This month’s book, Birds, Art, Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear, was a gift from my sister Martha. We often exchange book titles and I looked forward to reading this one. Although a small book, I took my time with it and by the end saw the author’s life clearly and sympathetically.
The art of observation adds knowledge of what we observe, but also ourselves. The author, while caring for an aging father and two young boys, managing her household and working as a writer, felt the future sorrow at losing her father overtaking her life. She writes, “I have lost the beat”, meaning the rhythm required to keep such a life humming along. It was winter, which made it all worse.
Maclear explored the possibilities of new relationships, athletic activities, art lessons, something that would override the “predominantly provisional feeling,” of waiting for something to happen. At home, she pulled out long-stored art supplies and started to begin to make small drawings. Expressive pen and ink drawing of birds, leaves and people are scattered through the book.
Maclear writes, “Then there were the birds, which were suddenly everywhere.” She learns of a musician who had found peace by birding in the city of Toronto. She contacts him and asks if she could accompany him on a bird walk. On that walk she contemplates the state of being open to something new, to directing serious attention to a new thing. The musician agrees to her request to follow him on his birding walks for a year. She describes those walks in detail, so that we feel we are by her side.
The book is organized by season and, within the seasons, the months. The birding, her family’s history, and a record of a short period of time in her life together form a memoir of discovery. The reader will find beautiful passages worth reading a second and third time.