Monday, June 9, 2014

Field Notes From A Hidden City by Esther Woolfson

In this fascinating book, Esther Woolfson takes the reader to Aberdeen, Scotland.  She writes of the environment and biology of her city throughout one year's time.  Aberdeen is a rainy, cold city, home to sea animals such as seals and dolphins as well as the animals and birds that tend to live in cities.  Woolfson writes in detail of her observations during the year, taking the reader into a quiet, nuanced life that focuses on how we can live without harming the other creatures that share the world with us.

As she writes, the reader learns many interesting facts.  She talks of how pigeons which are often held in disdain, are merely a different kind of dove, a bird which is beloved.  Slugs may have contributed to the depiction of Cupid with his arrows from their own ability to shoot a 'love dart' during their courting behavior.   She talks about the rapid decline of many species, especially songbirds, leading to birds such as sparrows, which are considered very common due to their former numbers, now being put on endangered lists.  We learn that many birds, such as gulls, may live to be forty years old, and that they have the ability to remember places as well as recognize other birds over the years. 

Woolfson also writes of emotions stirred by our interaction with nature.  She talks of how our children's lives can be marked by the time pets lived in our homes.  She talks about the recognizable scent of baby birds, similar to people who talk about puppy breath.  She writes about how certain animals and birds are singled out for disdain, often because of how they are given human characteristics by their observers.  Two examples of this are magpie and spiders, each of which serve an unique biological function that can't be replaced if they disappear.  She also talks about the emerging field of 'invasion biology' which attempts to return an environment to some former point in time as regards the plants and animals found there, and the difficulties in justifying such an endeavor.

Kirkus Reviews recently put this book on their list '2014's Most Overlooked Books'.  Readers will be enchanted by the quiet beauty revealed by Woolfson's writing and compelled to look at the world in a different manner by her championing of the sharing of our world.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers and those interested in learning more of how our world works.

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