Nelson's third novel (All Around Me Peaceful, 1989, etc.)--a rousing, realistic story about an ornithologist in midlife crisis who finds himself. Its sense of place is powerful, and its integration of personal matters with political intrigue skillful. Scott Talmadge returns to the Southwest when he's offered a temporary position as a professor of ornithology in Tucson. The first half of the book weaves together flashbacks with quotidian detail. Talmadge's marriage to Demer was a ``slow, downward spiral''--a tangled history that includes Tilghman Myre, an old college friend and possible rival, still in the vicinity, whose ``gaze was always on the next hurdle.'' Through occasional letters from Demer, who left Talmadge for South America to help political refugees, and through his renewed association with Myre, who is rescuing Guatemalan refugees seeking asylum, Talmadge works his way past personal indecision to get involved hip-deep in the asylum movement. The second half of the story includes Talmadge's eventual love interest, Francie, once involved with Myre; novelist Ellis Carmichael, who lives in Central America; and a series of adventures and misadventures, sometimes baggy but often snappy and tense, through which Talmadge learns to take risks both for himself and others. He reads Demer's journals--a clichÇd device, but one that serves here--and discovers that she's deeply involved in the movement and that he can let go. After Myre dies in the American desert during a rescue operation, Carmichael writes a book about ``a man for the eighties: principled but misguided, a rebel with a lost cause''; Francie gets pregnant; and life goes on: ``We lose track of people, even the people we once loved.'' Like Dan O'Brien and Tom McGuane, Nelson manages to convey grandly what people and places make of each other.