A sophisticated guide for amateur bird watchers and a door-opener for newbies.

WHAT THE ROBIN KNOWS

HOW BIRDS REVEAL THE SECRETS OF THE NATURAL WORLD

Naturalist Young (co-author: Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature, 2008) explains how to understand the language of birds.

Trained in anthropology at Rutgers, the author’s passion for bird-watching began in the salt marshes of southern New Jersey where he was raised, but he attributes his real learning to a series of mentors who trained him in Native American traditions. Young believes that native and scientific knowledge about nature are complementary, and that animal communication is “never just the robins communicating with other robins”—they transmit information to other species, which follow their calls. In his wilderness-training classes, Young teaches students how to listen and understand these communications. However, he notes, it’s a skill that can be practiced by anyone in the backyard or a local park, by choosing a “sit spot” and quietly observing what is happening in the same area every day. Young stresses the need to sit quietly, allowing the birds to accept our presence; after first flying away in alarm, they will return to their territory. “If we learn to read the birds…we can read the world at large,” he writes. “The types of birds seen or heard, their numbers and behaviors and vocalizations, will reveal the locations of running water or still water, dead trees, ripe fruit, a carcass, predators, fish runs, insect hatches, and so much more.” This information, shared by all the birds and animals living in a habitat, was crucial to the survival of hunter-gatherer societies. A trained tracker can learn to recognize how the variations in birdcalls and their behavior when alarmed can identify different predators such as hawks, crows and cats.

A sophisticated guide for amateur bird watchers and a door-opener for newbies.

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-45125-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more