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Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

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Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents--her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father--and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver. And here, brai Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents--her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father--and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver. And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds--the natural one and our own--"the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love's own twin." Illustrated by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.


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Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents--her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father--and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver. And here, brai Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents--her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father--and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver. And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds--the natural one and our own--"the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love's own twin." Illustrated by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.

30 review for Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

  1. 4 out of 5

    JanB

    The seasons of life are so heartfelt and poignant. In my life I've experienced great joy and great sorrow. During the pandemic I find myself struggling to find balance in my life and in my reading. Too fluffy feels too lightweight for the seriousness of our situation. Too heavy weighs too heavily on my already sorrowful soul. But Margaret Renkl gets it right. Through her essays she explores the ebb and flow of life, both human and in nature. Life and nature can be cruel and brutal. But it also h The seasons of life are so heartfelt and poignant. In my life I've experienced great joy and great sorrow. During the pandemic I find myself struggling to find balance in my life and in my reading. Too fluffy feels too lightweight for the seriousness of our situation. Too heavy weighs too heavily on my already sorrowful soul. But Margaret Renkl gets it right. Through her essays she explores the ebb and flow of life, both human and in nature. Life and nature can be cruel and brutal. But it also holds such beauty. The older I get the more I realize this as a fundamental truth. Love and grief go hand in hand. One doesn’t exist without the other. There’s beauty in this hard truth. She compares the circle of life in nature and in our human lives with such beauty and compassion. Some of the essays are very short, just a few lines, but they all made me stop and ponder her words. Normally the description of “lyrical” is the kiss of death, but in this case it is nothing short of astounding. The memories of her family aren’t perfect…whose are? We all deal with the yin and the yang. But her insights into the dichotomy are just that, perfect. Our lives are filled with loss and grief, but also beauty. The same is true of the natural world. It truly is the circle of life. That can’t be changed, but how we perceive this truth makes all the difference. This book makes me want to see life and the world through Margaret Rinkle’s wise compassionate eyes. A lovely, lovely book filled with compassion and beauty. The author’s brother was the illustrator and his drawings are simply stunning. This book has earned its place on my keeper shelf.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I read the entirety of this book with a lump in my throat that would neither subside or crawl out my mouth into the cry I wanted it to be. What a fantastic book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I enjoyed this book of very short essays. Easy to read in short snatches of time, the author touches on grief, parental love (from both sides), nature, and beauty. Her prose is beautiful as well. I read this on my Kindle Paperwhite, but the illustrations by her brother were fantastic, so I may have to check out a book copy just to see those better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    All of this was lovely and heartbreaking, but ESPECIALLY the last two vignettes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    Beautiful! 112 short and beautifully written ‘essays’ about nature, family, and life that are just captivating. I read it in one workday, forgoing my morning swim, blowing off my lunch, and finally having my afternoon break in the place that has the suckiest coffee and the least customers so I wouldn’t be disturbed while finishing it. It wasn’t all positive, however. It ended too soon, much too soon.

  6. 5 out of 5

    reading is my hustle

    my heart is a puddle after reading this beautiful book of personal memories & the natural world. i am reading it right on the heels of Ada Limon's self-aware poetry. what a summer! recommended. my heart is a puddle after reading this beautiful book of personal memories & the natural world. i am reading it right on the heels of Ada Limon's self-aware poetry. what a summer! recommended.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Debbi

    I loved this book! The author beautifully captures the natural world and navigates the complexity of loss and grief which in many cases is simply brought about by the passage of time. I never felt overwhelmed by the short exquisite essays, more often I felt my soul had met it's twin. This is my favorite nonfiction read this year. I loved this book! The author beautifully captures the natural world and navigates the complexity of loss and grief which in many cases is simply brought about by the passage of time. I never felt overwhelmed by the short exquisite essays, more often I felt my soul had met it's twin. This is my favorite nonfiction read this year.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    This was such a lovely book. She writes of her family’s history and her own with such love and compassion, sadness and joy. These family stories are juxtaposed with stories about her observations of the beauty and brutality of the natural world, as well as paintings by her brother. I found the Derek Walcott quote at the end really summed it up - “So much to do still, all of it praise.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    rebecca

    I absolutely loved everything about this book. The way that Renkl describes grief, gives softness to the world, draws parallels between the two, and has room to squeeze in both classic and contemporary references made me an instant fan. She accomplished these feats within the first dozen pages, propelling me forward into the duality of her personal lore and the familiarity of earth's natural story. I enjoyed the southern perspective of nature. I enjoyed the southern capture of her relatives exper I absolutely loved everything about this book. The way that Renkl describes grief, gives softness to the world, draws parallels between the two, and has room to squeeze in both classic and contemporary references made me an instant fan. She accomplished these feats within the first dozen pages, propelling me forward into the duality of her personal lore and the familiarity of earth's natural story. I enjoyed the southern perspective of nature. I enjoyed the southern capture of her relatives experiences. I enjoyed the parts of her life that she documented with such openness, though no descriptions were uncomfortable seeming. One gets the feeling that she is truly present in the skins of life that are perpetually shed. That's why this book has a deeply personal feeling, but leaves little to be misunderstood. I hope Renkl has more in store for us.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I loved this book and the author's voice. If you like vignettes about nature and about people, life and death told with a spiritual though not exactly religious voice, Late Migrations is for you. I began reading this beautiful, lyrical memoir the same week in which Toni Morrison died. Mary Oliver died earlier this year, and my beloved author Brian Doyle 2 years ago. One think I've learned and loved from Renkl's book is that we are not done here yet. There are still stories to be told and people I loved this book and the author's voice. If you like vignettes about nature and about people, life and death told with a spiritual though not exactly religious voice, Late Migrations is for you. I began reading this beautiful, lyrical memoir the same week in which Toni Morrison died. Mary Oliver died earlier this year, and my beloved author Brian Doyle 2 years ago. One think I've learned and loved from Renkl's book is that we are not done here yet. There are still stories to be told and people with words and voices to tell them. Late Migrations is not about human migrations from other countries to the U.S. as I expected. It's about migration of many species including her own moves beginning with rural Tennessee to Birmingham. Her brother's illustrations are exquisite. I started with the library book and ended up purchasing the Kindle so I could highlight.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Profoundly beautiful.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    While I deadheaded zinnias this morning, I thought about Renkl's beautiful chapter about the zinnias in her backyard, which feed the butterflies in their blossoming and the birds when they go to seed. This book about Renkl's backyard observations and her close relationships with her parents, who both died when she was around my age, was richly observed, poetic, and elegiac. Desolation threatens to impinge (climate change, drought, and grief), and Renkly preserves the impression that it might top While I deadheaded zinnias this morning, I thought about Renkl's beautiful chapter about the zinnias in her backyard, which feed the butterflies in their blossoming and the birds when they go to seed. This book about Renkl's backyard observations and her close relationships with her parents, who both died when she was around my age, was richly observed, poetic, and elegiac. Desolation threatens to impinge (climate change, drought, and grief), and Renkly preserves the impression that it might topple the whole. But she also recalls death's rawness and omnipresence in the natural world (fledgings brained by Carolina wrens) and that beauty is necessarily threaded with grief and fragility. Her memoir is created out of tiny vignettes about her Alabama childhood; her education in Philadelphia, Alabama, and Columbia, SC (I was surprised to learn that she earned her MFA at the university where I teach); her experiences as a mother; and especially her experiences as a daughter and care-giver. All of her story-telling is interwoven with her backyard observations, and because the ecosystems in Nashville where she lives seem incredibly similar to those in Columbia, SC where I live, I read this book with a constant feeling of recognition. Yes, I have cardinals too! Yes, we have a hedgerow where I bet rat snakes hide. Yes, the rabbits love my rosemary bushes. And then those deeper forms of recognition: the anticipation of empty nest when my child grows up, the deep devotion to supportive parents and the unimaginability and inevitability of their loss. I can't count the number of times I had to stop reading to wipe the tears from my eyes, and yet that is the greatest praise I can offer this luminous little book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hoffman Brauman

    Late Migrations is a collection of essays and thoughts on the cycles of life -- both in the author's family as well as in the natural world around her. The nature writing is exquisite -- Renkl excels in noticing the details and describing them in a way that made me feel like I was in the middle of the experience with her. Her reflections on her memories of her family and growing up in the south feel incredibly real as well -- you can see the red dirt roads and feel the love that they have for ea Late Migrations is a collection of essays and thoughts on the cycles of life -- both in the author's family as well as in the natural world around her. The nature writing is exquisite -- Renkl excels in noticing the details and describing them in a way that made me feel like I was in the middle of the experience with her. Her reflections on her memories of her family and growing up in the south feel incredibly real as well -- you can see the red dirt roads and feel the love that they have for each other, both when times are good and when they are not. As the book moves along, grief plays a more central role as Renkl experiences the losses that we all experience as we get older. What really stood out for me in her explorations of grief was how much an exploration of grief is really a testament to love. This was a beautiful read that I will revisit again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I’m thrilled Jenna’s December pick is about my home state of Alabama and the author grew up here. I loved everything about this book! It’s a beautiful tapestry of essays about grief and joy. The author loves nature and includes it throughout her book. I could relate to so much because I was born and raised in Alabama, still live here and love my home state. The illustrations by the author’s brother are breathtaking. Being a nurse I’ve read many books about grief, this is best. I’ve ordered a har I’m thrilled Jenna’s December pick is about my home state of Alabama and the author grew up here. I loved everything about this book! It’s a beautiful tapestry of essays about grief and joy. The author loves nature and includes it throughout her book. I could relate to so much because I was born and raised in Alabama, still live here and love my home state. The illustrations by the author’s brother are breathtaking. Being a nurse I’ve read many books about grief, this is best. I’ve ordered a hard copy, this is a book you want on your shelves, one I will read over and over, and one I will give to friends. It’s definitely a favorite for 2019.

  15. 4 out of 5

    tatiana ❀

    4.5 stars this books is as beautiful as its cover, and that's really saying something 4.5 stars this books is as beautiful as its cover, and that's really saying something

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Wow. I cried quite a bit while reading this. Cried a lot after finishing this book. Beyond beautiful. Very well written. Checked this out at the library and I will be buying this book ASAP; it’ll be one I reread a lot.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lauren DePino

    As I’ve been attempting to reckon with the mortality of my beloved 14-year-old dog, I’ve been reading @margaret.renkl’s glorious, poetic essays, which are both autobiographical and nature-themed. God, this book is beautiful, so beautiful, and I’m speechless. I’ve been a longtime admirer of Renkl’s essays in The New York Times. And I’ve always hoped for a book from her. I’ve been rereading two of her NYT pieces lately: “What It Means to Be Loved by a Dog” and “The Pain of Loving Old Dogs”—because As I’ve been attempting to reckon with the mortality of my beloved 14-year-old dog, I’ve been reading @margaret.renkl’s glorious, poetic essays, which are both autobiographical and nature-themed. God, this book is beautiful, so beautiful, and I’m speechless. I’ve been a longtime admirer of Renkl’s essays in The New York Times. And I’ve always hoped for a book from her. I’ve been rereading two of her NYT pieces lately: “What It Means to Be Loved by a Dog” and “The Pain of Loving Old Dogs”—because that is where my mind is right now. But Late Migrations is for everyone, wherever you are in your life. Depending on what you’re going through, you will find passages to cling to. For me, it’s “You’ll Never Know How Much I Love You” (page 206) and “After the Fall” (page 218), which is quite possibly the most stunning meditation on grief I’ve ever read. Do yourself a favor and read this book. Immerse yourself in Renkl’s gorgeously rendered portraits of nature and let her lead you through her thoughtful, hopeful musings on the beauty of the fleetingness of life. Birds, mice, squirrels, spiders, and more—there’s so much we can learn from them, so much we can learn about ourselves. This might sound greedy, but I hope Renkl pens a succession of these books in which she continues to lyrically point out the profundity in the ordinary life around us that we don’t normally notice. I am ready for the next installment. Also, I love her brother @billyrenkl’s art, which is featured on the cover and throughout the book. And writers: this book is a master class. I know I’ve learned a lot from Renkl’s prosetry. And with each reading, I learn something more. Here are some of my favorite quotes: . "For beauty, what tidy window ever matched a spider’s web glistening in the lamplight?” . “The caterpillar stirs, and finally I see: this is not a death at all but only a pause before another stage of life, splitting the skin it has outgrown and crawling away from what it no longer needs. It is a new creature. Even before it begins again, it begins again.” . “Blessed are the parents whose final words on leaving—the house, the car, the least consequential phone call—are always “I love you.” They will leave behind children who are lost and still found, broken and, somehow, still whole.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Louise Miller

    I will hold this book close for many years to come--it reminded me of the Mary Oliver quote: Instructions for a life--Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it. This book is a meditation on both living and dying, on holding people close and letting them go. Sincerely a book like no other--I was both deeply touched and deeply inspired.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Margaret Renkl takes you on a journey using short snippets of her life growing up in rural Alabama, from her youth to becoming a caregiver as an adult. Her vignettes are beautiful and bittersweet as she examines her life, the loss and grief, and the comfort she finds in the natural world. Beautifully profound, this book couldn’t of ended up in my hands at a better time. It resonated strongly with a recent loss in my own life, that I’m now seeing through a new set of eyes. As I’ve found for mysel Margaret Renkl takes you on a journey using short snippets of her life growing up in rural Alabama, from her youth to becoming a caregiver as an adult. Her vignettes are beautiful and bittersweet as she examines her life, the loss and grief, and the comfort she finds in the natural world. Beautifully profound, this book couldn’t of ended up in my hands at a better time. It resonated strongly with a recent loss in my own life, that I’m now seeing through a new set of eyes. As I’ve found for myself, I think there’s a bit of something for everyone in this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    “My mother's grandparents went through the day in a kind of dance, preordained steps that took them away from each other—he to his rounds across the countryside, she to the closer world of clothesline and pea patch and barn, but brought them back together again and again, touching for just a moment before moving away once more.” “Sitting on that front porch in the heat of an Alabama summer, with grasshoppers buzzing in the ag fields just across the road and bluebirds swooping off the fence posts “My mother's grandparents went through the day in a kind of dance, preordained steps that took them away from each other—he to his rounds across the countryside, she to the closer world of clothesline and pea patch and barn, but brought them back together again and again, touching for just a moment before moving away once more.” “Sitting on that front porch in the heat of an Alabama summer, with grasshoppers buzzing in the ag fields just across the road and bluebirds swooping off the fence posts to snatch them up, I considered the alternate future he was laying before me: a life of poems. It was a lifeline to a life.” Renkl grew up in rural Alabama, surrounded by a loving tight-knit family. As an adult she relocated to the Nashville area. In these brief essays or vignettes, if you will, Renkl mines her life, examining the loss and grief, of her family members and the solace she finds in the beauty of the natural world. Either through her love of birds, butterflies, or a sun-drenched meadow. There are also a smattering of gorgeous illustrations, by her brother, Billy, which makes the print book a necessity. Fans of H is For Hawk, Terry Tempest Williams, nature, poetry and wonderful prose, should pick up this book. 4.5 stars

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Gorgeous, delicate, compact memoir of care-giving: of children, of parents, and of backyard nature. Structured in vignettes, it feels a bit like poetry, mostly using a back-and-forth approach between topics of natural observation (mostly migrating birds that the author welcomes to her yard, but other animals and plants as well) and family memories. It accrues significant power. I feared that this might become a bit precious, but instead it deepened. That isn't to suggest the book becomes too weig Gorgeous, delicate, compact memoir of care-giving: of children, of parents, and of backyard nature. Structured in vignettes, it feels a bit like poetry, mostly using a back-and-forth approach between topics of natural observation (mostly migrating birds that the author welcomes to her yard, but other animals and plants as well) and family memories. It accrues significant power. I feared that this might become a bit precious, but instead it deepened. That isn't to suggest the book becomes too weighty, even with a bit of material about aging parents included, because it keeps a lovely balance and doesn't wear on the reader. I read recently read an article in The Guardian pointing out that nature writing is dominated by white writers and had that at the back of my mind while reading this, and I was gratified to see Renkl at least briefly acknowledge race in her memories of growing up in the Southern USA. It was just one example of the way this text kept surprising me with its thoughtfulness.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Mccoy

    Renkl says she had wanted to be a poet. She took a different turn and writes essays instead. I just want to say that the jewel-like pieces of writing gathered in this book do for me exactly what poetry should do. As you read through the book, these short pieces assemble into a collage of something far larger than any one of them. Different readers will likely assemble the collage slightly differently depending on what elements resonate most strongly with them out of these snippets about family, n Renkl says she had wanted to be a poet. She took a different turn and writes essays instead. I just want to say that the jewel-like pieces of writing gathered in this book do for me exactly what poetry should do. As you read through the book, these short pieces assemble into a collage of something far larger than any one of them. Different readers will likely assemble the collage slightly differently depending on what elements resonate most strongly with them out of these snippets about family, nature, place, love, and loss. I, frankly, have never had a book bring so many tears to my eyes. The tears are sometimes for the sadness, but more often it’s just the sheer beauty of it. I’m going to read this again, maybe out loud.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jules Buono

    Late Migrations was fantastic. Renkl shares her life, some large moments and some small moments, mostly during her childhood in Alabama in the 1960s. She writes the book in poetic essay format and connects them to themes like: nature, love, loss, memories and the meaning of life. The essays are soulful and bittersweet. Renkl acknowledges, through connections to nature, that everything that lives will die, but she exquisitely navigates the meaning of life and the grief that naturally follows afte Late Migrations was fantastic. Renkl shares her life, some large moments and some small moments, mostly during her childhood in Alabama in the 1960s. She writes the book in poetic essay format and connects them to themes like: nature, love, loss, memories and the meaning of life. The essays are soulful and bittersweet. Renkl acknowledges, through connections to nature, that everything that lives will die, but she exquisitely navigates the meaning of life and the grief that naturally follows after death. I had the honor of being on The Today Show (!!!) for the Read with Jenna segment discussing this book. I wrote more about the book and the experience here: https://julesbuono.com/review-of-late...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Naomi Krokowski

    I’d give this book 6 stars if I could! So much resonated: caring for small children and aging/ill parents simultaneously, seeing glimpses of both heaven and hell in the stunning natural world, longing to reconcile the blessings and the struggles. Renkl’s gorgeous writing and her brother’s beautiful illustrations are amazing. I have incredible bookreavement. I want more of Renkl’s writing! I’m happy to pay my NYT subscription just to continue reading her essays there. I pray she turns more of them I’d give this book 6 stars if I could! So much resonated: caring for small children and aging/ill parents simultaneously, seeing glimpses of both heaven and hell in the stunning natural world, longing to reconcile the blessings and the struggles. Renkl’s gorgeous writing and her brother’s beautiful illustrations are amazing. I have incredible bookreavement. I want more of Renkl’s writing! I’m happy to pay my NYT subscription just to continue reading her essays there. I pray she turns more of them into another book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mallory

    I think it would be hard not to like this book because it's just really pretty. Late Migrations is both Renkl’s love letter to her family and her love letter to the earth. These short bursts of love connect to create a beautiful piece of nature-writing memoir. It's as if Renkl couldn't come to terms with the fact that those she loved were gone, so she immortalized them in print. Would highly recommend. I think it would be hard not to like this book because it's just really pretty. Late Migrations is both Renkl’s love letter to her family and her love letter to the earth. These short bursts of love connect to create a beautiful piece of nature-writing memoir. It's as if Renkl couldn't come to terms with the fact that those she loved were gone, so she immortalized them in print. Would highly recommend.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gary Kirkland

    This book deserves its own list of "great reads." A page-turner is often used to describe a good book, but this is a book that needs to be read slowly to savor the beautiful writing and illustrations. It's thoughtful and thought-provoking. And for backyard birders like me there's an added bonus, a depth that I never brought to my observations. Seldom do I read a book more than once, but I know this is one I'll pull out again. This book deserves its own list of "great reads." A page-turner is often used to describe a good book, but this is a book that needs to be read slowly to savor the beautiful writing and illustrations. It's thoughtful and thought-provoking. And for backyard birders like me there's an added bonus, a depth that I never brought to my observations. Seldom do I read a book more than once, but I know this is one I'll pull out again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rachel León

    Beautiful.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Josephine Briggs

    A celebration of life. This book was published by Milkweed Publishers. Milkweed publishes excellent reads. I saw that this book is highly recommended by Goodreads and Amazon, so I ordered it from Amazon. Beautiful read. Ms Renkl's brother is an artist. Some of his beautiful pictures are included in her book. A plus. Margaret Renkl's words are so poignant, sad,beautiful, they can bring tears and joy into one's heart. Mr Renkl's essays are short, half a page, two or three pages and drift in between A celebration of life. This book was published by Milkweed Publishers. Milkweed publishes excellent reads. I saw that this book is highly recommended by Goodreads and Amazon, so I ordered it from Amazon. Beautiful read. Ms Renkl's brother is an artist. Some of his beautiful pictures are included in her book. A plus. Margaret Renkl's words are so poignant, sad,beautiful, they can bring tears and joy into one's heart. Mr Renkl's essays are short, half a page, two or three pages and drift in between times, from great grandparents, grandparents, parents until she has her own empty nest. Essays are wonderfully told and say more than words. Margaret Renkl was born in lower Alabama as were her parents, grandparents and great grandparents. She writes about them, stories they told her about long before she was born. They are gone now. Death is always with us, in nature, in life. Sad, yet not. We are here, not forever. Those who are left to grieve. Ms Renkl has loving parents, who loved each other, as she thinks back to her childhood. She spent much time out in nature, wandering around the red clay country of south Alabama. She noticed the world around her, as a child, and never stopped marveling at what God has made. She is religious, church going. As a child, she loved the freedom of being out in the wood to be where she wanted to be. When she was seven, the family moved to Birmingham, big city. memories of south Alabama will never. This land is part of her, she goes back many times to visit relatives, to be in a part of the world she loves, and where she began life. Margaret loves birds as she loves all animals. She tries to protect them. But nature happens. I took my time reading one or two chapters at a time in order to enjoy her writing. Margaret Renkl invites readers into her life in tiny parcels. Read between the lines. She writes of her mother's depression. She also gets depressed at times. She is now living in a Nashville suburb. She writes of her parent's death. After her father died, she brought her mother to Nashville, got her an apartment close by, her own space. Her mother didn't live much longer. Her man was gone. Ms Renkl writes of an old dog howling for his mate. We all need one another. Margaret is concerned about monarch butterflies as she is concerned about all animal populations. There population has gone down. So to encourage monarchs, she plants milkweed. Nothing. The late migration comes. the butterflies come late and decide on zinnias. Ms Renkl does all she can to work with and help the animals, she loves them all. She is not afraid of death. Her mother visits her in dreams. Margaret and her parents were very close. A book of love, life, and loss.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Abigail Bok

    In short, focused snapshots, the essay equivalent of haiku, Margaret Renkl tells the story of her family and her world—both her inner emotional landscape and the natural world she inhabits in her backyard and neighborhood. (The two are in many ways inextricably intertwined, mutually informing.) This is a form of storytelling increasingly common in our speeded-up, short-attention-span world, and it has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, at its best it can offer jewels of writing and moments In short, focused snapshots, the essay equivalent of haiku, Margaret Renkl tells the story of her family and her world—both her inner emotional landscape and the natural world she inhabits in her backyard and neighborhood. (The two are in many ways inextricably intertwined, mutually informing.) This is a form of storytelling increasingly common in our speeded-up, short-attention-span world, and it has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, at its best it can offer jewels of writing and moments of perception that seem to open up and fill one’s consciousness. On the other hand, the cumulative effect can be a feeling of slightness. Renkl’s family has deep roots in the Deep South, and many of the early pieces sketch out past generations of her family, messy as families tend to be but united by strong bonds of love and an old house that serves as a touchstone for generations. For Renkl this place provided a sense of security and insight into her mother’s life. Her people are not fancy but they are complex, and her brief portraits are often resonant. Alternating with the family portraits are observations of the life (and death) going on around her in her garden, the birds and snakes and rabbits and insects who eke out a perilous existence on the fringes of the human world. The animal snapshots reflect and amplify the human stories, building over the course of the book a view of life as fragile, full of suffering and loss. Renkl reminds the reader from time to time that the fragility and the suffering must not blind us to the beauty and joy in life, but—and perhaps this is the product of my own mood—the suffering felt much more real and specific, the joy a hazy promise hovering at the margins, hard to grasp and hang on to. By the end I felt more sad than transfigured; but that may have been the point, regardless of her sporadic protestations to the contrary. I was glad to spend time with the lives of her family and fauna, even if all those lives are ultimately doomed to oblivion.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Heather Alderman

    A beautiful collection of vignettes of life growing up in the south and of the natural world. I loved how the author arranged the stories from her life along with her observations of birds/animals/plants.

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