Winging Home / Harold Rhenisch

Brindle & Glass, 242 pp, $24.95, softcover.

Outsiders and even many listers and pishers get it wrong: birdwatching's more about the watching than the birds. Harold Rhenisch knows this, and that's why Winging Home: A Palette of Birds is more about everyday eagles and crows and swallows than once-in-a-lifetime visitors from Siberia; why, too, it's more about home than eagles and crows and swallows.

Rhenisch is both a deeply creative writer and a dyed-in-the-wool homebody. While his wife ventures out to run a Cariboo Plateau school, he sits at his desk overlooking 108 Lake, or works in the garden, or meanders up the road to a nearby cattle ranch, always with his eyes open to everything that's around him. That's how he knows that eagles are not the noble totem of American myth but clumsy hooligans accustomed to an easy diet of rotting salmon. When things freeze up, they're in trouble.

"Like a group of teenagers with their skateboards and baggy pants hanging around a 7-Eleven in Surrey, intimidating old men and women coming in to buy a newspaper and a quart of milk, the eagles lit upon the job of trying to eat the locals," Rhenisch writes. "This was a home invasion for all to see. It was ugly. And they were persistent. The whole lake should have been wrapped with yellow crime-scene ribbons."

However, the eagles are chastened by their would-be prey-goldeneyes, loons, and otters-to the delight of the crows in their lakeside bleachers. "For them it had been a great day. Break out a cold one."

Rhenisch finds humour in the wild, and poignancy, too. His characters can be as absurd as drunken robins feasting on windfall apples, or as inspiring as sandhill cranes, winging overhead on their way to a tundra summer. And his book is laced with photoflash descriptions-"To see a blue heron fly is like seeing an umbrella take wing"-as well as Tom Godin's insightful avian sketches. Even non-birders might enjoy this lovely meditation, while those of us who like to watch will be quietly thrilled.