Friday, February 10, 2017
Friday Overlooked Book: FEATHER BRAINED My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder & Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte
This is not by any means a 'forgotten' book at all, maybe not even overlooked, but I had to figure out how to fit it in on our regular Friday round-up and here we are. Bob Tarte might be thought of as a regional writer and occasionally they do tend to get overlooked by those outside the relevant region. He is an amiable guy prone to worry and grump who nevertheless writes delightful memoir-like books. He lives in Michigan with his remarkable wife Linda in near harmony with the local flora and fauna as well as a mind-numbing collection of beloved pets including parrots, parakeets, bunnies, cats, geese, ducks, turkeys and other assorted animalia. One of my fondest wishes is someday, somehow, to meet the one and only hooligan parrot Dusty.
"Linda's parrot Dusty was enjoying his morning out-of-cage time playing inside the closet at the bottom of the stairs, indulging in a favorite activity of biting a pair of shoes. He paid to attention to me as I padded stocking-footed down the steps to warm up a cup of coffee. I should have known better than to underestimate such a calculating bird. When I reached the landing he whirled around and launched himself at my feet, forcing me to vault over the back of our L-shaped couch, coffee cup in hand. Having reasserted his status at the top of the pecking order, he turned his attention back to the closet."
Linda rehabilitates wild birds orphaned or injured, from time to time, so there is a constant variety of life (wild and otherwise) to be looked after and day to day adventures in animal husbandry to write about. This is something that, thankfully, Bob Tarte does for a living.
FEATHER BRAINED is Bob's lively journey to be taken seriously as a birder and to find a rare species he can brag about online to fellow birders. Fortunately for Bob and for us, his slightly skewed sense of humor explains all this in often laugh out loud episodes in which he never spares himself or his misadventures. Honestly, Bob and especially Linda's patience with natural foibles sometimes seems super-human.
In addition to laughing as I read along, I also got to learn quite a bit about birds, birding, birdsong, avian habitats and the peculiarities of bird aficionados in general. I also shared Bob and Linda's sense of wonder and awe when an especially beautiful bird showed up at their backyard feeder or foraged in the nearby woods or down by the pond or in a neighbor's tree. I went with Bob and Linda or Bob and his friend Bill (the non-birder birder) on their occasional treks to bird gathering spots across the state all in the name of Bob trying to find a rare species to call his own.
"Jeez, what is that?" I blurted out, startled by a face so fiery orange, it might have been painted with a fluorescent highlighter pen. Two birders told me its name. A charcoal black, triangular patch across the eyes contributed to the blackburnian warbler's black, burning appearance. At that moment I understood why I'd really come. Not so much for the numerical exercise of adding species to my list - though there was that undeniable pleasure - but for fleeting encounters with beings too splendid to exist."
You don't have to know much about birds to enjoy this book, God knows I'm no expert (and I'm not a birder, though my daughter and her family do enjoy occasionally going out into the woods looking for birds) since I have always maintained that nature is best viewed from the inside of a moving car and the only birds I can readily recognize in real life are your standard assortment of sparrows, yellow finches, cardinals, starlings, blackbirds, crows and robins. (Well, yes, I can identify Canada geese and swans and ducks and the like and thrill when watching them in flight.) Anything else, I have to reach for a bird book or check online. That doesn't prevent me, however, from still being fascinated by avian variety and beauty.
Anyone interested in memoirs, birding, birds in general, humorous encounters with nature, the fine points of marriage and stories about grumpy men finding their natural calling will delight in this book. I did, for all of the above reasons.
"I loved birds, and every bird was my favorite bird. But no bird was a better bird than a bird I saw with Linda. This had been true from when we had first met, and it was even truer now."
My hint to the University of Michigan Press towards the betterment of the next edition is this: the black and white photographs which add no real value to the look of the book should be replaced with line illustrations, perhaps by local highschool art students (?) I know color photography is expensive to print, but at the very least, black and white stylized illustrations would add a bit of visual 'oomph' to the charm of Bob Tarte's prose.
Either/or. Read the book. Then check out Bob Tarte's other writings, particularly ENSLAVED BY DUCKS.
Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at Edgar Award nominated author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked (or not as the case may be) books other bloggers are talking about today.