SALT MARSH DIARY by Mark Seth Lender


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An unabashedly anthropomorphic celebration of life in the salt marsh.

On the Connecticut coast, NPR contributor and newspaper columnist Lender has been keeping track of the comings and goings of the birds of Long Island Sound. Here he charts, from season to season, those he sees from the fortunate vantage point of porch and yard. The first to appear is an osprey, a harbinger of good fortune to all but the fish it snags; then come the cedar waxwings, “eating the dusted bluepurple berries, touching close, unconcerned, talking to themselves as they dine.” Though crustier naturalists warn against imparting human motives and motivations to the animal world, Lender is unimpressed, writing without fear of the politics of nature, in which “you can sort the politically active from the merely vociferous by several well-worn criteria.” He coyly refers to a female woodpecker as “a little drummer girl” and attributes to the merlin a “Prussian dueling scar across his eye and Thousand-yard Stare.” For all the sentimentality and occasional heavy-handedness, it’s clear that the author knows his birds. For example, he pegs the killdeer, and its “catalogue of deceptions,” just right, and his brief glimpse of a peregrine in flight, “almost transparent in the penetrating light,” will bring a smile of recognition to anyone who has witnessed such a moment. Throughout, Lender advances an important message—that the coastal marshes must be preserved if worlds like this are to be harbored, but since we have a habit of building cities atop those places, there is work to be done to keep them safe.

A mixed bag—a soft rejoinder of sorts to Henry Beston’s coastal classic The Outermost House (1925), slightly old-fashioned and sometimes cloying, but still a pleasure for the birdwatching completist.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-65601-0
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2011


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