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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Tracing the migratory path of the snow goose from Texas to the Canadian Arctic, William Fiennes highlights our own tricky navigation between the comforts of home and the allure of movement. A young Englishman, Fiennes became fascinated with birds -- particularly their migrations -- while confined to bed with a serious illness. Finally able to leave the shelter of his parents' home -- which he describes as both lovingly familiar and occasionally oppressive in that familiarity -- he decides to share a migration with the geese. His resulting odyssey across the American and Canadian grain belts, always heading north with enormous flocks that move inexorably from feeding to breeding grounds with the changing seasons, is observed in wry, searching, sometimes gorgeous prose. The language is carefully winnowed and fashioned, as if patiently perceived through a pair of binoculars: a sunset is described, for instance, "as if the day were going home."
Sometimes The Snow Geese focuses on the birds themselves: the look and sound of vast flocks on the move, the circadian compulsions that drive these creatures to amazing feats of intercontinental passage. But Fiennes also cleverly observes the human fauna he encounters on his trip north: eccentric passengers on a Greyhound bus; an old man who once jumped trains and bounced between skid rows all across Canada. Fiennes highlights the diversity of human experience while also emphasizing certain commonalities: in particular, the drive to erect a home, a shelter against the uncertainties of life. In juxtaposing the migrations of birds and humans, he gently suggests that we are not so different from other species with which we share the planet.
During his three months on the road, Fiennes encounters the usual spectrum of travelers' emotions: exhilaration, isolation, nostalgia, adaptation. In drab hotel rooms, he longs for the lush landscape near his parents' home. But at other times, the sense of doing something different, setting out for new lands, reminds him of how we must all chart a course through the world: "You had to be homesick for somewhere you had not yet seen, nostalgic for things that had not yet happened." Returning to his own "breeding ground" in England, he has realized that, while home remains a comforting beacon on the horizon, a place to return to and regenerate in, we are always changing through the movements, the passages, that our lives make along the way. (Jonathan Cook)