Adventures, Books, Recommendations

Birds Art Life Death: – Kyo Maclear

A field guide to the small & significant.

I’d seen the publisher tweet about this book, but as nobody I knew had mentioned reading it yet, and I hadn’t seen it in any shops, I’d sort of forgotten about it. But then my friend saw it, checked I didn’t already have it, and bought it for me. Savour it, she said.

And I did. I picked it up on a Sunday afternoon, when I didn’t have much to do. I curled up, in a patch of sunshine, and shut the world out for a bit. Then I read it on my commute and – a mark of enjoyment – I chose the longer route home twice so that I could just sit and enjoy it for a bit. I finished it, under a blanket, with my cat leaning against my leg, and with Debussy drowning out the builders in my neighbour’s garden. Perfection.

Birds Art Life Death is the story of a year in the company of a new person and a new pursuit, of finding something new to occupy oneself when something – grief, illness, life, everything – gets too much. It’s a familiar and appealing feeling, and the way Maclear approaches it is really interesting: she doesn’t seem to decide to take on a specific project, so much as wait for something that feels right. As with all the nature writing I’ve enjoyed, the interweaving of the personal and the natural is balanced and poignant. It made sense when she mentioned Nan Shepherd, and Kathleen Jamie – and, particularly, an article of hers that puts into words so many of my feelings about mountains and engaging with nature, A Lone Enraptured Male. She writes, like Shepherd and Jamie, accessibly, personally, without claiming or wishing to know everything, but also without pretending to know less than she does. She discusses personal tragedy and success and draws parallels with natural tragedy and success, in such a way that is moving and honest. It sits with me. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and I still keep thinking about it.

A field guide to the small and significant is an excellent summary, a philosophy. Small things are significant, and they exist within greater processes, just like we do. We can’t pretend to save everything, and we can’t pretend to have the answers, but we can do our best, and that’s what it all boils down to, in the end.


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