Kyo Maclear took up birding after her father suffered his second stroke.
It had been a tough winter, and between the harsh weather and worries about her father, Maclear was feeling unmoored. “I had lost the beat,” she writes in her strange, lovely, profound little book, “Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation.”
A friend she calls only “the musician” had found peace in his life by photographing urban birds. The birds he watched “lived in gardens of steel, glass, concrete, and electricity. There was a bird with a plastic ‘frozen mango’ bag on its face and another bird nesting in a shattered light fixture. … The birds were doing ordinary bird things – perching, flying, preening, hunting, nest-building – but there was no doubt that they were of rather than above the mess and grit and trash of the world.”
One bird walk turns into a year of birding, during which Maclear meditates on her past, her parents, her marriage, books she loves, the nature of art, death, happiness, climate change and whatever else comes to her fertile, deeply curious mind. Though structured as a chronological memoir, hers is not a typical “year in the life” narrative. Each chapter is built around bird observations, but her excursions to the urban-bird habitats serve mainly as jumping-off points for her intelligent and thoughtful ramblings.
Her metaphors and verbs are often bird-inspired, but these allusions feel natural, never forced, and her descriptions are…