At its fullest, studying the life of another living creature is a way of engaging all of your faculties. In short, it’s a way of being intensely alive, and recognising that you are so. At the same time it is a form of valuing life and of appreciating the fundamental tenant of all ecology: that every thing is connected to everything else.Crow Country is a difficult book to classify. Mark Cocker calls it “a meditation on birds, landscape and nature”. It’s about Corvids, particularly rooks, and it’s part natural history and part memoir. The author writes about the birds that are the object of his fascination, but also about his fascination itself—he questions it, he tries to map its origins, to make sense of it.
So: Corvids. The Corvidae family includes crows, ravens, magpies, jays, jackdaws, rooks, etc. Crow Country taught me a lot about them. They are very smart birds. Rooks in particular are very social animals. And they’re fascinating to read about. Mark Cocker points out that even though they’re birds most people are very familiar with, we don’t actually known all that much about them. They have a bit of an aura of mystery.
A Blue Jay
A Carrion Crow
But why is it that people who are absorbed by something are seen as sad? And what licenses that particular remark? What strange presumption fortifies the unengaged and the dispassionate to express this scorn for the enthusiast?I don’t really understand this either. Why are passion and enthusiasm considered vaguely embarrassing or sad? Some people act as if loving things is a poor replacement for “real life”. But what are our “real lives” if not the sum of the things we love, whatever those things are? Have you ever felt this yourself? Do you find that people tend to look down on those who show a lot of enthusiasm?
I can’t explain it, but for me the reverse state of affairs is true. To be engaged is to be a part, to be absorbed and fulfilled. To be cool, to be detached from things and have no passionate feeling is the real sadness. At the heart of depression, that quintessentially modern malaise, is a deep sense of separation from the rest of life.
Two more notable passages:
The naming of the thing gives you the wonderfully reassuring illusion that you know it. You don’t. Sometimes all you have is a single datum. The name. In a bizarre way, the process of recognition can actually be a barrier rather than a doorway to genuine appreciation.I'll leave you with a link to this lovely review by Terri Windling, which was the reason why I got this book.
Yet perhaps they [our ancestors] too found the landscape steeped in familial memories, rich in their own ancestors’ oral tales, which were passed down round the camp-fire generation to generation. No matter what the age, we all feel—we relish it, perhaps, like a great enveloping overcoat—the great weight of history in a landscape, and sense ourselves to be at the end of a long process.
(Have you also reviewed this book? Leave me your link and I'll add it here.)