Fall Reading - The Snoring Bird
October 16, 2009
This fall I picked up a copy of Bernd Heinrich's "The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology". Heinrich is an accomplished naturalist (as well as writer), that is particularly well know for his studies of ravens. A couple of years ago I read his book "The Mind of the Raven", and was enthralled by Heinrich's accounts of his meticulous studies done on raven behavior from his little cabin in the wilds of Maine.
Heinrich comes by it honestly as his father, Gerd, was also a very dedicated naturalist. Gerd was obsessed in particular with ichneumons (parasitic wasps). Gerd fought in both world wars, and in between traveled the world collecting birds (the title refers to a very rare breed of rail of which he obtained a specimen) and ichneumons for museum collections.
The memoir begins in Poland before WWI at the Heinrich's large, farm estate of Borowke. Borowke is cast in an utopian hue, in that a life in intimate connection to the land and cycles of nature is described. It was a life that was eventually uprooted and destroyed by war. The politics, and motivations that led up to both wars is told through the personal experiences of the family, and in his recounting, Heinrich tries to remain as objective and honest as possible. Bernd was born in 1943, a couple of years before his family was forced to flee their beloved Borowke (due to the Red Army invasion of 1945), and beginning a harrowing journey west sustained by their wits and a lot of luck. They eventually end up in the Hahnheide forest near Hamburg, living in a tiny cabin for five years before emigrating to the states. I am about halfway through the book, and I can't put it down. It's a great mix of history at the personal and public levels, family, science, and of how a passion for the natural world is passed from one generation to the next. I can't properly convey the brilliance of Bernd Heinrich and the richness of this book (and his others), so you will just have to read it for yourself.