean to the marvel of comets.

With the energy and imagination of ten women, the author dips, swoops, and glides from art to religion to sports and to nature for illustrative material on the enchantments of deep play. She is swept away by the pleasures of cycling, the ecstasies of swimming with dolphins, the tonic of Paul Gauguin's pilgrimage to the South Sea Islands, the sensuous rigor of poetry, the variety of evolution's game, the wonders revealed in the stories of entomologist Thomas Eisner, and the cleansing of body and mind achieved by certain risk-takers and extreme athletes.

Whether writing about sacred places as playgrounds for deep players or sharing with us her enthusiasm for meeting a wild animal on its own terms in its own environment, Ackerman convinces us that play is a form of prayer based on a reverence for life.