BBC radio producer and writer Dee compresses memorable incidents from his life as a birdwatcher into a one-year excursion.
The author opens with his first memory of seeing a bird—just after his third birthday—and how his delight in these creatures has shaped his life since. Interspersing his observations with nature poetry by Marvell, Pound, Coleridge, Shakespeare and others, Dee begins his journey in June, with a description of a dream in which his task was to launch all the seabirds from the cliffs of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. The dream, he writes, was similar to the “dizzyingly, exhilaratingly” real experience of standing on the highest cliffs on Shetland’s coast watching the “wheels and flights of birds.” In July Dee takes us on a walk through woods near Cambridge, where the sight of a woodcock overhead reminds him of the earthy taste of the bird, “a mixture of loam and chalk.” In August the author describes learning to band birds to track their migratory patterns, and how he feels like “Gulliver in Lilliput” holding one in his hand. September brings the “birds’ autumn departures,” a crucial part of “the timetable to [his] life.” In November, Dee recalls a painful boyhood memory: While trying to spot peregrines, the author witnessed a man jump to his death from a bridge. A more pleasant experience occurs in April and May, when the spring weather elicits the “inherently warm” notes of birdsong.
A rewarding memoir.