Engaging account of a bookish New Yorker’s discovery of bird-watching.
Twelve years ago, at age 30, Rosen (Joy Comes in the Morning, 2004, etc.) took a class in bird-watching and found a new way of seeing. Through the “sanctioned voyeurism” of his new passion, he began noticing everything in Central Park, just two blocks from his Manhattan apartment: the birds, to be sure, but also connections between humans and the wild, the pleasure of lists and classifications, his own unexpected hungers and urges. In these pages Rosen mingles accounts of his own experiences in the field with those of others from Henry David Thoreau and Alfred Russel Wallace to the Yiddish journalist Abraham Cahan to convey the lure of a pastime pursued by 47.8 million Americans. Bird-watching, he declares, is “simultaneously marginal and utterly central to the business of being human.” Looking at the feathered creatures that are the dinosaurs’ closest living relatives satisfies his craving for wildness and makes him feel whole. Rosen’s text covers wide ground. Interesting facts include the bleak statistic that half of all migrating birds die on the journey. Among the famous birders profiled are John James Audubon, who killed and impaled hundreds of birds in order to resurrect them in paintings, and President Theodore Roosevelt, who burst into a cabinet meeting declaring he had just seen a chestnut-sided warbler. The author recounts pursuits of rare birds, from Wallace’s search for the bird of paradise to his own unsuccessful quest to spot the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Big Woods of Arkansas. Readers will close the book understanding the magic he feels at his favorite spring in Central Park during the day’s last hour of light, when birds come to drink.
Combining memoir, history and science, Rosen’s gracefully written chapters form an exquisitely crafted meditation on life and nature, as well as a splendid introduction to bird-watching.