When I think about the books I’ve read that are about nature , I realize that they are almost always written by some kind of an “expert” – a scientist, researcher, naturalist, or journalist – sharing their hard-earned knowledge of the natural world with the reader. The tone is usually one of authority, and the books are factual and objective. Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear is not that kind of nature book. Maclear approaches the book as a person who knows little about birdwatching, but feels compelled to learn about it, and we get to follow along in the process. That process, specifically, is a year-long agreement with a local birder (and friend) to join him on his bird walks in Toronto.
As Maclear opens her ears and quiets her mind, she does indeed learn about birds, their habitats, and their behaviours. She also finds motivation to study up on birds and birdwatching, and reads numerous books on the subject. That said, this is much more than a book about birds; it is more of a memoir, where the activity of birdwatching adds perspective and richness to Maclear’s life. Throughout the book, as Maclear shares her small accomplishments in birding, she also shares her reflections on family - including parenting, marriage, and watching her elderly father experience health issues - and creativity in her own career, and in that of other artists. The approaches she learns for birding carry over to how she makes sense of her life and place in the world. She is a wonderfully poetic writer, and weaves these personal reflections, big and small, in with her birding adventures in a way that reminds me of the way one’s mind can wander when spending time in nature.
I wanted to share this book with followers of the LUNA project because it is a great example of someone starting to connect with nature and follow a newfound interest – in this case birdwatching. I loved following along with Maclear as she learned a few birds at a time, connected with new spaces in the city, and made small victories in her birding project. It can be intimidating to pursue a new interest as an adult, and Maclear’s humility and patience are admirable. Her project is also a great reminder that even people we may regard as experts – such as Maclear’s birdwatching friend - got their start somewhere, and are constantly learning new things. Funnily enough, on the same day I finished re-reading Birds Art Life this summer, I noticed a yellow warbler in my backyard for the first time. I’ve spotted many different species of birds there over the years, but never a yellow warbler – perhaps reading this book opened my eyes a little bit more than usual?
Book review by Jessica Krecklo Naidu
For more information on Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, please visit: