Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Birds of a Feather

It has always seemed to me that people who are interested in birds and bird-watching are not just "interested" but "passionate", more so than other people with other interests. So I picked up Joyce Hinnefeld's novel In Hovering Flight in hopes of getting a better insight and understanding into this passion. The principal characters are Addie, a bird artist; her husband Tom, a college professor of ornithology; and their daughter Scarlet, named as you can guess for the Scarlet Tanager. They live in southeastern Pennsylvania. Hinnefeld is a college professor (of writing) in Bethlehem, PA (write what you know).

Addie met Tom when she was a college student in the spring of her senior year in his Biology of the Birds class. This gives the author the context for introducing samples of field journals, anecdotes about John James Audubon, descriptions of the local habitat, some poetry about birds and even "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." (Can someone please explain to me what that means?) The class also introduces Cora and Lou (Louise) who will be Addie's life-long friends. Although Addie's life isn't that long. She dies in her late fifties in the first chapter surrounded by her husband, daughter and these two friends.

The narrative voice alternates among each of the three family members; and the events jump back and forth in time from the college days to the time of Addie's death. Along the way Addie becomes quite radicalized by the destruction that she sees to her beloved birds and their habitat from environmental pollution. How would you feel as a teenager (Scarlet) if your mother (Addie) were being taken off to jail or had to go into hiding as a result of her protest activities? It's not surprising that for a period in high school Scarlet leaves home. But she moves in with the family of her mother's good friend Cora.

And this brings me to the aspect of the book that in the end captured my interest more than the birds. Scarlet knows that Addie, Cora and Lou have remained friends since college but she has never really understood all of the forces that bind them together. As the events of their shared history are brought to light, I was reminded again of how fortunate we are if we have (women) friends of long standing.

Now I think that I will call the local chapter of the Audubon Society to learn more.

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