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Matthiessen Wind Birds

“The most affecting of wild creatures”

In The Wind Birds: Shorebirds of North America, nature writer and novelist Peter Matthiessen wrote: “The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures. I think of them as birds of the wind, as ‘wind birds.’” Matthiessen died in April 2014, leaving a rich and enduring body of work that reflects his connection with birds such as these Sanderlings.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Peter Matthiessen’s The Wind Birds

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

  [Long-billed Curlew plaintive song]

When nature writer and novelist Peter Matthiessen (pr. MATH-i-son) died in April of 2014, he left a rich and enduring body of work. Some of his earliest nature writing made clear his profound connection with birds. 

Matthiessen wrote: “The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures. I think of them as birds of the wind, as ‘wind birds.’” He felt that in this remarkable group of birds we might “sense intimations of our own mortality.”(1)

[Calls of flock of Sanderlings]

Matthiessen drew attention to the Sanderling, the small, pale sandpiper we often see on summer beaches, a bird that makes a round trip of some 16,000 miles between Greenland and Chile. 

[Calls of flock of Sanderlings + oceanside waves]

Again he writes: “One has only to consider the life force packed tight into that puff of feathers to lay the mind wide open to mysteries — the order of things, the why and the beginning. As we contemplate the Sanderling, there by the shining sea, one question inevitably leads to another, and all questions come full circle to the questioner, paused momentarily in his own journey under the sun and sky.”(2)

[Long-billed Curlew plaintive song] 

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 

Long-billed Curlew plaintive song [105700] recorded by G. A Keller.

Calls of flocks of Sanderlings [3065] recorded by R. S.Little.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Surf recorded by Gordon Hempton [Nature Essentials SFX #23]  at QuietPlanet.com.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org   July 2014   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#    matthiessenp-01-2014-07-11         matthiessenp-01

(1) Peter Matthiessen, The Wind Birds: Shorebirds of North America. Chapters Publishing Co., (1967) 1973.  (1)  and (2) pages 21-227/8/14

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