Sunday, October 28, 2018

Diversion: THE DELIGHTFUL HORROR OF FAMILY BIRDING, Eli J. Knapp (Torrey House Press)

I pay attention to Torrey House Press, "Voices for the Land," because the press publishes the very satisfying National Park Mysteries by Scott Graham. When I saw this nonfiction title, though, I wanted to review it right away -- because "family birding" plays a daily role up here on our Vermont ridge and in our family.

The book's a collection of birding adventures and thought-provoking quandaries provided by Houghton College professor (of intercultural studies and biology) Eli J. Knapp. The anecdote that gives its name to THE DELIGHTFUL HORROR OF FAMILY BIRDING involves Knapp taking his family on a road trip near their home at the time, in Oregon, trying to stage for the kids and his wife the sort of magical experience he'd already had on his own, this time with a "Wildlife Refuge Photography Bird Blind" at Tule Lake. But instead of a heavenly moment, he found spiders and wasps ready to frighten and possibly hurt his family, including his two-year-old daughter. Crushed, scared, mortified, he retreated with his family to the car and the snacks.
My thought was simple and straightforward. Leave. Quickly. Like my family, I was tired, frustrated, hot, and hungry. Even worse, I felt stupid. What had I been thinking? Obviously I couldn't recreate inspired moments I'd had by myself ... [En route home,] We fortified ourselves at a grand buffet, navigated around the smoke and fires, and laughed about the delightful horror of the Tule Lake bird blinds. ... my sister-in-law uttered a word that again sent goosebumps down my spine. "Owl!" she gasped, pointing to a striking silhouette atop a large Douglas fir. I pulled over, positioning the car to give us all a vantage point. A deep indigo sky outlined the owl's barrel form, accentuating the ear tufts. Its head swiveled robotically, right then left. The body tilted slightly forward, and the owl lifted off, dissolving into the inky night.
Many of Knapp's adventures involve taking his students to locations where the "rare bird" being sought can be very hard to find, or to places not known primarily for birds -- like the Grand Canyon. His reflections delve into why it's hard to ensure survival of particular species -- and to see them personally, as well.

With 31 essays rambling from Tanzania to Florida to upstate New York, the book provides both diversity and challenge. (I feel better about my home birdfeeder now.) Not much horror, but quite a few moments of risk and "OMG."

I enjoyed particularly the reflections on the "why" and "why it matters" of birding. Sure, it's well outside my usual mystery and crime fiction fare. But every palate needs a change now and then. I'll be giving a copy of THE DELIGHTFUL HORROR OF FAMILY BIRDING to a couple of people on my holiday list. Definitely recommended -- for yourself or as a well-appreciated gift.

Consider this conclusion to a section where the author ponders his own shyness about being a birder:
It's good to march out of the house seeking an exquisitely hued varied thrush. Even better when my son follows me out. Or when my students ask to tag along. Occasionally, it's even okay to interrupt a meeting to point a thrush out. Why? Because my response to those who are earnestly seeking nature's overlooked wonders shouldn't be varied at all.
The book's available at all the usual stores and outlets -- but it's even more fun to purchase this one directly from Torrey House Press, in order to scoop up some of those Scott Graham mysteries at the same time. Right?

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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