Thursday, January 7, 2010

Life List

It's funny how some books seem to stalk you.

I first bumped into Life List, a biography of Phoebe Snetsinger about six months ago. My local paper ran a review and when I read it I thought, "here's about book about bird watching, which I really don't know anything about, or care that much about, but it sounds really interesting." Which was about as far as it went. I didn't go seek it out or read more about it, or even really think about it again.

A few months later, the St. Pete Reading Festival featured the book's author, Olivia Gentile, as one of its speakers. I read her impressive biography (Harvard undergrad, Columbia MFA). Saw her beautiful author photo. And thought, wow, what an interesting story. And I didn't go.

And then, I'm not really sure how, but I heard about it AGAIN, and this time I found out she's pregnant and married to Andy Borowtiz, who has a really funny column that I follow, and I thought, why haven't I picked up her book already? So I did.

And it's fascinating, although to be honest, why in the world Olivia Gentile chose such an obscure figure to chronicle for her first book or spend so long doing it (7 years) is as compelling as Phoebe Snetsinger herself, who was the first person to see 8,000 species of birds (which is almost all the species in the world, and is very, very, very hard to do.) She got herself killed doing it. At least, I think that's what happens. There have been all sorts of crypic allusions to the way she died in 1997, that I feel fairly confident that birdwatching killed her. Birding got her raped, at any rate, by 5 thugs in New Guinea when she was 55 years old.

It's hard to mesh my view of bird watching with extreem danger and obsessive behavior, but that's a common misconception, apparently. The closer one is to the tropics, the birdier it gets, leading dedicated birders into some very sketchy countries and areas. Also, keeping a list of all the species one has seen seems to lend itself to stiff compition with fellow birders and with one's own number goals.

Reading the book has made me much more aware of the birds in my area. And living on the gulf coast of Florida, there are some amazing birds in my backyard, raptors, pink sponbills, herons and egrets.

That's what hooked Phoebe Snetsigner in the first place. A neighbor took her bird watching in St. Louis and showed her birds she'd never seen before. The fact that these amazing creatures had been in her backyard her whole life and she never noticed them stunned her and started her down a new path.

So what have we been blind to in our backyard?

More later,


1 comment:

C. E. said...

I'll have to check out that book. Thanks for the info.