Birding, Opera and Other Journeys
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Memoirs of a privileged life given largely to contemplation of nature’s gifts, their abuse by humankind, and hopes for future redress.

A UN diplomat’s son raised in Britain and the US, the former symphonic orchestra administrator and the Maine Audubon Society’s executive director tells where and why he cultivated the lifestyle of avid birder and amateur naturalist, and how inspiration from poetry and classical music blends readily, for him, into those lifelong endeavors. Offering more of a celebration than a polemic, Urquhart revisits encounters in the natural world of his childhood England and the America, principally New England, to which he was transplanted and remains. While abundant in detail—especially when it comes to birding strategies and their emotional rewards—these passages often lapse into a flow in which the author is compelled by his own considerable wit and charm to meander off topic and on again. (One bizarre but somewhat entertaining example: citing a not-directly-related 17th-century Urquhart who translated Rabelais but dared to add a number of his own off-the-wall modifiers, all footnoted, to describe Gargantua’s penis.) Later in reconstructing trips to Africa and especially Provence the author waxes more to the point in confronting the dire consequences of man’s failure to comprehend spiritually, as well as intellectually, the ancestral bond with nature; this, he warns, is the real root of potential neglect, abuse, and irrevocable devastation of the environment. While this gains its force in being personal, even intimate, its inspirational qualities are broadly generalized and scattered with poetry fragments or, for example, Jungian references that don’t always carve out relevance. At one point, however, Urquhart does identify man as his own worst enemy in the form of the farmer at an environmental hearing who declares: “God made the earth for us, not us for it.”

Effusive, wandering attempt to codify the good fight.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-59376-017-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004