Wanderlust can occur at the most inopportune times.
When Kyo Maclear’s responsibilities make demands that keep her near home – her dad’s failing health, the experience of raising two young sons, and other of life’s challenges – she finds a unique way to address a kind of solitude that stymies her creativity.
She happens across a bit of film featuring a musician who has struggled and been lost. Summarizing the clip, she writes:
After years of wallowing in creative depression, he had quit drinking and found peace by birding in the inner city. “I didn’t even have to think about it. I just felt easier. I felt easy-hearted,” he said.
He had discovered his joy was bird-shaped.
“I made contact with the musician and arranged to meet him for a bird walk. I wanted to feel enraptured and inspirable.”
And so, a year’s traipsing begins. Slowly, she enters the world of birds, an observer, a thinker. On one of their jaunts, Maclear “follows the musician along the boardwalk to a wooded area of the lake.” She struggles…
to become one with the rock. And then, just like that, [she] settled in. The minutes and hours passed. A trumpeter swan retracted its neck and made a funny trumpet sound. Three tundra swans paddled up and down the shoreline, a reflection of my own inner drift.
She explores within the city’s confines, learning its nooks and crannies, its parks and waterways. Maclear often finds the outings challenging but also deeply rewarding. The musician does not lead her far geographically, but through their birding, she comes to understand some things beyond time and space. The excursions are as much inner journeys for Maclear as they are external, and she begins to find creative ways to express what had been lost to her.
On its surface, this is a small book in which little happens. We are nowhere and everywhere. But volumes happen within a prose that verges on poetry. Maclear’s awarenesses quietly stack upon one another. And this growing insight is sprinkled with bird and other stray facts that add substance for trivia aficionados. One such time, she ponders the name of her city:
As night fell, we stood together at the edge of a city named after the Mohawk word tkaronto meaning “where there are trees standing in water.” I tried to picture the area covered in aspen and poplar forests. Then I went back further and pictured the former shoreline as it would have existed 12,500 years ago, well to the north of where we now stood. I pictured us submerged in glacial lake water.
Throughout the year of bird-watching, Maclear searches to make sense of life in this world. And she becomes fascinated not only with the birds themselves but with the path they led her down. Maclear’s peregrine falcons also nudged a sleeping memory within me.
A few years ago, a peregrine built her nest directly outside my back door on a deck under construction. I couldn’t imagine a more inappropriate site with my constant coming and going. Nonetheless, the peregrines managed, and it was an amazing experience for me to watch the eggs hatch and to witness the dutiful feeding and, eventually, the fledglings’ evacuation.
The peregrines also nudge a memory for Maclear and she goes on a small search:
…I found the navy blue Oxford dictionary [my father] had given me for my seventh birthday. I confirmed the word peregrine means “having a tendency to wander.”
It clearly fit the peregrine falcon, which is known to travel vast distances, but maybe it also fit me and this book I was writing about being a little lost, this book of inward and outward travelling to the verge of life.
Birds Art Life lives up to its title. It is a lyrical and philosophical exploration of nature, love, and anticipated loss with lots and lots of life.
It’s amazing how much travelling can be done within a city’s limits (or your armchair).
Available through your local bookstore or online: Birds Art Life