Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Review: Pete Dunne's Prairie Spring

Being a NJ birder, Pete Dunne is a pretty prominent figure on the birding scene. Based on his speaking schedule and magazine features, my feeling is that he's just as well known outside of NJ and that his place as one of America's most prominent birders is well established. I've read just about all of Pete's books from his collections of nature essays to his bird ID books. I've had mixed feelings on his bird ID books with the marvelous, but co-written, Hawks in Flight being well above the likes of The Essential Field Guide Companion and The Art of Pishing. On the other hand, I've greatly enjoyed books like The Feather Quest and his essay collections like Tales of a Low-Rent Birder.

Dunne's latest book Prairie Spring: A Journey Into the Heart of a Season (due out in March) is a work of passion and love - love for a very specific type of habitat and its past, present, and future. The history of the American prairie is the history of America itself. In this book, Dunne takes us on a journey through the prairie through the passing of a single spring season. Throughout this exploration, he delves into the the people, flora, and fauna that inhabit this land now and throughout time. We meet prairie-chickens and the people who love them and we meet the regular Joe's at the coffee shops in the tiny towns that dot the prairie landscape. We also meet the plains Indians, the wildflowers, the bison, the longspurs, and the meadowlarks. Dunne visits splendid landscapes and mourns the aftermath of the Dust Bowl.

I usually enjoy Pete Dunne's writing. It's simple to digest, yet he throws around some good 50-cent words and metaphors that are sometimes relevant to the subject ("She moved like chickens on a lek"). I dig that, although I did find some parts of the book a bit slow, especially a section where Pete was "talking" with the painting of a horse.

Prairie Spring gets its points across well. The prairies are obviously spectacular and are something we should appreciate and support. It'll make you want to jump on a plane to the Pawnee National Grassland to sniff the wildflowers. It'll make you wish you could wake up at 4:00 AM and freeze your butt off watching Prairie-Chickens doing their thing. It'll also make you sulk about what we've done to this land and its inhabitants. As with many of the nature books I read, I find myself feeling that the author is preaching to the choir. The people who are reading the book likely already know about the plight of the prairie and do what they can to support it. The good news is that the book is very approachable and can probably be passed to your non-birder friend or neighbor after you've enjoyed it, which I'm sure you will.

Here's a random question... While in Arizona in 2003 I crossed paths with Pete and his wife at Madera Canyon. They were birding their way across the country with a van prominently labeled "Feather Quest II - sponsored by Leica." I don't recall that book ever coming out. Does anyone know what happened?

1 comment:

John said...

I wonder if "Feather Quest II" was part of the basis for the field guide companion. I think we would have heard by now if a second feather quest book were being published, because the first one was out three years after the big year. Of course, he might just be overextended and slow in completing it.