cover image The Wise Hours: A Journey Into the Wild and Secret World of Owls

The Wise Hours: A Journey Into the Wild and Secret World of Owls

Miriam Darlington. Tin House, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-953534-83-5

Nature writing and memoir make a winning mix in this lyrical survey of owl species from poet Darlington (Otter Country: In Search of the Wild Otter). Darlington had planned a yearlong exploration of “the incremental shift owls have experienced, and still are experiencing, from wildness to a kind of enforced domesticity” as a result of human actions. But early on, her 19-year-old son developed an inexplicable illness that caused seizures and threatened his education, career, and life. Darlington describes searching for a diagnosis and treatment alongside her fieldwork with the birds, which she conveys in immersive prose: “The white petals of the eyelids, with their slivers of black pressed just beneath; the pale skin of the cere—the skin around the top of the beak—fading into the nostrils,” she writes of a barn owl. There are bird facts galore—pygmy owls have a “pleasant flute-like hoot” and snowy owls have “the most densely feathered feet and toes of any owl”—and Darlington’s persistence in the face of adversity is moving (“This trip will wait for when Benji is better, and I’ll take him with me,” she writes in the epilogue). Fans of Jon Dunn’s The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds should check out this dazzling account. (Feb.)