Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day

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Overview

In a sequence of personal meditations through the cycle of seasons, celebrated storyteller-poet-naturalist Diane Ackerman awaken us to the world at dawn, bringing into focus a time of day that many of us literally or metaphorically sleep through. Drawing on sources as diverse as meteorology, world religion, etymology, art history, poetry, organic farming, and beekeeping, Ackerman explores dawn's every aspect from bird and animal behavior to the incomparable morning light that has long inspired artists such as ...

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Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day

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Overview

In a sequence of personal meditations through the cycle of seasons, celebrated storyteller-poet-naturalist Diane Ackerman awaken us to the world at dawn, bringing into focus a time of day that many of us literally or metaphorically sleep through. Drawing on sources as diverse as meteorology, world religion, etymology, art history, poetry, organic farming, and beekeeping, Ackerman explores dawn's every aspect from bird and animal behavior to the incomparable morning light that has long inspired artists such as Monet, to dawn rituals the world over, to the many connotations of the word "dawn."

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
[Y]ou're immersed in Ackerman's glorious prose, studded with arresting phrases and breathtakingly beautiful images....Her gift to us is the sheer pleasure of seeing the world through her loving eyes.— Wendy Smith
Washington Post - Wendy Smith
“[Y]ou're immersed in Ackerman's glorious prose, studded with arresting phrases and breathtakingly beautiful images....Her gift to us is the sheer pleasure of seeing the world through her loving eyes.”
Wendy Smith - Washington Post
“[Y]ou're immersed in Ackerman's glorious prose, studded with arresting phrases and breathtakingly beautiful images....Her gift to us is the sheer pleasure of seeing the world through her loving eyes.”
Wendy Smith
Diane Ackerman wants us to slow down and pay attention. Human beings are "creatures stricken by meaning, afflicted with purpose," she laments; that's why it's essential to stop and savor those instants when "time suddenly snags on a simple Wow!" It's easy to live in the moment when you're immersed in Ackerman's glorious prose, studded with arresting phrases and breathtakingly beautiful images…"I love being part of the saga of life on earth," she writes, "and both suffering and change feature large in that adventure." Yet the impressions that linger after closing her book are not of suffering but of joy, not of change, but of the flow of incident halted, over and over, by the masterful hand of an artist who sketches with tender words the small miracles of a vast universe. "Just show up," she urges us. "Presence is always a present, a gift." Her gift to us is the sheer pleasure of seeing the world through her loving eyes.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
The award-winning author of books on an eclectic range of subjects, Ackerman (The Zookeeper's Wife) now turns her attention to the dawn. This collection of essays is arranged seasonally from spring to winter and ranges geographically between Palm Beach, FL, and Ithaca, NY. Essays cover everything from the behavior of doves in Florida at dawn and Monet's use of light in his art to a discussion of festivals that take place at dawn and teaching young whooping cranes to migrate. Ackerman focuses on the natural world, especially birds, but she also explores mythology, art, and literature. VERDICT These pieces are accessible and lyrically written, and they flow well, one after another, making reading the book a true pleasure. Ackerman's fans and readers who appreciate nature writing at its finest will love this. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]—Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
Ackerman (An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, 2004, etc.) luxuriates in the break of day. The author experiences dawn as a powerful borderland that accommodates both dreaminess and awareness. She celebrates the sighting of a crane flying overhead and meditates on the use of the bird in Oriental art and Greek myth. Moving gracefully between erudition and whimsy, Ackerman demonstrates an intelligent, humble approach to science: "Science is a tribute to our cleverness, but we are fallible and we filter out so much of the world." The book is arranged by season; the chapters are mostly short and rich with imagery and insight. The author is always comfortable following her fancy, whether considering a spider's web illuminated at first light, the mechanics of sunflowers, an astounding daybreak cloud, a lover slipping away at dawn in The Pillow Book, Monet painting "the lavish spell of the senses detained by a pink and blue sunrise" or the "chatterbox chorale" coming through the window from all manner of bird, the best of which has got to be the crow: "I'm up, dammit. I'm up! I survived another night on this godforsaken planet! Beat that!"-an imagined greeting that reminds the author "that a mass of crows is called a murder of crows."A lovely, learned invitation to "the ancient thrill of impending sunlight."Author tour to Miami, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, San Diego. Agent: Suzanne Gluck/William Morris Agency
Los Angeles Times
“A keenly observed portrait of the world. . . . A general celebration of our continually renewed existence.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Diane Ackerman is one of our great literary voluptuaries. . . . [T]he writing that results is as invigorating as a lungful of cool morning air.”
From the Publisher
"It's easy to live in the moment when you're immersed in Ackerman's glorious prose, studded with arresting phrases and breathtakingly beautiful images." —-The Washington Post
The Barnes & Noble Review
Short of all those thanatosomniphobiacs out there -- the folks who fear dying in their sleep -- few hail the dawn with as much gratitude as Diane Ackerman. In the gathering light, her senses are alert and receptive to a parade of glories: mind-bending colors in the sky, the smell of a lover's skin, the ruckus of birdsong, the morning glory itself -- not the flower (though that too), but a meteorological event: long rolling clouds, rushing forward while spinning backward, a nursery for thunderstorms and awe. She is also happy to have made it through another patch of dangerous darkness, and we nod in agreement, remembering how vulnerable we feel, how our skin crawls, when night is truly pitch black. Our reptilian core has not surrendered its dread of night, even in these light-polluted times. "It's as survivors that we greet each day," she writes in this collection of luxurious, whither-where-I-wander meditations on the break of day. Then again, dawn is the time of duels and the clash of armies, when predators do their best work. Beauty, danger, sensuality -- just Ackerman's cup of tea.

Dawn is not only the topic, but the agent provocateur, goading Ackerman's lively mind. Her writing touches down here, then there, a stone skipping on water, unpredictably albeit understandably, her bemusements discreet yet linked. It is like the Japanese literary genre known as zuihitsu, "literally 'following the will of the pen,' " a roaming piece of short prose she encounters when her fancy draws her to Sei Shonagon's 10th-century work of mischief and snobbery, The Pillow Book. Not incidentally, it contains the lovely image of an amorist "who crept in at nightfall and stole away at dawn."

So, willingly, we follow as Ackerman ranges (through the seasons, New York to Florida), from the Buddhists' hare in the moon to the rabbit as the Celtic goddess of dawn to Easter stones studding German hillsides; from snowflakes to koans to rust to the fetching poverty of wabi sabi; from an early morning fogbow to a snail riding a daylily to the sex life of orb weavers (spiders, alas -- Ackerman's smitten with natural history -- not canoodlers doing shocking things with balls of yarn).

Ackerman is an adept at hitting upon these delicious associations with daybreak as she is with artful description: a poinciana full of boat-tailed grackles, "a pink and gray sunrise echoed the cheap linoleum in 1950s hotels," a whooping crane riding a daybreak column of rising air, the tomfoolery of zodiacal light reflecting off the "debris left from the coinage of the planets." This descriptive strength can overflow, however, taking its fearless ripeness into precincts of rococo fruitiness. "As the sun drives gold nails through the shadows, a dull red dawn, the color of deer and rust, soars up the sky" is effulgent to bursting, distressingly so when that sky is "the breathless blue unknown of space." And if "sixty vagabond dawns live in each minute, thirty ripening dawns in half an hour," that's 1,799 more dawns than we have need or bargain, even before considering "in this magical haze, a flock of flamingoes pinking by would not seem odd." Then, soundly in command, she takes the most potentially lethal subjects when it comes to excess sentimentality -- the morning star, Venus, "a woman with a past"; when, in the Rig-Vedas, "the goddess of dawn bares her breasts to attract the eye of the sun god" -- and plays them tantalizingly, achingly close, as one would a sleeper hand in poker.

Her science writing is along these same lines -- just the right measure of material for the topic at hand. That may entail the precision of haiku -- animals using nature's apothecary, for instance -- or an appropriately free verse, as when she details what it is like to be an owl and one fascinating fact after another gradually takes the shape and pleasure of Dr. Seuss spinning out the essence of owlness. Again, she peregrinates, from the diary of pioneer apiarist L. L. Longstroth to the curious case of Archimedes' lost journals, and again, it's worth peregrinating along. "There are only so many truths one wants to keep in mind at a time," she writes, and where she shines is in fusing her delights with her learning. An eerie morning rain that gives her the jimjams next finds her in the global marketplace of rain words, the Hawaiian 'olulo (rain moving out to sea), the Irish biadhan tsic (rain in frosty weather), the predictably quaint Texan ?like a cow pissing sideways onto a rock? (pelting rain). Rapturous at losing herself in nature, she will then coolly consider the astonishing, though very real, "possibility that your molecules might once have been employed elsewhere, in a cuttlefish or a minstrel or a slime mold."

Nowhere is this fusion more evident than in her encounters with birds. She moves with ease between the purely impressionistic deciphering of a crow's morning croaks -- "I'm up, dammit. I'm up! I survived another night on this godforsaken planet! Beat that!" -- to the importance of bird babble at dawn, when they stumble about, trying snatches of song, stretching their chords. A yellow-bellied sapsucker takes her on a journey from how their brains manage to survive all that furious hammering to the lofty perch they once occupied in Greek mythology.

Ackerman, to boot, can be a plain old good storyteller. Her tale of the talking starling -- Sprinkle, owned by her friend Kyllikki -- lets Ackerman retreat to the background as the bird speaks for herself. "Did you see my beautiful beak? My lips are sealed," chatters Sprinkle. "You lied to me about sparrows!...shaving beaks...terrorists!...Is that a good purse?"

Stepping into Ackerman's smart and comfortable shoes, what's not to like about dawn, with "its ancient thrill of impending daylight," where birds bring news from a far country, we enchant ourselves by simply paying attention? "Morning," wrote Sei Shonagon in The Pillow Book, " -- most astonishing." --Peter Lewis

Peter Lewis is an editor at the American Geographical Society. He has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Tribune, Outside, and Public Radio International, among others.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393061734
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2009
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,026,700
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the
Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the best-selling The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses. She lives with her husband Paul West in Ithaca, New York.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Dawning Pleasure

Dawn Mother 1

Spring: Palm Beach, Florida

Dawn Among the Palms 9

Just a Little Rain 17

A Calamity of Cranes 21

The Lost Night Sky 30

Forget Bats 34

Some Tales We Tell 40

Venus Observed 45

In the Spirit of Monet 49

Festivals of the Dawn 56

Troubadours 63

Missive 71

Red Dawns and Fields of Green 76

Time Races Dawn's Many Faces 83

Summer: Ithaca, New York

Dangerous Dawn 95

In the Spirit of Sei Shonagon 99

Dawn in the Garden of Cosmic Reflection 107

Matins with the Neighbors (Two-Legged and Four) 113

The Solstice Bird 120

In the Spirit of Hokusai 124

On the Ledge of the Morning 128

Dew Drop In 132

Where It's Summer 140

Woodpecker Dawn 144

Glory Days 148

Autumn

The Murmuring of Innumerable Bees 155

Honeycombing 159

An Angle on Archimedes 164

A Little Sabbath with the Sun 168

Autumn Dawn 171

False Dawn 174

Nothing Doing 176

In the Vase of the Universe 180

Clever as Clever 188

Field Guides 195

Winter

Where It's Winter 203

Water, Water Everywhere 209

Crystals 215

One Bad Rooster Spoils the Barnyard 219

After Hours 225

The Silence That Is Not There and the Silence That Is 232

Time Well Spent 236

Acknowledgments 241

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Customer Reviews

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( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 14, 2010

    A book anyone can enjoy.

    I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It was a selection of a book club that is normally concerned with the natural world, sustainability and our place in nature. I did not, at first, understand why this book was selected, but after reading the first few chapters I got it. We are part of nature, and the author knows it, feels it and is able to express the wonder of it. The book reads easy, flowing from topic to topic. At the end of each chapter I felt that I had learned something new, and often something amazing. I won't give it away - but I was particularly stunned by the chapter about starlings. I believe this is a book anyone would enjoy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2012

    Frist res. For news

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2012

    Stormrush

    Pulls out and licks her pu ssy

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2012

    Redfur

    Gtgtb see ya tomarrow.

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    Posted March 17, 2010

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    Posted February 11, 2010

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    Posted January 17, 2010

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    Posted January 17, 2012

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    Posted May 13, 2010

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