A year well spent and carefully recorded: heedful, respectful, and filled with the romance of being out of doors.

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RETURN OF THE OSPREY

A SEASON OF FLIGHT AND WONDER

An attentive year with the ospreys of Cape Cod, from the capable hands of Gessner (A Wild, Rank Place, 1997, etc.).

In the spring of 1999, the author made a resolution to spend more time with his neighbors, the ospreys. Once abundant, the fish hawk went into serious decline in the 1950s as a result of DDT poisoning. Then, due in part to the bird’s adaptability and ability to cohabit with humans to a degree, it bounced back from a mortality rate of 90 percent. Much in the manner of his earlier work, Gessner concentrates on the elemental facts of daily life on the Cape: walking, writing, observing, napping, being with his wife. Of particular importance to him is gaining a sense of place, of homeplace, and one aspect of that search are the ospreys, in whose revival he found a glimmer of his own recovery from cancer. This is, in effect, a calendar of days on the osprey watch: watching nests being built and repaired (including one with a naked Barbie doll woven into the woodwork); watching for nestlings, and watching as nestlings get carried away in the night by raiding owls; being witness to the courtship ritual known as the sky dance; recording the daily changes in the salt marsh. While Gessner includes much research he has done into the bird’s biology and behavior (relying heavily on Alan Poole’s work), he is more content (and better at) observing, waiting, letting the season deepen, the flowers bloom, the marsh come to vibrant life. And in the process, through his incessant poking about and hungry curiosity, he does approach a notion of place, perhaps never more so than when he attunes himself to “osprey time.”

A year well spent and carefully recorded: heedful, respectful, and filled with the romance of being out of doors.

Pub Date: March 30, 2001

ISBN: 1-56512-254-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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