When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervour. What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots.
Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder tells the story of finding meaning in midlife through birds. The book follows the peregrinations of a narrator who learns more from birds than she ever anticipated, as she begins to realize that she herself is a migratory species: born in the former Soviet Union, growing up in Vancouver and Toronto, studying and working in the United States and living in Paris. Coming from a Russian immigrant family of concert pianists who believed that the outdoors were for “other people,” Julia Zarankin recounts the challenges and joys of unexpectedly discovering one’s wild side and finding one’s tribe in the unlikeliest of places.
Zarankin’s thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery and the surprising pleasure to be found while standing still on the edge of a lake at six a.m. In addition to confirmed nature enthusiasts, this book will appeal to readers of literary memoir, offering keen insight on what it takes to find one’s place in the world.
Paperback, 256 pages
Julia Zarankin is a writer and self-proclaimed birdsplainer with a particular fondness for sewage lagoons. Her writing has appeared in The Walrus, Orion Magazine, Threepenny Review, Antioch Review, Birding Magazine, Maisonneuve, The New Quarterly, Ontario Nature and The Globe and Mail. She won the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival nonfiction prize and has been first runner-up for PRISM international’s nonfiction prize, a finalist for the TNQ Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest and twice longlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize. Her birding/life aspirations: “To sport the hairdo of a cedar waxwing, acquire the wardrobe of a northern flicker and develop the confidence of a Ross’s goose.” She lives in Toronto, ON.