In a nutshell: personal essays, each focusing on one bird or aspect of birding, as well as a gentle inter-weaving of childhood memories that embrace the disciplines of piano, Russian literature, ballet, which in alternating ways both parallel and contradict the author’s approach to a growing fascination/obsession with birds.
Also in a nutshell: an entirely lovely read.
So lovely in fact that I found myself looking forward to settling down with a chapter or two in the way you might call a friend and say, so what have you learned today about your beloved birds and KNOW you will be getting a fabulous story if only, and maybe especially, about the most ordinary of moments, about how these moments reflect so much more than the moment and how there is always some very great thing learned, about birds, yes, but about self at the same time, in a completely NOT self-focused way.
There is no navel gazing here. Observations, both avian, and self-reflection, come as happy surprises.
Zarankin writes (along with so much else) about getting up in the wee hours, in all weather, driving to meet birding groups in parking lots and from there heading to wherever sightings of note have occurred. She writes about how she can hardly believe she’s doing this, how she notices her house filling up with birding books and décor, her conversation laced with avian facts; she is considering the purchase of a multi-pocketed vest, the likes of which once made her cringe. Having reached her thirties without noticing much more than a robin she is stunned to realize the variety of birds that exist in the city of Toronto and, to be honest, I’m stunned right along with her. How is it I don’t know a nuthatch… have I ever even seen one? Apparently they identify themselves by walking headfirst down tree trunks. And warblers, well, they’re everywhere it turns out, and, get this: there is something called a veery. Also a phalarope, a towhee. These are birds that live… right here.
My mind is blown by how much we don’t know.
This is a book about discovery. Birds, yes. But passion mostly. It’s uplifting in a down to earth way; there are no promises that following your passion will lead you to what you expect, in yourself or otherwise, but, as Zarankin shows by her own example, there’s a very good chance it will lead you to the surprise of your own heart.
“It’s hard to measure my birding progress. Ten years later, I am no longer a neophyte… But I know I’m still far from being a skilled birder.
“…. Maybe the point isn’t about measuring at all; it’s about seeing.”
One thought on “this is not a review: ‘field notes from an unintentional birder’, by julia zarankin”
Ah, yes! I forgot I knew this: that nuthatches walk down trees headfirst. My father told me.