Reviews

One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich by Todd Henson

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One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives, by Bernd Heinrich, is a collection of stories, or essays, each one about an individual species Heinrich personally observed and studied, most often from his home in the U.S. Northeast. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the Audible version while driving to and from work, or just working around the house. The narrator, Rick Adamson, did a great job with the bird calls and was easy to listen to.

I think the content would appeal to birders who enjoy observing and learning about different species, but I don’t know if it would appeal as much to a general audience. Each chapter is Heinrich’s observations about a specific species, most often from his cabins in the Northeast. He is a scientist and teaches students in the field. In most all cases his observations lead to hypothesis that he then proceeds to test, adapting the hypothesis as he accumulates new data. The scientific method. Having said all that, don’t let the science scare you off. It is written (or spoken) in a very easy to understand way. I can see why students would want to attend his in-the-field classes. He is a marvelous teacher.

Some of his experiments involved modifications to his house to allow him access to a woodpecker’s nest. He pulled birds to observe their health and what they’d been eating. He could tell this most often by pellets dropped by the baby birds, but in some cases the adults cleaned them up too quickly, so he used techniques that temporarily prevent the baby from swallowing the food, so he could see the actual food before it was ingested.

In another chapter he adopted a starling and observed its behavior. He talked about their mimicry, and even mentioned Mozart’s starling, which all brought back memories of reading the book Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Another great book.

He appears to truly love what he does and has a great fondness for the birds he observes. To any birder on the path to learning everything they can about birds, give this book a try. You are likely to learn something about the species he discusses, and also about the methods he uses in his own learning. I certainly would not recommend some of his experiments to untrained people, but many of his methods would be useful to any of us.

I have several more of Bernd Heinrich’s books (The Homing Instinct, Life Everlasting, The Snoring Bird, The Trees in My Forest, Mind of the Raven, and Winter World) and look forward to the next one I read. Have you read any of these, or other books, by Bernd Heinrich? Let me know what you thought.


A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson by Todd Henson

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The subtitle to A Walk in the Woods is Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Bill Bryson had lived overseas for nearly 20 years before returning to the United States. He soon learned the Appalachian Trail passed through his new hometown and that realization spurred what would become a multi-month series of hiking expeditions along the Appalachian Trail, rediscovering his home country in the process.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Walk in the Woods. Bryson relates his experiences on the trail, most often accompanied by his friend, Stephen Katz. Bryson had hiked a bit when overseas, but never anything of the scale or difficulty of the AT. This led to some very interesting and funny experiences, many that seemed relatable even though I’ve never had those experiences myself. That’s one of the great pulls of this book, how very relatable it all is. Bryson has a way of writing that leaves you feeling as if you’ve been talking with a friend who just returned from this fantastic yet horrifying experience.

Bryson takes us on many excursions while relating his hiking experiences. He talks about the history of the AT, how it came to be and how it’s changed over the years. We learn about many of the locations along the trail, picking up bits of history that mesh beautifully with the overall story, enriching the tale. And we learn about some interesting people, those involved in the history of the trail, and others he meets while out hiking.

But some of the most enjoyable aspects of this book were the human interactions. When two friends who haven’t seen each in years are thrown back together, not in some city, but relying on one another for days at a time in the woods and mountains, their relationship is bound to change. It’s a fascinating and slow process of change. And it’s not just their relationship with one another that changes. Something like this can have life changing elements to it, changing how we look at the world and how we think about ourselves and our lives.

As an example, here is a quote from the beginning of the book, just after they started the hike:

The hardest part was coming to terms with the constant dispiriting discovery that there is always more hill.
— A Walk in the Woods, page 35

The beginning of any endeavor of this magnitude is always difficult. You realize just how much more effort it will take than you’d realized, even though you thought you were fully prepared.

And another quote towards the end of the book, after their hiking had finished:

It is a truly astounding sight when every tree in a forest becomes individual; where formerly had sprawled a seamless cloak of green there now stood a million bright colors.
— A Walk in the Woods, page 272

Experiences like this change you. You see the world in a different light, you notice things you might have previously overlooked, you gain a new appreciation for the world around you.

The beauty of a book such as A Walk in the Woods is how it can appeal both to those who’ve already had similar experiences and to those who haven’t. You can look on Bryson’s experiences with a fond memory of your own. Or you can vicariously experience them with him, imagining what it might be like if you were to try this yourself. And perhaps after reading this book, you just might give it a try, even if only through some local trails in your own town.

Thank you to my friend, who loaned me their copy of this book. I truly enjoyed it.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Highly recommended!


Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs by Todd Henson

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Limited edition of  Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs , along with its slipcase.

Limited edition of Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, along with its slipcase.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs is an absolutely stunning collection of photographs by a photographer who has created a number of images that I would certainly consider iconic. He is probably best known for his photograph of an Afghan Girl, created in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1984. I remember when this graced the cover of National Geographic. I, as so many others, was immediately taken in by her piercing green eyes, and the green and red contrasts between her eyes, her clothing, and the background.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Afghan Girl, Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Afghan Girl, Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.

Many of Steve McCurry’s most striking photographs are posed portraits of people. He does such a great job of conveying emotion in his portraits, of really bringing the people to life. Examples of this are his portrait of a Woman With Coral Earrings, created in Lhasa, Tibet in 2000, and of his portrait of a young Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, created in Haridwar, India in 1998.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Woman With Coral Earrings, Lhasa, Tibet, 2000. Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India, 1998.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Woman With Coral Earrings, Lhasa, Tibet, 2000. Pilgrim at Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India, 1998.

But McCurry is also a master of photographing street scenes of people going about their daily lives. There are stories in his photographs, as seen in Boy in Mid-Flight, created in Johdpur, India in 2007. Where is this boy running to? What is around the corner? I love the composition and the color contrasts.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Boy in Mid-Flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Boy in Mid-Flight, Jodhpur, India, 2007.

In one photograph we see people walking down the flooded streets of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, India, while a street vendor tries to keep his goods dry. In another people walk down train tracks in Bangladesh. The folks on the train tracks all have similar colored clothing, but the person walking in the grass stands out for his more colorful shirt contrasted against the green grass and the blue storm clouds in the sky. We see school girls in Sri Lanka seemingly transfixed by their teacher. And we see dancers at Preach Khan in Angkor, Cambodia, wearing their colorful outfits of gold and red.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India, 1983. Train Track, Bangladesh, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India, 1983. Train Track, Bangladesh, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Schoolgirls, Kegalle, Sri Lanka, 1995. Dancers at Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Schoolgirls, Kegalle, Sri Lanka, 1995. Dancers at Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000.

As these sample images show, most of Steve McCurry’s images involve people, sometimes in portraits, sometimes busy going about their lives oblivious to the camera, other times in their environment but fully aware of the camera. In each photograph we get a short glimpse into one of the stories of their life, a brief but telling moment in time. Maybe it is a girl in her flooded front yard. Or a girl cooking in her home, with beams of light shining down from nearby windows. Or a man reading a newspaper while waiting for a train, shadows stretching across the ground. In each case we’re drawn into their world. It’s no wonder McCurry was such a frequent contributor to National Geographic.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . A Girl in Her Front Yard, Bojonegoro, Java, Indonesia, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. A Girl in Her Front Yard, Bojonegoro, Java, Indonesia, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Girl Cooking, Uttarakhand, India, 2009.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Girl Cooking, Uttarakhand, India, 2009.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Train Station Platform, Old Delhi, India, 1983.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Train Station Platform, Old Delhi, India, 1983.

I was fortunate to purchase the limited edition version of Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs, when it first came out from Phaidon Press. It is far and away the largest photography book I own, measuring about 15 x 20 inches. As seen in the samples it is a portrait format book, being taller than it is wide. This works perfectly for the portraits, displaying a single photograph on a page. It does mean, though, that landscape photographs span two pages.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1999.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1999.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs . Stilt Fishermen, Weligama, Sri Lanka, 1995.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs. Stilt Fishermen, Weligama, Sri Lanka, 1995.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs was republished in 2012 in a smaller, more affordable format, measuring about 11 x 15 inches, which I still consider a large format book. It is 272 pages in length and contains 164 photographs McCurry created between 1980 and 2009. The photographs stand on their own without any text to distract from them. In the back of the book are several pages with a small bit of info about each photograph.

I highly recommend this book. I think it’s a fantastic collection of Steve McCurry’s photographs, possibly the best out there. It would be a great addition to the library of any Steve McCurry fan, and would also be a fantastic introduction to his work.