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Bird Watching through a Book

Book: The Peregrine by J.A. Baker


Baker walks the water's edge near his home on the east coast of England and watches the birds, keeping an eye out for peregrines. He teaches readers that a falcon is a female peregrine and a tiercel is the smaller male. Baker catalogues the hawk's kills along the estuary and in the fields, all the while spotting and describing the other birds, most of them new to me: widgeon, godwit, dunlin, fieldfare. Aren't those words pieces of poetry? Try this passage, which I read this morning:


The snipe lay half submerged in flooded grass, cryptic even in death. The kingfisher shone in mud at the river's edge, like a brilliant eye. He was tattered with blood, stained with the blood-red colour of his stumpy legs that were stiff and red as sticks of sealing wax, cold in the lapping ripple of the river. He was like a dead star, whose green and turquoise light still glimmers down through the long light-years.


The beginning of the first sentence here is perfect iambic pentameter: the SNIPE lay HALF subMERGED in FLOODed GRASS. And the image of that dead kingfisher - from red sealing wax to a green and turquoise star glimmering - I have only one word and I use it in all its meanings: ravishing.


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