WATCHING BIRDS by Ann Taylor

WATCHING BIRDS

Reflections on the Wing
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Personal essays with as many phases as the moon, that touch upon birds and birding to a greater or lesser degree. Taylor (English/Salem State Coll.) isn—t a fanatic when it comes to birding, but she is inspired and refreshed by birds, delighting in “the flashy scarlet of the tanager . . . the fiery spring goldfinch” and what Robert Frost sensed when he wrote, “the vireo rings the changes sweet.” She is still a neophyte to the sport’she says of the pros, “My five little birds in a tree are their parula, three yellows, and a redstart”—and can laugh at Aldo Leopold’s description of birding: “In large degrees useless, inefficient, laborious and irrelevant.” She came to birding via teaching the classics, where birds seemed as numerous as tropes and strophes; she found great pleasure when a bird triggered a recollection of Chaucer or Dante. It’s also one of the troubles with this collection: the author’s often so busy reaching for literary associations, it would come as no surprise that she misses the moment when simply beholding is reason enough—it isn’t E.B. White, Wallace Stevens, and Seamus Heaney singing from the bushes. Some of the essays disappoint after a good start, others are just plain unsuccessful: a piece on memory and loss and things left unsaid is sharply melancholic yet ultimately spades no new ground; the essay on a Florentine Holy Saturday is aimless, without any specific gravity or, for that matter, attraction; and she adds nothing to the already overexposed pigeons of Venice. Be thankful, then, for the serendipities she captures, luminous instants like the trill heard in the silent snowy woods or when she recounts the sinister doings of crows in the claustrophobic death pall of Benares. Despite the uneven material, Taylor is always thoughtful, and her better pieces display an enviable promise as an essayist—possessing clarity and a facility with both dark and comic experiences. (20 illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-07-134866-2
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999




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