Wednesday, July 03, 2013

'Nuff Read: Sightings

On my days alone in the woods, I followed an invisible trail with no destination, which led mysteriously from one bird to another. (page 25)

There are a number of similarities between this book and the first I completed as part of my self-imposed summer reading. Like The Human Nature of Birds, it took me a few years to address the book in a manner that prompted my reading it from beginning to end, Sightings, by Sam Keen, centers around an appreciation of avians.

When I first purchased the book in 2007, it was not because it spoke of birds, but rather because in the early 1990s, I'd read Keen's "men's movement" classic, A Fire In the Belly. Published by Chronicle Books, Sightings finds Keen still in a reflective mood and this time attempting to address the sacred in his own life as experienced in his personal interactions with a variety of birds.

The book's subtitle, Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds, reveals part of the small tomes appeal: his experiences are with common, ubiquitous birds that most of us (as readers) have likely seen before ourselves, rather than with exotic birds unfamiliar to most. Keen uses these passing moments with Sparrows, Wild Turkeys, Cardinals and others, as a jumping off point for articulating his own spiritual beliefs, as well as suggesting how the reader's own openness to the world around him/her could be one avenue to their won spiritual exploration.

Illustration by Mary Woodin from the
chapter entitled "Wild Turkeys:
Dwelling Among Familiars."
A very elementary neighborhood bird watcher myself, I found Keen's anecdotes to hold kernels of truth as I myself had had encounters with similar birds. Stylistically, in is not unusual once one realizes Keen's background as a Harvard and Princeton educated psychologist, that interspersed with introductions to a variety of common birds and their unique (and ubiquitous)behaviors, Keen leaps to the spiritual/psychological. For example, Keen concludes the chapter entitled "The Lordly Bird" by suggesting that "Sacred things are best shrouded by silence and solitude." This is just one theme that Keen returns to: the sacred nature of the common and one's ability to access this if they choose to.

Keen's text is also greatly enhanced by the wonderful water color illustrations accompanying each chapter by Mary Woodin. Each is simple and elegant, both accurately capturing the physical nature of each bird as well as imbuing Keen's words with a burst of energy along the way. The energy achieved through Keen's words supported by Woodin's illustrations is such that it would be difficult to envision the slender tomes words being as powerful without them.

Part biography, part self-help book (though it need not be read in that context) and part spiritual treatise, I found Sightings to be a pleasantly accessible read from which I could draw personal insight as well as a few tips to improve the quality of my own encounters with familiar birds.

No comments: