Saturday, February 22, 2014
Okay, I admit it: I am a nature nut. An enviro. A person who gets pissed off when yet another house gets built in some suburb. I mourn the loss of habitat to the extent of being nearly pathological. I love Ed Abbey. I'm with him when he said "the ideology of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell".
And so it isn't often I read a novel that understands such themes. Virginia Arthur takes her time with the book. She sets up the characters and let's them be what they are. She doesn't shy away from themes of class. And I think the cover of the book, with the beautiful Ellie, looking into the future with a couple of bulldozers around her and a binoculars at her feet, well, that cover is perfect.
In this case, you can judge a book by its cover.
Some might say the thing is a bit long and wordy. That the author could cut something here or there. No. Our lives are long and fun and tragic and good and bad and sometimes tedious and sometimes disastrous and sometimes magical. This book understand that and so it takes its time as Ellie leaves her husband for the love of birds.
And I come away from the book, borrowing a line from it often: to be an environmentalist is to live constantly with a broken heart. Oh so true.
I'm told that this work took 13 years to write and is loosely based on the author's own experiences. It takes a whole lot of effort to create such a story that includes themes of environmental loss, yet inspires hope that maybe, just maybe, others will get the bug of watching birds, or whales or trees---and figure out that they are worth saving.
Books that inspire you to become active outdoors are few and far between. Most nature books are written with adrenaline in mind. They are about climbing Everest or doing the seven highest peaks or climbing the highest tree. Or climbing a rock. Having an adrenaline experience is what the outdoors has become to a generation that comes after generation X. The slopes of a mountain have given way to the artificialness, and adrenaline, of a snowboarders half tube. This book isn't about adrenaline. It is about enjoyment. Solitude. Love.
We need more novels like this. We need to encourage writers who write books like this. A wilderness experience has become so rare that it rarely becomes a setting or subject of a novel these days (except to spur adrenaline). Virginia inspires something else; she inspires action. Beauty. Reflection. Listening. Watching. Being observant. In a world where the Pacific Crest Trail is only mentioned in regards to speed records, Birdbrain presents something better: take a look around and enjoy what you got because it ain't gonna last long unless you get off your butt and take care of it.
Buy this book.