Monday, March 05, 2007

Book review: The Verb 'To Bird'

Peter Cashwell: The Verb 'To Bird' (Paul Dry Books, 2003)

I got a confession to make. I don't get birding, or birders.
I mean, I get stopping up to see a rare or interesting bird ("Look a dodo! I think they are pretty rare these days."), but I don't understand those who find interest in watching birds just for the sake of watching birds. Bird voyeurism just doesn't make sense to me.

Given this, if anyone would have told me that I would buy and read a book about birding, written by a birder, and enjoy it, I would seriously doubt their sanity. However, if the same person had told me that the book was written by Peter Cashwell, it would had made sense.
You see, I have known Peter online for close to a decade now - first in a now defunct chat hall/discussion board and since from I have even visited him and his lovely family for a few days, back when I traveled around in the US in 2000.
That might explain why I would buy and read the book, but the reason why I would enjoyed it, is that Peter can write both interesting and humorously.

The book contains Peter's description of how he got into birding (was born into it), what he considers birding (looking at birds) and quite a few anecdotes from his life of birding, frequently interrupted by facts about birds and birding in the US - all written in such a way, that you don't actually have to be interested in birding or birds to enjoy the book.

To give an example, Peter explains how he and one of his co-teachers share their newest sightings with each other.

Things began innocently enough. Soon after Mary and I discovered each other's interest in birds, I spotted a new life bird over Thanksgiving break. On our first day back, I sneaked into Mary’s classroom before she arrived for first period and scrawled its name across the blackboard. She did he same to me after her next lifer, and the practice grew into a habit for us, a minor source of amusement that helped us prevent teaching from numbing our minds completely.

We did not, however, consider who else would be reading these messages. The first thing her Latin students saw that first Monday morning were the words "LITTLE BLUE HERON" in my distinctive all-caps handwriting. This alone might have passed unnoticed, but my own students were later treated to Mary’s retaliatory "WILSON’S WARBLER," and then to a rapid exchange of "YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER," "ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK," "PIPPING PLOVER," and so on. Soon, tongues were wagging about our torrid and ongoing affair.

The fact that said affair was totally nonexistent didn't matter. The kids didn't know a heron from a '74 Volvo, and assumed we were writing each other cute little terms of endearment from our passionate encounters


[W]ere I to have an affair, WHICH I’M STILL NOT, I would unquestionably compare my lover to something –anything- that did not have a needle-shaped bill, gnarly meter-long green-gray legs, and breath with the aroma of a thousand dead raw bullfrogs.
(p. 30-32)

I have absolutely no clue what those birds are (though I do at least know what a heron is), but even so it didn't matter. I got the basic grasp, and could not help laughing out loud when reading about why he would not have chosen that particular nickname for his lover.

All in all, I can only recommend The Verb 'To Bird' highly. It's not high literature, which Peter as an English teacher almost certainly would be the first to admit, but it's an enjoyable and fun reading. If you are into birding, I'm sure you'll find it even more enjoyable.

Disclaimer: As noted above, I know the author from the internet, and have met him in person. I even have the honour of being mentioned by name in the acknowledgements in the back of the book.



Blogger Kaethe said...

I share your lack of interest in birding, and your amusement at Peter's book.

In fact, I think a reread is due.

March 08, 2007 5:57 PM  

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