Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert

Posted: April 13, 2010 in Book Reviews

Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings

by Suzie Gilbert

“Wildlife rehabilitators find themselves … faced with a … skeptical public, many of whom seem to believe that wild animals are little more than programmed robots. Some loudly and indignantly question why rehabbers “waste” their time with animals when they could be helping people …”

– from Flyaway

My house feels like an animal sanctuary, and I’m not talking about the homo sapiens living inside. There’s a space underneath our porch that’s been home to at least three families of skunks (yes, it STANK), and now our second or third round of foxes.

The skunks, despite the smell, were an entertaining lot. One year they, for whatever reason, decided to grab hold of the Christmas lights, dragging them into their little den. I told my kids they were using them to light their tree, and we got kick out of that mental picture. Once the holiday was over we pulled the lights out. They were a little chewed, and a lot stinky, and had to be thrown out. But for a month or so it seemed pretty hilarious.

In honor of Gilbert’s book, I also have a bird story to share. Every year we put out two hanging baskets, again on our porch. For three or four years running a little brown bird with a sort of rosy red stomach (smaller than a robin) built a nest in one of them. Then, one year, we put out the baskets later than usual. One day I heard a tap, tap, tapping on the window looking out on our porch. On it was sitting that little bird – or its twin. It went on for days. Then, we put out the hanging baskets. And the bird built its nest once again. Coincidence or a little bird saying, “Hey! Where’s my basket?!”

You tell me.

Suzie Gilbert’s book is filled with stories any wildlife and/or nature lover will identify with. Doubtless this group will find it as entertaining as I did. Those who love biographies with a lighter spin (i.e., not of the “My life was a living hell” variety) will enjoy the frequently humorous prose.

I was especially glad I read it while recovering from knee surgery. Why? Because I needed something upbeat and well-written to pull me out of the “this sucks!” doldrums.  And Flyaway certainly did that.

But perhaps the best thing about this book is its avid championing of the cause of animal rehabbers, a dedicated and selfless lot who often don’t get the credit they deserve:

“Critics may look for numbers, but from that point of view all nonprofit work is the veritable drop in the bucket. Millions are under seige; what’s the point of helping fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand? The point is in the value of the individual, and in the ensuing ripple effect. The drop in the bucket is the convulsing mockingbird; the ripple effect is that a woman brings it to a rehabilitator, who convinces the woman to stop using pesticides on her lawn, and the woman returns home and convinces her neighbors to do the same.”

– from Flyaway

If I thought I had a real life “animal house,” Gilbert’s book shows she’s beaten me by a mile. Her whole family was engaged in her drive to save wildlife – especially birds, but occasionally another species. If they hadn’t been on board I can’t imagine how she’d have done all the laudable work she did. I have a feeling her enthusiasm would still have been there, but her family really deserves much credit for their hard work, too.

I give my full recommendation for Flyaway, the best nonfiction book about animals I’ve read since James Herriot’s All Creatures series, and best nature book since Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  In the spring, when the birds are coming back, its especially good reading.

And who knows? Maybe it will inspire more people to get into animal rehabbing. I have a feeling Suzie Gilbert would find that most pleasing of all.

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 Reprint edition (March 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061563137
  • Visit Suzie Gilbert’s website  for more info.

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