The world is an incredible place and the life of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence is further evidence. Her story is brought to us in Merilyn Simond’s, “Woman, Watching” a wonderful book that tracks de Kiriline Lawrence from her youth as Swedish royalty to the battlefield’s of WWI to the remote stations of Northern Canada. If this book doesn’t make you want to get up and get out of the house then I’m not sure what will.
War, love, loss and the discovery of an intense passion, amateur ornithology, is the underlying tale but the struggles of the time and the rampant sexism both in her science and her publishing career are worthy of note. (Not much has changed.) This book was researched extensively and presents both a linear and nonlinear approach to her life. The author interjecting small bits of her life running parallel to that of the subject.
There are so many takeaways from this book, but several stood out to me, and remember my “book reviews” aren’t really reviews. My “book reviews” are often just my take on small aspects of a particular book. After LdKL begins her study of the birds around her Ontario cabin she quickly goes all in. She is relentless in her pursuit, teaching herself how to record and track the range of species near her home. Take note photographers, she worked harder than you, a lot harder. And for longer periods of time in far harsher conditions with almost no reward. And she did this in an industry dominated by men who made no attempt to hide their views on women in the field.
The book is also a reminder of the ills of the publishing world. I encounter this reality on a weekly basis. Even after working on a book over several decades, landing the precious book deal, the industry botches her release. She watches as her prized publication goes out of date after three years and after an endless series of terrible decisions by the publisher.
What you should also take away is that birds were beginning to decline almost from the moment she began recording. This trend continues. Most people are so preoccupied by what new shows are streaming on Netflix or Hulu that the plight of the lowly songbird doesn’t get much attention. It probably won’t until it’s too late. (Cue Colorado River story now.)
There is also mention of the change in education when it came to things like ornithology. Suddenly, this became a professional field. Forget that ornithologists had been amateur since the beginning. Now publications began requesting work from the pros instead of from the people who might actually be in the field. Sound familiar?
But don’t let these points detract from the reality that this is a great story. A story of incredible courage, resilience, patience and fortitude. The birding history alone makes this book a gem. I learned about a dozen other birders, birding books or bird history pioneers. Get it, read it.