Woman, Watching: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and the Songbirds of Pimisi Bay

Merilyn Simonds. ECW, $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-77041-659-8

Simonds (The Convict Lover) excels in this beautifully written and moving biography of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894–1992), a nature writer and distinguished Canadian ornithologist. Through a diligent analysis of Lawrence’s correspondence, scrapbooks, research notes, and book drafts, Simonds recreates both her subject’s inner life and considerable achievements. Lawrence was born in Sweden and served as a nurse for the Red Cross during WWI. She and her first husband, Gleb Kirilin, were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war—Kirilin, a Russian military officer, didn’t survive, and when Lawrence was released, she immigrated to Canada, where she remarried and began keeping “meticulous records” of the birds she saw at her Ontario cabin. By the end of her first year she’d identified 73 species and had begun to write prolifically; she was eventually invited to join the prestigious (and male-dominated) American Ornithologists Union. Her nature writing received multiple awards, and she made crucial discoveries in the field of ornithology, setting a still-standing record for counting bird song and “pars[ing] the meaning of bird behaviour that scientists are only now proving to be true.” Simonds’s prose shines and brings the reader into the remarkable moments bird-watchers live for. This brilliant account does justice to a pioneering figure who merits wider recognition. (May)