The Artist at Work

The Artist at Work
The Artist at Work

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Reading *The Life of the Skies*

Currently, both Marcus and Leslee are reading the book, The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature, by Jonathan Rosen. Rosen, a New Yorker who haunts Central Park with his binoculars, writes of the world that opened up for him when he began looking up and taking note. He also does a lot to connect human nature and the act of birding. Birding, for Rosen, is both a spiritual and physical pursuit that really speaks to the tension between our destructive and creative tendencies.

Leslee, who birdwatches and loves to learn the names of things, has always suspected a connection between what people notice and what they care about. She thinks maybe the more people notice and name the birds in their backyard, the trees in their neighborhood, the fish in their streams, the more likely they will be to care for them, and fight to protect them. She also likes this book for the great use of quotes from Thoreau, Audubon, Faulkner, and this one from Robert Frost's poem about the Ovenbird:
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

For his part, Marcus is in the business of showing folks the world in a way that helps them notice birds, among other natural phenomena, and recognize the peril, the "diminished thing" nature may become. In a way, what Marcus shows in some of his paintings, like the one of the cedar waxwings and the bobcat, is similar to the message Rosen conveys in his book.

But there are some differences. Here's what Marcus says, particularly about the thesis that we are seeing the end of nature: "Insight comes when the end is near? I am not sure I like that projection. Clearly! Cherish the moment. My take on the "ending insight" is that clarity is the result of hindsight. Actually, hyper-hindsight! The past is always clearer than the projected future." So stopping short of predicting the end, Marcus seeks to convey understanding with a decidedly less "doomsday" approach.

Stay tuned to hear what we think about the comparison of birding to hunting, and the gender inequality among birders . . .

In the meantime, what do you think? Do you know the names of the birds in your backyard? Do you notice them? Are we "at the end of nature"?

(Image is from the New York Times review of Rosen's book. Credited to Oliver Munday.)


  1. Love the blog! Thanks for your insights, and for helping us notice the birds. It reminded me of Daniel and Jill Pinkwater's book, "Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken" based on the wild parrot colonies in Brooklyn. One more thing - how could there be "an end to nature"? Everything within nature will come to its end eventually, but what does that leave? Nature. Still there. It's all natural, including the doom.

  2. Meaning and movement are hinged upon identification as are wings and limbs. Our appendages must be "told" to move. Things do not respond unless they feel and/or understand such a connection exists (via communication). Our pets and loved ones come close to us because we call them by name; and our fingers and mouths move because they feel the desire/need telling them so....Observation and then the subsequent act of wanting to communicate with such is dependent upon a name...I wonder wether concern should be directed towards fear of nature's demise or humanity's disconnect with their "sight" and preferred blindness.

    PS Stan I love your last statement---nature IS all encompassing and never ending (only always changing)...

  3. Beautifull statement, perhaps for some ignorance is bliss.

  4. Ignorance being, nature negligence.
    Economic greed is a dangerous poison.