Conversations With Birds

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Just as immersion in nature inspires a mix of profound awe and renewed curiosity about this Earth we call home, so, too, does filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar’s mesmerizing essay collection, Conversations With Birds—rendered in finely wrought prose, steeped in memory and thrumming with endless curiosity.

Kumar reflects on her childhood in northern India, formative years during which she enjoyed lush nature every day. As a young adult studying film at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she realized that she had become alienated from the natural realm that once brought her such joy. An impromptu bird walk and fortuitous encounter with a long-billed curlew reshaped the way Kumar has experienced the world ever since: “My hunger to know more about the bird was like a bridge that would one day lead me back to nature’s elusive womb.”

In the years since, Kumar has embarked on journeys far and near to commune with birds (cranes, owls, tanagers, eagles) and other creatures that inhabit the American Southwest. She chronicles her encounters thoughtfully and with passion, dotting her work with references to Orpheus, Henry David Thoreau, Ravi Shankar and more.

But travel isn’t necessary for engaging with nature; just looking up at a tree that you walk by daily could reveal new wonders. Kumar and her family have only to sit by the large round window that looks out on their Santa Fe backyard, where they might observe a passing bobcat or the beheaded remains of flowers that were eaten by deer.

However, birds remain Kumar’s truest loves. “How is it that we can love birds . . . and not be attentive to how bird habitats all around us are being fragmented or overgrazed or paved over with concrete?” she writes. It’s a question that circles through Conversations With Birds from beginning to end as Kumar celebrates the creatures that live among us and urges us to consider our role in protecting our collective future. After all, she knows from experience that “the seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us.”

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