Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Wonder of Birds: A Book Review

Thank goodness for winter, a time here at Red Oak House for us to catch up on reading.

About a year ago, I bought myself the book The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future, by Jim Robbins (Spiegel & Grau, c2017). I tucked it away, waiting for an opportune time to read it. This week was that time.


Robbins, a Helena, Montana, native, is an accomplished and respected writer. He has written for the New York Times for more than thirty-five years, and for a variety of other magazines, covering environmental and science stories. He is also the author of the books: The Man Who Planted Trees, Last Refuge: the Environmental Showdown in the American West, and A Symphony in the Brain.

In this book, The Wonder of Birds, he wanders through a wide variety of locations, from wild places all around the world to a business that creates feather clothing and costumes of all varieties, the Mother Plucker Feather Company.

He writes of the transformative and healing powers of birds, something I can attest to from decades of birdwatching. "Walking across the broad sweep of grassy prairie of northern Montana day after day is an immersion into a starkly beautiful landscape. On the days I hunt I become a predator, and the experience touches some deep and ancient part of my psyche, a calm, though vigilant, deeply felt energy, providing me with the stamina to hike mile after mile along creeks and down one-lane dirt roads, all but oblivious to distances covered or the hours passed, consumed only with thoughts about in which patch of chokecherry, cattails, or thick grass the birds might be hiding."(pg. 104) My husband, Jim, recounts that he also has a greater ability to walk without tiring when in the wild than when he is at the YMCA, much like Robbins describes. Speaking for myself, I get bored walking around the track but can walk for miles on a hiking trail. The presence of the birds is a part of that.

Robbins meets with Cagan Sekercioglu, an associate professor of biology, who says, "Even if you just look for birds you'll see the best parts of the planet. Not just landscapes and biodiversity, but some of the last remaining interesting cultures."(pg.115)

Each chapter begins with a lovely pen and ink illustration by DD Dowden. The chapter devoted to ravens and crows is particularly delightful.
Illustrations copyright by DD Dowden, 2017
Again, from the book, "If we can learn how to move beyond the subconscious terror we all carry and the emotional numbing we take on to shield ourselves, if we can tap into the extraordinary power of birds and bottle this lightning, if we learn from our relationship with birds to fully understand our nervous system and the full range that we are capable of feeling and sensing in the world, we will find something inexhaustible and profound, even life-changing."(pg. 280)

In this, the "Year of the Bird," this book was worth every penny and a delight to read. I give it my highest recommendation. If you google the title, you will see that many other reviewers agree with me.

While you are at it, do check out this delightful issue of National Geographic magazine.

1 comment:

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