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Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with…

Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds

by Sam Keen

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While it does have some beautiful passages about birds, there are also philosophical ramblings, and other stories that detract from the subject. ( )
  poetreegirl | Dec 29, 2015 |
As an object, this is a beautiful book. Sized to fit comfortably in the hand, it has an elegant dust jacket; it’s printed on thick, serious stock, meant to last; and best of all, it’s illustrated throughout with lush watercolors by Mary Woodin.

Unfortunately, and contrary to what the cover led me to expect, this is not a book about birds. It’s a book about how one man took his self - his anxious masculinity, his spiritual confusion, his fear of death, his absurdly overinflated sense of purpose - into the field and offloaded all those feelings on to some birds he saw....

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  teratologist | Sep 14, 2008 |
Keen offers his take on naturalistic spirituality in a series of short essays, many of which center on the author’s experiences as a birdwatcher. More than a few of these present what sounds like a romanticized version of his childhood, as, for instance, when he describes his first sighting of an Indigo Bunting (at the age of 10) as effortlessly slipping “into a state of grace in which I felt honored by a magical being...”. Some of the personal revelations also seem unnecessarily confessional.

In one essay he makes the somewhat bizarre assertion that his DNA has been around since the Big Bang (p 53), indicating a decided lack of familiarity with astrophysics and genetics. He subsequently states he does not understand much about the Big Bang (p 80), which, unfortunately, does not prevent him from indulging in loopy speculation about it.

The theme of the book, experiencing the sacred through rapport with the natural world, is appealing, but the author fails to convey the essence of such experiences and his thinking is often muddled and confused. Despite these problems, the ideas he tries (somewhat ineptly) to explore are worth the attention of those interested in naturalism. Personally, I found myself in strong agreement with some of his arguments and enjoyed the book despite its flaws. My favorite among his essays concerns a flock of wild turkeys that congregated around his house one year, “Dwelling Among Familiars.”

Mary Woodin’s lovely watercolor illustrations compensate to a certain extent for the shortcomings of the text. The book itself is beautifully designed, as Chronicle books tend to be.
measure up. ( )
  FiskeMiles | Dec 26, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811859762, Hardcover)

Sam Keen, the New York Times best-selling author of Fire in the Belly, has spent a lifetime reflecting on nature. In Sightings, a collection of essays, bird watching forms the basis for observations spiritual and soulful, witty and wise. He describes his childhood ramblings in the silence of the Tennessee wilderness as feeling distinctly more spiritualthan the hard pews of his grandmother's church. Later in life, the presumed extinction and subsequent rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker prompts a meditation on the nature of the sacred. Blessed with moments of beauty and the insight to recognize them as such, Keen translates the marvels of nature into the language of heart and soul.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:28 -0400)

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