My apologies, 10,000 Birds folk, for missing my December post on the 18th. There was this little thing called Christmas, and I was shut in a recording studio all that week (and for weeks after) with The Rain Crows, making a CD. Plumb forgot about blogging, I did. Forgot about my own blog; forgot about my kids (just ask them). And now I’m a day late on my January post, eek! and I expect Corey to show up at any minute with a wet noodle with which to lash me. My abject apologies. Please don’t dock my pay, Corey!
There’s been a bit of excitement around our house lately, because the UPS man rumbled up the driveway on Friday the 13th with a box containing two advance copies of my new book, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds. It has just been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Published is not a good enough word for the lavish treatment HMH gave this gorgeous chunk of hardcover.
A book five years in the making, 80,000 words and 320 illustrations, most of them full color. I’ve been working on it so long that holding it in my hands was a completely surreal experience. Bringing me back to earth was Chet Baker, Boston Terrier, who was very eager to open the box for me.
I have never pointed a camera at Chet Baker without getting something hilarious. Astute observers will notice that his attention is evenly divided between the mystery box and a plate of strawberry pancakes on the breakfast table. He will be our ticket out of our stable state of bird-writer poverty, mark my words.
If you want to know how exciting it is to hold five years’ worth of hard work in your hands at last, listen to my voice. It’s like I took a hit of helium. But before I become a full-time producer of canine lit, please indulge me with a peek inside the new bird book. The big new book. Two and a half pounds of book.
The book has 25 chapters, each one treating a different species of bird. Most are common birds that many of us see every day. But the kinds of experiences I describe are anything but common, because in many cases I’ve been their mama, or fixed them when they were sick or broken. At the very least, I’ve drawn and painted and studied them or worked to manage or otherwise save them. The Bluebird Effect is a memoir stretching from childhood to the present, and I don’t expect it to be the last one. Birds continue to present themselves to me, usually in need.
Songbird rehabilitation, unlike the vastly more popular raptor rehab, mostly involves raising orphans. There’s a reason raptor rehab is more popular. You can lay a rat in front of a recuperating owl and walk away until the next day. Baby hummers, not so much. You have to feed them every 20 minutes, dawn to bedtime. Have you ever had to do something every 20 minutes? It is the sure path to madness. But oh, what sweet madness.
Probably the best part of raising young songbirds is soft-releasing them (which can take many weeks) and then there’s that shining moment when you haven’t seen them for weeks or months and THEY COME BACK TO SAY HELLO. Like this rose-breasted grosbeak, who I raised from a sick nestling to a strapping young brown-striped number; who didn’t even have his pink wing linings yet when we said goodbye, who came out of nowhere on a clear blue late summer day weeks after his release and circled three times over my head to show them to me. I had taken a stab at guessing his sex and named him Jeff. It was nice to know he hadn’t grown up confused about his gender.
There’s a lot of science in the book, but there’s also magic. Magic like a white vulture tilting over on an early March day. Magic like seeing that same vulture more than a year later. What are the odds? I had already known for a long time that the turkey vulture was my totem bird. This experience cemented my conviction.
The book ships in March. At the top of my to-do list for tomorrow is to order twenty cases. I’m not sure where I’ll put them, but they won’t be in the house long–they’ll be winging their way to readers all over the country. I’ll be signing and sending books out of my little studio for quite awhile. If you’d like to pre-order a signed copy, please click here. You can get it cheaper on Amazon, but Amazon can’t sign it and inscribe it to your mom, now can it?
Julie Zickefoose is an artist, naturalist and writer specializing in natural history. Her writing is based on keen observation of animal and human behavior, and she likes to interweave solid natural history information with larger philosophical themes to challenge and inspire the reader. Julie contributes three-minute natural history commentaries to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She illustrates her books and magazine articles with her own sketches and watercolor paintings. Letters from Eden (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) will soon be followed by a memoir about the birds she has raised, healed, studied and followed throughout her life. She lives at Indigo Hill, an 80-acre wildlife sanctuary in Appalachian Ohio with her husband, Bill Thompson III, their children Phoebe and Liam, and their Boston terrier, Chet Baker.
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