avid Gessner's third book, Return of the Osprey: A Season of Flight and Wonder, an account of his observations of four pairs of ospreys over a full nesting season, has an intensity born of understanding both nature and humanity. Gessner immerses himself in the lives of these magnificent birds, once driven almost to extinction by the pesticide DDT, as a way of exploring the interconnectedness of the world around him. He calls it an experiment in seeing in vision. Gessner is not a scientist, and for that we are grateful. We follow the birds as he does from his home on Cape Cod, with an unfolding sense of wonder and awe. We marvel at the return of these birds to numbers approximating their abundance in the 1930s; we take measure of a bird 24 inches high, with a wing span of six feet, who weighs only four pounds; we wiggle our thumbs in an attempt to understand the intricacies of a reversible outer talon capable of turning a fish in midair; we try to imagine the physical sensation of diving through the air, wings thrown back at the last minute to plunge into the water feet first; we laugh at the sight of half a naked Barbie doll, carefully selected as ideal nest-building material for a messy nest above a busy parking lot. Through the ospreys' day-to-day living, Gessner connects us to timeless themes of life and death and human struggles with ourselves and others. He weaves glimpses of his family and neighbors and personal insights into the narrative of his search and vow to spend more time with the birds. Praised in his earlier books A Wild, Rank Place and Under the Devil's Thumb for his rich lyricism, Gessner does not disappoint here. Painting scenes of what he sees and hears and smells and feels, he touches us not so much with subtleties of style, but with the eloquence and clarity of patient and persistent observation. Emerson, he says, was right, that to see is everything. And it is precisely the gift of his sight that Gessner has given his readers in this book. For anyone interested in our connections and disconnections to nature, this is a delightful romp from the marshes of wilderness to the pavements of civilization.

Temple West is a writer in Norfolk, Virginia.

comments powered by Disqus