A big Manhattan year : tales of competitive birding

From Jackie Cantwell
Author: David Barrett
Title: A big Manhattan year : tales of competitive birding
Most of us call the act of identifying birds in their natural environment “bird watching”. But the more serious refer to it as “birding”. And those who take birding very seriously sometimes compete with each other to have a “big year” or a “big day”, which is to spy the most birds in a given area in a certain amount of time. So the author, an Upper East Side Manhattan resident, attempted a Manhattan big year in 2012 after birding for only one year. He combined his love of training for competitive running races with his birding. Although there’s no prize awarded to the winner, one can see the totals on ebird.com. He details the preparation that goes into such a feat. First of all, one must buy a good pair of binoculars! One must study the physical appearances of many species and subspecies of birds, along with the bird calls they make, and how they look in flight. He partakes in guided birding walks through Central Park as well as consulting numerous websites, books, and signs up for text alerts of rare bird sightings. Migration patterns and Hurricane Sandy impacted his year greatly. His tone is conversational, and I learned about the different areas within Central Park, as well as Randall’s Island and northern Manhattan. He explains how technology such as the smartphone has aided birders tremendously. He says for the most part, birders are generous in wanting to share their knowledge and their finds. This is a truly unique glimpse into a world most of us never knew about. I dare you not to appreciate birds more after this read!

Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife

From Margaret  Mezzacapo
Author:  Marie Winn
Central Park in the Dark:  More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife
This is a great book!   It is written by the author of Red-Tails in Love, the story of Pale Male, the New York City hawk. Winn, a devoted amateur naturalist, packs a ton of nature lore and knowledge into an entertaining, well-written and witty book. She had me ready to jump on the next Manhattan-bound train and head right to Central Park.

Four Tenths of an Acre

From: Margaret Mezzacapo
Four Tenths of an Acre
Author: Laurie Lisle
This has a similar theme to Margaret Roach’s And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road (2011). A single woman “escapes” city life by fleeing to a country setting and becoming an obsessive gardener. Ms. Lisle becomes totally possessed, and IMHO uses the garden to avoid human interaction.

There are a few jarring notes/questions I had:

  • Without a job, how is she paying for all this? Unless she got one boatload of an inheritance!
  • She mentions her dog – and somehow chronicles sixteen years with her – yet always refers to her as “my dog” and not once gives her name. Then again, she only names one of her three husbands.

Overall, an entertaining read, though.

Waking Up in Eden: in pursuit of an impassioned life on an imperiled island

From Margaret Mezzacapo

Waking Up in Eden:  in pursuit of an impassioned life on an imperiled island

Author: Lucinda Fleeson.

The bare bones of the story are the same as those of Margaret Roach’s recent biography [And I shall have some peace there: trading in the fast lane for my own dirt road] middle-aged woman flees big-city life for a more solitary existence in a remote area and learns to garden. However, the similarities end there – Fleeson’s straightforward approach was much more enjoyable than Margaret’s metaphysical ramblings. (Granted, Hawaii is a little more exotic than upstate New York.) Enjoyed this one quite a bit.

Where shadows dance : a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery

From Rosemarie Jerome
author: Harris, C. S.
 Where shadows dance : a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery
 Surgeon/anatomist, Paul Gibson, illegally buys a cadaver from a body snatcher.  The body is Alexander Ross, a young man who worked in the Foreign Office.  He reportedly died of a heart attack.  Gibson discovers that Ross was actually killed by a stiletto to the base of the skull, a method used by assassins.  So begins Sebastian St. Cyr’s new case which takes him to the palaces, drawing rooms, seedy docks and pubs of Regency London.  Filled with international intrigue and danger, this sixth book in the series has Sebastian confronting more secrets in his personal life, as well as solving a crime that no one thinks exists.

A parrot in the pepper tree

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Stewart, Chris
 A parrot in the pepper tree
This is book two of the Driving over lemons trilogy. Now Chris and Ana are
the parents of a daughter named Chloe. Getting her to school every day is
an adventure in itself as they try different forms of transportation to
cross the river.  We follow the budding romance between Domingo, his
multi-talented neighbor, and a Dutch sculptress.  The author takes time to
smell the roses; sometimes he ditches his farm chores and goes on day-long
hikes. Picture the scene as he and Ana take a 6-hour, 5000 foot climb to
see a field of blue gentian flowers under a deep blue sky.  I enjoyed the
chapters where he reminisces about his past. We find out exactly how he
came to be a member of the band Genesis and how later he became a drummer for Sir Robert Fossett’s circus in Britain.  Read with astonishment as Chris drives over a frozen sea in Sweden to shear sheep on remote farms. Chris tries to learn flamenco guitar in Seville as a young man and is
still a novice when he goes to guitar school in Granada some twenty-plus
years later.  We fear for Chris’s safety when he interferes with a
friend’s domestic dispute, and the husband vows to come after him.  You’ll
laugh as Chris falls for the sales pitch of an “ecological engineer” who
builds him a swimming pool that is supposedly in harmony with nature.
Chris learns to love Ana’s green parrot, who steals all the cutlery and
attacks anyone who tries to use the bathroom.  For an update on where
everyone is now, read the interview with Chris at the end.  If you want to
read the third installment, The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society,
you’ll have to buy it from the UK, as it is not published in the U.S.

Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Stewart, Chris
Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia
This is book one of the Driving over lemons trilogy.  Chris Stewart is now one of my favorite authors.  He was the original drummer for the band Genesis and has been a sheep shearer and circus musician.  He and his wife Ana decided to ditch England and buy a peasant farm called El Valero in rural southern Spain, about twenty years ago.  The seller of the farm, Pedro Romero, won’t leave and Chris has other problems:  clogged water channels, a leaky roof, a river in need of a bridge, hillsides that need terracing, outbuildings that need to be repaired, recalcitrant sheep, etc.  When Chris’ mother sees a photo of his newly purchased home, she is appalled.  “I had hoped that you might end up living in a Queen Anne house”, she lamented.  “I’ve always liked Queen Anne.  But here you are, living in what I can only describe as a stable”. They attempt to raise poultry but fail; it is thusly described: “The quails, the smallest of the menagerie, were frightened of the chickens; the chickens didn’t like the guinea-fowl or the pigeons, though they could live with the quails; the guinea-fowl were indifferent to the pigeons but were terrified of the quails and hated the chickens; the pigeons were affected by the guinea-fowls’ terror of the quails, nervous of the possibility of a chicken-quail alliance, piqued by the indifference of the guinea-fowl, and shared everybody else’s dislike of the chickens”.
Mr. Stewart is an amiable, humorous and humble host.  Chris’ descriptions of the mountains, rivers, valleys, flora and fauna are so vivid that you feel as though you are there.  I could almost smell the rosemary and lavender and taste the lemons.  Chris Stewart does for Andalucia what James Herriot did for Yorkshire.