Tag Archives: Memoirs

The Snow Geese by William Fiennes

0375507299.01._SY190_SCLZZZZZZZ_ The Snow Geese:  A Story of Home

by William Fiennes

Random House, New York, 2002

At the age of twenty-five  William Fiennes fell ill.  His parents welcomed him home to recuperate.  He hoped to be back at work in three weeks but it took much longer. In the hospital, out again, in again, always returning home, back to his childhood room.

As a change of scenery his mother suggested a stay at hotel on the Welsh border.  There, in the library, he found a copy of Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose”.  He remembered  hearing the story in school at age ten.  He remembered the classroom with high windows  and his teacher, Mr. Faulkner.

Fiennes’s father had always loved birds but William had never had the patience to learn about them.  When they came back from the hotel he couldn’t get “The Snow Goose” out of his head.  Gaining strength he grew restless.  After seeing a map of bird migration routes he decided to undertake a journey.   He would follow snow geese from their wintering ground in Texas to their breeding ground in the Canadian Arctic.

The day before I left for Texas, I took the train home from London.  In the afternoon, my father and I went for a walk.  A pink kite was snarled in the churchyard yew tree; there were clumps of moss like berets on the corners of the headstones.  We climbed a gate and strode out across Danvers Meadow, heading westward, leaning into the slope, last year,s sere beech leaves strewn through the grass.  My father was wearing tan corduroy trousers and an old battered green waxed jacket; in one pocket he kept a matching green waxed hat in case of rain.  We walked at a steady pace, talking about the journey ahead of me, the rhythm of the walk going on under the words like a tempo. Page 16

Thus begins a magical story of migration and homecoming.  The Snow Geese is a record of a very personal journey filled with precise observations of birds and of people.  Fiennes writes wonderfully about bird migration, behavior and physiology.

The swifts come back each year, in the last week of May.  These were common swifts, Apus apus, sooty black all over save for a pale chin, known variously as skeer devils, swing devils, jack squealers, screech martins, shriek owls, or screeks–names that alluded to the bird’s fiendish screaming fight and diabolic black appearance.  Swifts like to nest in the nooks in the stonework of high walls, under eaves, even among rafters, and show a high degree of philopatry (from the Greek words philein, “to love”, and patria, “homeland”), with generation after generation returning to favored nesting sites.  The advantage of this behavior are clear: if a bird is familiar with its environment, it is likely to be less susceptible to predators and more efficient at finding food.  Philopatry tends to develop in species that nest in stable, reliable sites such as cliffs or buildings, rather than in species that use unstable sites like river sandbars.  There’s  no point in returning to a place if you can’t rely upon its qualities.  Pages141/142

His descriptions of visits with people along the route are perfect snapshots of  North American culture as well as of human nature.  He does not hesitate to turn the spotlight on himself.

I lay awake, thinking of home.  Not just of the ironstone house–my mother’s evening viola scales coming up the stairs–but also of the London flat in which I had been living, the streets around it, the faces and voices of friends, the things we laughed about.  Such images had occupied my mind with increasing frequency ever since my stay in the white motel in Aberdeen.  In that room my curiosity, my appetite for the new seemed to tire or slacken, perhaps because I was lonely, or because I felt for the first time that my journey north with the snow geese was not quite the shout of freedom I had presupposed.  I was aware of another impulse that, if not the opposite of curiosity, was certainly resistant to the new or the strange and sympathetic to everything I could remember and understand.  This wasn’t the acute longing I remembered from the hospital, that desperate nostalgic desire to return to the circumstances  of childhood.  Lying awake on the train, what I felt was no more than a mild ache, bittersweet, an awareness of separation from the things I loved, an almost corporeal inclination towards familiar ground.  It was as if I existed between two poles, the known and the new, and found myself drawn alternately from one to the other. Page 176/177

The Snow Geese is a delightful book, lively and bright, filled with wonderful facts about birds.  I love Fiennes’s writing, it is clean, vivid and intensely detailed.  I can not wait to read his new book, The Music Room.

Other reviews:

dovegreyreader scribbles

Musings

At the age of twenty-five  William Fiennes fell ill.  His parents welcomed him home to recuperate.  He hoped to be back at work in three weeks but it took much longer. In the hospital, out again, in again, always returning home, back to his childhood room.

As a change of scenery his mother suggested a stay at hotel on the Welsh border.  There, in the library, he found a copy of Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose”.  He remembered  hearing the story in school at age ten.  He remembered the classroom with high windows  and his teacher, Mr. Faulkner.

Fiennes’s father had always loved birds but William had never had the patience to learn about them.  When they came back from the hotel he couldn’t get “The Snow Goose” out of his head.  Gaining strength he grew restless.  After seeing a map of bird migration routes he decided to undertake a journey.   He would follow snow geese from their wintering ground in Texas to their breeding ground in the Canadian Arctic.  The Snow Geese is a record of that journey.

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Filed under Animals, Challenges, Memoir, Nature, Science, Science Books 2009

The Boss Dog by MFK Fisher

boss20c6346d8fab609592f425553674141414c3441 The Boss Dog by MFK Fisher

North Point Press, San Fransisco, 1991

I discovered MFK Fisher last winter and have been working my way through her books ever since.  Bill Moyers claims Fisher was an American treasure, I agree with him.   Most of  her books that I have read were about food and they are absolutely delicious.  The Boss Dog is different, a tale of family told in her crisp, elegant, beautiful style.

This is the story of an American mother and her two daughters, eight and eleven, who spend a year in France.  It takes place in the early 1950’s  in the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence, filled with cafes and fountains.city-of-aix-en-provence2aix2mages

Aix1images

Mother, Anne and Mary spend their time becoming familiar with the Aix-en-Provence, it’s cafes and streets.  They begin to know the people that live and work there. The girls attention is caught by one particular character, an odd looking dog, who seems to have the run of the place.

The door closed.  Some of the outside noises stopped.  The waiter, who later came to be known as Leon, except on Wednesdays when Paul took over for him, opened the door and then closed it again, as if to assure himself that a human had done it and not a four-legged fellow, and Boss Dog walked slowly across the room toward Anne and Mary.

He was the doggiest dog anyone ever saw, just the way you say that a Mexican-Yankee-French-Greek is the most Mexican-Yankee-French-Greek individual you ever saw, summing up all of himself as such, up to his cocky wonderful ears in whatever he was doing.  This fellow was everything a creature could possibly be of HIM, of HE. He was Boss Dog.

Anne recognized him at once as something ultimate.  Page 10.

This lovely story provides a fully drawn portrait of the city throughout the year,  captures the joys and difficulties of being a foreigner and pokes gentle fun at the comfort and annoyance of family.rockaix-en-provence

Anne sipped delicately at her Perrier water, which was what she always ordered since she’d read an advertisement saying it not only helped cure gout, liver fatigue, diabetes and milk-leg in nursing mothers, but added sparkle to the complexion.

“The trouble with Mary,” she said, licking some bubbles of her upper lip, “is that she got ink all over everything again today.  Those juicy French inkwells are just too tempting and splashy.”

“Oh, you,” Mary said. “Form of tattle-telling.  I’m disgusted.”

“Look,” the mother said. “I’ve been working all morning and I came up here to have a little drink with you ladies and if you can’t pull yourselves together you can jolly well….”

“There he is,” Mary said, sitting up and taking a big swig of her fruit juice.  “Excuse me for interrupting.  Hah!  Something’s up, eh?”  Her eyes were snapping with curiosity. Page 53.

Mother and daughters have many adventures and, always, Boss Dog seems to be right in the middle of things.  I loved this little book and plan to read as much of MFK Fisher’s work as I can get my hands on.

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Filed under Animals, Challenges, What An Animal II