When writer Kyo Maclear began taking care of her ailing father, she found herself adrift and unable to write. Constant worry and the changing patterns of her day became difficult to manage.She writes that
A mind narrows when it has too much to bear. Art is not born of unwanted constriction. Art wants formless and spacious quiet, antisocial daydreaming, time away from the consumptive volume of everyday life.
It wasn’t until she met a musician who was also a serious birder that Maclear started to feel a sense of direction. She became fascinated with birds and the idea of birding, so she asked if she could follow the musician for a year and learn to watch the birds. This book is a record of some of the birds she saw and her reflections on them during that year.
As a book about birds, this book doesn’t offer much. It’s not in any way an in-depth study of birds. Although it is interesting that Maclear mostly observes urban birds in her Toronto neighborhood, she doesn’t spend time on questions like how the growth of cities affects animal life.
On the other hand, as a collection of musings about life, this is pretty enjoyable. Maclear uses her observations as a springboard into other ideas. And so each chapter becomes a pleasant, sometimes meandering essay on a theme drawn from her birding observation.
For example, when she helps the musician feed his father’s finches, she starts thinking about cages and limitations, including her mother’s brief attempt to escape her marriage. A chapter on small birds turns into a consideration of smallness in art and how art that is tiny and meticulous can be just as rewarding as art that is grand and sweeping. She also considers artists and writers who adopted second passions and the value of art in the face of difficulty.
Maclear’s writing here is thoughtful and often thought-provoking, although I don’t know that many of the ideas will stick with me for long. There were no great aha moments or remarkable insights that I’ll ponder long into the future. But there were some points of interest, and I appreciated that Maclear didn’t try to come to tidy conclusions. This is book about thinking through big questions, not about figuring things out.
I received an advance e-galley of this book for review consideration via Edelweiss.