Once regarded as messengers from heaven, presaging longevity and good fortune, cranes appear in the ancient myth and legend of many cultures. Today, they evoke the retreating wilderness, the vanishing horizons of clean water, earth and air upon which their species - and ours too - depends for survival. In "The Birds of Heaven", Peter Matthiessen ...
Once regarded as messengers from heaven, presaging longevity and good fortune, cranes appear in the ancient myth and legend of many cultures. Today, they evoke the retreating wilderness, the vanishing horizons of clean water, earth and air upon which their species - and ours too - depends for survival. In "The Birds of Heaven", Peter Matthiessen has woven his accounts of journeys undertaken over more than a decade in search of the fifteen remaining species of crane. From the scarcely populated Amur Valley in Siberia, he travels gradually west and south across Asia, through Australia, Africa and Europe (where the crane population has made a resurgence), ending up in the American Gulf Coast. He is joined by conservationists, scientists and enthusiasts of all nationalities, along with indigenous people - from Mongolian herdsmen to Aboriginals in Australia - whose fates are entwined with the cranes. Illustrated with colour plates by the renowned Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman, "The Birds of Heaven" captures the beauty of an endangered species and the dilemma of a planet in ecological crisis.
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Publishers Weekly, 2001-09-24 Prolific and gifted novelist and naturalist, National Book Award-winner Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard) provides literally a worldwide tableau in his quest for various subspecies of cranes. These large flying birds celebrated in myth and folklore are found everywhere from Siberia to Australia, sub-Saharan Africa to North America. The author moves through each of these diverse climes as he not only reminds readers of the awesome beauty of the natural world but also introduces them to fascinating bits of local history and legend. The title of the book derives from the lore of taiga-dwelling shamans, who believe these great birds possess the ability to traverse the three realms of heaven, earth and the underworld. In practical terms, that's not so far off: some species of cranes can fly as high as 20,000 feet, others migrate as far as 3,100 miles. In his wanderings, Matthiessen meets fellow travelers and "craniacs." Ornithologists, guides and hunters offer intriguing anecdotes about cranes and other creatures encountered during their adventures and misadventures in various wildernesses. Additionally, Matthiessen reaches into his store of historical and political knowledge about these remote places. He good-humoredly details, for example, the reluctant cooperation between Russian and Chinese environmental authorities as they try to study and ensure the survival of the various threatened crane subspecies that dwell along their faraway, beautiful, but politically tense borderlands. Eloquent and graceful, this lovely, moving narrative will inspire and delight readers with or without ornithological background or interests. Paintings and illus. not seen by PW. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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