Friday, December 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Book Review

"All Things Reconsidered": Words of a feather from "Mr. Bird"

Special to The Seattle Times

"All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures"
by Roger Tory Peterson,
edited by Bill Thompson III
Houghton Mifflin, 354 pp., $30

Every birder and perhaps every naturalist knows the name Roger Tory Peterson. Since writing and illustrating his landmark "A Field Guide to the Birds" in 1934, his name has been synonymous with the outdoors. Generations of nature enthusiasts have used his guides (and others inspired by and based on his work) to get to know the plants, animals and geology of the world around them. The Peterson Field Guide series has been called a revolution because it made the natural world accessible to all, not just to experts.

Peterson was also a writer. For a dozen years, from 1984 until his death in 1996, he wrote a monthly column for Bird Watcher's Digest. Peterson's editor, Bill Thompson III, has now assembled 42 of the great birder's columns in "All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures." In addition, Thompson has included numerous color photos that Peterson took while working on his field guides. Together, they reveal not only Peterson's great knowledge of the natural world but also his deep curiosity and passion for animals, plants and people.

As a world-renowned birder, Peterson lived an unparalleled life of exploration. He was one of the few people to see an ivory-billed woodpecker, calling it a "whacking big bird." He visited Nairobi, where he was addressed as "Bwana Ndege," Swahili for "Mr. Bird." He watched Magellanic penguins in Argentina, carmine bee-eaters in Botswana and puffins on the Pribilofs. Yet he also birded in Washington, D.C., and at Newark Airport. For Peterson, nature and its wonders were all around, because he took the time and trouble to look for them.

Peterson was also a born storyteller. Each of the essays is fun to read, insightful and wonderfully evocative. In the early 1900s, the great naturalist John Burroughs wrote, "Indeed, nature-study, as it appeals to us in books, fails of its chief end if it does not send us to nature itself." "All Things Reconsidered" admirably meets Burrough's standard — seducing its readers to grab a field guide and go outside to become better acquainted with the natural world.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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