Only field biologists or people-of-the-field can truly understand what it is like to see a planet in decline so for birders, botanists, ecologists, field biologists, other ‘ologists, this is a must-read.
For environmental activists, active or burned out, depressed, and/or holed-up somewhere with a fifth of whiskey, this is a must-read.
4.2 rating based on 40 ratings (all editions)
Author(s): Publisher: Ecological Outreach Services
2014 Recommended List, Santa Cruz, CA Bookshop.
2015 "Honorable Mention" in "Wild Card" Category, SF Book Fest.
In Part I, Pretty Ellowyn Kelsey is a redneck girl living the pretty redneck life in rural Michigan. This includes waiting for her roofer husband to come around, maybe notice the new curtains she put up, or even the flowers in her hair. Her self-imposed lobotomy ends simply enough--she shows up at the wrong time for a church picnic and ends up with a bunch of birders. Peering through a pair of borrowed binoculars, she realizes the love between a mating pair of bluebirds is more profound than what she shares with the bonehead she's married to. Something in her breaks.
She's young, naive, and despite that everyone else around her recognizes what she is going through, she doesn't--until the depth of her pain and emotion holds her captive. She doesn't understand it, the end of her empty marriage and she really did try to cuss less though hanging around with her best friend Patty didn't help. What did he want from her exactly? Did he even love her? Everyone knew her marriage to Eddie was doomed before she did. How can she be the last to know? She is indignant, hurt. She has no idea how to process the emotional sideswipe. Her loss and pain is expressed through the crazy narcissistic melodrama of youth, justified or not. Her reluctant yet unabashed accomplice is Patty.
Part II finds her experiencing yet another major loss. This time, it forces her to grow up, evaluate. She finds refuge in nature, in her birds, in science, making true her mother's prediction--a chasm may form someday between her new and old life, between she and Patty. Her new life is about ecology, birding, nature, science--getting out of her rural town, maybe even going to college. As the narcissism of her youth, her "prior" life wears off, so grows the divide between the people in her town. She starts to care about something bigger than herself (God forbid!)--her ailing planet. This only serves to amuse the "rednecks and assorted white trash" of her rural town who waste no time labeling her as their own "token environmental wacko".
She stays focused. She loves ecology, birds, but wait a minute, what's that strip mall doing there? She meets Kate, one of the first female biologists to be hired by the state Fish and Game Department. In addition to enduring her role as a trailblazer in a male-dominated profession (i.e. the spontaneous massages, etc.), Kate has spent her life fighting to "protect the environment". It hasn't really worked out. Kate's really angry and nobody likes Kate. Who wants to end up like Kate? Is this the price you pay for caring about something bigger than yourself? Ellie wonders if she shouldn't head back to the fart jokes, Foosball,and Budweiser; but the barbecues just aren't as much fun anymore. She meets someone at one of those infamous barbecues. He likes her. She runs like hell, and she keeps running, to the other side of country.
Her journey includes leaving her boring rural life in Michigan to travel "out west" where she has some very unexpected experiences that includes roaming spirits in the desert, accidental crusades against development at her sister's place in San Diego, geographically diverse sexual encounters that includes a cowboy and a "real Indian", courtesy of a Miwok/Paiute BLM park ranger out of Mono Lake. Then there are those amazing sandhill cranes--and who is this guy in my tent?
She can't dodge it try as she may--the inevitable grief life thrusts upon all of us, including the grief of watching nature get destroyed by her own species. And then there's the dog. Her wonderful wonderful dog.
She passes through all the stages every aware person passes through, some staying in one stage, comfortably or not, while others stay stuck in despair, hopelessness...alcohol and drugs always optional.
Major influences: Ed Abbey, Tom Robbins, John Irving, Rachel Carson,
T.C. Boyle, J.D. Salinger, Pam Houston, Kurt Vonnegut, many others.