2009-04-09 / Opinions

Book Review

All Things Reconsidered By ROGER TORY PETERSON Edited by Bill Thompson III

All Things Reconsidered is a collection of columns written by Roger Tory Peterson for The Bird Watcher's Digest between the years of 1984 and 1996.

No one who knows what a bird is needs an introduction to Roger Tory Peterson. He published A Field Guide to Birds when he was 26 years old in 1934, and went on to write over a hundred titles for the field guide series.

He was a naturalist, teacher, writer, painter, and photographer. The essays in this book show many of his accomplishments, as well as skillful writing and a charming personality. Distinguished as he was, he continued to do the field work and challenging travel needed for research.

Topics in All Things Reconsidered are varied and of interest to many readers, whether they are bird watchers or not. In one of the first chapters, he clarifies the differences among "bird watcher, ornithologist, ornithophile, aviphile, bird lover, bird fancier, bird bander, birder, bird spotter, lister, ticker, and twitcher." He classifies himself as primarily a bird artist and a bird photographer. Someone in Nairobi addressed him as "Bwana Ndege," Swahili for "Mr. Bird."

Nairobi is just one of many exotic places that he traveled, teaching and painting and photographing. The Serengeti, the Pribilofs, Botswana, Russia, Antarctica -- these vie for his attention with Florida, Maine, and Connecticut (where he lived). Many of his photographs enliven the text.

"The dispassionate brown eyes of the peregrine, more than those of any other bird, have been witness to man's struggle for civilization, from the squalid tents on the steppes of Asia thousands of years ago to the marble halls of European kings in the seventeenth century." From lofty reputation (a hunting eagle was worth from three to ten horses in ancient Asia,) the peregrine falcon was threatened with extinction in the twentieth century, but has made an encouraging recovery.

As we know, other species have become extinct; others were threatened by predators, man among them. A threat that this reviewer never heard of before was the oologists. In earlier days, oology was a fad. Hobbyists collected birds' eggs, especially seeking rare ones. Museums also had collections.

Bird watching may seem like a safe activity, but Peterson tells several exciting stories, like the time their hired rowboat almost could not make it back against powerful sea waves. "To take a chance once in a while and to get away with it is to feel alive," he said.

In the last chapters, he describes American wildlife painting and his own evolution as a bird artist. David Sibley, a more recent author of a bird guide, says of All Things Reconsidered, "This fascinating and eclectic book really shows the breadth of Roger Tory Peterson's curiosity and expertise, not to mention his charisma."

The book is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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