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Dawn Songs: The Poetics of Migration (seventh in an occasional series) - John Greene

This is yet another in a series of bird lectures I’ve gone to over the last several years sponsored by the Virginia Beach Winter Wildlife Festival. They’re great, close by and free (all you have to do is pre-register). This year’s was co-led by two individuals, introduced by Karen Forget, Director, Lynnhaven River Now, with distinctly different backgrounds but a love of birds in common. Jamie Reaser, PhD, is an internationally-recognized author, ecologist, and educator. Drew Lanham, PhD, is a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, ornithologist, and prolific poet and author in his own right. Their book, titled as shown, is a “chorus of 60 authors strong—about knowing, wondering about, celebrating the lives of birds,” according to Reaser.

The two went back and forth, and “fed” off each other during their presentation, which lasted about an hour and half with questions. Reaser, co-founder of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, began by saying, “This book is about birds, and our relationship to them and them to us.” She sees that birds are both inspirational and aspirational—something we’d like to be. “We watch them, but they watch us too. Do they see our joy, our pain, our soul? We are all ‘fellow travelers: we share the same earth, time and space.”

Lanham, a professor of ornithology at Clemson University, also grew up loving birds and enjoyed telling the anecdote how “no one seems to like starlings” until they find out it’s most often starlings we see in “murmurations, “those huge groups of birds that twist, turn, swoop and swirl across the sky in beautiful shape-shifting clouds.”

They interspersed photographs—one of which is shown here—of some of those who had written for the book. Most were heartfelt poems and few were actual poets. Erin Robertson’s was about how she lamented the bird that crashed into her window and how it reminded her of her grandfather dying as it lay there. Most were not that sad. They were celebrations of spring, of life, of our many blessings.

At the end, Reaser said, “We all have bird stories. How they’ve helped, uplifted, motivated us. Do you?” Drew followed up saying, “Make this book portable, so it’s not forgotten on a shelf. Let it become part of you.” And, of course we bought and are reading it!

The preceding article is by John Greene, an East Ocean View Civic League newsletter contributor. Have an article you would like published as well? Email

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